Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Appointment #1

Today we had a wonderful appointment with Dr Kim at ABC Pediatrics. He has a lot of experience in international adoptions, and it really shows in working with him. He was extremely thorough in exploring our daughter's history, and in understanding her current state. He was honest and direct about his thoughts, and respectful about listening to ours. He was encouraging without candy-coating things. In short, he left me feeling that we're in good hands for her medical needs.

It seems her case is even more complicated than we thought. Or it COULD be. Hard to say until we finish all the multitude of tests that are being proposed. Tomorrow there will be a complete lab workup, and he's going to be ordering a full brain and spine MRI and a genetic analysis. Of course there's the referrals to the ophthalmologist, neurologist, PT/OT specialist, and a feeding clinic. Oh, and he wants a full exam of her hearing to be sure it's ok. Sound overwhelming? yeah, that's because it is.

Yet, I feel calm. Dr Kim told us very clearly what to expect of him - he will be sort of like an overall care manager. He'll tell us which appointment needs to be first, when the tests should be conducted, which specialists are best, and where to go for various treatments. His office will help us haggle with insurance, when necessary. He also said clearly that he will be our advocate to any specialists or other doctors if their findings don't make sense to us or to him.

It's hard hearing all these dismal possibilities for our precious girl. It's overwhelming if I allow myself to go off down a rabbit hole, thinking about a lifetime of care for a medically complex child. I feel confident, though, knowing that we're starting with a great doctor and he'll be guiding us through the whole thing.

Of course, I realize that the biggest comfort for this situation doesn't come from Dr. Kim. It comes from God. He made our daughter, He meant her to be this way and I know that He has a plan in mind. Sometimes God's plan sounds crazy at first, but if you follow Him then He will make it all turn out for your best. It sounds crazy, what we are embarking on. It sounds crazy, I'm sure, to go through all this time and energy and expense to get a kid who many would view as "damaged goods."

And yet, this was God's will for us. So call me crazy, but I believe He's going to make it turn out.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"  - Matthew 7:9-11

Monday, November 28, 2011


When our sweet Princess first arrived in our mini-family in Sophia, the fact that she wanted to walk constantly seemed awesome. We were happy to oblige, almost non-stop, and we viewed this as a great bit of progress because she needs all the practice she can get. So we walked, nearly non-stop, around the little apartment the whole time we were hanging around in Bulgaria getting ready to come home.

I now wonder if that was quite so awesome as I assumed it to be.

It wasn't until we got home with her that we realized that our Princess doesn't know how to play. She can entertain herself just fine, scooting around on her butt and exploring the stuff around her, but when she encounters another adult human being she instantly wants to grab their fingers and walk around. It's not long before you begin to feel a bit like a puppet or a prop or a tool, rather than a human being. And that's because that is what she sees you as.

I don't mean this to sound like I'm calling my daughter selfish or cruel or manipulative. She doesn't know how to interact playfully because she never learned that skill in her previous environment. The kids never sat down with a caregiver to play, and at her age she would never have played interactively with her peers, since she never roomed with children above the age of about two. Two year olds don't play interactively, they play in parallel. So even when she had developed to a point where she could begin to play cooperatively, no one else around her was ready.

In all of her previous experience, my daughter has been taught that caregivers are there to meet basic physical needs and that's it. End of story. No cuddling, no playing, no songs and games, no sharing a toy or activity. There are too many kids to care for and not enough time. In Bulgaria, when we could focus all of our time on her, we became the most attentive and cuddly caregivers ever, but we were still simply the big people who do stuff for her. Now that we are home with her we are realizing that all the walking was a sign of development, but not the type of development we need to focus on.

The first thing we need to be concerned with is creating a connection with our new daughter. Teaching her to walk, to speak, to chew, etc. are admirable goals but they can't be pursued until that first one is at least underway. A child without a connection to their caregivers will rely on their own survival skills, they will be hyper-vigilant and on edge waiting for this caregiver to check out like so many others, and that focus on survival will leave them with no energy for growth in other areas. We can walk her around like crazy, and she might get better at it, maybe even proficient, but it won't develop the thing she needs most, and that is a relationship with us.

The past couple of days I've taken a new tactic of focusing on creating a relationship with her. I try to sit her facing me as much as possible. I touch her as much as possible. I hold her when I can. I carry her around. I sit her in my lap, facing me, and engage her in shared play. Her interest in walking has become less obsessive, it seems. She doesn't leap out of bed pulling us out to walk around the house for a solid hour, taking an interest in nothing else and throwing tantrums when we try to engage her in play. This morning she went straight from the bed to Nick's arms and then to breakfast and didn't flip out. That's sort of a big deal. This evening we were walking and she led me to her favorite toy table and sat me down and we played together. She walks to the sinks to have us turn them on so she can put her hands in. I managed to read a book to her and her sister this evening - twice! Previously I couldn't read to her because she would tear the book out of my hands and throw a fit because she wasn't walking. And, not for nothing, but she was asleep in 10 minutes tonight. (She politely declined her nap, so that's certainly part of it, but still...)

I guess I was surprised to realize just how pervasive the need to connect is in adopted kids. Biological kids have a big head start on this, what with nine months inside your body and all, so it's easy to miss this if you haven't adopted before. I'm starting to believe that if you seek first a connection, other issues will fall in place far easier than if you put connection at the bottom of your list or assume it will "just happen" while you are working on other things.

Connecting with your new kid is a big deal. It deserves to be a specific goal.

Week 2: Recap

Again, this more for me than you but here it is...

Day 8 - First day all alone with the new fam. She's eating a bit better, which is good. Her appetite was down for the travel day and the following day at home. We even went on a family outing to Chik-Fil-A for a school fundraiser. She did great! Rode in the back with her siblings without even rocking in her seat. She ate very well - lots of chicken noodle soup. Her notable new skill for the day was a tantrum. Her version of a tantrum is to throw herself down on her butt -hard- and scream and kick and throw herself backward. She threw it because I didn't walk her around when she wanted me to because I was trying to play with her and Baby Girl at the same time. So perhaps I should be glad that she shows a will. Sleep was more of the same and we are utterly exhausted. Something's gotta give, so we are dragging her bed into our room to put her to sleep in it.

Day 9 - First day of trying to put her in her own bed in our room. For the record, co-sleeping in a queen sized bed with a 3-year-old is a dumb idea destined for failure. Just saying is all. At any rate, could NOT get her to take a nap in it, no way no how. Tried for a solid hour and half and got nowhere. As a result, she was exhausted and fell asleep quickly... at 6:30. Putting a kid to bed at 6:30 scares me because I know what's coming at 3 am. Today, in the new developments department, she stood independently for a couple of seconds.

Day 10 - Sleeping in her own bed is awesome, but waking up at 3:30 is not. After an hour I got her back to sleep until around 7. Today we all took a walk to the park. She liked the swing, but was oddly unenthusiastic about it. Walked around on the uneven grass with only one hand for support. Threw a small fit when I made her sit on the ground with me, but calmed when I sat her in my lap facing me and then explored sand with me for a few minutes. Tonight she threw another set of tantrums because Daddy and I weren't walking her around like she wanted. After a few tantrums and some cuddling we had another breakthrough - cruising. She was holding the table and making her way around it alone. Lots of one-handed walking tonight, too. I make her do it by hiding the other hand behind my back! Fell asleep fast at 7:30 in her bed. Oh, and today I said to her "Diaper, Geri. Time to change your diaper." and she walked to the edge of the changing pad we keep on the floor in her room, sat down and laid back to be changed. Smart girl!!

Day 11 - More developments in terms of her balance, gait and ability to entertain herself. Nick did the math - we got about ten minutes of time, total, where she was playing with something instead of walking all around. Most of this was little bits and pieces when one of us sat down on the floor and just refused to walk. After the tantrum, there would be a moment of calm where she might find a toy and amuse herself with it. Brief, but nice. Feels like progress. However, I must admit that the whole thing is draining and we were feeling more than a little stressed tonight. A lot of the trouble is that we have both fallen ill! It was a good night for some Bible study, so we each went off into the Word to find the reassurance we needed. He found it in Matthew, I found it in Psalms. At any rate, it put our hearts back on the right track.

Day 12 - Wow, a day of awesome new developments and the reminder that God is the ultimate Healer!!! Our daughter spoke her first English word - "Up". She said it multiple times and always in the same context - turning to us with her arms outstretched to be picked up. It was amazing! She also stood independently a few more times today. As soon as she realizes she is doing it, she gets scared and drops to her butt and cries. Poor thing has been conditioned for nearly four years to think she can't do anything. By the time we're done with her, she'll be trying to conquer the world!!! But the true gem of the day was a solid 10 minutes of quiet play on the floor with her siblings. How sweet it was to be curled up on the floor with all three kids while they played. Not together so mach as in tandem, but still. It counts. And then, in the afternoon, she spent another 10 minutes or so scooting around her bedroom exploring and playing. So we DOUBLED the amount of quiet playtime today from yesterday!! Oh, and tonight she saw sister and brother take their baths and decided it looked like fun. She cried when I tried to undress her, but she happily sat on the edge of the tub and splashed and kicked in her blue jeans. It's messy, but I'll take it. Baby steps count, no matter how much water they splash around the bathroom. And it was A LOT!!

Day 13 - I can't seem to remember much, but I figure that means it was a good day. We mostly hung around the house. I decided to try to put her down at nap time, since I'm the one who's going to be doing it when Nick goes to work again, and it didn't work out very well. Naptime is the toughie... she doesn't really want it. Bedtime is easier, she's out in about 40 minutes max. Naptime we can easily spend 1 1/2 hours trying before I give up. Sigh. It's worth the effort because eventually she'll learn to expect it and then it might start to work. She needs the sleep, that's for sure.

Day 14 - Sunday... we went to church! It was great! Otherwise, a good day with lots of quiet together play. I'll have to post on that separately to explain....

All in all, we're doing really well. Mommy and Daddy have gotten more sleep and that has a lot to do with out positive outlook. :) As our dear friends Brett and Shanny say "It all comes down to a nap - you or them!"

Friday, November 25, 2011

Progress and Reflection

My next weekly recap is going to be full of new developments, but the most noteworthy of them all is that Geri spoke her first word. I keep saying it's her first English word, but the reality is that it's her first word ever. That's right, at almost 4 years old she was completely without speech in the orphanage. She "uttered random syllables," as they describe it in her medical profile, and that was it.

It was this piece of information that led our pediatrician to warn us that she may be mentally retarded. He said it would probably be mild, but he couldn't come up with any other reason why she wouldn't be speaking at all. He said that the environment just didn't explain it. The orphanage, from our description, sounded like a very good facility and she was being fed adequately so it sounded like a nice enough place. If she wasn't speaking yet, something must be wrong with her. That was his reasoning, and I can see why he arrived at that conclusion.

This blows it all out of the water. In 12 days with us she has accomplished what they couldn't do with her in almost 4 years. Why? I could speculate all day, but I won't. I don't want to appear ungrateful to the facility that kept her alive for us. It's hard to guess at the reasons without seeming to blame them, and that's not a road I want to toddle off down.

I, for one, have decided that it's God's good will. He wanted us, her parents, to be there for all her firsts. Her first word, her first steps, all those things that you write down in the baby book and treasure in your heart. Those firsts are going to be ours, a part of our family history, instead of part of some shadowy past that we can't fully access or understand. I'm grateful for them. God has given us something beautiful, and in the process we get to witness miraculous improvements in our beautiful girl.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Does this count as a new skill? The Princess has started throwing tantrums. She throws herself backward onto her butt VERY HARD and then kicks and screams and throws her head back. It's definitely a first-rate tantrum. So far, it's kicked off by not getting what she wants... which I guess is stating the obvious in this area. All tantrums are from the kid not getting their way, right?

The biggest trigger is the issue of walking. She loves to walk but doesn't do so independently. She has to have someone holding her hand, and she prefers to have you hold both hands. In fact, she's thrown a couple of tantrums over being given only one hand to hold. Can I blame her? No. She wants to explore her environment and she likes to move around, but she is unable to see, scared, and her balance is bad. Unfortunately for all of us, or perhaps it's fortunate for her, we just don't have the ability to spend all day granting her every wish. If she were an only child, sure. But we've got two other kiddos demanding our attention and basic survival needs so we can't spend all day on a trek of the abode. Not to mention our aching backs and the crushing monotony of walking in circles all day.

When Nick saw her tantrum for the first time (I saw it first while he was picking up the dogs from the boarders) he rushed in to tell me to give her what she wanted. "She's just a baby!" he said to me. "Not exactly," I corrected him. "She's at around the level of a one-year-old and at that age is when I stop caving to every single demand. I want her to be happy, but this has got to be sustainable. Walking her all day is just not." The issue was, of course, not resolved at that moment.

Then, later on, he tried to play with her on the floor and she threw another tantrum and he looked at me and said "You're right. What will you do when I go back to work and you can't just walk her all day? But what do we do?"

Well, I got to thinking. The cause of her tantrums is frustration at being unable to do something, right? Then the only real answer is to empower her. Whether she likes it or not, this girl needs to learn to walk in order to make herself happy - never mind what we think. She wants to be able to move around, and being blind doesn't mean she can't do it. She can. She just has been taught her whole life not to and is scared.

So now we start on a new campaign of pushing her boundaries. We didn't bring her home to maintain her in the same lifestyle and at the same dismal rate of development she was accustomed to. We adopted her to give her hope for a future, and that means she will grow and change and learn. We've started denying her that second hand when walking around, and we started pushing her to let go and cruise on the furniture. I'm hoping she'll figure out how to push the dining room chairs around soon - Baby Girl did that and it was the thing that catapulted her into walking. I know they aren't the same, but it would be nice if that same magic worked twice. If nothing else, I hope she finds the walls and realizes that they can be followed through the whole house, go figure. Every room seems to have them! And they all connect!!

In the meantime, we have a way of handling the tantrums. When she throws herself down, we pick her up and hold her. It stills her almost instantly. And after a few rounds of it, she seems to accept that she isn't getting her way and takes our compromise. It seems like she even ends up enjoying it, believe it or not. If nothing else, walking with one grownup hand means the other hand is free to get into stuff.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hope for the Sleep Deprived

Yesterday I was utterly terrified at the idea of my mother-in-law leaving and Nick and I having to face our new family alone. I know that probably sounds weird, like our kids are a firing squad or something, but that was how it felt. Over a week of sleep deprivation, stress from attempting to console an inconsolable child for hours on end, muscle spasms from swinging and lifting and carrying a 30 pounder all day, and the general drain of the constant demand for attention can really gnaw at your sense of competence and wellbeing. When we were in Bulgaria, starting to care for our new daughter, it felt like treading water. When we got home and started adding the other two kids on the heap, it suddenly felt like drowning.

I suppose every parent faces a time when they feel like they are breathing water. Some get hit when their kid is tiny in the form of colic. (Ironically, I always said how glad I was that none of my kids ever had colic and now I have a daughter who appears to have the toddler version of it. If only I had ketchup to put on my words before I have to eat them.) Some get it in a terrible diagnosis and the medical fallout from the initial blast. Others catch it in the teen years, when their previously lovable child suddenly becomes a surly misfit. Maybe it's telling your kids about the divorce or lost job you never saw coming. At some time or another, we all get that panicky sense of going under.

Yesterday I felt pretty bleak and hopeless. Today, I'm happy to report that things are going better than we thought they could. We were on our own today, and I am glad to report that we rose to the occasion. At least, I think we did. Everyone is still alive, at least. That's gotta be worth something, right?

Hang in there, moms and dads. Even on the mornings that you wake up feeling certain that you can't handle it, there's still hope. Keep plugging away at it and you'll be just fine. Your kids probably will be fine too. And at the end of the day, you just might still like them!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week 1 Recap

Ok, so tomorrow is one week since picking up our daughter at the orphanage. Here's the run-down; which I'm doing more for my sake (being able to see progress) than for anyone else's.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...
Day 1 - She remembered us. Yay! We got there to pick her up and it turns out she was given phenobarbitol to "calm her nerves" a couple of hours before we arrived. We were given another dose for the following day. We were also given the drops for her eyes and a script to pick up more. She responded well to us picking her up, changing her clothes, and taking her out to the car. Driving was another story... she was not happy. She threw a fit and fell asleep, woke up to puke (car sickness - VERY common for these kids since they have most likely never driven before), threw another fit and fell asleep again. That night she ate well and seemed happy. Within an hour of getting to the apartment she was babbling up a storm. She hated the eye drops. She doesn't like it when we try to speak Bulgarian to her. So I guess it's a good thing that I didn't work on that one more. During diaper changes she doesn't lay flat - she looks like she is prepared to bolt if needed. She's on high alert. Bedtime was rough - she cried for about an hour.

Day 2 - Nervous when she woke up but calmed when we started walking around. Babbling again. Eating well. Naptime was rough, but she fell asleep eventually. We had to go to a medical appointment and the car ride was terrible. She screamed and kicked and cried the whole way. Both ways. Tried to give her a shower but she was absolutely terrified. Tried a sponge bath but that was no better. Bedtime was awful. Two solid hours of screaming in my arms. Had to hold her, though, because she kept trying to get out of bed.

Day 3 - Stayed home all day, thank God. Woke up nervous again, but calmed quickly. Ate well. Fell asleep in my arms for nap after about 20 mins of crying. Started to "scoot" on her butt and explore more of her toys independently. Self soothing is down. Her gait is improved. She lays flat and is relaxed for diaper changes. Her skin tone is much better. She stood independently once today. Bed time was tough. Three hours of on and off crying. Eventually, Nick got her down and he shared a great insight with me. He said "Love, just give her what she needs." Simple, but hard to do when what your kid needs is for you to pick her up for one minute and then put her down again for another minute and repeat over and over. Still, I can't force her to take comfort the way I think it ought to be given.

Day 4 - Embassy interview. She did great in the car!! We made sure she had lunch and a nap first, so that helped. At nap she fell asleep "her way", which means a lot of self entertainment. She flaps her arms, flops on her face, plays with her fingers, etc. Finally she just rolled over and fell asleep. It took a while, but she didn't cry more than a minute when I made her lay back down. Embassy went fine. She had her first "bath" tonight. I filled the tub in the apartment and she came running. She didn't have pants on because she had just gotten her diaper changed, but she climbed into the tub in her diaper and shirt! She had a blast sitting on the edge and kicking the water, leaning over with daddy holding her to play in it with her hands. She actually sat in the water a couple of times.  Bedtime was a long affair, but not a crying one. She fell asleep her way, which meant very little crying but took forever.

Day 5 - Hung out around the house. Went for a walk. Generally, a calm day. Ate well again, she took a good nap and bedtime was fairly smooth. Petko brought over her papers and that was awesome! She seemed to have forgiven him for that whole "car thing." Tried another bath, this time when the water turned on and she came running I took off her shirt and diaper to let her try it fully undressed. She was okay until she actually sat in the water and then she got scared and had to come out. But when she got scared she wanted me to hold her and not put her down. A good indicator, I think. She's looking to me for comfort. By the way, daddy and mommy are exhausted. When we finally get her down to sleep we say up to talk in the living room. It's a combo of being in the wrong time zone, mentally, and desperately needing to connect.

Day 6 - Travel. This day sucked. Big time. She was inconsolable most of the day, refused to eat. The silver lining is that we have a Boba carrier and that made it so much easier getting around airports. The downside to that is our aching backs. Now this may be controversial, but let's go back to the phenobarbitol the director of the orphanage (medical doctor) gave us for her. On day 2 we skipped it because it seemed unnecessary based on how she was doing. Since we still had it, we decided to give it to her today. Did it help? I don't know. It's impossible to say how much worse it would have been if we hadn't done it. She did break out in a small rash on her neck from it though, which we didn't see when we picked her up so that was a surprise. It wasn't a magic bullet, so neither of us is certain that it was truly worthwhile. At any rate, she did ok on the trip and we all survived. When we got home it was late, but her new siblings were up with Grandma so we had some introductions. Big Brother is smitten. Baby Girl was so tired it was hard to tell her feelings about it. Grandma's in love. I put her to bed at about 10:30 and she screamed for a while but finally fell asleep and slept all night.

Day 7 - Rest. This would be today. Oh man, this is going to be tough! She wants to walk constantly. Her siblings love her, but it is hard for mommy and daddy to keep up. Grandma helped where she could, but with minimal holding of Geri so as to not confuse her. She shows a bit of the excessive friendliness with female strangers (she kept trying to get on one lady's lap at the airport), so I'm wary. Grandma was very understanding. Her sibling love her so far. Brother gets a bit confused by why she acts like a baby, being that she's so big, and sister doesn't love sharing her parents. Yet, they all are getting on ok. She and Brother had a great hug today, and Sister gave her some nice sloppy baby kisses. She is wary during diaper changes again. Nap was about 20 minutes of crying before settling down. Her appetite isn't great today. But bedtime was awesome! She cried for about 5 minutes and was out in 20. She fell asleep with my hand on her back, too. Still, we're exhausted and feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I'm already seeing gains with her. Her skin tone, for one thing. When we got her, the skin on her hands and feet was so pale, thin and waxy that you could see every single vein. Now, they look nearly normal. Pink, only a few veins. When we got her, her feet pronated so badly that she was nearly walking on her ankles. A week of being allowed to walk around, without shoes, to her heart's content is helping. Also, her feet are splayed outward less when she walks. She's chunking up a bit, too. I see it in her hands. When we first met her I thought her hands looked strange and I couldn't figure out why. After I few days I realized that they were too thin. She's still young enough when she should have chubby little baby hands, but her hands were thin and her fingers were thick and it looked weird. Now her hands are chubbier and even getting those dimples on the backs of the knuckles, and they look normal and very cute. She's babbling and exploring, although not scooting yet in the new environment.

Grandma leaves tomorrow and we are scared to death. This is all so exhausting and our hearts are being affected by our tired bodies, I think. We probably need to stop looking ahead and stick with one day at a time. I feel like Dory. "Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!!"

Saturday, November 12, 2011


At long last, it's here. In just a few minutes we leave for the airport. I'm overwhelmed, in one sense, with what we are about to do. On the other hand, I feel as ready as I'm ever gonna be.

My excitement can't even be described. Just keep swimming, Lauren.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hump Day!!

Wow, it's Wednesday already! This week seems to be flying by. Which is nice, because on Saturday we are on our way!!!

People keep asking me how I feel and saying, "You must be excited!" I wonder if they feel disappointed by how not excited I look right now. I'm feeling unnaturally calm and patient at this time, which is a welcome change because I could go insane otherwise. When I truly stop and think about what is coming, I feel like my heart could burst and I want to cry with joy! But, as it would be awkward in my daily life to be constantly crying with joy, I am keeping my head down and trying to not think about it. Well, not concretely. I think about it in the abstract all the time!

Still, it's neat to be hitting my "milestones." I kept thinking to myself "Ok, Thursday Nick's mom gets here and we have the Operation Christmas Child party. Friday the kids are home, there's shopping and packing, and my friend Nikki's bachelorette party. Then SATURDAY and travel!!" It's sort of a way of keeping myself grounded, of keeping the pace and such. But here we are, about ready to hit those milestones! Tomorrow, my mother in law gets here. We have a day and a half to get her and the kids acclimated, then we go.

It is going to be VERY hard to leave our other two kids behind to go get the third, but we thought long and hard about it. On the one hand, we thought it would be so great for all the kids to meet right away. We didn't want to be apart from any of our kiddos, and we didn't like the idea of the stress on them. Immediately followed by the stress of a new sibling. But on the other hand, we knew how stressful it would be trying to manage all three, brand new situation, totally different environment, with all the appointments and such... it seemed like a lot to handle at once. We wanted Geri to get a few days of direct contact before having to share us. Plus, airfare is pricey. Did I mentioned that already? ;) Oh, and Big Brother needs to attend school. I refuse to have him miss days for anything but illness and snow.  So, we did the mental math and this is what we came up with. I know it's not the solution other families arrive at, but each situation is different and parents have to follow their gut. Ours said "Leave the kids. Take the cannoli."

Oh, and in other news, this crazy new idea of giving our kids more attention is working out. Big Brother is having his best days at school, yet. He completes all his work, even gets to do special extra stuff like ST Math, and his teacher is giving him high marks on his behavior. We're noticing a calmer, more focused demeanor at home, as well. We've also decided to cut back his "consumption" of violence and violent play. We don't give him access to anything violent (movies, video games, etc) but when he wants to play sword fight we usually oblige. Lately we've been avoiding games that have anyone getting injured or killed and spending more time on "quiet" activities. We've also made more of an effort to direct him to consider the effects of his play violence. If he says "that guy shot that guy!" we say "ouch! that must have hurt! he'll have to go to the hospital and see a doctor!!" The goal is to consistently reinforce the idea that hurtful actions have painful consequences. Hopefully, this will help. Already, I'm pleased to see his behavior return to the way it used to be. He's acting more like the sweet, good-natured,  boy he's been since day one.

Gah, all this stuff going on. I'm looking forward to having everyone back home so we can start settling in and trying to figure out what "normal" looks like for us. I'd also like a pony and rocket ship that will take me to the moon so I can eat the cheese up there. :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tales from the Trenches

I have always prided myself on being a really good mom. It's the reason I felt justified giving other people advice, and the reason I felt I was up to the task of adoption. I figured my two kids are so fantastic, I must be great, ergo I should be entrusted with another. Well, recently I've ben a crummy mom. I want to share what's been going on because I think maybe it could help someone else.
We bear the dubious honor of being a "blended" family. For those not hip to the lingo, that means a remarriage involving kids. I brought a beautiful, wonderful son to our new family when Nick and I married two years ago. Our boy is blessed to have a biological father who remains involved with him, and a stepfather who loves him dearly, but I know that it is hard for him. The hardest part is visitation. As much as he loves his dad and stepmom and brother, it's always a tough adjustment before and after a visit. The two households are, naturally, quite different and it's hard leaving your home and friends behind for the trip. We have noticed that he tends to get a bit "scattered" in the week or two before he travels, and for a week or two after he returns. Behavioral problems spike. He's not himself.
My recent failure as a mom involves not being sensitive to my kids' emotional state and needs. With all the run-up for our adoption, I've been a bit distracted. So when Baby Girl started getting clingy and having trouble sleeping, I wrote it off as her teething. And when Big Brother started acting up a bit, being rude and disobedient at home, I thought he was just testing us. He sometimes does that. His behavior at school was a bit off, his ability to focus was nil, and I had this vague feeling of not being in control of the situation. I imposed new rules, I set up a reward system for good behavior at school, I enforced homework more strictly. Still, he was crabby and ill-tempered.
Then, yesterday, it peaked. I got a call from Big Brother's school saying that he had gotten into trouble for trying to cut a preschooler on the face with a pair of scissors. I honestly had no idea how to respond. The principal said that no one had been hurt, that he had spoken with my son about safe hands, and that my boy was under strict observation for the rest of the day but was not suspended. Suspended. In kindergarten. Could he actually be suspended in kindergarten??? The fact that he seemed to have gotten very close to it made me scared.
It's a good thing this call came mid-day. I had a lot of time to think about it, to ponder it, before having to pick my son up from school. My first thought was "how do I punish this?" Then I began to think deeper. I began to wonder where this was coming from. What would make my normally sweet boy want to hurt another child, totally unprovoked? And why was he acting like a raging lunatic at least 50% of the time?
After a lot of prayer and consideration, I realized that he's been needing our help for a while now and we've been too busy/selfish to notice.
When kids are struggling, they "act out." What that means is that they take what they are feeling on the inside and bring it out as an action. My boy was acting out some serious internal struggle right there.
First of all, there's the impending adoption and his struggle to find his place in that all. We're gearing up for a trip, and it is bringing out some of the same emotions that he experiences before a visitation. He may not be traveling, but it does affect. Second, his Christmas visitation with his father was cancelled. He's going to his paternal grandparents' house instead, so I figured he would be fine, but I failed to realize that he really wants to see his father. It's hard for him to lose that planned visit. It hurts him. Third, Baby Girl has been teething and it's made her super clingy. He's been getting short shrift lately, and he's missing our attention.
Bottom line, we've been enforcing rules without fostering relationship at a time when he needs our love desperately. For the record, that does NOT work.
We decided that the response to this outburst at school would be two-fold. First of all, he did get punishment. His actions have consequences, and this was a serious offense, so he got some serious consequences. But the other part of it is to step up the loving attention. We need to reaffirm him. We need to foster his relationship to us.
At the time that we are expanding our family, we somehow forgot to be a family.
If you are a parent in a "blended" family, take heed. Divorce and remarriage issues will affect your child for their whole life. It's been three years since me and his dad split, and two years since Nick and I married, and Big Brother still struggles. Regularly. Deeply. Be sensitive to your child and their emotional state. They need you.
If you are a parent who is adopting a second, third, whatever child, take heed. Your kid may be perfectly accepting of their new sibling but still feel a certain upheaval in response to all the changes. It's not a rejection of the new child (Big Bro is super stoked about his new sister) but it is hard for kids to process change and they need a lot of love while adjusting. Also, refer to the "blended" family advice. Adoption and divorce are both disruptions of the natural family arrangement. There will be emotional struggles for the rest of your child's life, and they will need your love and care during those struggles.
Today we have spent a lot of time together as a family. Part of his punishment was to miss his soccer game, and to not go to a friend's party. But this day of hanging around the house has been great, and he already seems more like himself again after just a day of getting our attention.
I just wish I hadn't waited so long to see what my kid needed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guinea Pig... still

I posted previously here, here and here about my struggles with menstrual migraines and my attempts to treat them without using the prescription migraine medicines. Why avoid the migraine prescription? Because my migraines manifest as extreme fatigue, and the main side effect of the migraine meds is fatigue. Well, darnit, that does me no good! I want to be able to function, not be in bed all day unable to get up. Besides, the problem is my hormones... so let's address the problem rather than treating the symptoms. And treating them poorly, I might add.

So I wrote previously and glowingly about my discovery of Phyto Prolief by Arbonne. It was helping me a lot. I still felt a bit run-down after my period, but I was up and running and that was enough for me.  Until last month, when I went to the emergency room for what we all though would be a burst appendix. Turned out, my appendix was fine... what I had experienced was a ruptured ovarian cyst.

I've never had anything like this in my life. My mother has had ovarian cysts for a while now, leading up to menopause, so there is a family history. However, I thought it was strange that when I tried a new hormone cream I suddenly developed cysts on both of my ovaries, where there had never been any before. When I had my follow up with the GYN, I asked him about the cream and about the cysts and he agreed that it might be related. Crap.

Take two of these and call me in the morning. 
He recommended I try a prescription estrogen gel. He though this would be a better alternative to the progesterone cream for a couple of reasons... first, it might reduce the cysts and second, progesterone has a tendency to wreak havoc on the emotions (I didn't personally find this to be a factor, but I suppose it's worth being ahead of the curve). Another plus is that the estrogen is only used during your period, as opposed to applying the progesterone cream daily all month and twice daily during my period. Less added hormones is probably better. Oh, and the estrogen gel is less expensive, too.

This month I tried it. I went off the Phyto Prolief entirely and applied the estrogen gel once daily during my period. The first thing I noticed is that my period held off a bit longer. My cycle is usually 3 weeks, but this month it was 4. That's a nice change. Yesterday was the first day after my period ended and I did experience a migraine, but it was very mild. I had a bit of a headache, on and off through the day, and I felt pretty tired... but I was up. I was operational. I was functioning. In fact, I was across town food shopping and picking up stuff for the kids and I went to a potluck at my husband's work, then I picked up our son and cooked dinner and went trick-or-treating. I even made a late-night run to the store. I didn't feel as foggy or out-of-it as I have in the past. Was I tired? Oh yes, I was. There was a period where I put a movie on for the kids and vegged out because I was so tired. This morning I woke up slightly groggy, and I'm thinking I might take a little nap, but I think that has more to do with the baby waking us up twice last night.

So far, so good. I will be calling the GYN to find out about getting a prescription and picking up a full supply of the gel. Hopefully I will continue to see success with this. The other route he mentioned was oral contraceptive pills. I am not enthused about this one, since I have a hard time remembering to take them daily. Still, it might come to that. Anything to avoid a migraine and a ruptured cyst.

In no way does this change my opinion of the phyto Prolief, by the way. I still think this stuff deserves a look by any woman who is having menstrual migraines. The caveat I would now add is "if you don't have a history of ovarian cysts in your family." I suspect that this tendency was already genetically present and the cream just perked it up. It's entirely possible that I was already having them, they were just milder and I didn't know about them. Hard to say. At any rate, it was an experience that I have no desire to repeat. I suppose this points to the need to be open-minded and willing to experiment if you are trying to find the right solution for your health. You probably won't find the "magic bullet" on the first go, but if you keep at it you just might find something that works!

I'll let you know when I'm sure that I've found what works. I'm going to keep going with this one, but we'll see how I feel next month and beyond before declaring victory. Cautious optimism is the other thing I've learned from all this...