Nature or Nurture? One Mother’s Struggle with the Odds
It never ceases to amaze me how diverse we all are as individuals, yet our experiences and emotional journeys are so similar. As in writing, there are no new stories to tell, no new plots that haven’t already been discovered, only new ways of experiencing them.
Over the years I have listened to fellow blogger and friend, Kathleen Mulroy, when she shared stories about life with her adopted daughter and how challenging it was when her daughter’s mental health issues sat in the driver’s seat of their lives. I asked Kathleen if she would blog about her journey and give us a glimpse into her heart during the years since adopting Katie.
I am happy to say that she accepted. Now I will step aside and bring you her story…
“I Love You, Mom.”
By Kathleen Mulroy
Once upon a time, my husband and I adopted a newborn girl. Naturally, we were determined that Katie would grow up healthy and happy. And I knew we would succeed because I would be the most loving, diligent mom ever to grace the planet. Failure just wasn’t an option.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?”
I turned to answer ten-year-old Katie as she came into the kitchen, but I was so shocked at her appearance, I couldn’t speak. Her lovely, long, thick eyelashes had vanished. She had plucked out every, single one.
I managed to choke out, “Wh…why did you do that, honey?”
Blank-faced, she shrugged. “I didn’t like my eyelashes. They tickled and they’re too curly. So I pulled them out.”
Katie removed her eyelashes for the next several months before deciding to let them grow back. But then she attacked her eyebrows, plucking them until almost nothing remained. She shaved her arms, complaining that they were too hairy. She picked at herself until she had permanent scars up and down her legs. And she became a cutter, once carving the number seven into her upper arm.
From the beginning, my husband and I adored Katie. We gave her lots of hugs and told her every day how much we loved her. We read to her each night. We took her to museums and plays. She and I participated in play groups and attended mom and child gymnastics classes. Her preschool was the best in town. But nothing we did seemed to make any difference. Katie’s mood swings grew ever more extreme; manic, then depressed. She had awful night terrors. She lied about little and big things. Sometimes she destroyed her personal property, even cutting up her clothes in fits of rage. Worst of all, sometimes she hurt her little brother, our biological son. I couldn’t leave her alone with him. Katie binge-ate and hoarded food. In sixth grade she attempted suicide by downing some of my prescription allergy pills. Several of her childhood friends started to avoid her, and she made new “friends” who – as we found out much later – introduced her to drugs.
Over the years we took Katie to three different therapists, as well as a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist. She saw a speech pathologist for language deficit issues and an occupational therapist for her memory problems. Desperate, I read book after book on raising a “difficult” or “challenging” child, and at last came to the conclusion that Katie was probably bipolar. It was also evident she had severe attention deficit disorder. Our psychiatrist eventually agreed, but medications proved to be ineffective.
All of my love and diligence as a mother seemed to be in vain, and this apparent failure tore me up inside – literally. Over a period of ten years, I was hospitalized four times with life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding, and I began stumbling down the long, dark road of clinical depression. My husband and son suffered, too. Katie was increasingly verbally and physically abusive to all of us, and we were afraid of her. She gained emotional control over our household.
When our daughter was fourteen, my husband and I reluctantly took the advice of the “experts” and sent Katie to the first of what would be four residential treatment facilities. Each placement was punctuated by attempts to bring her back into our home, because we wanted our dysfunctional family to become functional. But things just didn’t work out, and we were devastated.
For the past few years Katie has lived elsewhere; sometimes with her birthmother, sometimes with a roommate or a boyfriend. An adult now, she still struggles with mental health issues and has a particularly difficult time maintaining good relationships. Yet, surprisingly, she calls us nearly every week to check in and even remembers our birthdays. Even more amazing is the fact that at the end of each call, Katie says, “I love you, Mom.” And I always say, “I love you, too.”
So, I guess my diligent motherly love did result in a kind of success, though it’s certainly not what I’d hoped for when I first gazed with wonder into my new daughter’s big blue eyes. But it will have to do, and I’m grateful for it.
~ ~ ~
Kathleen, thank you so much for being a guest on my blog and sharing your story! What an inspirational story of love and your determination to make things right. Some things in our life are not ours to control, and we just have to let them go. You and your family are amazing!
Posted on September 1, 2011, in Family, Personal, Relationships, Teenager and tagged ADD, adoption, bipolar, cutting, Diana Murdock, Diana Murdock's blog, family, Kathleen Mulroy's blog, mental illness, psychiatric illness, relationships. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.