People always say life never happens the way we envision. Despite our best efforts, things turn out differently than we anticipate.
When we felt the Lord calling us to adopt, we didn’t even know dissolved adoptions were a thing. Yet we ended up living out our worst nightmare. We had to educate ourselves about mental illness, therapies, medications, doctors, lawyers, how to document every little detail, and eventually the ins-and-outs of the CPS system. Weekly therapy sessions, constantly changing medications, and researching the options available to us became our new normal. It was most definitely the furthest thing from how we envisioned our life would be.
In 2010, along with our 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, we embarked on a journey to bring a brother and sister sibling group home from Ethiopia. By the end of 2011, the time had come to travel across the world so that they could join our family. At the time of the adoption, they were 5 and almost 9.
All we knew was that their biological mother had passed away, and there was no one available to care for them. We would later discover that the youngest, our Ethiopian son, had severe PTSD and anxiety among other mental illnesses that would take years to sort through.
Our Judd clan had grown overnight to include an almost 15-year-old, an almost 9-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 5-year-old. Our newest two children spoke no English and were reeling from some deep loss and trauma. It was overwhelming and exhausting. Before we knew it, we were operating in survival mode.
I would be remiss to go any further without pointing to Jesus. Each chapter of our family’s story has God’s fingerprints on every page. Even the darkest days were illuminated by Jesus’ love for us. No twist or turn was traveled alone. He promises in Scripture to never leave us or forsake us, and I am here to testify to that truth.
Between the years of 2011 and 2016, our family walked roads that were almost unbearable. We noticed from the beginning that our Ethiopian son (whom I will refer to as H) was carrying the scars of trauma. He would have meltdowns that lasted hours.
Although his meltdowns finally calmed down after a few months of being home, the PTSD and anxiety were still in full swing. He could not take a shower with the curtain drawn and could not use the restroom with the door closed. He was terrified of the dark and wasn’t sleeping well. He would walk with his back against the wall because he was afraid of who might come up behind him. He refused to be in a room with a closed door and often struggled with paranoid or irrational thoughts.
Over time, other behaviors came to the forefront. He was very jealous of our other son (whom I will call C) — to the point of trying to hurt him in retaliation for things C was doing well. Fun time spent burning off energy on the trampoline became a time to try and injure C. H began showing signs of very dangerous behavior. We found hidden shanks he had made by whittling wood and throwing stars cut from old CDs that were sharp as glass.
The overtly violent behavior started with little things, like putting thumbtacks in C’s doorway “so they would go through his foot when he got out of bed” and sleeping with items that could be used as weapons “to hurt C if he comes in my room.” We managed these behaviors as best we could, but our home was no longer a safe haven. It had become a war zone as we tried to keep things to a manageable level.
Our oldest daughter (whom I will call A) was developing severe depression and anxiety as a result of the constant chaos. She was a competitive swimmer, and we were thankful she had an outlet outside of the turmoil that was our home. However, no matter the temporary distraction, our home life was having a negative impact on her mental health.
By 2015, H was in and out of short-term psychiatric hospitals. We had exhausted every avenue available to us. We had tried 5 different types of therapies that were unsuccessful — including TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) and equine therapy, multiple psychiatrists, multiple medications, and a couple of months in a residential treatment center.
We had EMS sedate him to safely transport him to a hospital after an hours-long fit of rage that included hitting police and EMS officers. H had told us that he had plans to kill us and proceeded to give me a very detailed description of how he would do it. At one point, he even came up with plans A and B to kill us in ways he thought he would not get caught.
His rages were in full force by this point and would last 3 to 5 hours. He was extremely violent and would hit, kick, bite, and spit. We had to monitor his every move and keep him constantly in our line of sight to protect the other children. We had alarms on doors and video monitors in rooms. No one was safe, and everyone had to be protected and watched at all times.
Thankfully, the only ones to actually get hurt physically were my husband and me. Between the two of us, we experienced cracked ribs, kicks to the jaw, and an ER visit for lower back trauma from being repeatedly kicked by H while trying to restrain him. Our lives had turned into a nightmare beyond nightmares.
While we struggled to keep everyone safe, our oldest daughter (by now an older teenager) began self-medicating in an attempt to mask the helplessness. We were so overwhelmed that we kept chalking it up to curiosity. No parent wants to come to terms with the fact that their daughter is struggling to cope. Her drug use eventually ended with a stint in rehab — yet another word I never envisioned having in our family vocabulary.
Our goal during the beginning of 2016 was just to survive until the end of the school year. Once school ended, we would try to figure out what our next steps would be.
June rolled around, and all hell broke loose. After an extremely long and violent rage with H, we knew we could no longer keep our other children safe while simultaneously parenting him. He had begun hitting the other children while making known his plans to kill us all. We would have to hide the other children in a bedroom with the door closed and a noise machine running in an effort to minimize the trauma they were enduring on the sidelines.
As our saga continued to unfold, the Lord orchestrated every detail so that we knew we were never alone. He placed just the right people in our lives at just the right moments. He opened doors for us that we didn’t even know existed. What we thought were obstacles, He used to strengthen our faith and trust in Him. He paved a way where there was no path.
The following days, weeks, and months following that last violent rage with H were a whirlwind. In June 2016, we had H admitted to yet another psychiatric hospital (sadly, we knew the packing list by heart at this point) and proceeded to call CPS to turn in our own child. We told CPS that our family was in danger and that we would not be picking him up from the hospital. They opened a case on our family and interviewed all of us. We were told they would file charges against us for failure to take responsibility for H.
Within weeks, we found ourselves staring at a stack of documents in a mediation room full of lawyers and case workers. We were given instructions on all the various times we would be expected to be in court over the next 12 months. It was overwhelming. We were encouraged to hire our own lawyer and informed that one had been appointed to represent H. Due to God’s faithfulness, we found an amazing lawyer with whom we formed an instant bond. She had compassion for our family and kept us informed every step of the way.
A year later, we chose to terminate our rights in the hope that he would get the treatment he so desperately needed — treatment we sought over and over again, in the face of every imaginable obstacle.
During the year H was in CPS care, he had to be removed from his foster family due to violent behaviors. After bouncing from placement to placement, he was finally adopted out of foster care, though we know his problems continue and likely always will, even with ongoing treatment. The damage was done long before he made his way out of Ethiopia. There are some things that love, no matter how strong, cannot “fix” on its own.
Our hearts will never be the same. We fought with every fiber of our beings for H. We loved him then and will always carry love in our hearts for him. But the point of this story is not us — or our children, or even “the system.”
The point is that, in the short-term, there is help. You can and must keep your family safe. In the midst of the storm, that may seem impossible, but it isn’t. And in the long-term, there is healing — through therapy (individual and family), counselors, and the grace of God. In the midst of the storm, this too seems impossible, but it isn’t. The fact that you’re reading this is a testament to both of these truths.
We wanted to let others who find themselves traveling this difficult journey how we knew it was time to let go. We found ourselves caught in the cycle of “surely there is something we haven’t tried yet.” We allowed ourselves to feed into H’s cycles of rages and manipulated kindness.
As he got older, the rages became more and more violent and dangerous. Because of my husband’s job, sometimes he wasn’t able to drop everything and head home to help with a rage. It was very difficult to protect the other children while keeping the destruction at H’s hands as minimal as possible. H had begun throwing things during rages, especially things he knew would shatter. Sometimes these episodes would end with glass all over the floor.
The immense amount of stress we were under had also begun to take a toll on our health. I had PTSD/secondary trauma that resulted in extended periods of heart palpitations, rapid breathing, anxiety attacks, hair loss, and a year of suffering from gallbladder attacks that led to gallbladder removal. My husband also had a miserable case of shingles that his doctor said was likely triggered by stress.
The last straw with the final rage we endured was that H started to turn his violence towards the other children. That last night, he hit and kicked one child and punched the other in the back. This would have continued had we not immediately intervened. We were unable to maintain a good quality of life for anyone in our home, nor was our home safe for anyone at that point. The mental health of two of our children was also rapidly declining as a result of H’s violence.
In order to protect our family, we had to come to terms with the reality that we were all in danger. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to reach out.
About the Author: I am Rachel Judd — Jesus follower, wife to my wonderful husband of 23 years, and mother of 3 through birth and international adoption (Ukraine and Ethiopia). We also do foster care relief work through a local children’s home.
I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I am also on the leadership team for a foster/adoptive mom retreat called Together in the Trenches Texas. My husband is an Air National Guard chaplain and engineer for NASA, so I also help with marriage and family retreats for military families when the opportunity arises.
We LOVE to travel. We are always on the lookout for our next adventure.
We have had a lot of experience with reactive attachment disorder and many other challenges along our journey. It has given me a heart for reaching out to others in similar situations. I help run a small Facebook group of “trauma mamas” here in the Houston area.