Parents leave son with hugs and tears

Date: 2004-07-06

Grand Rapids Press, The (MI)

Parents leave son with hugs and tears
After deciding to sever ties to their Romanian-born son, the parents are pushing for more education for families who adopt internationally.

Author: John Agar / The Grand Rapids Press

HOLLAND TWP. -- As he bounded into the waiting room, the 10-year-old boy, with a big smile and outstretched arms, jumped into his Mamika's lap, and wrapped his legs tightly.

"I pulled him in as close as I could and held his precious little body against mine," his mother, Holly Meyers, recalled.

"It felt so wonderful to feel his hug."

Her son clung to her as he reached for his father's arm, and the three embraced.

That's how Holly and David Meyers have always greeted their son in monthly visits to Villa Santa Maria in New Mexico, a center that treats children for reactive-attachment disorder. It is a condition caused by a lack of bonding with an adult while he grew up in a Romania orphanage.

What they knew, and the boy was about to learn, is that this June 16 visit was to say goodbye.

Under a court order, and at his parents' request, the boy is undergoing an intensive two-year treatment program. The therapy began with the hope he would be returned to their Holland Township home.

But a year into treatment, his parents realized that he could not come home -- he posed too great a risk to his 5-year-old sister. He had brutalized the girl, adopted from Russia, which led to criminal charges and his placement in the New Mexico center.

"If they want their daughter to heal ... the abuser cannot live in the same home," said Leah Brouwers, who specializes in attachment and bonding therapy at The Therapy Clinic in Cascade Township.

The Meyerses are to return to Ottawa County Family Court on Thursday, when Judge Mark Feyen plans to formally sever their parental rights. He said earlier that the boy would be returned to Ottawa County and placed in a foster home.

At that final New Mexico visit, Holly Meyers said later, "I wasn't prepared for the amount of pain I was going to experience."

She said it was too hard to talk about, but she shared a seven-page letter she wrote describing the visit -- and the horrible decision she and her husband had to face: Give up one child to protect another.

They have another mission. They are pushing for expanded education for parents who adopt internationally. The couple received information after the adoption, but think follow-up training should have been required.

"I think it is so much work to actually pull off the adoption, but all of the work has to happen afterward," David Meyers said in an interview. "What we've learned over the last year is, if a child spends the first nine months of their lives without human interaction, they're going to have attachment problems."

He does not want to discourage international adoptions. Too many children need homes. Not all children with attachment problems have such severe cases, and their son, with treatment, stands a good chance of a successful future, he said.

They had hoped their son could return home. But disturbing reports about mental illness ruled that out. Their daughter feared her brother's return. A psychologist told the couple their daughter would be so at risk he would call police if they brought their son into the home.

None of that made it any easier when Holly and David Meyers sat down with their son and his counselors in mid-June.

Right away, the boy -- described as personable, charming and charismatic -- knew something was wrong.

"Is everything OK?" he asked. "Why is Mamika crying?"

Holly Meyers imagined running across the room, picking up her son, and somehow making it work out. She thought the parents could separate, with one taking their son, the other their daughter, and switching on weekends.

Her son had tears in his eyes when he said: "So I never get to come home? ... So I'm never going to see you again?"

He cried for a few minutes, then said: "I knew this would happen, I knew you guys wouldn't keep me. I knew it from the very beginning."

He said he hated his sister.

The Meyerses adopted him from Romania in 2001 after a church mission trip. They wanted to adopt an older child after seeing the sad faces of older children when they adopted their daughter from a Siberian orphanage.

Only after he had brutalized his sister was he diagnosed with reactive-attachment disorder, or RAD, which occurs in some children who are neglected and abused after birth and fail to bond with a parent figure. Their son spent his first two years tied to a crib, and was beaten and molested at a state-run orphanage and foster homes.

In essence, such children do not develop consciences. Without treatment, experts say, children with RAD can look to a dismal future.

Brouwers, the therapist, said attachment issues develop in some children with poor upbringings.

"There's a pretty large population of children that have been neglected and had multiple placements," she said.

With proper treatment, they can live "very happy" lives. "When it's left unidentified and untreated, it gets worse. Even in a good family, it gets worse," Brouwers said.

For Holly Meyers, this separation is a self-fulfilling prophesy for her son. He couldn't bond because he didn't believe their love for him was real. He seemed to manage by his own wits.

Shortly after his parents delivered the news, a doctor asked the boy if he had any other questions. His tears dried, he said: "Will you stay for my talent show?" Yes.

The doctors left. Holly Meyers picked the boy up again, and held him close. He was "happy and giddy." She thought he was trying to impress them, in an effort to get them to change their minds.

The boy then glared at her with "that evil look that he had given me so many times before. That look of pure hate."

Once, he told investigators that he planned to kill his sister and his mother to have his dad's attention to himself.

Soon after glaring at his mother, he was "back into his bouncy mood again."

A little later, a worker said it was time to go. The mother cried uncontrollably. In tears, she and her husband held their son.

The depths of her son's troubles surfaced as a worker named Victoria came to take him away.

Holly Meyers recalled his reaction when she and her husband picked him up from a kind-hearted Romanian foster family. The foster family stood on the dirt road, waving good-bye, but the boy ignored them.

Sixteen months ago, when she took him to the Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center, the boy took the detention officer's hand and "skipped off behind the heavy metal doors never once looking back."

Now, she watched her husband hug their son for the last time. The boy walked to the door and took Victoria's hand.

He never looked back.

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