Thursday, December 28, 2017

A.C.E.'s, Toxic Stress And Adoption

How do you help a 10 year old make good choices when she see's no need to do so? Everything that happens is because she was adopted. Adoption can leave a huge hole in a child's heart, one we as parents are powerless to fix as long as the child refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem. To keep from thinking of the pain she turns her brain off. She has become quite adept at this and I find it scary because I know where such actions can lead. Is learned dissociation less serious then when someone does it in order to survive a situation that is unbearable? Or are they one and the same? 

Another tactic is to stuff the hurt and pretend everything is okay. She stuffs her feelings until they erupt. I told her that stuffing her feelings is like stuffing trash into the garbage can. If you don't empty the garbage, it turns stinky and overflows making everything smell bad. If you empty the garbage can, the bad smell goes away and you can go on with life. "The big feelings that you don't want to deal with are beginning to smell and overflow into your actions. This overflow is causing you to make poor choices and do things that you know are wrong."

It is so hard to see your child heading down a path you know they will someday regret. I know she is hurting and I wish I could help her win the war that is going on in her heart. 

Earlier this week I was watching a documentary called Paper Tigers. It is about a school that uses a trauma informed approach to teaching/education. They teach their students about the A.C.E.'s - adverse childhood effects and how they play a huge role in the decisions the students make. Children with high A.C.E.'s live with something called toxic stress.

Harvard's Center On The Developing Child explains toxic stress like this: Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. Such toxic stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior and health across a lifespan."

Our brains are designed to react to danger by becoming hyper vigilant. We are on high alert, ready for whatever our brain perceives as a threat. This is well and good because this rapid response is what can protect us from harm. After the danger has passed our brain sends out signals that calm our bodies and we return to a relaxed state. When a child is constantly in high stress situations his brain is always turned on and eventually he begins to view everything as a threat to his safety. This is detrimental to a child's emotional and physical well being and creates a situation referred to as toxic stress.

Knowing this and knowing that the stress level in our home is typically in the red zone, makes me despair for our children's future, especially for those who already have high A.C.E.'s. There are many days when it feels like a we go in a circle. A child creates chaos, the other children react and till we get them calmed the first child is back to acting out! The good news is that the one thing that can help children with toxic stress is something that we can provide. The presence of a stable, caring adult in the child's life can provide the security a child needs to begin the healing process. 

I have been clinging to this because so often in the face of our children's emotional pain, Dean and I feel helpless. We don't know what to say, we can't relate, we can't promise that everything will be okay. But we can promise that we will stand by our children through the tough times. And pray, how we pray for our children!

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Adoption = Bittersweet Moments & Memories

"Welcome to our family Kiana Faith! Her adoption is over and she is ours!!! Thank you Jesus! All that work and time only to have the court proceedings over in about three minutes. Thanks to all who came to show your support."

This came up in my FB memories today and suddenly things became clearer! Kiana had a good week about a month ago giving us hope that maybe things were getting better but then it all crashed and crashed hard, leaving me sorting through the mishmash of clues trying to find a common denominator. I was sure something was causing this angst, insecurity, self loathing and rage, but what? 

There was a time when I would have never forgotten that an adoption anniversary was coming up. I had placement dates, final visit dates, adoption dates, all our CPS trauma dates as well as the dates when B went to TAP, the date we made final plans for his future as well as his re adoption date all down. If someone was having a particularly rough time of it, I mentally went over those dates to see if any coincided with the child's meltdown, if so, I had my answer. Anymore, our family has so many trauma dates that I live from day to day and forget half of them.

This is a side of adoption that is rarely focused on. We rejoice when a child is placed with a family who will love and nurture them. We celebrate adoptions (and rightly so!) but fail to acknowledge the flip side, that of pain and loss.

I pulled out Kiana's photo album and she has been poring over it, reading the captions and looking with longing eyes at the photo's of her birth parents. This is another aspect of adoption that is rarely talked about - the longing for birth parents. Many people feel threatened when their child expresses a desire to have a relationship with their birth parents but Dean and I choose to embrace that desire and do what we can to make it possible. 

We love Kiana dearly but we know there will always be a piece of her heart that she reserves for her birth parents and that is good and right. As we explained to her last night, "The Bible says a mother will never forget her baby. We also know that children never forget their birth parents." That seemed to comfort her a wee bit. Sometimes when we are having life changing discussions with our children about things we have never experienced and as a result feel out of our depth, Dean and I are constantly praying for the right words because the wrong ones could have such a painful impact on our children. 

Bittersweet is the perfect word to describe adoption. Bitter because of the circumstances necessitating adoption and sweet for the awesome privilege calling another parents child our own. 

Kiana's adoption announcements:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Our Family Trip

We received tickets to the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter through SWAN. We left Wednesday afternoon and came home last evening. Everyone had fun, but we all (or most of us) agreed that it is wonderful to be home again!

There were life sized displays throughout the Ark. Joseph asked me several times if those are real people!

Walking into the ark

We were so busy trying to keep our crew in line, we forgot to take a picture of the front of the Ark. We got this shot from the parking lot.

There were a few live animals inside the Ark.

The back of the Ark

This is how Joseph spent a great deal or our trip. Squinted eyes and his coat hood pulled up. The noise and lights were too much for him. In hindsight I should have brought noise blocking head phones and sun glasses. If it would be acceptable, I would have also brought a leash. Keeping track of three children who are easily distracted was quite a task.

We walked through Christmas Town at the Creation Museum early so we could beat the crowds. The brochure said they have tens of thousands of visitors who come just to see Christmas Town and from the preparations under way, it appeared they were prepared for just that.

Dean bought the children each a cup of hot chocolate. You should have seen their eyes light up! I told him he went up another step in their minds.

This girl was delighted with her very own cup, best of all it had a lid!!!

There Creation Museum had a small petting zoo

We ate at Cracker Barrel on Saturday evening. We were all tired of fast food!

I hurt my back a few days before we left on our trip. Lia was pleased to be my head prop,

Our motel had a pool, much to the children's delight.

Walking into the Creation Museum

Kiana and Joseph weren't impressed with the dinosaurs. Kiana kept asking me if they are still dinosaurs around and how do I know that they are extinct?

One final picture. The party was pretty much over at this point. The attitudes from a lack of sleep, structure and all the excitement were getting the best of everyone.

A few things we did to keep everyone as regulated as possible was:
-brought our own healthy snacks
-made sure the children ate enough protein
-went to bed early when possible
-went over rules before going into a restaurant or museum
-went prepared for things to be a bit rough so we weren't disappointed when things didn't go as planned.
Last night I asked Dean if he would take off work today because I anticipated having three very dysregulated little people. He asked if I was dreading today and I said, "Let's just say I am preparing for the worst, but hope to be pleasantly surprised." Amazingly enough, our morning wasn't any worse than any other school morning!  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What Would We Do Differently If We Could Have A Redo?

This picture came up in my FB memories this morning. Many pictures of him make me feel sad and sick at heart but this one is precious. I remember taking this picture after a particularly rough day although I can no longer remember what made it tough. Dean and I were determined to show him that we love him but we didn't understand that while you can show all the love you want, unless a child feels that love, it will not fulfill it's intended purpose.

This was before we knew about TBRI and the need to parent traumatized children differently. We knew that what we were doing wasn't working but had no idea what to do next. We didn't know about FASD and how it clouds and distorts a persons view of the world. We parented him just like we were raised and this does NOT work for our children from hard places. 

It is hard to look back and see all the mistakes we made. I am often tempted to wonder if things would be different if only we had known back then what we know now. Would we be a family of 7 instead of a family of 6? How much healthier would our children be if they hadn't been through a CYS investigation and adoption disruption? How much more trusting would Dean and I be? But my mind always goes full circle and I come back to the fact that we honestly did the best we knew with what we had and "our" little boy is having his needs met with his new family in ways our family never could have provided.

So if we could go back, if we would be granted a redo, what would we do differently?

- Attend a training in TBRI before bringing traumatized children into our home.

- We would bring one child into our home at a time and make sure they are fully bonded and secure before bringing in more children

-We would keep our interactions with the outside world to a bare minimum the first months.

- We would do our best to Meet Our Child At His Level versus the level on which his peers are at

- We would practice Felt Safety

- We would realize that Love Is Not Enough

- We would be on the lookout for Trauma Triggers, realizing that what appears to be negative behavior may actually be a trauma trigger

But despite all the things we wish we would have done differently and the many times we fall into the "why us" mentality, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that There Is Safety In Being In The Center Of God's Will

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Can Anyone Hear The Cry?

Can anyone hear the cry of adoptive families?

Adoption is beautiful, it is a blessing, it creates new family's, it brings joy to empty homes and hearts, it gives a needy child a family.......


What many people don't understand about adoption, especially when children are adopted through foster care, is that these children are victims of trauma, of abuse and neglect. Many of them suffer from internal wounds that no one can see. When you bring them into your family, you are taking on that pain and you NEED outside support. Just like your child relies on you to help him find healing, you rely on outside support to hold up your weak arms while you help your child and that is where the ball is often dropped. I don't think it is intentionally. I think the general public simply has no idea what is involved in parenting traumatized children. They don't see how draining it is to do everything in your power to avert a rage. They don't see the pain the siblings endure. They don't see the hot tears coursing down a mothers cheeks when she really, truly doesn't feel able to go another day...and has been pushing through this for months and years.

Recently another adoptive mom asked me what she can do to help and I just looked at her and shrugged my shoulders. She smiled and said, "That is what we always say, isn't it?" 

I think this is part of the problem, we are in so deep and there is so much at stake that we really don't know what we need, or we fear the response if we are vulnerable.

-What we really need someone who is able to come alongside our family and willingly learn what our children need to stay regulated and bonded with us. 

-We need someone who will follow our seemingly crazy rules and be sure our children comply with them because this is the only way our children will feel safe.

-We need people trained in trauma and attachment, people who can take our raging child when we have reached the limit, people who can give us a break without further damaging the already shaky bond between us and our child.

-We need people who aren't afraid to stand their ground and will speak words of truth when a child, because of the pain in his heart, is doing his best to decimate his adoptive family.

-People who understand that our children aren't "bad" they are traumatized, they have brain damage. They need love and acceptance.

-We need people willing to show our children grace for behaviors that may appear appalling.

-We need mentors for our biological children and our adopted children who have strong bonds. Their sibling's trauma creates secondary trauma which can quickly create a traumatized family where healing is hard to find.

-We need someone to say I am going to do ___________ for you. If you ask if there is something we need, chances are we won't be able to come up with a coherent response.

-We need friends who are willing to carry one sided relationships (thanks to those of you who do this for us. You know who you are!)

The quote, "It takes a village to raise a child," is especially true when a child has experienced pain and loss. We, the adoptive parents aren't enough, we simply don't reach around. Many parents feel guilty asking for help because it was their choice to adopt. I struggle for this as well but many, if not most parents had no idea of the battles ahead when they brought their hurting child home. They thought they were enough, only to discover the void in their child's heart was deeper and more vast than they ever thought. 

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Brain - Living With FASD

The Thanksgiving-Christmas season is not for the faint of heart when your child has FASD. Throw in a birthday just a few days after Christmas and the drama only intensifies.

Yesterday Joseph's brain literally went AWOL. He couldn't function. It was almost like having an 18 month old again but this toddler weighs 80 plus pounds, can run, call names, fling toys with enough force to hurt someone (usually mom) and to make it even scarier, the general public assumes that he is perfectly "normal" and anything he says is taken at face value. Sometimes I wish I could hang a sign around his neck explaining his diagnosis and how it affects him.

Perserveration is a symptom of FASD and currently gifts are Josephs main focus. He loves looking through catalogs which is nice because they keep him happy and occupied for a long time. The downside is that he see's all kinds of things he wants and he has to tell me all about them. Then he keeps asking, "What are you going to get me for Christmas? If you don't get me _________ you can buy it for my birthday. How many more days until my birthday?" And on and on until I tell him, "You may look at the catalog but if you keep begging, I will put it away." He agree's but not a minute later he is back at it. I remind him that there is to be no begging and he sigh's and says, "Sorry mom, I forgot. I will be quiet now." Guess what happens 30 seconds later? Yes, he is back to telling me what he wants. Sometimes I remove the catalog, other times I know he cannot remember from one moment to the next, so I just close my ears.

He eyeballs every box and package that comes in the mail. Asks me where I went shopping and reminds me of everything said store may carry. December is spent thinking of gifts. I guess I can just be thankful that Christmas and his birthday are within the same week. We have one solid month of dysregulation versus two months of it.

Yesterday was particularly rough for him. I have never seen him so spaced. His brain refused to focus for more than a few seconds at a time, not nearly long enough to figure out one math problem, much less do a test like he was supposed to. After an hour of trying different methods to get his brain to function, during which he ran away, screamed at me and slammed doors, I told him he doesn't have to do school work today. Guess what happened? He had a full on meltdown. Trashing his room, throwing things and screaming even louder. He finally fell on his bed, sobbing his heart out. I hate hearing him cry like that because I know it is coming from a place of deep pain and I can't make it better for him. Eventually he was able to play with his Lego's but beyond that he couldn't follow even simple commands.

I know what he needs, a smaller world, but how to do that is the problem because the poor boy already has such a limited existence. If anyone out there has tips on making a small world smaller, I am all ears. He wants to do things, he wants to be helpful but he is unable to realize his limitations which means mom gets the blame. He tells me time and again, "You just want me to have a boring life, you don't let me do anything fun!" I wish I could help him understand that we are helping him enjoy life by providing boundaries but he doesn't have the ability to understand such abstract concepts. 

Last night he had another meltdown just before bedtime. He was doing a chore and it was not going well so I told him to put his pj's on. He pounded and kicked his bedroom walls while screaming how unfair life is. I was thinking of calling Dean to come in and deal with him when he calmed down and crawled into bed. I was sweeping the floor when I heard a little voice calling, "Mom, I want to tell you something." I opened his door and he said, "Sorry I screamed at you, tomorrow will be a better day." I assured him I loved him and all was well. Sadly FASD is getting in the way again and today isn't much better than yesterday. Oh well, it's December so we will hunker down until January!

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