When Jane adopted three infants in the 1970s, she had never heard the term reactive attachment disorder. She could tell, however, that something wasn’t quite right, particularly with two of her adopted children. With only four teeth, Jane’s daughter managed to fight Jane off when she tried to snuggle with her baby girl. Her son flung himself off the changing table when Jane changed his diaper. No matter what Jane did, her babies sent a clear message—they did not want her touch.
Jane didn’t know the exact histories of her children. The adoption agency simply told her that her children “came with something extra” though she didn’t understand what that meant at the time. “I believed…that adopted kids were blank slates and it was my job as their mother to fill the slate,” said Jane. ” [I thought]…their histories meant nothing.” She quickly learned, however, that her children weren’t blank slates. Whatever that “something extra” was that her babies experienced before her had clearly and severely impacted them.
No one believed her
No one believed what Jane told others she experienced with her children, including her husband and extended family members. By the time her daughter was two-years-old, she told her husband that something was wrong and that she needed help with the children. Her husband told her that she, in fact, was the problem. Shortly thereafter, her husband left her, their three adopted children, and one biological child when the children were ages 2, 3, 5, and 6.
As her adopted children grew, so did their strange behaviors. Her then 3-year-old daughter pushed their dog down the stairs so hard that his back broke. By age six, her son began to light fires around the house regularly. Her daughter told Jane that she had plans to kill her and stabbed the walls, furniture, and wood work with a knife in the middle of the night as Jane slept. They hurt one another, as well as the family pets. Yet, no one else saw this behavior. She felt scared and completely alone.
Jane tried therapy, psychiatric visits, and other measures to help her children get well but nothing worked. She realized she could no longer keep her family safe, especially as a single mother with growing, dangerous children. She feared for her own safety as well as that of her other two children. “I had to make a choice and decide whom I could save between my two children,” Jane said. It was then that she made the heartbreaking decision to relinquish her parental rights of her daughter. Several years later, her adopted son passed away.
Despite Jane’s losses, she moved forward with hope and determination to help parents in a way she never received. Since no one believed Jane when her children were young, she wondered if other mothers experienced the same resistance. She began traveling worldwide to interview families. Her hunch was correct—Jane was the first person who believed many of the families she interviewed.
She used her interviews to write and publish a book called Broken Spirits Lost Souls. From there, she went on to write and produce a movie based on her experiences as well as those of families she met. The movie, The Boarder, has opened up conversation and awareness across the globe. “Other countries have bought this movie…including Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and the Middle East,” said Jane. “This is a worldwide problem.”
When we work together to educate the world about reactive attachment disorder and advocate for families raising children with early trauma, we are stronger.