Moving in with her grandma Diane signified number eight on the list of places where 3-year-old Natalie had lived. It marked the beginning of a contentious two-year journey to adoption and Diane’s transition from “Nana” to “Mom”. She is grateful to God for her prayer posse, that group of people who supported her throughout the process.
Initially Diane struggled to understand that Natalie suffered from a condition known as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and seizures. Natalie exhibited a dizzying array of symptoms: violent temper tantrums; difficulty coping with any changes in routine; inappropriate touching; and abrupt leaps between loving and hateful language. Diane watched with fright as Natalie melted into seizures that could last as long as 30 minutes.
She described witnessing Natalie’s eyes glaze over into a blank stare before her body fell into spasms. “It was like watching a demon take possession of my little girl. I had to learn why this was happening before I could effectively respond.” One doctor believes the seizures are directly related to scar tissue on Natalie’s brain from prenatal trauma or physical abuse early in her life.
Natalie endured a lack of prenatal care, an attempted abortion on her life, and exposure to drugs and alcohol while in the womb. Subsequently, her birth mother failed to form an emotional bond with Natalie. Complicating things further, Natalie suffered abuse at the hands of multiple men, including her biological father. This realization hit Diane doubly hard because Natalie’s birth mother is her daughter. It compelled Diane to step in and pick up the pieces.
“Raising my granddaughter will be like raising my own kids,” Diane thought, before understanding the depth of emotional issues related to RAD. She soon launched into a full-scale assault on the disorder, scouring medical information sources and seeking trained professionals to treat overt symptoms. Normal emotional attachment develops as children learn to expect soothing, comfort, and care from their primary caregivers. The process begins at birth and continues until they reach age five. This attachment is critical to a young child’s ability to become aware of their feelings, to love and trust others, to develop healthy emotions, and to form healthy relationships.
As a single grandparent with her own history of childhood abuse, Diane willingly sacrificed her financial security in an effort to help her granddaughter – now daughter – achieve a healthy mental state. At the age of many empty nesters, Diane often feels out of place trying to arrange play dates with young moms. “It’s challenging to find families that understand how to deal with Natalie’s disabilities.”
Working on a tight budget, Diane puts her trust in God for provision. She is purposefully searching within her church community for a man who is willing to serve as a positive role model and father figure for Natalie, not necessarily a marriage prospect. Diane is also preparing herself for the anticipated difficulties of 11-year-old Natalie’s upcoming teen years.
Unlike most teens, reason and logic do not generally work well with RAD sufferers. Those approaches typically fall flat with a teen who may be incapable of understanding how others feel. RAD teens become immune to the loss of privileges and are vulnerable to engaging in many unhealthy behaviors: drinking and drugs, violence, self-abuse, and cutting. The most successful strategy is providing a sense of safety and personal control in the framework of a structured and stable home environment. As well, Diane is careful to provide a healthy plant-based diet with strict limits on sugar.
One positive in Natalie’s life is the experience she had in a supportive Christian school environment, Bible Study being her favorite subject. When Natalie had difficulty sleeping, Diane recorded a series of Christian songs that Natalie used to soothe herself to sleep. Natalie now spontaneously break out singing many of those songs.
Because of Diane’s intervention, Natalie is blossoming into an entertaining and outgoing person capable of recognizing inappropriate language and behavior. Diane may never know the full effect of her personal sacrifices. She simply moves forward, trusting that God will guide her day by day, confident that He will complete a good work through her efforts.
Written by Barb Howe
Spiritual Legacy Memoir
“Stories of life and adventure that point to Christ”