Adoption: Return to Sender: Cindy

Doing the Research

"Did you worry about inheriting the kind of problems that we're seeing with these three mothers?" Dr. Phil asks Cindy.

"I did. Unfortunately, and I'm not speaking to the three of you at all," she tells the moms onstage, "but there are parents who go into this really unprepared. Without any kind of research or homework about what the risks are, particularly in an older, institutionalized child who's been in a third-world country in an orphanage for some period of time. At least be prepared for the risks. I was on message boards, learning about international adoption, I read all the books, so I was worried about it. It was something that was in my mind."

"One the message boards, everyone wants to put their best face on, it felt like, to me," Jodi says. "Nobody wants to talk about problems they can't handle. No parent wants to feel like they're responsible, which I did for so long about her behaviors, because I couldn't figure them out. And so, when I wrote my book, I wrote everything that I wish I had found out before I adopted, so that no other mother would have to go through exactly what that Tennessee mom went through." Jodi's book is called Love Lessons: Understanding, Learning and Finding Purpose While Raising Challenging Children.

[AD]Cindy says hers was not a success-only journey either. "My daughter was diagnosed with hearing loss when she was in kindergarten. We know nothing about her history, her prenatal history or anything, medication her mother might have taken. We don't know if it will degenerate. There's a possibility she could go completely deaf at some point. She's a severe asthmatic. Obviously, it doesn't raise to the level of what you're talking about, but she was 9 months old when I adopted her, and she does have issues relating to that early development, the early institutionalization. She was in the crib for that nine months. She didn't walk. She was developmentally delayed. We've been through years of speech therapy, so yes, it is not a success-only journey for any child coming out of institutionalized care after some period of time."

Dr. Phil points out that in China, caretakers don't hold and nurture the babies as much as they do in other cultures, which can also affect their development.

"I think the problem is a lack of resources. There are too many children, not enough people. They seem to sincerely love the children that were there, but there were three of them to a crib, they would lie there without being fed when they were hungry, they would lie there in diapers for some period of time," Cindy says.

Dr. Phil points out there are many more successful adoptions than the problem adoptions. He asks Sue, "You were saying some parents just aren't candidates for what could go wrong here and maybe they shouldn't do this. But I don't think anybody is equipped to handle what [these women] are facing challenge-wise. How do you ask the questions to find out what you're getting into?"

Sue says, "Well, I think in the first place, you need to go into adoption knowing that love and good nutrition are not the answer. You have to go in with your eyes wide open, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best outcome. Make a list before you go. Have a speech therapist lined up, an occupational therapist lined up, a neuro-psych and educational remediator. Know who those people are so that when you find yourself in need of help, you're not panicked, looking for resources. You do that ahead of time to prepare."

Dr. Phil asks his guests, "Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently if you had it to do over again?"

Jayne says, "When I met my daughter, I thought there was something wrong, and I took her to the hospital, and I should've just followed my gut. I should've just run as fast as I could. They told me if I wouldn't go through with the adoption, they wouldn't give me another child. I would tell parents, ‘If you feel something is wrong, run. There is always another child. There is always another country.'"

"I was not certified to adopt a special needs child, so this legally should've never happened just to begin with," Kristi says. "But as far as the speech and nutrition, we had everything on board, and it did help, but it doesn't seem that there's a cure for bipolar, there is no cure for reactive attachment, and we've run from facility to facility, to doctor to doctor, and when their method doesn't work, they blame the families."

[AD]Jodi says, "What I know now is that any time you adopt a child, especially coming out of an orphanage, they are going to be special needs. There's just no two ways about it. What they have endured and been subjected to early in their life, what they're going to get, I can't tell you what it looks like, but it's going to be difficult. It's going to look like all of these behaviors. We need to educate parents about what those behaviors are and what they mean."

Dr. Phil asks Dr. Albers-Prock about reactive attachment disorder (RAD). "Is it a waste basket diagnosis that gets used too much?"

"I think what everyone has been speaking about is something we don't have a good label for. We don't really have a good description that describes children who are left in horrible conditions with not a lot of caretakers, and with poor nutrition, and subjected to neglect and abuse that anyone would consider totally inappropriate, and then transitioned to a new family, where they lose their culture, their language, everything that's familiar to them," Dr. Albers-Prock says. "I don't really like the term reactive attachment disorder. I think it's the only option that applies to children who have significant challenges. But I think every child coming out of an institution has vulnerabilities and challenges with attachment. I do think that those who work with attachment disorders are extremely helpful to families with children dealing with attachment vulnerabilities. But I think slapping on a diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder shortly after the child comes home is not fair because they haven't had the chance to develop that attachment."

Jodi agrees. "Unfortunately, that diagnosis has so much stigma attached to it, nobody wants to use it. I needed that diagnosis. After a year of having my child home, I felt crazy, and I felt like it was me," she says.

Kristi says the stigma keeps the children from getting help. "If we had a child, heaven forbid, with something obviously medically wrong, the community would rally, the family would rally, we'd get dinners and offers to babysit, and ‘Can I help you with something?' And in this case, because they know they can get hurt, everybody stays away. You lose your family, you lose your friends. People know they can't help, so you're kind of shunned."

[AD]Jayne says she often gets the police called on her in public when she's trying to parent her daughter. She says she's also had respite workers run out the door.

Dr. Phil goes over how to prepare yourself before an adoption.