Life in Every Limb, Book Review, June 6, 2014
I am so happy that Tina Traster offered me the chance to read and review this important story of her daughter’s adoption from Russia (Siberia, to be precise) and the family’s struggle with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Let me start by explaining why this subject resonates with me, and why I was excited to read this book.
I have long been an advocate of “Attachment Parenting,” which sometimes receives a bad rap in the popular press by people who misunderstand it as a rigid set of rules. Really it’s more about rejecting rigid rules, trusting yourself, and following your baby’s (and later your child’s) cues. It was already something I was doing at least in part when I learned what it was called from my sister (who founded the Knoxville Chapter of Attachment Parenting International), and I’m now friends with someone who actually wrote the book (or at least one of them!) on it. So I know how important secure attachment is for children, and how we as parents should be fostering that from the moment of birth.
But what happens when children don’t get that kind of parenting, or indeed much parenting at all? As Melissa Fay Greene asks in her foreword to Ms. Traster’s book: “[W]hat of babies who . . . are unable to attract permanent devoted caregivers and cannot seem to locate an adult to adore? . . . What happens to such a baby if she is not rescued before the light in her eyes has gone out? . . . When a baby or young child has learned that no one is coming, that no one thinks he or she is the cutest little baby on earth; that he or she must weather hunger, cold, and sickness in solitary, those are hard lessons to unlearn.”
Doesn’t your heart just break, reading that? I know mine does. And it’s something I often think of and worry about because of the work I do.
As many of you know, my husband is an attorney, and we do a lot of work in the juvenile court system. We see babies who are removed from their parents as infants, and allowed to see them for only 4.3 hours per month. Sometimes months and years go by before these children are reunited with their parents. Many times they are moved from one foster home to another. No one seems to discuss the effect this has on their ability to form attachments not just to their parents but to anyone. Conversely, I routinely read Petitions to Terminate the Parental Rights of some of our clients which claim that no bond exists with the birth parents (with whom the child may have lived for many years) and that a bond has formed with the foster parents (with whom the child has lived for a few months). We always question these non-evidence-based assumptions when we answer these petitions, and demand to see the science that would back them up, but of course there is no such science.
So we worry. We worry about these kids, and their futures, because we know secure attachment is so important. And that’s why this book is so important, not only for those who have adopted from foreign countries or are considering doing so, but for anyone who is interested in helping the troubled children in our social services system, or in doing something to reform that broken system.
When Tina Traster and her husband, Ricky Tannenbaum, set out to adopt a baby from Siberia, they did not even consider the idea that their child might have trouble bonding with them. On the contrary, Tina was more concerned about her own “queasy ambivalence.” She hasn’t read any parenting books. She is shocked, and not in a happy way, to learn that Julia’s adoption will take place much sooner than they had been told. She doesn’t even know how to change a diaper.
Tina’s honesty in disclosing her fears and her mixed feelings about adopting a baby strikes me as a bold move. It would be easy to blame Julia’s lack of bonding on a mother who has her own issues with attachment–one who is in fact in the middle of long-standing conflict with and estrangement from her own mother. But this tactic works because of Ricky, who is not ambivalent, who is deft and efficient in caring for the baby from the start, who is loving and nurturing and who seems to his wife to have it all together. We are accompanying Tina on her journey as she worries when she sees other babies and the way their mothers interact with them, and becomes certain something is different about Julia at the same time that she questions her own ability to mother. When Tina writes: “For the first two years after we brought Julia home, I thought I was the only one in the world who experienced difficulties with her, that I’d made a mistake, that motherhood and I weren’t meant to be . . . only in the last year have I seen Ricky become aggravated with her behavior. She’s just as unresponsive to him as she is to me,” her concerns are validated, and any misgivings the reader may have had as to the origins of Julia’s inability to bond are swept away as well.
It takes a while for Julia’s parents to accept the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder, and some time after that for them to decide to attack the problem head on, which they do not with the help of professionals but via copious research and then applying what they have learned on their own. They don’t advocate this approach for everyone, noting especially that some children with RAD can hurt themselves or others and would require professional intervention. But it works for Julia. While Tina is quick to make sure we understand that RAD is not something that goes away, that it will always be a part of Julia and will require constant vigilance by her parents, she has become “solidly attached.”
Rescuing Julia Twice is a gripping story, and Ms. Traster is a good writer (an award-winning journalist–this is no ghost-written memoir). It weaves together seamlessly the linear events of Julia’s adoption and what follows with scientific information (accessibly presented) on RAD as well as flashbacks to Tina’s past and the conflict with her mother. So this book is a lot of things put together, and that’s a strength. You will not be bored by it, and you will also learn from it. My only criticism is that I would have liked more story about Julia’s transition to firm attachment, and further information on the techniques her parents used. This is primarily the story of the road toward Tina and Ricky’s definitive realization that Julia has RAD, and I feel that the ending comes a little abruptly. However, to be fair, this may just be the story that Ms. Traster wants to tell, and she tells it very well.
Rescuing Julia Twice is available on Amazon both in hardback and Kindle versions. You can read more about Julia here, and more about Ms. Traster’s other writing here. Additionally, there are many resources on RAD listed in the Resources section at the end of the book.
Mom Egg Book Review, by Cathy Warner, June 4, 2014
Reading Traster’s memoir now, draining days of parenting long past, I am drawn in by the evocative language and the threads woven into the adoption story—Traster’s abortion as a teen, her parents’ marriage, her first marriage and the rift with her mother that accompanied her divorce, her second marriage to the optimistic Ricky, the challenges of self-employment, restoring a house, and the larger issues of international adoption—that add complexity and texture.
A journalist by profession, Traster’s first book demonstrates her skill in providing well-portioned background and description. The early moments of the adoption process are brought vividly to life. Of their first night in Siberia where she and Ricky travelled in January to meet infant Julia at an orphanage, she writes: “Whatever sunlight we saw that day had come and gone quickly. The night air is sharp as a cat’s claws. It tears the skin.” Her reaction to borrowing a crib from a friend when the adoption proceeds faster than expected: “I stop short at saying what I’m really thinking, which is that I have a used crib for a baby that is not really mine. A used crib and a used baby.”
Before she adopted Julia, Traster understood the act involved wishful thinking: “Are we to believe we can reverse these early damages? Yes, yes, we tell ourselves, yes, absolutely, we have enough love to compensate for what they’ve lost. We will undo the damage, wipe their slates clean, as though they are Etch A Sketch pads. We will love and adore them and make them feel as though they were born the moment we took them away from the ammonia and tiny cots where they are virtually imprisoned with swaddling blankets and left to suck on cold-tea concoctions.”
She thought love should be enough, and through several chapters, Traster delves into the difficulties of daily life with Julia, balancing summary narration with specifics. Through it all, Traster blamed herself: “I told myself the problem is that she’s not really mine and I had overestimated my ability to love and bond with a child that’s not my flesh. Shame grew everyday.” And then, at a school concert (an event that never went well) when Julia is four, something shifts: “At this moment, I know in my heart she’s not all right and I must do something about it. This is my child. She’s calling out for help. I must come to her aid. Once and for all.”
The book speeds forward from Traster’s decision to “do everything I can to make love happen between Julia and me,” to her discovery of RAD and troubled Russian adoptions, to appropriate parenting techniques. As a result, Julia begins to thrive and love does happen.
After the narrative concludes, Traster includes advice and a list of resources on RAD and adoption as she does everything she can to help other parents and children make love happen, too.
Parents Magazine, May 1, 2014, When Adopted Kids Can’t Bond: “Rescuing Julia Twice” Explains RAD
Before reading Rescuing Julia Twice, I had no idea there was such a thing as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). This happens frequently in kids of internationally adopted children. These children have trouble bonding and loving–and that often breaks their new parents’ hearts. This is not the average I’m-so-lucky, big-group-hug book on the subject. Author and adoptive mother Tina Traster gets real.
Since we all know someone who has adopted, it’s a must-read. Tina holds nothing back–about the wonder and joy, yes, but also about the many challenges. Check out my Q&A with her below to get more scoop about this stunning book.
Chronogram Magazine, Short Takes, May 2014
Journalist Traster and her husband crossed 11 time zones to adopt their daughter from a Siberian orphanage. Candid about her “queasy ambivalence,” she’s guilt-stricken when they don’t bond. Is she not maternal, or is something wrong? Her complex journey and determination to “make love happen” make for riveting reading.
Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row (Noted), in “Reading & Writing in Chicago”
“Rescuing Julia Twice” by Tina Traster will be published by Chicago Review Press, May 1st. The book is about Traster’s adoption of her daughter from a Siberian orphanage and her daughter’s reactive attachment disorder.
Publishers Weekly says, “Rescuing Julia Twice” is a moving memoir containing valuable insight and information.
Traster, Tina. Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder. Chicago Review. May 2014. 272p.
ISBN 9781613746783. $24.95.
Journalist Traster knew that “something wasn’t right” when she and her husband adopted a six-month-old baby from a Siberian orphanage in 2003. The baby didn’t meet her gaze or respond to her parents’ loving embraces, though as she grew, teachers described her as exuberant and engaging. Even so, Traster noticed the difference between Julia and other children. The author eventually discovered that her daughter suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder, an affliction that affects a portion of children who are abused, neglected, or orphaned. The symptoms, she explains, vary—some children with the disorder are violent, though Julia is not—but all are characterized by an inability to connect. As Traster examines her feelings of failure and guilt (unaware, at first, of Julia’s diagnosis), she yearns to find a way into the heart of her enigmatic child, as well as to experience the joy of motherhood. In this moving memoir, Traster exposes the “dark underbelly” of the Russian adoption system and provides parents facing this disorder with valuable insight and information, as well as sharing her experience of learning what it truly means to be a mother. Agent: Linda Konner, Linda Konner Literary Agency. (May)
Library Journal says “Rescuing Julia Twice” is indispensable for adoptive parents, relatives and teachers.
Traster, Tina. Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder. Chicago Review. May 2014. 272p.
ISBN 9781613746783. $24.95. PSYCH
International adoption is fraught with complications, which is no surprise to journalist Traster (New York Post; New York Times; Audubon; Family Circle) and husband Ricky, as they embark upon the journey to adopt a child from an orphanage in Siberia. At first things proceed almost too smoothly. The couple is approved to adopt a six-month-old girl, whereas infants are usually not available for adoption. Moreover, the process transpires at lightning speed. Once the new family returns to New York, the difficulties begin. Traster struggles to bond with daughter Julia, a child who manipulates in order to avoid closeness. Julia lacks normal affect and causes problems at preschool. After years of this troubled relationship, however, Traster happens upon information on Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a bonding disorder that is prevalent in children adopted from Russian orphanages. Once Traster identifies the issue, she and Ricky successfully employ effective therapeutic techniques in order to teach Julia to trust them. VERDICT Like Jessie Hogsett’s helpful Detached, this title is indispensable for adoptive parents, relatives, and teachers.-Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown
Russian Life Magazine calls “Rescuing Julia Twice” a searing, gripping, heart-filled memoir.
The challenges faced by Americans adopting a child from Russia, where orphanages are often little more than stark, loveless dormitories, normally stay hidden from outside eyes. Only, it seems, in tragic cases of abandonment do these challenges bubble up into public view.
From SmartMomPicks.com (May 8, 2014)
Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder is award-winning journalist Tina Traster’s new memoir detailing her journey to motherhood through international adoption.
Like many Eastern European adoptees, Traster’s Siberian-born daughter Julia struggles with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). If you’re not familiar with the condition, RAD is characterized by a lack of bonding with caregivers and extreme difficulty forming personal relationships. It is typically seen in children who were abandoned or neglected in their early years.
Rescuing Julia Twice discusses the feelings Tina and her husband struggled with as they searched for a way to help their little girl feel safe and secure. Because Julia seemed exceptionally well behaved to the casual observer, they often felt like they were imagining or exaggerating her condition.
Finding other adoptive parents who were dealing with similar problems made them realize that Julia could be helped and that her issues were not a result of their inexperience as parents.
I admit that I do not know much about RAD, other than the tidbits gleaned from news stories of parents struggling with children who suffer from this condition. Rescuing Julia gives you an interesting look at RAD through a mother’s perspective.
However, please keep in mind that Tina is a journalist and not a child psychologist or medical doctor. Her family’s methods were somewhat unconventional and it’s not advisable to make any treatment decisions for your own child based on one person’s experience.
Rescuing Julia Twice ends on a high note, but Julia is just five and you can’t help but wonder what’s in store for her future. I hope Traster considers writing a follow up once Julia is a teen or young adult.
From: TheNurseMommy.com (May 11, 2014)
Chances are that you know at least one person that has been adopted. It is no secret that I myself was adopted into a family were all of us but one was adopted. I need to be honest, when I was asked to read Rescuing Julia Twice A Mother’s Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder written by Tina Traster. I was hesitant. I was put up for adoption as a baby, and was in way too many homes and one was horrible. I don’t want to go into detail, but I wouldn’t wish what I went through, on any child. Julia’s story It’s not the same as mine, but some areas I can relate to. For that reason I choose to read it.
To sum the book up in a sentence or two would be simply saying that it’s about parents adopting a child from a Russian Orphanage and learning to adapt to the struggles with comes with it. That sums it up briefly, but there is so much to the story.
Tina and her husband had wanted to adopt a baby since they weren’t able to have one of their own naturally and chose to do an international adoption. They went to Russia twice, per the adoption rules of that country. When she first saw her daughter and held her she didn’t feel that moment of maternal instinct that moms say they have. I think what Tina felt is more normal than we know. I think that the moms that don’t feel that instant connection just don’t talk about it because they may be ashamed. They shouldn’t be a shamed at all, it’s a natural feeling. After bringing Julia home with them they noticed that she wasn’t connecting with Tina and her husband, or her nanny. Julia also didn’t connect to kids at school or teachers. Then Tina remembered someone talking about Reactive Attachment Disorder.
What is Reactive Attachment Disorder also known as RAD? The Mayo Clinic says this: Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. A child with reactive attachment disorder is typically neglected, abused or orphaned. Reactive attachment disorder develops because the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring attachments with others are never established. This may permanently change the child’s growing brain, hurting the ability to establish future relationships. Reactive attachment disorder is a lifelong condition, but with treatment children can develop more stable and healthy relationships with caregivers and others. Safe and proven treatments for reactive attachment disorder include psychological counseling and parent or caregiver education.”
After reading up on it, things made sense. Now that they had an idea on what was going on, they could help Julia. They could make a plan. The entire book was very well written, and in a lot of detail. I could really feel the emotion that Tina had while writing it.
“At this point adopting a baby still seemed theoretical, conceptual- something that would happen down the road. Soon after the call, we received a grainy video of a baby being coaxed to smile and crawl for the camera. She wore a diaper. She had the palest skin I’d ever seen and eyes as dark as a tree hollow. She was a piece of merchandise for sale, an object held before the camera to be marketed. I cried hard- for her abandonment, my disappointments, the way circumstance unites a mother and child.”
I remember my mom talking about how Social Services told them about me and about how other kids are in a book with pictures and descriptions of them. Thinking of a baby being marketed makes me so sad. I know not every baby or child will be rescued with a great adoptive family, but I can hope and pray that when one does get out of “the system” they go to a great and loving family.
I am so glad that I read this story. I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Who knows, maybe I was meant to read this story in my life, so I could learn a little about me. It’s really funny how life works. I also think that it’s a little funny, that I am writing this on Mother’s Day. That could also be why this hits home a little more. I think that any parent should read this book, especially if you are looking into adoption. Just because Tina and Julia’s story was that of an international adoption, RAD can happen with domestic adoptions as well.
If we try to understand kids when they are infants, I think we can make more of an impact on the rest of their lives. I personally want to thank Tina Traster for writing this poignant story. It takes a very brave person to admit that their life isn’t perfect, and it takes an even braver person to admit that to the entire world.