Terrible Two

Renee Polreis and her adopted son had a miserable life together--until someone put an end to it.

It was during this period of alternating hope and despair in the 1980s that Renee befriended Tracy Kimsey, a client at the electrology business that Renee owned just off the main highway through town. Kimsey, who was then struggling with her own inability to carry a child, describes their first meeting as a memorable occasion.

"She came over to me," Kimsey recalls, "and she said, 'Hi! I'm Renee. I'm infertile, too.' We hit it off great."

Renee was "doing difficult tests and all those things [the doctors] make us do," Kimsey says. "I had suffered miscarriages. But for her, the pregnancy thing was just not happening."

By late 1991, both the Kimseys and the Polreises decided to adopt--a process that was not without its own travails. The red tape and home visits ate up time and considerable amounts of money. Tracy and her husband, Richard, had wanted to bring home an infant, she says, but couldn't afford the higher costs associated with such an adoption, which they estimated at tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, the Kimseys adopted two older girls, sisters aged six and eight.

But the Polreises did have the funds to ensure they'd get an infant. Dave had been named a vice president of ConAgra (formerly Monfort) in 1992, and Renee's electrology business was thriving. An old friend of Renee's, Julie Haralson of the Colorado Adoption Center in Fort Collins, helped make the arrangements. Six to eight months after the Kimseys took in their girls, the Polreis's adoption went through.

Renee and Dave named the boy, who was from an American family, Isaac. He was, according to Renee's friends, a good baby. He loved his new parents, and they loved him. When he grew older, his daycare providers described him as friendly and bright.

Renee "absolutely adored" Isaac, says Sandy Bright, owner of the daycare center that both Polreis boys would eventually attend. "It seemed to me that she was a wonderful mother.

"Everything," Bright adds, "took a backseat to the children."
Renee cut back on her work schedule after adopting Isaac, says Bright, and placed the boy at the daycare center on a part-time basis. When she needed a babysitter, Renee's mother, Alice Risk--who lived nearby with Renee's brother Kevin and his family--would sometimes stay with Isaac.

It was a joyful time for Renee and her husband. The Kimseys however, were struggling with their new daughters.

Prior to adopting the girls, the Kimseys had taken part in a three-day training course sponsored by the adoption agency with which they were working. The classes, Tracy Kimsey says, were designed to show the best and worst aspects of adoption. The worst-case scenario in the presentation was the adoption of an unattached child.

"We had a full day on attachment disorder, and it scares the bejeebers out of you," Kimsey recalls. Children with a mild attachment disorder, participants were told, might hold back affection. Others might lie and steal. The completely unattached child was the most severe case. "It's deadly," Kimsey says. "Literally."

Kimsey says the agency told the prospective parents that if they couldn't handle the possibility of receiving an unattached child, they should stop the adoption process. "There was one couple who didn't come back," Kimsey notes.

But the Kimseys decided that they could handle it. They ended up adopting two girls, both of whom had attachment disorder.

Love, the Kimseys reasoned, would conquer all.
It didn't.

Attachment theory has been around for thirty years. It is grounded in the belief that infants who do not receive sufficient care or attention in the first eighteen months of life may end up severely damaged.

Eighty percent of the children who suffer from attachment disorders are adoptive children, says Gail Trenberth, the Boulder-based president of the Attachment Disorder Parents Network. Many of those children, she says, were abandoned or abused by their natural parents.

According to the theory, children afflicted with milder forms of the disorder have difficulty bonding with family members and friends. On the other end of the attachment spectrum are so-called "unattached" children, who may become a danger to themselves and to others. A fascination with gore and fire are reportedly typical of the most severely afflicted. Trenberth cites the case of an eighteen-month-old child who battered an infant to death with a metal truck. Evergreen child psychiatrist Foster Cline, who was a pioneer in the field of attachment therapy, has described these children as future Ted Bundys and Unabombers.

While her own daughter was still quite young, Trenberth says, the toddler did something that Trenberth says she can only describe as a suicide attempt. The girl, she says, began stuffing toilet paper down her throat and did not stop, even though she was turning blue from a lack of oxygen.

Trenberth trotted the child from one type of therapy to another until she found the Attachment Center in Evergreen. There, she says, her daughter was diagnosed as suffering from the worst case of attachment disorder the therapists had ever seen. The girl was sent to live with a "therapeutic foster family" that had been specially trained to deal with unattached children.

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