Friday, June 24, 2016

The Lost Years- Secondary Trauma

Mike and I are sitting here watching TV tonight and 20/20 comes on.  They're talking about a case from 2011, the case of missing college student Lauren Spierer.  They stated it was one of the most well known missing person cases of all time.  I consider myself someone who keeps up with current events, sometimes I even get pulled into stories and (admittedly) obsess over them.  But this one, it didn't ring a all.  I asked Mike, "Do you remember this?". He didn't either.  Then we realized the year...2011.

Mike lovingly refers to the years of 2010 and 2011 as our own personal 'Nam, because there are long periods of time, many significant events, that neither one of us remember.  We have blocked them out I suppose, similar (although obviously incomparable) to what a soldier, post war, may experience.  They were indeed the most trying years of our lives so far. 

These were the first years we had the twins home.

Here's a perfect example of our lapse in memory.  In 2012 I said I wanted to go to Columbus for my birthday to go to the science museum and the famous Columbus Zoo.  About halfway through our day at the zoo we came upon the polar bear exhibit.  Something seemed familiar, there was a playground at the entrance of the exhibit that I could have sworn I had pictures of the girls playing on before.  I asked the zoo employee if the Cleveland Zoo had a similar exhibit and he told me no, that the Columbus Zoo was the only one in the state that had polar bears, let alone that very same playground.  I'm sure he thought I had forgotten to take my meds that morning or something!

Here we are in 2012:
We finished our day at the zoo, both of us trying to remember when we would have brought them to Columbus before then.  We were able to rule out that we had taken them the previous summer so that only left the summer of 2010...right after we brought them home.  We wouldn't have been that crazy!!  There's no way!!  We were so broke!!  How would we have even afforded it?  Where would we have stayed??  To this day we can't answer those questions folks, but I do have photo evidence that we were at the Columbus Zoo the summer of 2010.

Here is the infamous polar bear playground photo (apparently my sole memory from this visit)...
Parents of kids from trauma will attest to this, but there is such a thing as secondary trauma, and most of us who are parenting trauma kiddos would fit the bill for this diagnosis.  We get PTSD from our kids' PTSD.  It's a vicious cycle.  You can read more about this here. This article states it best:
 "Because these behaviors serve as a way for their child to communicate and express how their trauma has affected them, parents are, thus, being exposed, on a regular basis, to their child’s trauma.  Parents who are experiencing secondary trauma may: feel anxious, tense, easily overwhelmed, and have sleep difficulties; re-experience their child’s aggressive, suicidal, or self-harming behaviors or details of their child’s trauma; feel as if they have changed and are not themselves anymore; or wish to escape or avoid their child or their child’s behaviors."
Those first two years with the twins were so wrought with trauma that our brains had blocked so much of it out completely!

We spent most of our days doing behavior modification.  Our girls were so filled with rage, coupled with the fact that they didn't speak English so they couldn't communicate their feelings, even if they were capable at 4 years old of putting it into words.  They would scream, kick, hit, spit and bite.  We spent a good amount of their waking hours teaching them the basics of how to behave, using holds that would assist them in calming themselves and their bodies.  We would find out later that they both have what's called Sensory Processing Disorder (very common in children from trauma) so the pressure of the holds would physically help them calm down.  (Now we have weighted blankets).

I am so thankful that I took so many pictures those first two years so that they can fill in the major gaps in my memory and so that the girls have a beautiful pictorial representation of all of the fun we did have those first two years.  They made SO MUCH PROGRESS in those years that it was unbelievable.  I do remember those hopeless days when we thought we'd never get to the point that they could function in a school environment, never go to a friend's house to play and never be calm enough that our cats would come out of hiding around them!  If you are in that place, the abyss of the unknowns about your child, please know there is always hope!  They will improve and so will you.  You will learn to be their best advocate and you will learn how to parent them, even if it was different than you thought you'd parent.  God will give you the strength if you ask for it.  I still have to ask Him for help, strength, patience, grace and love for my kids on a daily basis.  Most importantly YOU ARE NOT ALONE and YOU ARE NOT CRAZY!!

It's pretty amazing what our brains do in order to cope with things.  It makes me wonder if other parents have these experiences.  One of my best friends had a baby that had a very rough first year of life.  He struggled with acid reflux so badly that this child cried CONSTANTLY.  Perhaps she experiences some lapses in time due to that traumatic year.  If you have a story about a period of your life that your brain blocked out, leave it in the comments!  It will help me not feel so crazy!!  Ha!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10th Birthday Surprise

Hello again!  I haven't posted since September and for that I apologize.  This thing called life got in the way.  Something happened this evening, however, that I had to get down into words.

Tomorrow is the twins' 10th birthday.  We decided to let them open a couple of gfits tonight (from the grandmas) since they were things they would want to wear to school tomorrow.  (Also, because they got new shoes and Celia has to use a shoe box to make a Valentine's box that's due tomorrow, so we needed the box, LOL)  So, after the FaceTime calls to grandmas so they could see the girls opening their gifts, they both went upstairs to their room.  They came down to the basement to find me riffling through my scrapbook stuff (with cobwebs all over it) to try to find some heartsy things for Celia to use to decorate her box.

"Here", they said as they handed me a pencil zipper pouch.  "What's this?" I asked.  "We've been saving up our money since Christmas, and with the birthday money we just got, we now have $100 to go toward our trip to Ethiopia."  Insert shocked face here.  They've shocked us in the past with their generosity (you can read about that here), but this was a whole other level.

As I've stated in a previous post we have been working with an investigator for nearly a year who found the twins' birthmother.  Our plan is to go visit her and the twins' sisters in Ethiopia for their 12th birthday.  We have had an ongoing relationship with their family through our investigator and our Ethiopian friends here in the states who can call their birthmother's phone and translate for us.  The girls know they are now our extended family and our families and friends united in the fall to send the funds over to pay for tuition for their sisters at the school of their mother's choice.  You can read about that more here.  It's been incredibly healing for all of us.

But, they are kids and that is some pretty heavy stuff to process.  I've given them time and space to process it and tried not to nag about how they feel about it all.  They tell me in small ways.  They all three sleep with photo albums of their birth families in their beds, and on a recent trip to Ohio for the holidays, they even packed them in their suitcase with no prodding by me.  I still wasn't sure how they felt about our plans to go to Ethiopia in two years.  Now I know.

One of our favorite people in the world is Amsale, my Ethiopian mama in Akron.  I spoke with her and asked if she would call the twins' mother soon to check in and see how they're doing.  She had the idea of calling her on the twins' birthday!  After the twins handed me the money, and I picked my jaw up off of the floor, I told them that Amsale was calling her tomorrow and I wanted Amsale to tell their mother about this.  Their smiles lit up the room.  I saw their love for this woman in their eyes.  A woman they feel so guilty for not remembering now.  A woman who stirs up some very complicated feeling for them.  But I saw the healing tonight in their eyes.  God is healing them through this incredible story he's using us in.

So this week we will go to the bank and open a new account.  Mike and I also got a good chunk of change as a Christmas gift from my parents to get this account started.  I recently started working full time so that we would have the extra money to sock away.  I also am starting on a journey of selling this nutritional drink that is helping my own health, with all of the income I make from that going straight into this savings account for our trip.  Our girls are aware of this goal we are working towards and they've decided to join us.

 The timing of this was critical for me.  They're kids, and as such they can be pretty big a-holes a lot of the time.  The twins are also getting close to that snotty, snarky age, which I have no patience for.  Every day I am shutting it down.  It's exhausting, and most days I wonder if they're going to turn out to be jerks.  It's rare that I have the energy, patience and grace to deal with the attitudes in a loving and teaching way.  I just shut it down and send them to their room until they're ready to be nice.  But, tonight I feel good.  Tonight I know that they are learning selflessness.  Tonight they are healing and value us working as a family towards a common goal.  Tonight I not only love them, but I like them and I am cherishing them.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Very Different Kind of "Back to School" Post

My heart is overflowing with joy.  As I sit here the past two days on Facebook reading everyone's complaints and woes, I am struck at our country's lack of perspective and gratitude.  How spoiled and self-righteous are we as a nation when we complain about our "first world problems" whilst people around the world fight for their right to simply live.

On Wednesday we, as a family, watched a documentary on Netflix called "On the Way to School".  It follows the lives of four different children in four different countries and documents their journey to school every day.  None of the kids in the film walked less than an hour each way to school daily.  One child had to watch out for elephant stampedes, while another pushed their brother, who was in a wheelchair, through very rugged terrain for over an hour.  Yet we complain.  After the film I was struck when the first words out of Charlotte's mouth was "When are we sending the money to send my sisters to school?".  Little did she know that I had been working on this very task over the past few days with our friend Workineh in Ethiopia.

I want to preface this post with the fact that Mike and I are no saints.  This story is of God and only possible through God.  We are simply following God's call on our lives.  He is the one making all of this possible, so please join us in praising Him and not us.

As many of you already know we hired an investigator back in May and were able to locate both birth mothers of our girls.  You can read ore about that story here.  We knew the twins had two sisters, one is now 7 and the other is 12.  In the interest of their privacy I will refer to them as K and N.  Once we found them I had a strong desire to make sure these girls were in a good school.  Since May I have been working with Workineh (our investigator turned friend) as well as our Ethiopian friend here in the states to determine what the best way to go about this would be.  Mike and I wanted to make sure we weren't trying to swoop in and be all "white savior" about the way we wanted to help.

This summer, while visiting family in Ohio, we were able to call the twins' birthmother, Abinet, ON THE PHONE!!!!  Our friend, and Godsend, Amsale in Ohio had her phone number from when the investigator told us that Abinet did have a phone.  Amsale happened to be in Ethiopia visiting her family in May when Workineh found Abinet, so she was able to talk with her on the phone 2 times while she was there.  We were sitting up in a bedroom in Amsale's house.  Our main goal of the phone call was to let Abinet know how we would like to help and find out what kind of school she would like the girls to go to. 

An interesting side note is the twins' response to our phone call to Abinet.  One girl wanted to stand in the room to just listen, but did not want to say anything.  The other wanted nothing to do with the call.  I mention this to emphasize that these are BIG and COMPLICATED feelings that they are sorting through.  They each sleep with a scarf tied around their waist that Amsale brought back for them from Ethiopia that she told them was from Abinet.  They love their first mother, but yet, there's so many feelings!  Mike and I are very intentional about letting them lead as far as how much, and what, involvement they want in this whole process. 

In Ethiopia a boarding school is the most prestigious school.  In my gut, I didn't think she would want to send them to a boarding school.  She already had to part with two of her kids due to terrible circumstances and I felt that she wouldn't want the other two out of her house.  I was correct.  She was so moved by our offer and asked why we wanted to help her.  All of us were crying.  We told her, through Amsale's translation, that she is now a part of our family and we help our family.  We conveyed to her how much we loved her and her other daughters and how we wish to come to visit her in three years.  At one point in the phone call she said "God made these girls (the twins) for you."  My response was "No, he made them for you, but we are so blessed to help."

She chose the school she wanted and let Workineh know how much tuition, the entrance fee, uniforms and school supplies would be.  The total for BOTH girls was...$310 for the entire year.  We are blessed with an incredible group of friends and family who all waned to participate in helping our new family members, which allowed us to send some extra money for school clothes, shoes, etc.

I sent the money to Workineh through Western Union on Wednesday and he traveled to their town on Thursday.  He sent me some pictures.  God is so good guys!

 Here are K & N modeling their new school clothes, shoes and backpacks.

 These are some of their new school books.

 This is the fabric that has been taken to a tailor to be made into their school uniforms.  School starts on September 18th.

 N, Abninet and K showing the photo album I made back in May for them of pictures of the twins from the entire time they've been with us.  Workineh delivered it to them on this trip.  

Here are the girls standing outside the school compound.

I need to express to you that through this entire process we have been very transparent and open with the twins.  They know everything, every detail we discovered about their birthfamily.  Some of it wasn't ideal, obviously.  This has brought the twins so much healing and helped them bond with us on a whole other level.  Their trust in us has grown exponentially.  They see our love for them shown through our love for their first family.  It helps that they no longer need to worry about what ever happened to their first family, especially their sisters.  We will always keep in touch and make sure they're ok, as much as is possible.

In no way has this discovery made me feel any "less" their mother.  I have not felt threatened in any way.  I feel closer to them knowing their history.  It has made me love their first family like they're my own.  It has opened my eyes and broken my heart for what breaks God's.  It has brought me closer to God.  He has been in every small detail of this whole experience.  I pray for Abinet everyday.  I wear a bracelet that says "enat" {mother in Amharic} to remind me to pray for her.  

I sleep better at night knowing I am doing all I can to help them.  It has brought our whole family here, and friends, together for such an amazing reason.  Our family has made us feel so loved, and again it shows the twins that they can trust all of us.  I sleep better knowing that this woman halfway around the world knows she's not forgotten.  She knows her babies are loved and cherished.  She knows that God has heard her prayers and is using us to help answer some of them.  That is an incredible honor.

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