Friday, December 30, 2016

Good Riddance 2016

This blog has always been about transparency. About being a place where I can be real with the world and other ladies and moms can come and know that they are not alone. So, in my spirit of keeping it real I’m gonna tell ya, this year has SUCKED! And I know it’s not just me because I see the suffering in my friends and family on social media. As I close out this hellish year I can honestly say that I’ve been able to stop, take a deep breath, and see the baby steps I’ve taken.
If you happen to have seen me outside of the land of cyberspace, it’s likely I did not look like this, though let me tell you I tried really hard to paint on my makeup and a smile and nod and tell everyone I’m fine.

Instead, I probably looked more like my spirit animal the raccoon. Dark circles under my eyes, burning the midnight oil working on my MSW, and surviving off of coffee. Lots of coffee. I thought I was just putting in too many hours at night and my RA was flaring causing me to be a slug. Like, seriously I was too tired to function many afternoons when the coffee wore off. I finally decided to go to the doctor after getting one of those handy dandy activity trackers with the heart rate monitor and mine kept consistently showing a whopping heart rate of 45 (hey that was with caffeine folks). It turns out I not only have significant iron deficiency anemia but my hypothyroidism was back (no wonder I can’t get these prednisone pounds off). I struggled to balance my daily life while feeling like I was carrying around a ton of bricks.

Then there was the death of my grandmother. This beautiful soul who molded who I was in so many ways. She never had a bad word to say about anyone. She loved Jesus and her family. And despite having advanced Dementia she never lost her beautiful smile and sense of humor. Her absence left a hole no one could fill. I find comfort in knowing she’s in Heaven with Jesus and my Grandpa probably baking up a storm.


I was however, extremely blessed to be able to change jobs. I took a step of faith at the beginning of the year and made a transition into community based mental health. I’ll tell you it was more of a blessing than I could have ever known. Besides feeling about 20 years younger not having to deal with the stressors I was dealing with, I am fortunate enough to work with an amazingly caring crew of people and have the flexibility to work from home when it’s needed. Only God knew what he was going to ask me to walk through when I changed jobs. Doing this allowed me to spend precious time at the nursing home with my grandma, working from my laptop in the afternoons. I was able to hold her hand and be there for her final moments. That is something I will be eternally grateful for. I can also say, with my breath held, that I might be in remission with my RA for the first time in forever. I truly believe it’s because I have the flexibility to balance work and life better and take breaks when I need it.

And finally, there’s this crazy world of my family. My wild and crazy crew at home. We’ve been able to do a lot of healing with our daughter and the littles. But those of with kids from hard places know that when you take one step forward it’s often with two steps back. There were days I didn’t think we could bare one more melt down. I could not hear “I hate you” or “I wish you would die” one more time without my heart breaking in two and simultaneously going into a rage of my own. I spent many nights without sleep just praying for a miracle. Praying this madness would stop. I’d hold my breath and walk on egg shells hoping I didn’t say the wrong thing to set her off.  I’m happy to report we’ve had a first. This is the first year our daughter hasn’t had to be hospitalized following the holidays. It was a relatively peaceful Thanksgiving and Christmas. I could see her smile more. I could see her relaxed with a sense of belonging. A feeling she wasn’t going to be abandoned. She knew she was loved. I know this doesn’t mean everything is peachy, but I’m so thankful for that little nugget of peace. 


So goodbye negativity. Goodbye pain, and suffering, and grief.  Welcome 2017 with your breath of fresh air.  I’m ready for continued healing in this body and spirit of mine. I’m ready to breathe. Eric and I have a vacation to England and Ireland planned for the summer along with some staycations with the kids.  I’m ready to just live. What about you? What are you saying goodbye to in 2016? What are you looking forward to in the New Year? 


Friday, June 3, 2016

Stop the Glorification of Busy


I'm a professional problem solver, well actually a social worker, but it's all the same. Day in and day out I help people manage their lives. So imagine my surprise when I returned this week from several days off only to realize that I haven't been managing mine very well. I spent last week in Atlanta for school and the weekend prior at a retreat for adoptive moms. I returned so well rested and ready for life. Today I found myself exhausted and going through the motions and I asked myself why I'm so tired. Then I took a look at my schedule. When life got hard, I got busier. Oh it wasn't intentional, but I thought the more I filled my life with satisfying places and tasks the happier I'd be. But guess what? It didn't work out like that. Marriage? Hard. Raising a child with complex trauma, HARD. Being a parent in general, hard. Adjusting to living life with an incurable disease, extremely HARD. With each hard thing I'd get more "involved." Work two jobs. Go to grad school. Volunteer for multiple organizations. Help coach little league. No wonder my coffee can't sustain me anymore. I'm exhausted ya'll.

It's a vicious cycle though. When you have chronic illness and you increase your stress, whether it's good stress or bad stress, you become more inflamed. The more I took on the more inflamed I'd get and the more steroids I'd need to function at the level I was before. I decided earlier this week that I'd start to wean myself from the roids and start to be more gentle to my arthritic self. But today I also decided I was going to be more kind to my family and my soul and take life a little bit slower. So I dropped down to one class this quarter. Gave notice to some of the organizations I volunteer with that I'm going to take a hiatus. Opened up my schedule for more family time, and more self care.

Self care. That's a word many mommies wince at. We get so busy caring for our children and everyone around us that we forget that we can't pour from an empty cup. I was raised by an overbearing mother who even today laughs at the idea of self care and calls it selfish and inconsiderate. But let me tell you, it's not. So I'm borrowing from a list over at healthyplace.com and sharing some ideas for self care. You can view the full blog here: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2015/09/why-self-care-is-important-for-your-mental-physical-health/

Inner Self-Care
Make a date with yourself. Spend an hour alone doing something that nourishes you, not work or things on your to-do list (reading, your hobby, walking around the neighborhood, visiting a museum or gallery, etc.)
Read books and watch movies you enjoy
Paint or write something that lets out your creative energy
Meditate.
Take a quick nap. Only 10 to 20 minutes can reduce your sleep debt and leave you ready for action.
Learn mindfulness or connect with a spiritual practice that vibes with you.


Outer Self-Care
Eat something you enjoy.
Have a long bath or shower, sit around in your bathrobe, and read magazines.
Do a mini-declutter. Recycle three things from your wardrobe that you don’t love or regularly wear or clean out your backpack/purse.
Help someone. Carry a bag, open a door, or pick up an extra carton of milk for a neighbor.
Stretch. 5-10 minutes to get out the kinks helps your body and mind.
Use lotion or a product that makes you happy.
Spend time with real friends and other people who lift you up.




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fingerprints of God

Motherhood has kept me quite busy, which is why there has been zero action on this page for a while. A Facebook post today inspired me to tell a little bit of our story. I've been very particular with the details of our children's stories that we share with the public for obvious reasons but there are times when it's important to share things so that God can be glorified. I feel that this is one of those times. About a year ago God began to nudge me to look into finding Isaiah's birth mother in Ethiopia. All that we knew was that he was abandoned and that she had Hepatitis C (for more on the back story click Here).  Mothers Day came and I grieved for her. For a woman I never met but felt so connected to. I would watch Isaiah smile and ham it up and I'd think of her. How she must wonder about him. And my has he grown.



So, a few months ago I decided to go for it and reached out to a mutual friend who lived in Ethiopia and was finding birth families. Today he delivered us the biggest news. He found her! Not only did he find her, he gave her pictures of our sweet boy and was able to get some back story. While I am not going to post all of the details (this story will be his to tell one day) I do want to share one that I feel is most glorifying to the Lord. 



As you may not know I work in mental health. It is my passion and I love every minute I spend working with my clients. Today I learned that his birth mother and uncle suffer from mental illness. This spoke to my heart so much. Then I got the following message, "When she realized she was pregnant she went to a local hospital to have an abortion. She spent the night after the procedure and went home. She later became more sick and her belly became bigger and she knew she was still pregnant. Then, when Beruk was three months old she left him in the village and you know the details from there."  Friends, my sweet, beautiful boy survived a botched abortion. Not only did he survive but he came out perfectly healthy. What Satan meant for evil the Lord used for good. I've always known God had big plans for my baby boy. But, man I had no idea. I almost did not share these details because the idea of so many people knowing such a hurtful part of his past bothered me. I've seen, however, how the Lord used my dear friends the Schroers when they shared about how their son came to be with them and I couldn't help but sing God's praises. I've always been pro-life, but today I'm even more so. I admire his birth mother so much for choosing to continue carrying this little blessing and giving him the best life she could. Only God knows what's in store, but I know He holds tomorrow and I find so much comfort in that. 



Friday, May 29, 2015

Trench On Mammas


I've become somewhat of a hermit. Choosing to keep to myself inside this little shell called my life. My children are the biggest blessing that God has bestowed upon me, but when you are an adoptive mom, especially one of a child from hard places, everyone has an opinion. Everyone.  And sometimes those opinions can just be too much. Sometimes you just want a shoulder to cry on. A friend to sit and talk to. One who gets it. A girlfriend who is in the trenches.  But most of us don't like to admit we're knee deep in mud and can barely move.

About a month ago I embarked on another sleepless night.  Since being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis I seem to have a lot of those.  A fellow adoptive mommy shared information about a retreat for adoptive moms called Together in the Trenches. I clicked on the link. I read all the details of the event. It seemed like heaven. Then I saw the cost. I sighed. As I read further I noticed that it said scholarships were available for a limited number of people. So I took a chance and sent an email to inquire. Not long after I got a reply that there was indeed an opportunity for me to go free of charge.  God was moving.




I had little expectation for the weekend. A night away from my normal life was more than enough. I did fear running into the judgmental mom. We all know how catty women can be. There's never a shortage of mammas who are judgmental. .  As soon as I walked through the door of the beautiful Wooded Glen Retreat Center I was welcomed with open arms by the most amazing women I had ever met.





After settling in I had the pleasure of having dinner with my "platoon" for the weekend.  I had no idea when I sat down at the dinner table labeled for 'Platoon Sierra'  that this amazing group of beautiful women would touch me so deeply. I formed a bond with them that I had not known in a very long time. Each of us had a story. Each story different. But love was woven throughout each one. At this table sat a group of weary moms who were in the middle of a dirty trench. And God made beauty from ashes that weekend.



 The Together in the Trenches retreat gave over 80 women the opportunity to have life breathed into us. To see God move in ways we could have never imagined. There is so much power in a 'me too' ya'll.  So much power. With 'me too' there's no need to be perfect, only transparent. With 'me too' the pressure is gone. I found so many 'me toos.'  From the key note speaker (follow her journey over at this page), to my roommate, to my platoon, to the stranger rocking on the back porch, there was a me too.  This weekend I saw extravagant love in action. The kind of love that Christ intended all of us to give. And for that I am forever thankful.  Trench on mammas. Trench on.

*this photo is courtesy of Sharon Miles Photography

For more information on Together in The Trenches visit http://www.togetherinthetrenches.com/



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Transparency

Transparency. We all want it, but struggle to give it. Transparency in adoption is even more rare.  There are two kinds of adoptive parents out there. There are those that pretend that adoption is all sunshine and rainbows, and there are those who are an open book. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle.  I’ll admit, when we were adopting our now 2 year old (he was 6 months old when he came home) all I read or remembered was rainbows and unicorns. I often thought, “I’m adopting a baby not a teenager.  This can’t be too hard.”   It was hard, but for different reasons.

I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. When I was pregnant with our 5 year old son I was terrified I would end up with post-partum depression or that my medication would negatively affect him. Neither of those things happened. He is a bright, happy, and energized boy.  I had a great psychiatrist who spelled things out for me.  His education and assurance was wonderful. There was no depression, just a cranky sleep deprived mommy. So when we decided to adopt I had no thought of becoming depressed.  It came from nowhere and hit me hard. Our son was and still is the happiest child I’ve ever seen. Since coming home he awakens singing and babbling. But at six months old and in a foreign place that’s all he wanted to do. Sing. Poop. Cuddle. Eat. Eat. Poop. Laugh. Poop. Cuddle.  Notice something missing??? Sleep!!!! He didn’t sleep for us when we were in Ethiopia either. And he didn’t sleep much at home.  If you were holding him he was happy. But put him in bed?? He’d cry for eternity.  I couldn’t handle the crying. This poor child had been through so much already.  I needed him to attach to us. He needed to feel loved. Cry it out parenting was not an option (and it wasn’t with our bio son either).  The problem here was that my husband worked third shift. Guess who was up with him??? This mom.  My mom moved in to help for a while, but I had the night shift.  Nine months of 2-3 hours of sleep got the best of me.  On the weekends all I did was sleep. My migraines came back with a vengeance. I was cranky. I didn’t go to church much. Didn’t read my Bible.  I had no motivation. I hated going to work although I loved my job. I cried all the time. I was snippy.  People would always ask about our family and I’d crack a smile and spit out sunshine and rainbows.  Uggh.. It was mostly lies. “Things are perfect.  Yada, Yada, Yada. Finally I went to my doctor. Did you know there’s something called post-adoption depression??? Google it. It’s real.  My doctor explained that although my hormones weren’t raging like post-partum, the situation was still the same.  That, along with my anger that I didn’t have sunshine and rainbows kept me down.  I also longed for Ethiopia. I connected with the people and culture there in ways I never expected. I was depressed, but with the help of medicine and begging my husband to take time off of work things turned around.

When we began our adoption of V, I knew the truth this time around.  There was no question as to whether this would be difficult.  Horrific trauma. Horrific. Loss.  No permanency. I work in mental health so I knew how this would play out. I began to share way too much information with family in an attempt to prepare them of what to expect and how to respond. Bad idea. Older kids have a story; usually a difficult story with unfathomable acts. Their story is tough. It’s usually not pretty, and it’s theirs to tell. Many people can’t handle knowing what these kids lived through. My attempt to not gloss things over resulted in me over-sharing information that jaded people’s thoughts. That is one of my biggest regrets.  We have a small group of people that get the “unfiltered” version of life parenting a child from a hard place. And we have others that get the truth, just a little more broad. No person should expect a child who has lived this life to come home and be grateful, but there are people out there who think that.  The truth is that children with a history of abuse or neglect learned different ways to protect themselves from their oppressive situation. The techniques they learned almost always fall into a category of control, manipulation, triangulation, aggression, or violence. While these were once the methods that kept them alive and safe, they are usually not necessary or productive in safe homes. I will tell you that my husband and I have encountered most of those techniques. We are blessed to have family and friends who support us and pray us through the hard times.  It’s hard. It’s exhausting. But it’s worth it.  And I mean that. Redemption is beautiful, but it comes at a cost.


”Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.” – Rick Warren

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November is National Adoption Month

Did you know November is national adoption month? The first Sunday is November is also celebrated as Orphan Sunday. I plan to spend November blogging to advocate for the fatherless and hopefully debunk some of the myths about adopting. First I wanted to start out with some statistics. I'm a numbers person. I love to crunch numbers and collect data. So here's the low down on orphans, both abroad and state side. 

 The Global Orphan Crisis
·        It is estimated that 153 million children worldwide, ranging from infants to teenagers, have lost one or both parents (UNICEF).
·        HIV/AIDS has orphaned 17.9 million children, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia 
·        Over 7 million children are in institutional care worldwide  
·        One in five children living in developing countries is severely underweight  
·        Over 1 billion children suffer from at least one form of severe deprivation of basic needs such as water, food, and sanitation 
·        19,000 children under the age of five died every day in 2011 
·        22 million children are refugees or internally displaced, forced to flee their homes due to violence or natural disaster  
·        Over 1 billion children live in countries affected by armed conflict  
·        67 million children of primary school age do not go to school  
·        Children suffer from domestic violence everywhere. On every continent, households report domestic violence against children at rates ranging from 20 to 60%
·        There are over 120,000 orphans in America, while another 400,000 live without a permanent family.
 America at a Glance
·        There are roughly 400,000 children in the US foster care system. Of that number, approximately 120,000 are waiting to be adopted. Every child is created in the image of God and deserves to belong to a loving family! Starting in your own community, research ways that you can help meet the needs of children in foster care
·        Of the children waiting in foster care, 30,000 age out every year, without families.
·        One of the greatest needs for the children who age out of foster care is to connect with a loving mentor who will guide them through important decisions. If you have a small business that can provide vocational training or if you have experience with college applications and scholarships, this may be the perfect way for you to care for those who are aging out of the system! Contact your local Department of Human Services for more information about becoming a mentor.
·        It is common for children in foster care to age out, leaving them with little financial or emotional support.
·        Almost 25% of youth aging out did not have a high school diploma or GED (University of Chicago)
·        Infants comprised almost one-fourth (18,078) of unrelated domestic adoptions
·        Children with special needs comprised two-fifths (32,402) of unrelated domestic adoptions.
   
 INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTION DATA

·        Over the past decade, 179,719 children from around the world were welcomed into families in the U.S. through inter-country adoption.
·        Top 5 Sending countries in 2010 were: China, Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea and Ukraine.
·        Inter-country Adoption has decreased 59% from its high in 2004 due primarily to restrictions by sending countries. It's important to note that UNICEF is not an advocate of adoption and encourages these restrictions in countries. While they claim they are trying to "help" parents and children are still living in poverty and orphanages are over flowing. 
 Africa at a Glance
·        In Sub-Saharan Africa 1 out of 9 children die before the age of five
·        Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest risk of first-day-death for infants, and is the region showing the least progress towards ending infant mortality 
·        Malaria is a leading killer of children under five in Africa, leading to over 600,000 deaths in 2010 
·        About 1 in 6 Ethiopian children die before their 5th birthday.
·        Ethiopia has one of the largest orphan populations in the world, with approximately 4.3 Million.
·        Americans claiming to be doing a good deed are known to "start" orphanages in countries like Uganda. More orphanages is not the answer. Helping keep families together and teaching them how to provide for their families is what is needed. 
 Latin America at a Glance
·        Women and children are especially vulnerable in Latin America; underage minors represent 50% of people living in extreme poverty 
·        7.5 million girls are married before age 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean 
·        There are 10.2 million orphaned children in Latin America, 5% of all children in the region
  
  Asia At a Glance
·        Asia is home to the largest number of orphaned children in the world; 60 million, at last count
·        30 million children in East Asia suffer from at least one severe deprivation 
·        In the Russian Federation alone, 140,000 children with disabilities live in institutional care
·        Under-five deaths are increasingly concentrated in Southern Asia  India and China are two of the countries with the highest rates of early childhood mortality 
·        Almost 30% of neonatal deaths occur in India.

The Fear Factor

  One of the primary barriers to adoption is fear.
  How will adopted kids turn out?  How would adoption affect our family?
  
   These are vital questions to grapple with.  Any family considering adoption should know that most every non-infant child in need of adoption has faced great difficulty.  This is especially true for children who’ve spent significant time living in an institution.  Overcoming wrongs a child has experienced in the past may take great effort and sacrifice from adoptive parents.

  But ultimately, studies show definitively that adopted children consistently thrive in loving homes.  There may be great challenges, but most often—as with all parenting—even greater joys.  Adopted children and their futures vary as much as biological children do.  Most of the time, their outcomes are just about the same as other children, sometimes even better:

   An expansive 1994 study by the Search Institute comparing adopted teens to other teens found that:
  Adopted teens scored higher on indicators of well-being such as school performance, friendships, volunteerism, self-esteem and optimism.
  Adopted teens scored lower on indicators of high-risk behavior such as depression, alcohol use, vandalism, and police trouble.
  Compared to their non-adopted siblings, adopted teens showed no significant difference in their perception of similarities between themselves and adoptive parents in terms of interests.
  Children adopted transracially showed no differences in terms of identity formation and self-esteem, attachment to parents, or psychological health.
  Many other studies have reached similar findings.  These include:
 There is no difference in the self-esteem of adopted and non-adopted peers.  This equality in confidence and emotional well-being extends also to comparisons of transracial and same-race adoptees
  Adopted children are well-integrated into their families and schools and show good psychological outcomes.  There are few differences between children who have been adopted and their non-adopted peers (Palacios and Sanchez-Sandoval, 2005)
  Long-term outcomes are positive for adopted children, and generally show little or no difference compared to non-adopted children (Benson, 2004).


  The vast majority of adopted children show behavior patterns and emotional and academic adjustment very similar to those of non-adopted children (Palacios and Sanchez-Sandoval, 2005, Vrand and Brinich, 1999, Brodzinsky, 1987).








Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween and the traumatized child

Halloween. It's my 5 year old son's favorite holiday. He loves seeing the scary masks and trying them on at the store. He likes to watch kid-appropriate scary movies and is huge Harry Potter fan. I never really considered what Halloween for a child with trauma and PTSD might be like until we brought home V. The closer Halloween has come the more anxious she has gotten. Shadows in her room have become more scary. We aren't sleeping well. Even the villains in Disney movies we've watched over and over are more scary. See, my sweet V has seen evil in the flesh. She has lived a nightmare.  And seeing the dark and scary is a trigger for her. Her hyper-vigilance became worse after a scary movie was shown at school. The nightmares started. Flashbacks of despicable acts.  The idea of strangers knocking on her door or people being disguised is beyond scary for her. This is going to be our first Halloween with a child exposed to trauma.

So, how do we plan to do this? One thing we plan on doing is focusing on "grounding." Grounding techniques keep the person in the here and now. Sensory Stimulation is a great way to do this. Having a stress ball handy, keeping a roller bottle of essential oils, hugs, and tapping exercises are just a few grounding exercises we plan to use.   We also plan on spending our Halloween in a "safe place."  Many churches have Trunk or Treat or other festivities. Many children feel safe at church and the costumes tend to be not as scary or gory.

Many outsiders have no idea our V has experienced trauma. And when you are at that costume party or neighborhood block party you might have trauma victims in your presence. Please try to be mindful of this. Don't sneak up on someone. Address them by name if you know who it is. Re-think that costume if you are going to be in the presence of children. And it's not always the scary or gory costumes that bother children. So many costumes for females and even little girls are sexual in nature. This is a trigger for our daughter. And might be a trigger to a victim of sexual abuse. We made our own costumes this year because so many that fit her were inappropriate.  Upon searching google for tween girl costumes here were a few that were displayed:
 

When I was a witch at this age my costume that was purchased consisted of a black dress like get up with a green face and black hat. And Minnie Mouse?? I never knew she wore a corset.  My point to this is that our sexualized culture makes life for a child of abuse even more difficult.  Feel free to comment below if you're a Veteran Trauma Mamma and you have advice.