Note: This series of posts illustrates the early childhood experiences contributing to attachment issues in adopted or biological children. While this story is fictional, the majority of children suffering from attachment issues will have experienced much of the trauma written about here. The childhood trauma, as well as behaviors depicted, are common in lessor or greater degrees to the majority of children treated at Zion Hills Academy.
Mariana’s life began as a series of puzzle pieces that never fully connected together. Instead of the safety of loving parents, life was a series of stand-alone puzzle pieces and as much as the system tried to put them together, true connections could not be developed. Her first month of life was quite dramatic. Mariana’s biological mother ran away from rehab and seemed to have disappeared.
Kyle hated his job. All the years of college and graduate school were full of starry eyed idealism that in no way prepared him for life as a real Social Worker. Kyle envisioned helping single mothers, connecting poor and underserved communities to housing and resources. His reward would be seeing the smiling faces of the families and children he helped.
The real job was horrible. Kyle was especially aggravated today because he was picking up an infant from the hospital and taking her to a foster home. The problem remained that there were always more children in need of placement than foster homes with available beds. Taking children from their parents never got easier.
He was responsible for this tiny life. After exhausting all his local families, Kyle had to reach out of county to find a family willing to take a newborn. Most of the infants that Kyle has to place at such a tender age, came into the world addicted to something.
Kyle arrived at the hospital about eight thirty with a loosely packed diaper bag and infant car seat. He greeted the nurse with a half smile.
“ I am here for Mariana Gutierrez,” Kyle said wryly. The nurse nodded at him and walked away. Kyle remembers her from last month when he had to pick up a set of twins. The nurses knew he had a job to do, but they usually treated him with an icy politeness. Kyle thinks they hate him. Kyle wasn’t sure he liked himself at the moment. But, he was there to help Mariana get a safe and stable home.
When the nurse arrived with the bassinet, Kyle looked at the tiny newborn with wide eyes. Mariana was much smaller than he imagined. Mariana started to scream in his arms. Her tiny body became stiff as a board. She was difficult to hold. Kyle gently put her into the car seat. Walking from the hospital to the car, both Kyle and Mariana seemed to relax. As soon as the car started, Kyle heard the baby start up her cry again.
Mariana wailed during the entire hour long drive to the Morgan’s house. It had been an ordeal finding a placement for Mariana. Knowing that she was born addicted was almost a given with children in foster care placements, but when prospective foster parents visited Mariana in the hospital many of them took a pass. Her resistance to being held and the endless screaming when in the arms of a person was difficult to deal with.
The Morgans never made the long trip to visit Mariana in the hospital. They currently had three other children placed into their sprawling farmhouse. They were fourth generation avocado and walnut farmers. The other children were older and Kyle felt that Mariana would get the attention she needed from the mother, Patty Morgan.
Kyle arrived at the farm and brought a sleeping Mariana up to the door with the small diaper bag he had brought to the hospital. He had a bag of prescription medicine and a file folder held fast under his chin. Ringing the doorbell was like setting off a smoke alarm. It woke up the baby and Mariana began her howling screams.
Patty Morgan took the infant out of the car seat tried to soothe her. Patty had been a foster mom for over twenty years. She had taken in almost forty kids in her tenure as a foster parent and she knew immediately that Mariana was going to be a challenge. This did not phase Patty, however, she almost instantly felt her heart melt looking at the infant.
Kyle breathed in deeply as he drove away from the Morgan home. It been hard finding a placement for little Mariana. He hoped that the Morgans would eventually even adopt the child. He felt a little lighter, turned up his radio, and drove back to his office.
Patty Morgan was never able to have children of her own, but her husband Elmer had suggested foster care as a way to help Patty constructively use her mothering skills. Elmer had little to do with the children until they were old enough to help on the farm. He felt that working built character. The state of California sent a steady supply of such “workers” and for that reason alone, Elmer said yes to more children.
Patty spent the first night with Mariana trying everything possible to stop the crying. The baby still was not too interested in a bottle. She was resistant and stiff like a board when held. And the high pitched screeching, shrill cry made the other members of the Morgan household bolt to far corners of the house. Mariana just was resistant to Patty’s soothing, singing, and even her yelling.
The first night was a sleepless one for every member of the Morgan household. Elmer was up at four am to work on the farm while it was still cool. He eyed Patty asleep in a rocking chair. The baby was in a play pen finally sleeping. Elmer took a long look at his wife of thirty years. She looked twenty years older than she was. These kids had really added years onto her physically. Patty was the most sturdy and strong woman Elmer had ever known. This baby, he thought, might just be the one who finally breaks her.
The other three foster children had slept little as a result of the screaming Mariana. As they dressed for school, Chucky asked the other two older boys why that baby was so loud. The question went unanswered, as they often do and Chucky let the matter go as they prepared to leave for school. Chucky was seven years old and had been living with the Morgans for almost two years. He had begun to feel a little bit of safety and permanence. He spent the whole day thinking about that baby and how Ms. Patty had been up all night dealing with it. That thing was screaming and crying. Chucky knew what it felt like to get a hug from Ms. Patty. That baby would not even hug back!
Over the next few days everything that was normal about Chucky’s life with the Morgans had halted and a new chaos began. Chucky had a profound dislike of Mariana. The baby never stopped screaming when she was picked up or held. She seemed to not want to eat more than a tiny bit at a time. Chucky saw that Ms. Patty was exhausted and the house was in shambles.
Ms. Patty asked Chucky to stay with Mariana on the afternoon of the fifth day she had been in the Morgan’s home. Ms. Patty was heading out to assist her husband with something on the farm. Chucky was alone with Mariana for the first time. He looked into her playpen and saw her just laying there and screeching loudly. He reached in and picked up the tiny baby.
Chucky held her for a second and Mariana was quiet for a moment. Then all hell broke loose and suddenly Chucky found himself holding a stiff, board-like baby bucking up against him. The siren wail from the baby’s mouth frightened Chucky. He asked Mariana to stop. Then he set her back into the playpen. Still, the screams continued.
Chucky ran to look out the window. Noone was nearby. He ran back to the playpen and Mariana was still screaming and howling. Chucky began to get very upset with the baby. He first yelled at her, screamed, and pleaded with her. Nothing Chucky did seemed to work. The baby was like an alarm bell in school when they had a fire drill. The pitch and frequency made Chucky frightened and angry.
Without much thought other than shutting down the wail of Mariana, Chucky grabbed a couch pillow and pushed in onto the baby in her playpen. He thought it would muffle her cry. He hoped it would calm her down. He just needed her to chill out for a little while.
Ms. Patty returned to the room and saw Chucky smothering Mariana with a pillow. She hollered to Chucky and ran over to check the baby. Mariana was stiff and quiet. Thank goodness she was still alive.
Chucky had begun crying and Patty gathered the precious boy into her arms and held him. Mariana was safe, but Patty was filled with dread as she realized Mariana was going to need a higher level of care than she could handle. She had spent four days and nights with little to eat, almost no sleep, and open neglect of the needs of the other three foster children. Chucky’s attempt to smother Mariana was a wake up call for Patty.
After a talk with her husband, Patty made the dreaded call to Kyle. She made arrangements for him to come the next morning. With a heavy heart, Patty spent one last night with Mariana. Her fussiness, painful screaming, and difficulty eating were only confirmation that the Morgan household was in over their heads taking on this baby.
Kyle really did not like his job. Waking up in the middle of the night to a frantic foster parent was one of the most frustrating parts of his job. First it had been the incident with the Morgans. It was followed by a succession of placements that ended within a few months of Mariana’s arrival. In all, about five families had cared for the infant in the first year and a half of her life. Sometimes the placements were ended by the foster parents, but others were ended by Child Protection Services. The CPS had removed Mariana this last time as a result of an emergency room diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Kyle again was on his way to pick up the baby from the hospital. Her last placement was terminated with the arrest of that foster parent for child abuse and endangerment. Mariana had been hurt and spent almost a week in the hospital. She was underweight, fussy, and hated to be held. Mariana refused to eat any solid foods, did not make eye contact, and still was not walking.
While Mariana had seemed to recover from addiction to opiates at birth, her first 18 months had been a rocky and difficult beginning. Kyle felt helpless when it came to finding placements for Mariana. He often was reluctant to share Mariana’s extensive, difficult background with new placements. This was because Kyle feared that Mariana would never be placed into a loving home, one that could possibly one day adopt her. Kyle had almost given up hope.
Mariana rarely showed a liking or a bond with any of the foster placements. The parents in most cases tried hard to make things work with Mariana. A few of the parents had lost control and made poor choices out of frustration. Mariana was beginning to have overt signs of attachment problems. Kyle knew this and feared that she would exhibit serious problems in her lifetime if he could not get her into the right placement.
Mariana seemed to alway prefer being in her crib or her car seat than in the arms of a caregiver or nurse. She refused to let anyone hold her bottle. Mariana rarely made eye contact and would stare off and ignore any attempts to play or engage with the toddler. Foster parents get excited about the prospect of such a young placement because they feel that Mariana was so young that she would forget her early struggles and still grow up fairly intact. Kyle hated to break the hearts of these idealistic families.
Mariana was not interested in a large smiling foster mother. She would not respond well to human contact to the point that she would cry, scream, and push away at attempts to keep her in a holding or hugging position. Lately, Mariana began to suck on her fingers on her left hand. She refused a pacifier.
Kyle took the baby into her car seat yet again. He put Mariana into his work vehicle and locked the car seat into place. Again he handed her a bottle, speaking softly and gently about how the ride would not be a long one. Mariana refused to look at his face and instead took her bottle and rubbed her fingers in her hair.
Kyle climbed in the front seat and turned the air conditioning on high. He prayed silently as he drove the thirty miles to the Ketching’s home. This foster family currently had no other children in the household. The father was a well-off stockbroker and the mother was a retired Special Education teacher. They had experience with children like Mariana that were difficult to place.
Kyle could only turn up the music in the car once Mariana began to wail. Nothing he said or did calmed her and he was fearful to pull the car over. His mind was solely focused on driving as quickly as possible to the Ketchings. The bass of the stereo slightly masked Mariana’s howls. Kyle sang out loud with the radio.
If this did not work out, he was out of options. Getting a home for Mariana that was stable and permanent had been the greatest challenge of his CPS career. He was out of options if the Ketchings could not keep her. Mariana’s screams blurred with the music from the car radio. Kyle added his awkward singing voice to the cacophony. He pointed the car to the highway and mentally began a prayer.
Continue to Part 3