Battered Adoptive Parents Give Away Their Out-Of-Control Child

Little Ellie had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

ByABC News
September 22, 2010, 5:54 PM

Sept. 23, 2010— -- Lori Gertz, a marketing specialist from Long Grove, Ill., was the first to hold and feed her adoptive newborn Ellie.

Despite a terrible rash, Ellie was a perfectly beautiful eight-pound baby with a "squeaky-clean" medical record. But her mental health quickly deteriorated after she arrived home.

Ellie was virtually impossible to soothe. She would cry for hours. Touching and rocking only made her worse. As she grew older, Ellie lashed out at anyone who would say no, and even pushed her mother -- then eight months pregnant -- down the stairs.

By the age of six, she'd had four psychiatric hospitalizations and made numerous suicide attempts. Specialists began to recommend residential treatment. They worried that Ellie might one day fatally hurt her siblings.

So three months ago, the family did the unthinkable -- they sent their adoptive daughter, now seven, to Washington State to live with another family. They might have the expertise and emotional distance from the troubled child to cope with her.

"I just never, in my life, could imagine even associating with having to let my baby go," said Gertz, 47. "I will always love my Ellie."

"Our family was being destroyed," she said after seeing 38 specialists and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Ellie. "Our savings is gone. We have paid out of our pocket everything to take care of our daughter."

Hear the Gertz family tell their heartwrenching story LIVE on "Good Morning America" on Monday, Sept. 27. Tune in to "GMA" at 7 a.m. EST.

Gertz was so stressed that Ellie could explode at a moment's notice, running out in front of cars or battering her little sister's Talia's head against the wall, that she was getting chest pains.

"I had to watch Ellie like a hawk," she said.

Theirs is not an adoption-gone-wrong story. Gertz said she would adopt again in a heartbeat.

Instead, Ellie's lack of impulse control, inability to bond and neurological problems were diagnosed as having been caused by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) -- a condition that affects as many children as autism, yet gets a fraction of the medical attention and resources.

The child's biological mother was an addict, but the worst of her vices -- crack cocaine, PCP, heroin and methamphetamine -- were nothing compared to the alcohol that had ravaged Ellie's developing brain in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Lori Gertz and her husband Craig, a lawyer, have faced roadblocks at every turn, first diagnosing her condition and then getting support services.

And now, they have entered in to an arrangement called third-party guardianship, because they cannot afford the $160,000 a year for a residential treatment program.

They have handed over full control of Ellie's education and upbringing for a year, when the families will then make a final decision about her care.

Lori Gertz decided to go public with her story because of the "shame and guilt" that she feels, unable to nurture the daughter she loves as much as her two biological children, Jonah, now 11, and Talia, 5.

"I could not be everything I promised to the child," she said.

She started a blog about FASD, and hopes to help others by sharing her journey with Ellie in a book, "Not of My Womb: Parenting the Legacy of an Addict."