By Inga Wismer
My husband and I were a happy family with two boys when I found myself pregnant with a third baby. I lost that baby to a miscarriage. After much grief, I felt that I wanted to adopt and give love to another child who does not have a family.
Our hearts were drawn to a country in Africa, a poor, war-torn country where genocide killed millions of people. There are 5 million orphans and 50% of children do not live to their 5th birthday.
We adopted a little girl who was found alone and a little boy who was abandoned at birth in the hospital by his teenage mother. We originally wanted to adopt only one child, but the agency asked if we could consider two because of the dire orphan situation in the country.
It had been a rough almost 1.5 year journey to adopt two children where we had to fill out mounds of paperwork and raise a large sum of money in every way imaginable. Then came the hardest part—waiting!
One beautiful spring day we received a call from our agency that we should come to the airport to get our children. It was the happiest day of my life. We did not travel to the country as it was not allowed by our agency because of the war there. It felt so real, exciting, and scary all at once. The girl was very petite, in a beautiful African dress with lovely hair extensions. She was calling her escort “Mama,” and when she was given to me, she called me “Mama” right away and was holding on to me very tightly. The little boy looked sad and had a stomach illness. From the first moment, he preferred my husband.
Our kids were exhausted after their travels and slept for many hours. My son had bad viral diarrhea that infected everybody. My daughter had something worse–an amoebal intestinal parasite that caused permanent diarrhea and malnourishment. It took the longest time to figure out how to treat it.
Our biological children, who were 5 and 2.5 y.o, were jealous and a little lost in the background because all the attention was directed toward our new children and their urgent needs.
We bonded at home; we snuggled, read books, sang, colored, opened presents and had some visitors. It was a busy time. Our family grew from 4 to 6 members. There was a lot more cooking, cleaning and laundry. My new daughter didn’t want me to leave her even for a minute, and she screamed as soon as I would disappear from her sight.
She also would smear contents of her diaper on the walls and all over herself if I would leave her for a minute or did something that displeased her. It was exhausting. I barely slept at all.
Sometimes I felt I was losing it.
Around that time, I received a message from a person who traveled to that orphanage where our children came from. I learned that there were about 30 children housed in a small, dirty room with a concrete floor. The kids were fed every other day and there had been allegations of sexual abuse in that orphanage by a male attendant.
Although our adopted daughter had more health and emotional issues, our adopted son had more delays and qualified for Early Intervention. We had months of speech therapy, and I tried very hard to teach him to talk, which yielded good results.
Also for some reason, our adopted son had aggressive outbursts, especially around dogs and little girls when he first came. In general, he strongly preferred males, so a mommy figure was not important to him. That didn’t help our bonding. He also had a bad food obsession where he ate until vomiting.
I thought my daughter and I shared that special bond until she started showing the same affection to strangers, especially if she wanted to get something from them.
What complicated everything is my unexpected pregnancy eight months after my kids arrived with terrible morning sickness and daily hormonal injections. When my baby was born, life was challenging with 5 little kids. Yet I still was trying to be the best mommy I could be.
We took local trips with my kids in a triple stroller, met with friends, some of whom were also adoptive parents of African children, and showed our busy, imperfect selves in public.
When my baby was about 4 months old, I received news from Russia that my 89-year-old father’s health deteriorated and he could no longer live independently. The situation was very serious as he was in a hospital and had no other relatives to take care of him. I was his only hope. So I went to Russia and brought my dad here.
Unfortunately, my dad’s health deteriorated rapidly, and he lost his ability to walk and became incontinent. He had a Russian caregiver with him that we had to pay for, too, which quickly depleted all our bank accounts.
I worked part-time to make ends meet and pay the numerous bills we had. Meanwhile, our kids’ behaviors got worse. There was constant conflict between my 4.5-year-old adopted daughter and my eldest biological 7-year-old son.
She verbally antagonized him, and he became very sad and withdrawn. My oldest son’s depression progressed to suicidal thoughts. I was taking both children to a therapist; however, it did not resolve their conflict.
Also, my adopted daughter did not trust me to parent her and wanted to be in control no matter what. Instead of asking me for something, she would sneak, lie, take something without asking or manipulate to get what she wanted.
She constantly pushed her boundaries and challenged my authority. She pooped and peed on the floor, destroyed her toys and made holes in her clothes with teeth. She seemed to thrive on chaos and our family’s unhappiness.
Being an intelligent and social little girl, she was getting a lot of attention from strangers, and without any reservation, she would hop on their lap or kiss them. I explained to her that those behaviors are not safe and appropriate, but she continued doing it just to make me angry.
I also noticed that my daughter started hurting my baby behind my back. Once I was in a different room and heard strange noises, and when I walked into the living room, I saw her covering the baby’s mouth and nose. After that, I always carried my baby in a carrier on my chest.
My daughter’s therapist diagnosed her with a disinhibited form of a Reactive Attachment Disorder. She was a survivor who did not and could not give and receive true affection and love.
My adopted son, who was only one year younger than his sister, never bonded with me. He preferred my husband and disliked me. His therapist said that he also had attachment issues in the inhibitive form. He was removed from a normal pre-school because of his violent and angry outbursts.
This toxic atmosphere in our family took a great toll on our marriage, and we were on the verge of divorce. Our family was literally falling apart.
One day I was feeling quite terrible and I called my friend. She told me that my dying father was my number one priority, and as far as my children were concerned, I needed to go to a quiet place to reflect on what the best solution would be for everybody involved.
That night, I left the kids with my husband and went to see my father. His eyes were closed and he was breathing heavily. He asked me if I struggled with my adopted children. He said that they were not happy with me and I was not happy with them. He told me to set them free to parents who would make them happy.
He became unresponsive after that and passed away that night.
After the funeral, my daughter was very happy and was singing and chattering. She said that my dad was not real and that I never had a father.
The next day I made sure I went to a quiet place as my friend had advised and soon I felt the answer. Our adopted children needed a new family. We could not meet their needs no matter how hard we struggled.
I called the same adoption agency we used to bring them home and explained our critical situation. They said that there was a family where both parents were special needs educators and they would love to adopt our children. They had a recent home study and background checks and were pre-screened by the agency. We would disrupt legally in the court.
We spoke to our kids and explained to them that they would be going to live with a different mommy and daddy who would love them very much and that they would be happier than in our home. Our adopted children were very excited to go to a new place. My daughter just asked if she would have another princess bed, toys and yummy snacks.
When they met their new parents, the children did not seem upset at all. They jumped in their arms and waved us goodbye. I was secretly hoping that in the last minute my daughter and son would say that they wanted to be with us, but that did not happen. They had very little attachment to us in spite of 2.5 years together.
I contacted the agency numerous times and asked about how our kids were doing in their new home. I always got the same a reply: “Just fine!” They clearly did not want to communicate, and the new family wanted to have a closed adoption.
I carry the burden of a failed adoption, and even though I know it was the necessary decision, I grieve losing my children and I grieve losing my father. I feel sad, guilty and heartbroken. And I can’t stop wondering if there was anything else I could have done to save my family.
About the Author
Inga Wismer is a transplant from Russia, a biochemist in her previous life, and somebody who failed at international adoption and succeeded at “snowflake” adoption.