26 December, 2010

Jessie Mei Mei

Jessie Mei Mei by Sharon Guest and Stuart Neal

Heart wrenching. It's the only words I can find to truly express this book.

Unable to conceive naturally, Sharon Guest and Stuart Neal chose overseas adoption. What they encountered was a system that seemed bent on convincing you it was a bad idea.

Adoption in Australia is controlled by the Department of Child Safety, better known as DoCS.  The process for being approved for overseas adoption consisted of 2 one day seminars where they told you everything that could go wrong and five interviews. 7 days of contact which took 2 years to do.

Finally Sharon and Stuart were successful and they were able to adopt Jia-Mei from China. They were ecstatic. From early on it was clear to Sharon there was something wrong with Jia-Mei, who eventually became known as Jessie Mei Mei. Stuart thought it was simply adoption trauma.

Eventually they were given a diagnosis of autism, but there was more to come.

As she got older, Jessie's behaviour became harder and harder to deal with. Sharon and Stuart were getting on average 2 - 3 hours sleep a night and Jessie was very challenging to care for. They looked for some respite services only to find none. Eventually they called on the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care for help only to be told there was nothing they could do except report them to DoCS. Once they were reported, DoCS would be able to access their support services for Jessie. So that's what happened. Two loving parents at their wits end had to be reported to child services in order to access help.

I'll stop there because to go further would be to tell the whole book. However I will say it was terrible and a sad indictment of how our system works.

I won't say I enjoyed reading Jessie Mei Mei. Books like this are rarely enjoyable, but it was a great read. I admire parents who can tell a story like this openly and honestly, admitting to what seems that ultimate shame when you are a parent - admitting you are not coping and need help.