Who is Carrie?
Carrie O’Toole, M.A. is an Attachment-Based Intervention Specialist and the founder of Carrie O’Toole Ministries. Carrie uses her coaching, writing, speaking and podcasting to help others overcome relationship difficulties related to attachment. An issue that’s also deeply personal to her, she’s currently producing her first documentary.
The O’Toole family adopted a child from a Vietnamese orphanage at the age of 3 ½. Even after state-mandated training on attachment, Carrie admits they were totally unprepared to raise a child with severe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). After 8 years of therapy, special education, prayer, surgeries, and hospitalization, they made the heart-wrenching decision to place their son with a family from their church.
Carrie is the author of Relinquished: When Love Means Letting Go and is a Board Certified Christian Life Coach. She and her husband Bob live in Parker, Colorado and have two children, Brendan and Katie.
Sample Interview Questions:
What caused you to want to adopt?
Growing up, my family adopted my little brother from Vietnam during the war. Adoption was normal in my family, so when we got married, Bob and I talked about adopting from Vietnam “some day.” We actually adopted our oldest son, Brendan at birth, and had our biological daughter, Katie, before the idea of adopting from Vietnam came up. When the kids were 6 and 7, they ganged up on us and asked for a little brother. I explained that mom didn’t do so well in the baby department. They looked at me like I was crazy and said, “We don’t want a baby, we want a brother!” Oh, I got it! They wanted a ready-made playmate. So our journey to adopt again began.
Was it difficult to adopt from Vietnam?
The process to adopt is lengthy, but not really difficult. There is a ton of paperwork to fill out. When you adopt internationally, each form needs to be filled out 3 times, and then you have to get everything stamped by different government agencies. The Home Study can feel daunting, because the social worker inspects every aspect of your life, including your relationship history, financial status, and a home inspection. We used an adoption agency specializing in international adoptions, and went through 24 hours of state-mandated training. We were sent a picture of our child a few months before we traveled to meet him. In Vietnam, two trips are required—one to turn in the paperwork, and one to finalize the adoption. The trips had to be spaced six-weeks apart, because the Vietnamese government wants to make sure parents are fully committed to the adoption.
When did you start to know things were not going well?
Looking back, we had some “red flags” in Vietnam. Sam didn’t seem to understand what a family was. He had never been outside the walls of the orphanage, and he didn’t respond well to seatbelts and sitting down for meals. He ran into walls and didn’t cry. Sometimes he seemed very wild, and we couldn’t get him to calm down. Other times he cried uncontrollably, and we couldn’t comfort him.
What kind of help did you seek?
Even before we left to bring Sam home, we worked for 6 months with a therapist specializing in helping adopted children attach to their parents. We thought we were prepared. I worked with this therapist every week for 4 years. Sometimes it seemed we were making progress, but it never lasted. Sam was so traumatized from his 3 ½ years in the orphanage, that he couldn’t let down his vulnerability and allow us (specifically me) in his heart. He fought me on everything. As we’ve since learned about trauma and attachment, when children learn early on that they cannot depend on anyone but themselves, they will not allow another person to have any control in their lives. The mom becomes the “nurturing enemy.”
What happened to your family as a result?
It was totally chaotic. We couldn’t do things as a family. We had to separate the kids for outings. We stayed home a lot, just so we didn’t have to deal with the craziness that ensued when we went out. Brendan and Katie started to hide out in their rooms, and wouldn’t invite friends over. My marriage was a total mess. Sam was not happy either. No matter what we did, he didn’t want to do it. Even if he looked forward to it, the moment the event arrived, he didn’t want to do it.
What led you to relinquish your son to another family?
We weren’t actually looking to do this. My mental health was at risk, due to PTSD I developed from parenting a traumatized child. I knew we needed to do something drastically different, but I wasn’t sure what. We were approached by a family at our church who felt they were supposed to adopt an older, local boy. After having them stay with them for several weekends, we jointly agreed that he was doing better with their family. It was a terribly upsetting time in our family, to realize our son would do better with another family, rather than our own. After a year, we relinquished our parental rights, and the other family adopted our son.
Why do you continue to focus your speaking, writing, and filming on the issues of adoption and attachment?
I don’t want anyone else to go through what we did. So many adoptive families are unaware of the challenges of parenting a traumatized child. Adoption agencies and orphanages are not always forthcoming on the child’s history. Most counselors don’t understand Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and use traditional therapeutic methods. This actually makes these families worse! I want to help therapists understand the dynamics of RAD so they can truly help. Many schools, churches, and children’s sports teams, music programs, etc. do not understand the dynamics of children with RAD. I want to bring awareness to this issue because it is a societal one. When children don’t attach well, they don’t trust, don’t develop empathy, they don’t understand cause and effect thinking, and they don’t develop consciences. This is a major problem, and I’d like to see these families and children get the services early on, to prevent major problems later in life.
What kind of services do you offer?
I love to speak to counselors, pastors, teacher associations, and anyone involved in the lives of traumatized children. I offer trainings, Webinars, seminars, Relationship RX Retreats, keynote addresses, as well as individual or group coaching on the subjects of attachment and relationship health.
Relinquished: When Love Means Letting Go
Carrie O’Toole experienced the pain and suffering of infertility, miscarriage, and an international adoption that went painfully awry. Relinquished: When Love Means Letting Go will take you through the emotional journey and struggle to find answers to the question many people face at some point—what if my love is not enough?
“Carrie O’Toole understands the value of relationships and attachment as well as anybody I know. Not only does she help others using these principles, she has a tremendous story of redemption that gives her the credibility to do so. My prayer is that each of us could experience the process and freedom Carrie went through. This book will help give you a taste of that process.”Joshua Straub, Ph.D.