From the Winter 2010 issue of Adoptalk
Hello! My name is Serena and I’d like to take you through the journey of my life so far.
Unfortunately, it didn’t start out very well. I was born in Tennessee and doctors needed to detoxify me right away because of the drugs and alcohol in my system. Ten days later, after nurses told my birth mom that no one would adopt a drug baby, she took me home to live with my older brother and sister, Scott and Gina.
A year later, social services removed Scott, Gina, and me due to neglect and abuse. Gina went to live with her birth dad, but my brother and I entered foster care. By the time I was four, Scott and I had been through 14 placements. Some were with relatives, some with foster parents, and at times we lived in a Methodist children’s home. Some placements lasted only a week. They tell me that my screaming and violent behavior, and the need to keep Scott and me together, caused a lot of the moves.
Then, when I was 4 and Scott was 7, we met our adoptive parents. They were therapeutic foster parents, but they were not prepared. Nothing they tried could settle me down. I kicked holes in my bedroom wall and door, and Mom and Dad had to board up my window so I couldn’t throw myself out of it. Mom says my room was like a bomb area, with everything in ruins. Mom and Dad spent hours holding me close to keep me safe.
All I can remember about that time is that I was very angry, and I didn’t know why. I had no idea how to keep myself from lashing out, screaming, and raging when I felt negative emotions starting to build inside me.
Less than a year after Mom adopted me, she took me to a psychiatric facility. She and Dad were exhausted from living in constant turmoil and losing sleep to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt myself or anyone else. They also didn’t think Scott’s needs were being adequately addressed.
Doctors, however, couldn’t come up with a definite diagnosis for me. Their theories ranged from autism, to identity disorder, to multiple personality disorder. Medications, some of which were not intended for young children, didn’t help. The only point of agreement between the doctors was that I would never be able to function normally in a family.
While I was in the hospital, Mom did some reading and found out about attachment disorder. Suddenly, my troubling behavior began to make sense. The closer Mom and Dad got, the more scared I became and the harder I fought to push them away. Mom wasn’t going to give up on me and she refused to put me in a group home.
Within a few years, Mom and Dad moved the family to Colorado so we could be closer to an out-of-home treatment program that seemed promising. Scott got help too. Mom and Dad were involved in the treatment and visited me regularly in the out-of-home placement.
Sometime when I was nine, things started to click in my head. I was in isolation after having a tantrum and began to realize that I was only hurting myself by acting out that way. It dawned on me that my behavior was a choice, and something I could change.
Life wasn’t great right away, of course, but I steadily made progress and was able to end therapy by the time I was 14. School success, happily, came far more easily. I graduated from high school ahead of schedule and went on to college. The doctors’ grim predictions when I was five never came true.
Children in my therapeutic foster placements were the first to inspire me to consider teaching. One girl had multiple disabilities, and a boy I knew was blind and had cerebral palsy. While going through treatment, these children were the first people I learned to love and wanted to help. Then, in middle school, I got involved in Special Olympics, and served as a summer camp counselor, a teacher, and a coach.
I now hold a master of arts degree in education/special education, and bachelor of arts degree in English and secondary education. Currently I’m teaching middle school English to a classroom of students that all have different abilities. It is just what I wanted to do.
The most important thing in my life, though, is my family. My parents helped me conquer unnamed demons, and taught me how to value family and live life. My mom and I talk constantly these days and get together two to three times a week. When my dad died unexpectedly this summer, she was my rock even as she grieved her loss. And when I got engaged at Christmas, she was there to celebrate with me.
My siblings, Scott and Gina, are precious too. Thanks to Mom’s sleuthing, we were able to reconnect with Gina and her family when I was 14. Now all three of us are a part of both families, and we even celebrate some holidays together. The relationships I have with my family seem much like the relationships my friends have with their families, but there’s an important difference. I don’t take my family for granted, and the chaos I experienced early on makes me deeply value family in ways my friends can’t quite understand.
At my wedding this February, Gina was my matron of honor, and Scott walked me down the aisle to the man who is now my husband. My family is now connected with my husband’s family (and vice versa), and I couldn’t be happier.
More than 10 years ago, on the day I was confirmed at church, I suddenly noticed that my mom had tears streaming down her face. I asked what was wrong, and she told me that she had been praying for help and God kept assuring her that everything would work out. She was finally able to see that the many trials we endured had led to good. And every day since, she has been able to see how her and Dad’s love and dedication transformed an angry, out-of-control pre-schooler into the happy, healthy, and productive young woman I’ve become.