Archive for March, 2013

Grief and pain and brokenness–confessions of a mom

Monday, March 25th, 2013

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If you see the title of this blog post you’ve already guessed something is not right. In fact this has been so hard to talk about that I’ve deleted the whole thing more than once out of fear and shame and then had to re-write it.

So let me start out by showing you happy pictures.

This is my little girl winning three medals for running track at school.

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This is my son and I playing and cuddling.

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And here’s Laelia who now reads sentences!

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All I could do in kindergarten was finger paint rainbows. Only rainbows. She is learning tenses and memorizing lines of plays. Wow.

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And here’s Roland eating his breakfast while running around the house. I sneak fish oil in those fruit and veggie packets he loves. Then we have a vitamin D gummy that he loves and some oatmeal with flax seed that he doesn’t love. His diet is healthier than mine will ever be. Still making up for some nutritional gaps from the almost two years he was an orphan.

I really get a lot of personal satisfaction from being their mom.

Can you tell?

(Yesterday at church our pastor introduced us to a man with ten adopted grandchildren. My husband said, “Oh we couldn’t fit them all in our home!” I piped up with, “YES WE COULD!” and got a hug from the pastor for that comment. ;))

I want more AMCers. It’s no secret. I love having AMCers and one weird reason is that they fit into my “leveling up” video game mentality. Just like you would level up characters in a game, I level up my kids by giving them their stretches, vitamins, doing physical therapy, taking measurable steps towards walking, self-feeding, potty training, etc.  My son started walking after only being home six months! Walking everywhere! I don’t even know how I would parent a typical kid without AMC. It would be boring. After all, I’ve leveled all my video game characters as far as they’ll go, even when it’s not necessary to beat the game. Typical kids wouldn’t even need physical therapy. What would I do with myself?

It’s weird. I know.

But I’m trying to explain why I continued to do my son’s stretches for two+ weeks despite how much he protested. I’m trying to explain what kind of person would be so bent on gaining range of motion daily that she would have no inner voice telling her something was wrong.

I had no idea.

I had no idea Roland had a broken arm.

For weeks.

And I was stretching it daily.

If you’re an AMC mom then that last sentence put an ache in your stomach. We have to stretch our kids. We know they don’t like it. We know it’s best. But we always wonder what this discomfort is doing to their little psyches.

Since the day we adopted him, Roland was both an incredibly strong and an incredibly sensitive child. He was the one who timidly asked for cuddles and also screamed for them. He is the kid who is “always happy” and “so mad” all in the same situation. He is also hard to read. He learned “no” and “ow” pretty early on and has used them both appropriately (“no” he doesn’t want that) and inappropriately (“no” he DOES want that). And he says “ow” when he sees a shadow, someone claps their hands, we go over a speed bump, he hears a cat meow or if he legitimately gets a booboo. Not only does he say “ow” in all those situations, but he also becomes whiny and sniffle-y. Thunk goes the neighbor’s front door. “Ow mama,” sniff sniffly sniff sniff goes the Roland.

Lately it had become a bit worse. To quote myself from a blog post twelve days ago, “Some days I’m only one more ‘No!’ or ‘Ow!’ away from grinding my teeth to nubs.”  But I had no idea when I wrote that how Rolly had been privately dealing with a great deal of physical pain. And how much worse had those “ow”s and “no”s and grimaces gotten in the last weeks? I had attributed it to becoming a typical little boy complete with melt-downs and tantrums. But in lots of ways he wasn’t typical. He wasn’t tough. He was loved, but still breakable–physically and emotionally.

Lately I have had to say “squeeeeeeeze” before hugging him or that big squeezey hug would cause him to yelp. But when he knows it’s coming he enjoys it immensely. I had been frustrated at how gentle he was and how pouty he reacted to me loving him. Man… and I know this isn’t the first time he’s dealt with pain, with adults who don’t know him and don’t get it. The clues to him being in real pain were there, but they were hidden.

And I keep thinking if I just knew him better, if he hadn’t just plopped into my life six months ago, then I would have caught it.

I should have caught it.

Oh God and I stretched that arm.

Worse.

It gets worse.

I started doing feeding practice once his right arm magically started bending enough to reach his mouth.  (Ugh, how long have I been an AMC mom?! Contractures don’t do that magically!) I sat him down with a child-sized red table in front of him and his favorite fish cracker snack on the table. He happily put crackers in his left hand and I corrected him. “No, use your right hand. Lefty doesn’t reach.” And I put them in his right hand. He immediately dropped them and screamed at me. A discouraging start.

“Sorry, Rolly, but you have to learn to feed yourself.” I said patiently even though I was frustrated because before recently he seemed to be right-handed. Now he seemed to be left-handed. Was this kid playing us?

He responded by dropping his head and eating the crackers off the plate like our cat eats from a bowl, hands-free.

“No no no. Use your right hand,” and I put the cracker back in his right hand.

He then handed that cracker to his left hand and tried desperately to get that hand to reach his mouth. His joint contractures in his elbow kept the cracker dangled in front of him like a carrot in front of a horse.

I put it back in his right hand and slowly stretched the hand back to his mouth.

He screamed.

I was used to his screaming. He screamed earlier when I wouldn’t give him something off the store shelf. He screamed when his sister had a toy he wanted. He screamed that morning when I told him we had to change his diaper before breakfast. We joke that Roland only has two volumes: ear-shattering, high-pitched screaming and regular voice. No in between.

He screams. It’s what he does. So I ignored him.

When I brought his right hand to his mouth he would not hold the cracker so it fell. And fell. And fell.

“I know you can hold a cracker. I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn!”

Again and again. Stretching and stretching. Screaming and screaming.

Again and again until I was losing my patience.

“Roland I know you can do this! You can hold this cracker. You can use your right arm. Why won’t you try?!”

“No!” he screamed and spit.

After a while I got so upset that I yelled, “FINE!” and stormed off, slamming a door.

I came back a few minutes later after I’d calmed down to find him face-planted in those crackers, stuffing his face.

That did it.

I picked him up and put him in his crib.

“Time out!” I said to his screams and protests. “And no more crackers!” I dumped them all in the trash, fuming.

When he calmed down from the injustice of it all I asked him, “Are you going to be good now?”

He responded weakly, “Da. Goo ba.” (Yes. Good boy.)

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Oh my heart hurts just remembering this. And I’m so embarrassed and so ashamed to share it. At first I was just terrified anyone would find out. Like child protective services would come take my kids away. I would become the cliched adoptive mom done in by the pressure. How did I miss a broken arm? The telltale bruise on his elbow? His grimacing face and heart-breaking tears every time we started doing his stretches. Which, by the way, was five minutes a day, every day… every damn day!

After the doctor told me it was broken I went into shock. I live four minutes from the hospital so did manage to get us home before I threw up and balled my eyes out. The next day I didn’t want to get out of bed. Roland turned on his music box in his crib (the only clue he’s awake) and part of me didn’t want to get him knowing I would see that cast and be punched in the face with that guilt and grief.

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The arrow on the right shows the fracture. The arrow in the middle shows a possible second one. And the circled area and beyond is where the bone was growing out funny because of continued trauma (aka stretching).

The whole reason we even got x-rays of his arms is because I thought his LEFT arm was bothering him. I had even discontinued stretching his LEFT arm because it seemed to cause him trouble. The doctor must have thought I was nuts when I was there for his left arm and his right was broken.

The AMC in his arm (the joint contratures in his elbow) had protected him since it left his arm stiff like someone in a splint. It also hid the break as he happily went through life the same as always. His “orphan training” taught him not to cry. So yes we missed it. But everyone did.

Ugggggggggh.

But I was suppose to be his safe place.

I was suppose to save him from pain.

Oh sweet buddy, you were hurting. How did mommy not notice?

They ended up casting both his arms because, as one family member put it, only I could freak out enough to get the other arm in a preventative cast. There was no way I was ever doing another stretch ever again at that point, and the poor doctor wanted to go home, so Roland got two casts–one for the broken arm and one to stretch the other arm.

It’s broken. Broken. Every time someone has commented on Roland’s casts I’ve always been able to say, “Nothing’s broken. He’s fine. We do this for his joint condition. It’s like braces on your teeth.” I’ve repeated that line so many times it’s part of going out in public. But the first time someone asked me this after the break discovery I about cried. She quickly said, “It happens to everyone. Don’t worry, Mom!”

Before this I would roll my eyes that someone would assume my kids were broken, that I neglected them enough for them to get hurt. Both my kids even have t-shirts that say “Sky diving accident” on them because so many people ask us how “it” happened and serial casting is just not in the public consciousness.

But now I’m the mom who has a kid with the broken arm. And I’ll never judge anyone else again.

So what caused the break in the first place? They guessed bad nutrition–the same explanation they gave me for his day of hypoglycemia in the hospital which has not been a problem since–caused by two years of poverty coupled with stretching him too aggressively. I do around 80% of the stretching. What if I broke his arm? The thought has paralyzed me. It’s paralyzed my parenting. It’s made me feel like an abuser. A failure. How many years have I been stretching AMC limbs? How many times had I given a tutorial to new parents worried they were doing it wrong? The doctor asked if I was holding his arm down low at the elbow or up at the wrist? I instantly knew what he was going to say. I knew better. You see Roland struggles against stretching as any two year old would. And he has enough muscle in his arms to yank them out of a good stretch. So I was holding his arm too high in order to get him still enough to stretch him and a little thing called leverage is why you don’t do that. My daughter is missing a lot more muscle in her arms and never fought against the stretches like Roland does so I never held her too high. I always had the perfect position with her. But with my son I held it too high. It was too much pressure. I hurt him. And I’m so sorry.

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“Do you feel if you can’t do something to perfection, you ought not bother? Do you frequently feel pressure to perform tasks that will result in applause? When you blow it, do you wait a long time before trying again?”

That’s what Beth Moore asked me last week. Or at least it’s what she wrote to her readers in a book anyway. I’m reading her book about an orphaned girl named Hadassah who rescued thousands of people from death and was the hero of Persia around 480 B.C. She didn’t do it perfectly. In fact she seemed to hesitate more than once. And she was afraid. We know her by her Persian name, Esther. When I lived in Israel we celebrated her story during Purim. And it didn’t matter how she did it, she saved lots of people. She did what she needed to do. Even saying, “If I perish, I perish.”

Yes I feel like I need to do parenting perfectly or it doesn’t count and God isn’t honored. Or if not “perfectly” at least almost perfectly with tiny little mistakes where I don’t cause great pain and suffering to my children. (My children should all suffer from the horrible haircuts I give them! Nothing else!) But my track record includes having two unnecessary surgeries on my daughter before we found her doctor in Philadelphia and breaking my son’s arm. And it’s darn scary to keep trying when I’m constantly reminded about my failure.

I never liked the story of Esther because it was so “human.” Other Bible stories are so supernatural. God takes the reigns and saves the day. Moses parts a sea and it’s a powerful sight! Joshua fights a battle and wins. Deborah defeats an army and songs are sung about her leadership. These people are larger than life! But Esther was a glorified orphaned hooker, shaking and trembling and hesitating, yet she did was she needed to do.

And although it doesn’t say this, I bet she had small children too. She had been married for five years in a culture that valued offspring. And no pill. I wonder how that affected her decisions and made her hesitate. For a character I never liked, I now respect her, the mess she was.

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Roland seems fine, but I have just cried and cried over him, holding him close and rocking him gently. Now when I hear “ow” (like just now when his stuffed animal fell off his walker) I just lean down and say, “Oh sweet boy are you okay? Did your stuffie get an owie? Poor stuffie. Have some cuddles.”

Roland is still bonded to me. I didn’t scar him for life. He still looks to me for comfort despite my failings. He still takes my hand and puts it on his tummy when he wants “ticky ticky” (tickles). He still enjoys peek-a-boo with mom. He still demands “up” and gets held and kissed. I’m not perfect and nothing about adoption is pretty or perfect. I’m not overly good or overly bad. If every orphan waited for perfection in order to be rescued then no one would be rescued. If every mom waited for perfection before adopting then every orphan would remain an orphan.

It’s okay to just do your best. I’m an okay mom doing an okay job. Some days I rock this job. Other days I don’t. Behind every great kid is a mom who thinks she’s doing everything wrong… or so I read on Pinterest.

And I want to thank the many, many people who wrote me during this time and told me about their whiny kids who days or weeks later turned out to have a broken bone! I appreciated it greatly! (I’m sorry it happened to your loved one, but I’m so glad I’m not alone!) And thank you especially to the AMC mom (you know who you are) who told me about breaking her son’s arm during stretching! Maybe this is more common than we think! It’s a club we never wanted to be in, but I’m glad to have company who understands.

So I am getting back up, picking up my kids and holding them close. I’m rejecting the lie that my son was better off where he was. I’m rejecting the lie that I’ve ruined my kids for life by making mistakes. And I stand by my claim that having AMCers is the best. They are bright, able, loving and precious. They make the game of life worth living. They deserve a mom who is trying, and one who doesn’t give up and doesn’t stop learning and changing to be what they need. I’m going to shed this shame and the fear of people knowing I’m not a great mom and just do better.

Pray

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

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Guys my heart is breaking! Please, if you pray, please pray. The orphanage my sister is adopting from is right outside Lubumbashi where rebel fighters have just attacked! The last time rebel fighters attacked (they attacked Goma), the militia killed all the women and children they could find… *after* savaging them. My nephew is in this city! Right now the orphanage itself is six miles outside the city and spared, but pray it stays out of harm’s way!

Now remember my sister is not adopting a child currently in the orphanage, but one of the next children to arrive there. So there’s a good possibility that my nephew is in Lubumbashi that is being attacked right now. That means that most likely my nephew is right now becoming orphaned and suffering abuse and trauma at the hands of the militia before being transferred to the orphanage. My sister’s heart is super heavy this morning.

Reminds me of something I read in the book 7 about Jen Hatmaker’s adopted daughter, Remy:

“During the first week of October, I suffered inexplicable sadness for our Ethiopian kids, yet unknown to us. I couldn’t quit crying. I couldn’t stop worrying. [...]

‘God is prompting you to pray for your children for some reason.’ [...]

So Brandon and I prayed desperately for our kids. Were they losing a parent? Were they suffering? Were they tender and lonely? [...]

[Three weeks later]

I went back to those dark days of prayer. It was the week she was brought to the orphanage. Shipped twelve hours north of her village, her people, everything she knew to a crowded orphanage with children and workers who spoke a different language, it must’ve been devastating. She must’ve felt so alone. At age five. Except Jesus never leaves His little ones, His most vulnerable. He was there in the scary van ride north. He was there in her confusion and fear. He was there as she was assigned a bed and communal clothes and had her beautiful head shaved. He was there that first heartbreaking night. And He made sure we were there in spirit, too.”  (pages 198-201)

UPDATE (from my sister): “Thank you to everyone who prayed this morning and this afternoon. The news reports no more fighting in Lubumbashi, as the militia group was stopped by the local army and peacekeeper forces. Please continue to pray for the people of DRC, our child, the orphanage owners/workers, and our future trip there. Only God can provide safety and peace in such a wartorn area.”

Husband’s one year donation anniversary

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Today, March 20th 2013, marks the one year anniversary since my husband saved the lives of several people. He didn’t jump into a burning building, throw himself on a land mine or even wrestle a bear. He just laid there. :)

He donated his kidney to a stranger, setting off a kidney donation chain. The stranger, a lady in her 50s, will now live to see her grandchildren. And her husband who wanted to donate to her, but wasn’t a match, was able, in exchange for my husband’s kidney, to “pay it forward” and give another person a life-saving kidney. And so on.

I created a little PR cartoon to mark the occasion.

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Click to enlarge.

 

#1. What if something happens to your other kidney? Altruistic donors  (people who give to strangers) go to the top of the kidney transplant list if anything goes wrong with their remaining kidney. They are given top priority. They rarely need it. (Says our medical team.)

#2. Will that shorten your life? No. Actually altruistic donors live longer than the average person. (Says our donation coordinator.) Having one or two kidneys doesn’t matter at all. If your kidney is going to go, usually they both go at once, and people who can donate are healthy to begin with. So it’s a lot like saying, “Healthy people live longer than the average person.” And your surgical risk is the same as any other surgery that you would subject yourself to at one point in your life or another. (Our daughter is looking at her seventh surgery later this year for pin removal in her knees. The risk is 0.0032%.)

#3. I would but I don’t want to give up my glass of wine or drinking on my birthday or… you know… my friend Mr. Alcohol. You don’t have to stop drinking, or make any major lifestyle adjustments with one kidney. They did suggest no cage fighting. I shot a look at hubby at that point in the discussion and laughed my head off. But of course binge drinking is bad for you in lots of ways.

#4. But what if someday his kids need a kidney? Well kids don’t wait for kidneys as we learned. Adults do. Kids are at the top of the list. “They’re covered,” said our social worker when we were asking questions. It was the top question on my list even though only one of our children is biologically related to us. It turned out not to be an issue.

#5. What if a family member needed that kidney and you wasted it on a stranger? Waiting for a family member to maybe need a kidney when lots of people are right now dying is like saving your fire extinguisher for a possible home fire while watching your neighbor’s house burn. Actually it’s worse than that because you have a much greater statistical chance of having a fire than ever needing a kidney. There were around 17,000 people who needed a kidney in 2009 and around 362,000 fires (source and source). Let’s put it this way, there are 1,000 cases of lightening striking people a year. (Source.) Say every time lightening struck you, 17 of your neighbors needed kidneys. That’s significant but not a ton of people.  In fact I called up the National Kidney Disease Education Program and was told 1.9% of the population are diagnosed with kidney disease, but of those people the number who will benefit from a donation is even smaller but they do not have the statistic for it.  They sent me to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dada and Statistics branch at which point I realized I don’t need an exact number for some research paper and was happy to just say on my personal blog “it’s not likely your family will need a kidney that only you can provide.” Let’s speculate that you have less than a 1% chance of needing to save that kidney for a rainy day. Math was a major factor in my husband’s decision to donate.

#6. What did it cost? It was free. Everything from the hospital stay, recovery, doctor’s visits, parking, etc. Hubster’s work even had accommodations for altruistic donors and we didn’t need to dip into his vacation time for recovery.

#7. Any regrets? One. My husband was disappointed that he didn’t have a cool scar. Since it’s a laparoscopic surgery the recovery time is easy and the scarring minimal. They squeeze that little sucker out your belly button so my C-section surgery totally beats up any of my poor husband’s surgery stories. Hubbers went shirtless to a pool party afterwards and no one noticed. But if I lifted up my shirt you would all wonder how all of my guts did not fall out of this giant incision.

Hubby: “My tummy was sore for a while there.” Me: “Oh were you sore? Oh poor thing! Were you unable to climb stairs? Stuck in the hospital for days? BREASTFEEDING??? No?????!”  (Owned.)

#8. I want to help, but isn’t it enough to let them just harvest my organs after I die? They need live donors. Desperately. Becoming a donor after death is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but to donate your kidney you have to die in a very specific way (I heard a doctor lament, “Can I get a good drowning case?”) and even then the kidney of a deceased person only lasts half as long as a live person. (Source.) A kidney from a live donor, according to Nicholas Crace’s doctor, “performs better, works quicker and lasts longer”. (Source.) Who is Nicholas Crace? He’s an 83 year old altruistic kidney donor. “Within a week I was bicycling and mowing the lawn,” he claims. To which I want to say, “Really?! My husband was playing video games and watching movies!” He was mowing the lawn, hubsters! (Owned again.)

People are suffering and dying and need someone with no benefit to themselves to step forward. Lots and lots of those people actually. And we’d love to help you do it!

Give some green on the day you wear some green!

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

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Laelia and Roland can’t wait for their new cousin!

Many of you already know that my sister is adopting my nephew from Congo later this year. They have an online auction going on right now through the month of March. You can look at all the goodies (including a full-size star gate for us geek folk) here.

But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because an anonymous donor has offered my sister a $500 matching grant to bring her boy home!

But here’s the catch: the matching grant is ONE DAY ONLY.

That’s right. This Sunday, March 17th, on St. Patrick’s day when you put on some green please consider donating some green too!

Every penny you give their adoption on Sunday will be matched up to $1,000! (So if we raise all $500 then they will throw in another $500!)

To donate go here.

Thanks so much!

Remember this Sunday only!

Thanks!

!!!UPDATE!!! 3/17/13 They made the entire matching grant! Thanks everyone who gave!

The easy life

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

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I wanted to write a little about how we’re doing considering it’s been six months since we brought our newest little home. I’d describe our adoption as “easy,” not that it was always that way, but because on the grand scale of things we have been incredibly blessed, and that has nothing to do with us. We weren’t especially prepared and we weren’t especially good at patience or parenting tricks. Regardless Roland has fit in really well, bonded incredibly fast and we all love each other. And thanks to our wonderful family and friends we were able to provide him not only a home, but a loving community.

I have incredible respect for those families who choose love during the hard times. I sometimes think I have this so easy because God knows I suck at being a loving mother during a screaming fit. And even though it’s been easy (much easier than we expected) it hasn’t always been roses. I’ve struggled with anger during the last six months. You’d think communication difficulties would just be hard on the little one, but I found myself getting angry! “What in the world do you want?!” has come out of my mouth more than once. And I have felt deeply the irony of yelling, “Stop yelling!” And some days I’m only one more “No!” or “Ow!” away from grinding my teeth to nubs. Oh and have I mentioned that my cute little man still has the well-earned nick name Mr. Screamers? I feel like my major accomplishment in this adoption has been to show the world that ANYONE can adopt.

And even though Roland has had some trauma in his past, most of what we’re dealing with is just two year old boy. I think my biggest parenting handicap is the fact that Laelia was so easy on me!

But really even when we were loving a picture of a boy and imagining what he would be like, I didn’t really think I could have as much love for him as I do. I mean Laelia is my world. She’s my life. Come on, she’s Laelia! So how after six months do I have as much love for my Roland as I do for my Laelia? He’s not flesh of my flesh. I didn’t have his newborn face to memorize or breastfeeding to bond us, but I love him as much as my daughter. How? I don’t know. It’s true that love doesn’t divide, it multiples. But I didn’t expect it on this scale.

Sometimes holding my little cuddly boy is healing. Just goodness.

We adopt because we were adopted. We love because we are loved. We give because it’s all been given to us. Our entire family is one collective response to a divine Initiator.

People say all the time now much Roland looks like us. And I know that’s true, but when I look at him I notice every single Ukrainian feature. I’m drawn to those differences like anyone is drawn to notice the differences in things. The things that look nothing like us are just as beautiful as the things that look like us. His eyes are the same color as his sister’s. His skin has the same paleness as both parents. But that Russian nose and dark eyelashes are on a completely different genetic canvas and they are beautiful.

So I know I haven’t found the time to write endlessly about our days, regretfully, but know that we are imperfect people who are enjoying life and learning as we go. And things have been good.

Really good.

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