By Christen Shepherd and Lisa Highfield
Seven years ago when Christen adopted a sibling set of four, we noticed a gap in the literature on the subject. She hadn’t read a book to prepare her for what lay ahead. We wrote The Promise: Truth from the Trenches of Adoption because we wanted parents to have tools to get through what may feel impossible, and let them know a happy family life was possible.
As we mentioned in the chapter “Backslides,” most traumatized children have them, as do the Shepherd kids, but their trajectory continues to be towards healing.
Pushing for evaluation and supports continues to be important. The youngest, Olivia, was diagnosed with FASD and Developmental Trauma. Having four homes in her first three years proved to be too much for her little psyche. Realizing an adopted child may not be a fully independent adult takes the promise to never give up on a child to a new level; you’re in it for the long haul. After the turbulent first years there were rough patches. Prior to Olivia’s FASD diagnosis, there were months of wild tantrums, giving everyone post-traumatic stress, including the family dog! Therapy, time, and even medication, (something the Shepherds were hesitant about) has made a huge impact and she’s a happy little girl. Now eleven, and an intrepid explorer, Olivia can hike for hours a day.
Zach is in grade 12 in a special education program, although he will still need disability funding, he is doing well in a co-op work placement—something that seemed impossible just a year earlier. Serena, the eldest daughter, is in grade 10, wearing braces and texting friends, and although she struggles somewhat academically, college appears a possibility. Samantha is finishing grade 8. She’s discovered a passion for motherless baby birds and spends the warm months scooping them off the ground and tirelessly caring for them, even taking an orphan starling to the cottage while it screeched and shot baby food all over the van.
The Shepherds now deal with what all families do—monitoring internet, helping with schoolwork, scheduling. There are certainly challenges that can come with adoption: working with schools on IEPs, and navigating services for children with disabilities. But more than ever, the early days that felt so impossible now seem like a lifetime ago. The children who once refused to sleep now don’t want to get out of warm beds. The children who erupted over the smallest things now know how to diffuse fights within the family. All six Shepherd kids have grown closer and the family is a solid unit with far more happiness than grief.
Raising traumatized kids is hard but worthwhile. The statistics for kids aging out of care are dreadful, and everyone deserves a family. The Shepherd kids move through their days like the classmates they’d once wished to be, secure that they are loved, that the same bedroom waits for them at night that they left when they went to school, and the same people hug them when they need it.