Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dear Sugar: PTSD in Adoption, Round #2

Dear Sugar,

This week, we're journeying through PTSD, in relation to adoption, as a parent-by-adoption.  Today, I'd like you to meet B.  

B is in her mid-thirties and is parenting multiple children, all adopted.  She's married and is a SAHM.   

Rachel:  What is your adoption of Adoption PTSD?

B:  Adoption PTSD is when a single or series of traumatic events during an adoption process creates crippling issues such as depression and anxiety.

Rachel:  What was your adoption experience?  

B:  We adopted all of our children, but one of our adoptions was particularly difficult.   It was a really long match, and we were already parenting.  Because of this, not only were we experiencing tremendous stress, but so were our children.  As much as we tried to shield them from the ups and downs, they were always around when we were making phone calls, having pop-up conversations, and cautiously-optimistically preparing for a possible placement.   The stress of trying to control what our kids saw and heard added to the overall stress of the adoption. 

We had an overwhelming and increasing amount of communication with the expectant parents (prior to placement).  They were demanding, made off-the-charts requests of us, and I’m positive that one of them was/is bi-polar.  It was a roller coaster from the day we were matched until months after the placement.   There were a handful of times I was very tempted to walk away.  

I ended up going on anxiety medication because of the daily panic attacks I was having.   The situation was so unpredictable and upsetting.  

I know you're probably thinking, why didn't we just abandon the match?  More than one person advised us to walk away, even one of our adoption professionals, because he felt bad for us and in his experience, he knew this probably wouldn't result in a placement.  

We didn’t hold on out of desperation for a baby (we already have children and were OK with the outcome of any match), but because we felt that God told us to “hang on” and “wait and see.”  It was only by our faith that we stayed. 

Rachel:  What makes you think you experienced Adoption PTSD?  What were your symptoms? 

B:  After the placement happened, I assumed my anxiety would vanish.  It didn’t.   The communication with the birth parents continued to be incredibly difficult for many months after placement.  Bio dad wanted one thing, while bio mom wanted another.  We felt like we (and our child) were in a game of tug-of-war.   I continued to experience breathlessness, fatigue, fear, confusion, anger, and moments of wanting to just give up.  I felt like I was being pecked at ALL THE TIME.  That's the best way to describe it.  Like a chicken was just using its beak to peck, peck, peck, peck, on my soul.  Constantly.  

The worst part?  I wasn’t free to be my baby’s mother.  Instead, I was caught between a “rock and a hard place”:  wanting to enjoy my new baby while trying to appease those who couldn’t be appeased.  

Rachel:  How did you heal/get treated?  What helped you? 

B:  Anti anxiety-medications helped.  But what was most difficult and most necessary, putting up very firm boundaries with the birth parents, was what helped the most.  The truth was, I was being too permissive.   Unfortunately, it was harming myself and my family.  I couldn’t take away all the stress of the situation, but I could prevent SOME of it.   I only wish I would have been firmer earlier on.    

Rachel:  How has Adoption PTSD changed you?  Do you feel your traumatic experience did any “permanent damage”? 

B:  I have more empathy than ever for those who have experienced trauma.  I know that trauma comes in different forms.  Something that’s traumatic for one person may not look traumatic to another.  But there is power in naming your problem.   That’s half the battle.  The second half is treatment. 
Rachel:  Did the experience do “permanent damage”?  

B:  I don’t know.  We’re only a year out from the placement.  I finally feel like myself again.  But the thing with trauma (just like grief) is that it comes back.  It’s a cycle.   We just learn tools to deal with it.

Rachel:  What advice do you have for someone who thinks they’re experiencing Adoption PTSD?   

B:  Get help  See a therapist.   Join an adoption support group.   Openly speak of your struggles, because there’s nothing to be ashamed of.   Keep doing the things you love to do, things that bring you peace and joy.   And even though you don’t think it’s possible in the moment, Adoption PTSD is a teacher.   Because of your experience, you will be stronger and be able to help others.  

Also, it's OK to admit you are having a hard time.  Just because I was chosen to parent my child, just because I am very thankful to be a mom, just because I'm strong, it doesn't mean my PTSD isn't real.  It doesn't mean the gratefulness of being chosen can magically trump PTSD.   They can exist, the PTSD and the joy, simultaneously.   

***My disclaimer:  I'm not a mental health professional.  I'm using my platform to amplify the voices of women who believe that their adoption experiences have resulted in mental health issues.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: On PTSD and Adoption (When You're the Parent)

Dear Sugar:

This is a three-part post in which I'm sharing three (adoptive) mom's stories regarding adoption and mental health. It's not something readily recognized or often discussed, but it happens. And we need to talk about it.  

My hope is that their insights and experiences shed light on this subject, encourage you, and educate you.   

My disclaimer:  I'm not a mental health professional.  I'm using my platform to amplify the voices of women who believe that their adoption experiences have resulted in mental health issues.  

Let's get started:  meet T.   She's a 39-year-old mother, married, with a four-year-old daughter, adopted at birth.   Both T and her husband are educators.  

Rachel:  How do you define Adoption PTSD?  

T:  I would define Adoption PTSD as a condition that occurs after a traumatic experience has occurred during the course of an adoption. This could be the result of a failed adoption, a contested adoption, or any other disturbing events that occur before, during, or after the finalization of an adoption.

Rachel:  Tell me about your adoption experience.   

T:  My husband and I waited three years until we were matched with the birth mother. During our wait, we experienced five failed adoptions. After our fifth failed adoption, we were already weary when the birth mother said that she had chosen us. As we were matched, she gave us the name of a man she thought might be the birth father. He was contacted by our attorney, but he never responded to the request for a paternity test. When our daughter was born, the doctor handed her to me, and I shared a room with her in the hospital the entire time. We went through the legally required six month waiting period before the finalization with no concerns regarding her finalization. One month before finalization, we were required to go to the courthouse to complete some legal requirements. At this time, the stated birth father showed up and contested the adoption. The judge gave him three months to legally contest the adoption and produce the evidence needed to prove that he was the biological father. We were to return to court after three months and the judge would review the evidence.

After the three months, we returned to court with the full expectation to finalize the adoption; we were well past the legally required six month wait period. We sat in the courtroom next to the stated birth father. He had not brought forth any evidence that he was the biological father. We truly believed that because he could not prove that he was the biological father, the judge would finalize the adoption. Instead the judge gave him one more month to procure the evidence. We were in complete shock. All I could do was cry. At this time, I honestly believed that the judge was going to grant custody to the stated birth father. We were to return in one month and the judge would make his decision.

After one month, we returned to court, but the stated birth father did not. He did not produce any evidence to prove that he was the biological father. We were finally granted custody of our daughter. However, the experience with the stated birth father and the state of unknowing has left a permanent psychological mark.

Rachel:  What makes you think you experienced Adoption PTSD?  What were your symptoms? 

T:  The best way that I can explain my adoption PTSD is a constant state of anxiety and fear. This constant anxiety and fear is connected to occasional panic attacks that can be triggered by something as simple as hearing a song. When a panic attack associated with the PTSD occurs, it is as if a movie of our traumatic event is replaying itself in my head. I am at that time and place, and I have the very real belief that my daughter is going to be taken from my husband and me. I create scenarios in my head imagining my world without her. It is incredibly terrifying and very real. Along with the psychological response, there is also the physical response of tears and nausea.

Rachel:  How did you heal/get treated?  What helped you? 

T:  Unfortunately, I have not yet healed nor did I seek treatment. The only thing that does help me is talking about it with my friends and family. My husband has been very supportive, and constantly reassures me that our daughter is safe. I have also found it beneficial to talk with people that have a shared experience. I just need to constantly remind myself that the fear is in my head and not real.

Rachel:  How has Adoption PTSD changed you?  Do you feel your traumatic experience did any “permanent damage”? 

T:  I feel that my adoption PTSD is now just a part of me. I do feel that there is some permanence to it. Because we have an open adoption, I jump when I get a text from the birth mother. Is she still in contact with him? Does he know where we live or what our daughter looks like? There are certain places that I cannot go anymore, because that triggers a response. There are certain things from that time that I cannot experience anymore (e.g., a song that I listened to during that time, the outfit I wore to court) because that will trigger a response. Even responding to these questions has triggered an emotional response. 

Although I believe that my adoption PTSD is permanent, I also believe that it will get easier. Even now, the attacks come less often. The memories are no longer at the forefront of my mind. On the other hand, I believe that there will always be triggers.

Rachel:  What advice do you have for someone who thinks they’re experiencing Adoption PTSD?   

T:  I would suggest that they talk about it. I feel that there are many people in the adoption community that have experienced or are experiencing adoption PTSD. The more that we openly talk about it, the more support networks will can develop. I honestly believe that talking with someone that has had a shared experience has been the most beneficial to me.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dear Sugar: The Most Powerful Letter When Adopting

Dear Sugar:

I'm so excited to bring you my very first free e-book!   I've written six books (#6 due out this summer!), but this is my first ever FREEBIE.  

Why give something to you for free?  Because it's THAT important. I'm dedicated to bettering the adoption community.   This e-book stems from a decade of experience.  A 5-week guide focusing on the most powerful letter; understanding the signficance of the letter E is a total adoption game-changer.

What does E stand for?  Well, you'll have to read the e-book to find out.  It's super easy, just drop your e-mail addy in the form below, and voila!  In 24 hours, you'll be sent your e-book!  As a bonus, you also get a free coloring sheet (oh-so-adorable and therapeutic). Enjoy! 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dear Sugar: Staying Sane During Summer With One Simple Game

Dear Sugar:

I'm not brand-new to homeschooling, but I am new to homeschooling multiple children at once.  And since it's summer (and our public school is out for three months), I decided to get back to homeschooling with my oldest three kids.  One of my kids is struggling in math, and I wanted to make practicing fun and rewarding.  However with four kids, a writing career, and a house to keep semi-clean and organized, I HAD to streamline.  

That's when it dawned on me:  take our well-loved Candy Land board game (with its wrinkly playing cards and rough edges) and turn it into summer homeschooling glory.  (Mommy win!)  Here's how I did it, and how you can do it too:

Summer Candy-Land Homeschooling Board Game

1:  Find or buy Candy Land.  I've seen Target carry it for under $10 on sale, and my sister found hers at a dollar store for $5.

2:  Get knock-off Velcro at your local dollar store.   Cut one side into pieces small enough to fit over every square of the game, except the special "candy" squares), but not covering the entire space.  You want to be able to see the color of the square (the border) around the Velcro).   Using a hot glue gun, affix the pieces to the game squares. 

3:  On the Candy Land player pieces, affix the other tape onto the bottom so the player will be able to stand on the squares on the board.   Then assign each child a player color.    (Assigning is easier than letting bickering siblings choose).

4:  Put your playing cards in a stack (after shuffling) and secure with a rubber band.

5:  Store your board on a flat surface (where you don't have to fold the board--which will only mess up the Velcro) that is reachable for you, but not always accessible to kids who might be temped to play with the board.   For us, we use the top of the fridge.

6:  With your kids input, generate a list of tasks which will earn them the right to draw a card.  Each task list should be different depending on your child's age, interests, and needs.   

A sampling for us is this:  

  • My oldest must read three book chapters OR read books aloud to her siblings (usually five board books to the baby or two picture books to the middle two children).  The younger siblings also earn a card by listening to their big sister read.    
  • My second child must read two "easy reader" books aloud to her little brother or her big sister. Again, the other sibling also earns a card for respectfully listening.  
  • My son (who is four) can earn a card by doing two puzzles (like putting together a letter puzzle and number puzzle with me, during which we review sounds, colors, shapes, etc.).  
  • Listening to an audio book, doing three pages (I choose) from a workbook, watching an educational film, play a learning game (math, reading, etc.), etc.  

7:  Card drawing.  They must take the card on the top of the deck. If they earn a "candy card," they can only move forward.  I did this because I didn't want them drawing a candy card that sent them backward, which I felt wasn't fair given their hard work.   If they earn a candy card that would send them backward, we put that card back into the bottom of the deck and the child selects a new card.

8:  Prizes:  the best part!  We also generated a list of prizes.  I kept in mind that my kids are motivated by different things (which can also vary day-to-day).   We typed up our prize list and hung it on the pantry door to keep us all motivated.   Once a child reaches the end of the candy road, he or she picks a prize, and then starts over. 

Our prize list is:

  • stay up 20 minutes late
  • use mom's old ipod for 20 minutes
  • one soda (we buy a "healthy" kind)
  • one small gourmet popcorn from our local kitchen store
  • $3
Why does this work so well?
  • It's simple.
  • The kids have say-so.
  • The prizes are very motivating.
  • There's a healthy sense of competition.  
  • We keep up on math and reading skills.  
  • It's inexpensive.   
  • Motivates the kids to pick out gobs of library books. 
A note about discipline:  Prizes, card-drawing, and homeschooling aren't options for us to take away as punishment.  We felt it was unfair and unnecessary.   

Easy?  YES!  Fun?  Absolutely!  

How do you keep your kids learning over the summer?  Do you offer incentives?  Join me on Facebook to discuss!  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: I Used to Hate My Fine, Thin, Straight Hair, but Not Anymore

Dear Sugar,

Let's take a break from our "regularly scheduled" programming and talk about hair.  

I'm mad-jelly of the ladies on Pinterest and Insta, most of them fellow bloggers, who have mermaid hair.   Wavy, highlighted, and thick.  Gorgeous.    

Then there's me.   I've been "gifted" a few things by genetics that aren't so great.   1-thigh "hail damage."    2-adult acne.    3-thin, fine, straight hair.    (I'm just keeping it real.)  

Today's focus is #3.  

Now, I don't make it a habit of hating on myself.   The truth is, I celebrate myself and my strong body without shame.  Exhibit A.  I took a photo of myself, in a two-piece swimsuit, with all my dia-bad-ass equipment front-and-center and wrote an entire article about it.   

However, I've always struggled with loving my hair.   Finding the perfect products, cut, and color has been an ongoing battle.   That is, until recently. 

For starters, Color Proof Super Plump shampoo and conditioner smells like a mixture of jelly beans and cotton candy.  I always smell products before I buy them.  I don't want anything that smells like a grandma's garden, a man's shaving kit, or a health food store.   I want something light, fruity, and fun. 
Because let's be honest, I (like you) get very, very few minutes to myself, and if I do nab a five minute shower where no one knocks on the glass door and needs a boo-boo kiss or a snack, I call that a win.  But if I get a five minute uninterrupted shower AND get to wash my hair with something that smells like candy?   That's bliss.  

The shampoo and conditioner, which I've been using for well over two months, doesn't leave a residue.  It doesn't weigh my hair down.  And it hasn't stripped or dulled my highlights.  And I need very little product (just a nickel size amount in my palm) to get the job done.    

In fact, I love the products so much, that I had my photographer take my upcoming new book author pics with me wearing my hair down (very rare for me) in those beachy-waves I used to lust over instead of wearing myself. The pics were taken on a crazy-windy, warm, humid-ish day, and my style held without losing shine, curl, or bounce.   

Yes, I still rock my top-knot most days, because I don't have time to curl my hair.  Nor do I need to be all kinds of cute to spend my days changing diapers, making meals, doing laundry, and running errands.  However, even my top knot looks shiny and...well...happy!   

After years and years of struggling with my perception of my hair, of feeling like it didn't live up to everyone else's, I can finally say I've found the right product for my mane!   

-This post is sponsored by Color Proof; review all my own-

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dear Sugar: Easy and Brilliant Father's Day Gift Idea

Hey, Sugar:

My husband is very difficult to buy for.  I finally figured out why:  his very last Love Language is gifts.  He just doesn't care much for receiving gifts.   And guess what?  My #1 Love Language is gifts. Talk about opposites!

Yet I feel compelled, every year, to buy him something:  to put at least one carefully wrapped package in his hands to say thanks for being such a great dad.   A few years ago, I came up with this easy and awesome idea.

I find a children's hardcover picture book to give my husband.  The book focuses on fatherhood and the parent-child relationship.   Then he can read the book to the kids at bedtime.   Easy?  Yes! Thoughtful?  Yep.   Brilliant?   I think so!

So to make your hunt for the perfect Father's Day book a little easier, here are our favorites:  Click on the book image to learn more.  And cheers to awesome dads!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Dear Sugar: To the New Mom-By-Adoption, Here's Some Encouragement

Dear Sugar:

How are you doing?  If you're anything like I was almost nine years ago, you're feeling conflicted. You're enjoying your baby, but you're also nervous.  You're a new mom, and not just any new mom, but a new mom by adoption.  That comes with extras:  extra pressure, extra expectations, extra considerations.   And honestly, it's overwhelming and can be unnerving.   

Me snuggling my brand new (oldest) baby.
As a mom of four, all of whom came to us by domestic, infant, transracial, open adoption, I want to offer you some encouragement.   Because I've been where you are.   And I know it's not easy.

Let's first get this out of the way:  there are high expectations of you.   These are put on you by yourself, by the adoption community, by your family, by your friends and co-workers, by strangers. It's expected that you be overjoyed.  That you are a great mom.  That you relish in sleepless nights and diaper blowouts, because you've waited so long to become a mommy.   

But motherhood, no matter how it comes to you, is difficult.  There's not guidebook.  There's no map. There's no magic 8 ball.  There's no genie in a bottle.   And if you find yourself struggling with any area of motherhood (not having time to shower, a harsh word from a friend, maternity leave, etc.), you are NORMAL.  And you are not alone.   

Here's what I want you to know:  

Be both humble and confident.  

Humility comes by accepting the suggestions, advice, and encouragement (yes, encouragement!) from the people who matter. Who are those people?   They are fellow moms-by-adoption, they are people who racially match your child, they are people who are on "your team" (the ones who want you to succeed and enjoy motherhood), they are adoptees.  Know what true humility is:

Confidence comes with time and experience.  You know, good things come to those who wait. Confidence isn't prideful or egotistical.  No.  Confidence is strength, joy, and peace.    

Reject the Super Parent Syndrome.

Those of us who adopt are often revered in society.  We are saviors.  We are the ones who swooped in and saved the babies who needed "a good home."  Our children are "lucky":  lucky to be adopted.   We must reject these things.   Because one, we aren't saviors:  we're just parents who chose to grow our families by adoption.  And, because our children aren't the lucky ones:  WE ARE the lucky ones, lucky enough to have been chosen to parent our children.    

And the main reason we must reject Super Parent Syndrome:   oh how the mighty fall!   Being put on a pedestal means we have A LOT to live up to.  We will never feel like enough.  We won't be content. We won't relish in being parents.  Instead, we will work and struggle, every moment of every day, to not fall of the pedestal.   
Turn away from critics who distract you from your job and your joy.  

Accepting suggestions and advice from experienced individuals is one thing (and it's necessary), but accepting criticism from haters, letting that fester within you, and put a damper on your day:  well, that's your own silly fault!   Often this stems from "support" groups online (insert eye roll and sprinkle the drama like confetti), from someone who has no clue about about adoption (race, ability, etc.), and even strangers.  This is when I need you to remember what I taught you.   First, you can choose not to respond at all:  which is more powerful than responding.  Second, if someone is relentless or you feel you MUST reply, remember the five magic words?   

Speak the words.  Walk away.  Your job is to mother your child, which is what you were chosen to do, not defend your decisions. 

I know it's not always easy to do these things.  The best things in life usually are the most difficult.   

Remember:  your obligation is to your child and your family.  Keep it simple.   And ENJOY your new motherhood.  The old ladies at the grocery store are right:  time really does fly by.   

For more encouragement on the journey, check out my book:

(Amazon affiliate link)