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Book Review: Identical Strangers; A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited Print
Thursday, 31 January 2008
Elyse and Paula, adopted as babies, grew up in two separate but similar families, each with an older brother, also adopted. The families were not told that the girls were actually twins, separated as part of a secret study. When they are suddenly reunited in their mid-thirties, they are confronted with many issues including the question of what role nature and nurture play.

It doesn’t take long for the women to note their similarities. Both had studied film, produced short films, and done work as film critics. They each struggled with bouts of depression, although neither had developed schizophrenia like their birth mother. (They later surmise that one element of the study sought to explain the heritability of mental illness.) The reader is struck by the overwhelming role that genes play in the women’s lives.

A thread throughout the book reminds us, however, that genes are also influenced by environment. Despite many similarities between the women, they also have distinct differences. Paula marries and has children. Elyse, on the other hand, appears to be more tentative about long-term commitments, although it is something that she often contemplates. One wonders how environment affected this part of their lives. Elyse is adopted at around 9 months while Paula went to her adoptive family earlier, at around 6 months. At age 6, Elyse’s adoptive mother dies. Later, her older brother is diagnosed with schizophrenia. In contrast to Paula, who seems content, Elyse says that she always felt like something in her live was missing. When she learns about Paula, she assumes that she felt the absence of her missing twin. Perhaps. But the void may also be a result of her life losses.

Whatever the case, it is shocking how many characteristics the women have in common. Identical Strangers; A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited raises many questions about just how much we inherit from our genes.
Educational Opportunities on Neuro Reorganization Print
Monday, 21 January 2008
Several new opportunities have arisen to learn more about neurological reorganization. Visit Conference and Seminars to learn about NNTC seminars in California and Oregon in March. Reminder: early, discounted registration for the NNTC seminar in Oregon is due by February 15.


Also, a news station did a story on Sargent Goodchild and his program, Active Healing, in Massachusetts. It helps to explain the concept of neurological reorganization and how it relates to some of the issues associated with adoption. (Click on the video with 3 kids laying on the floor.) Update to link, 1/28/08.

Many of the families at A4everFamily credit neurological reorganization as one significant tool in healing.
Unconditional Love Print
Monday, 31 December 2007
Chicago Public Radio Presents This American Life

An episode well worth listening to…Unconditional Love

(Click on the hotlink above. On the Chicago Public Radio site, scroll down and look on the left side where you'll see an orange button, "Full Episode," where you can listen to the archived broadcast, free.)

317: Unconditional Love

“Stories of unconditional love between parents and children, and how hard love can be sometimes in daily practice.

Hard as it is to believe, during the early Twentieth Century, a whole school of mental health professionals decided that unconditional love was a terrible thing to give a child. The government printed pamphlets warning mothers against the dangers of holding their kids. The head of the American Psychological Association and even a mothers' organization endorsed the position that mothers were dangerous—until psychologist Harry Harlow set out to prove them wrong, through a series of experiments with monkeys. Host Ira Glass talks with Deborah Blum, author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. (10 minutes)

Act One. Love Is a Battlefield.

Alix Spiegel tells the story of a couple, Heidi and Rick Solomon, who adopt a son who was raised in terrible circumstances in a Romanian orphanage, unable to feel attachments to anyone...and what they do about it. (27 minutes)”

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An Adorable Little Baby & Trauma Print
Sunday, 30 December 2007
Our son had been exhibiting some scary behavior. Violent tantrums, saying horrible things, physically trying to hurt me while tantruming. Trying to control me. We researched RAD because those are things that children with attachment problems do and couldn't figure out how he SEEMED to be SO attached in all other ways. I cried and cried, trying to wrap my mind around it all....he was NOT the RAD kid that I read about online and in the books...he showed so many positive attachments signs that the attachment disorder thing just didn't fit!

We finally got in to see a therapist who specialized in attachment disorders and early traumas and after a long evaluation and hours of talking to my husband and I, she turned to us and said, "He is very attached to you...that is NOT the problem here."

He WAS wonderfully attached to us....HOWEVER, his traumatic birth, coupled with his birthmother loss and loss of two foster mothers in Korea caused him to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Our little boy, who is so beautifully attached, so loving and sweet, was TERRIFIED of being left again. We could tell him that we'd never leave, that we are his family forever and he may have told us he believed and THOUGHT he believed...but his BODY didn't believe. His body remembered being LEFT by the one person who protected him and kept him alive. Every screaming battle that we had at naptime and bedtime wasn't about not wanting to take a nap....it was about STAYING ALIVE.

The trigger for our son's PTSD is Mommy leaving. That is....Mommy leaving the room, Mommy leaving the house to go to the store, Mommy leaving my sight when I close my eyes. When those things threatened to happen, his body went into fight or flight mode and adrenalin shot through him, his heart beating a mile a minute and he fought like HELL to make sure Mommy didn't leave! In his body's memory, there have been three mommies that HAVE left and that little body was NOT going to let that happen again. All sense of reality left him during that moment and he was a wild little animal, holding onto me for dear life but at the same time, raging and hitting and kicking and screaming because all of the sudden I was THOSE MOMMIES WHO LEFT.

His life started out a bit scary. His birth was traumatic and he was in a hospital for a week....then, he was wrapped in warmth and love by a foster mother, his first fulltime caregiver. Someone to coo at him and hold him close when he cried, to feed him his bottle and look lovingly into his eyes. Then...he was handed off to his next foster mother in Seoul. He was their very first foster baby and they LOVED him SO much! He was cuddled, kissed, carried everywhere, played with and we have 200+ pictures and video to prove it! They even took him on their family vacation to Cheju Island (like going to Hawaii!). Then, one day his beloved foster mother took him to the [adoption agency] to meet a new mommy and daddy. We smiled and talked to him, he came to us happily and let us feed him little treats! He had no worries in the world...when he fussed his foster mother took him back and gave him what he needed to be happy again. Two days later she brought him back to the [agency] office and the new mommy and daddy took him. He came to us but began to cry when he wanted his foster mother and this time she didn't take him back into her arms....she watched as he was carried away out of the office and down the street, screaming and calling for her.

Thus began our life as a family of five. We welcomed our new baby into our family with love and gave him all of those things that we knew a baby needed. Over time, he fell in love with us, too. At first it was more of a clinging to us because his foster mother wasn't there anymore and he'd figured out that we would give him the things that his body needed and we were pretty funny and silly and knew a few of the games that he liked. But eventually he fell in love. He became our son and he knew we were his and that we loved him. But how can you get over the trauma of being ripped from your mother's arms by complete strangers? No wonder he freaked out when I HAD to put him down to go to the bathroom...I might not come back. No wonder he didn't want me out of his sight and absolutely FREAKED out when another woman (even our close friends who he had been around a lot) picked him up to hold him...she might decide to KEEP him. No wonder he froze when anyone outside of our family spoke to him or smiled and said what a cute baby he was...he smiled back at us the first day we met and we came back two days later and TOOK him.

PTSD. I'd never even heard of that disorder used in regards to a beautiful, happy, healthy child. I mean, war vets and rape victims suffer from PTSD....not adorable little babies who are given total love and attention in a foster family at the start of their lives!

We've got to be more aware of what our children have gone through. We have to listen to them and when something doesn't seem quite right we have to look into it and keep looking until we find someone who understands what is going on. It's not just RAD that we're looking at with our kiddos, guys. Just because your child doesn't exhibit the signs of attachment disorder, it doesn't mean that they aren't traumatized by what happened to them. YES, they were BABIES. They were LITTLE and babies don't remember. But....THE BODY REMEMBERS.

Submitted by an adoptive mom

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Funk Over Gifts Print
Friday, 28 December 2007
The holiday season can be rough on our children. A couple of moms share…

Happy Holidays to all and I hope that the season is going well. All the activity and change of this time of year can be hard on our little ones who get their bearings and feel safe through predictability, routine, and, oh yes, control.

When my daughter was little we tried to keep things as routine as possible…tried not to schedule too many things that were different for her. And, for her, gifts, after a certain point, didn’t seem to make her happy. She would eventually open them up more and more slowly, and eventually just seem to be in a kind of a funk. We learned to cut back on gifts (to my dismay as a person who loves Christmas!) and tried to not make the day too stimulating. She did much better with this.

Then, when she was a bit older, we tried talking with her about gifts and why they might not feel good to her. I forget exactly how it happened, but to my surprise, somehow she started talking about the things we sent to her in China just before we adopted her (our goody box with stuffed animals, a blanket, camera for pictures etc.). She started saying how she had never gotten gifts before then. She just kind of mentioned this without really tying it to anything. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

When I recovered, I asked her if she thought maybe gifts didn’t feel good to her because maybe somewhere inside she was afraid that everything would suddenly change again after getting some gifts, like they did then. She said she didn’t know…but maybe. From that year on, she has gradually gotten better at receiving gifts. It is not so scary for her now. And, for a few years, we would often talk about it and put words to it…how her body might worry that when she gets a lot of gifts all of a sudden, that maybe there was going to be a sudden change. Her mind might not know or worry about this, but her body might. This seemed to help her feel lighter when we would talk about it. And, we would reassure her…”No changes coming” became our mantra.

Fast forward to today…we still keep our gifts fewer than I might like (but with gifts from other family members she always has plenty), but that funk hasn’t happened in the last year or two. We’ll see this year!

(I will add… my daughter was 1 year and 2 days old when we adopted her. For a while she was able to remember amazing stuff about China. It didn’t come up all that often, but when it did, I was amazed. I have heard other parents talk about this, and many of you may have had similar experiences with your children. She doesn’t remember any of this stuff now at 7 years. Somewhere around 4, 5 and 6 years the memories seemed to leave. I think this is an age where for many of us, the details of the early years get hazy. And, I wonder too, for many children, if their worlds changed all of a sudden, if they too would be able to tell us all kinds of detail…if their brain would hold fast to what they knew before. These are just my wonderings.)

So, I tell you all of this, in case this is helpful to any of you at this time of year. There may be no other children who react as my daughter did to gifts. But, it wasn’t an obvious thing for us to figure out, so just in case it is helpful to anyone else, I thought I would offer it.

Best to you all…Happy Holidays.
Kathy Reilly, Ph.D., C.S.W., adoptive mom and psychologist


Our son also struggles with receiving gifts. Unlike Kathy’s story, I’ve been unable to determine an exact cause, but something about the process disturbs him. Maybe it stems from a feeling of losing control...after all, you can't control what is in a package or whether you'll like it. And if you're polite, you don't really have a choice over whether or not to thank the giver...which may lead to fear..."how will I handle this if I don't like it?" Whatever the case, while he usually enjoys being the center of attention, the focus on him while opening gifts makes him anxious. It is also very hard for him to thank the giver. Although we’ve practiced in private, it has done little to alleviate the stress involved. This anxiety was so pronounced that at his last birthday he asked if he could “not have a present” rather than having to thank Grandma and Grandpa afterward.

So, this Christmas we decided to try something new. It was an easy decision. My son’s gift anxiety, the hype about lead paint in toys, our desire to get off the wagon of consumerism, a wish to return to focusing on the reason for the season…it all made sense.

With our extended family (with whom we’d be spending Christmas day), we agreed to draw names and spend just $20/person. To the penny. The kids loved trying to figure out who had drawn whom…and tripping up Mom who kept accidentally slipping hints when we were out shopping. “Oh, that would be perfect for _____. I’d better tell ______.” The kids thought it hilarious that Mom couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it. (I’ve already declared that someone else has to be in charge of the list next year!)

But the biggest delight for the kids was in choosing the perfect gifts with just $20. They wanted to see their pennies stretch and pick out the things that made their special person the happiest. The focus totally changed from “what I want” to “how can I make my person happy?”

It still wasn’t easy for my son. He opened first. His sister drew his name and for $20 had managed to collect five items—some new, some used—all things he wanted. He opened the first one, scowled, and said, “I don’t like that” and put it aside. We knew that he really wanted the gift. What he didn’t like—and I should have taken him aside and acknowledged this, but missed the opportunity—was being in the spotlight while receiving a gift. Any gift. But what quickly became obvious was that the gift focus was not on him. Everyone, adults and children alike, had their moment. Small, but equal moments. Folks were thrilled with certificates for homemade pie (from the baker in the family), consumables (the most popular items—snacks, chocolate, special drinks, bath soaps, lotions), and yes, even a few toys. But for a change, the gift distribution was equal across the family. And, in a twist, being the giver suddenly bore greater delight (and equal attention) to being the receiver.

When my son saw that the gift giving wasn’t all about him, he was able to relax and enjoy the remainder of the day. And that’s the best gift we could have given him. [a. 6mo, FC]


If you have experience with children, gift giving and holidays to share, feel free to post below…

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