Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My Journey with Ambiguous Grief

I’ve experienced concrete losses, but my deepest and most difficult experiences with loss have all been ambiguous. 

I didn’t understand this about myself until I noticed a pattern in my life callings and the way my reactions have all been connected. 

If you want to understand ambiguous grief, one example would be loving someone who is a drug addict. Another is loving someone who is mentally ill—whether it is your spouse, parent, child, sibling, relative, or friend. The person you love more than life itself may be there one minute, but are gone the next. They may be present and connected, and then they are not. You know who they are, and then you do not. These phases and seasons may come and go, and you may experience a grief cycle each time the person you love is no longer present. Sometimes there are situations of loss that happen all at once with no repeat cycles and the person you love is forever gone to you even tho they are still alive. 

For me in my ambiguous grief cycles I have typically remained rutted in a stage of my grief for far too long as I didn’t comprehend what was happening to me because of the situation—usually I’d be stuck in something like denial for so long that over time my trauma from the loss compounded and turned into PTSD of its own with triggers that are associated with loss. 

The problem that compounded grief has created for me is that at times love has come to be associated only with pain. When I was only a young kid, I wrote in my journal that “Love IS pain.” In recent years, even happy memories from old pictures of good times have brought up serious and true pain for me. That is something I am actively working on changing in myself. Often I have to remind myself to be happy that something happened instead of hyper-focusing on my sadness that it is over. That reminder alone helps me enjoy simple life experiences like watching my children as they grow instead of perpetually grieving that they change and grow and being sad that the last season I shared with them is over.

At any rate—a few other examples of ambiguous grief could be: losing someone because of brain injury, losing someone to kidnapping, losing someone to a life altering disease like Alzheimer’s, or having a child with a special needs diagnosis like Autism can also be a cause and catalyst of ambiguous grief. The most “sugar coated” way I’ve heard it described is “the loss of a dream”. That’s how miscarriage was presented to me—three times in a row. By my 4th miscarriage I understood that miscarriage was a concrete loss. I lost CHILDREN, not “only a dream”.  But even so, most of my miscarriages were grieved ambiguously because they were such abstract experiences. I didn’t actually get to hold my babies to say goodbye, so the experience was like talking myself out of something that didn’t happen except it DID happen and I had a full grief cycle over every lost child, but couldn’t validate myself because the experience itself was so abstract for me. It took me much longer than it should have to accept and understand what I was experiencing, let alone accept what had actually happened. Part of the length of my grief was prolonged as well because the support, awareness, and understanding I needed to help me achieve acceptance wasn’t present in my circles (or in myself) until later.

It’s like my destiny is to learn how to overcome this weakness of mine. The patterns in my life callings have seemed to lead me to have to face ambiguous grief and not shrink from it. 

For example—I am a teacher. Every single year I love and let go (lose) people I have attached and bonded to and dearly love. Have you ever tried to be strong as you’ve experienced loss over 300 little people at a time? Not easy. Maybe it’s even harder with 24 little people you’ve had all day every day for a year—an even closer bond creates a more intense loss? Maybe.

Have you ever tried to be a foster parent? To love without reservation, and at full throttle in the thick of the fire like they’re your forever child (since that’s the kind of love they deserve) and then lose them because they weren’t actually destined to be your forever child? 

These are just a couple examples of my life callings that have been leading me to discover what breaks me down and what I need and want to overcome.

I talk to God a lot. Nothing has made me question Him or believe in Him more than the struggles that came to me being an adoptive parent. 

I’ve said to Him, “Make my heart whole.”

And He said, “You ARE whole; you choose to give your heart away.”

I’ve said to Him repeatedly, “Make me strong.” And...He sent me another foster child.

It seems that’s the answer for me to become strong. Or am I strong enough now? Perhaps both are true. Time will tell.

Can you imagine tho, the grief triggers that can come from being involved with the foster community—from watching helpless children experience deep grief? All the things I was ever in denial about? Triggered. All the love and loss I had ever experienced? Triggered. All the ambiguous grief I couldn’t face until I was FORCED to cope with it? Present. At the surface here and now.  

My answer from God: Deal with it NOW or you CANNOT help these little ones deal with theirs. 

The day my soon to be adopted child at the time was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder was truly the day that shattered me. It was the day I had to face being there for someone no matter what, when their battle was the scariest thing I’d ever dreamed of because the prospects for them were so hopeless. For me that day, LOVE meant to stay by their side and stay in the game when I didn’t feel strong enough to face it for one day, let alone a lifetime. Love meant I had to find a way to be strong. My grief in that situation just about tore me ENTIRELY apart.

And now that I’m on the flip side of my shattering, I am accepting a lot of my own life experiences for what they were, what they are, and what they had been. I am accepting myself and what I have been learning. I am accepting my life callings with more courage and strength. 

And now I know when I choose to love, I know what I am getting myself into—an equal measure to my heart of joy and pain. I also know that my heart has never been more whole than when it has been broken. I have never been so alive as when I have loved. And my love has never been so magical, healing, or powerful as when my heart has been the most broken. Even the pain of ambiguous grief keeps me aware of my life and ability to love. So if I am feeling pain, I am alive because I love. It increases my capacity to serve. In the full weakness of my love for others I am actually my strongest self.

And if I can love another person on this earth—ANY person (adult or child) in a way that allows me to give them the gift of my love in a way that expects nothing in return, then I have experienced TRUE love, and that understanding in and of itself brings me joy. 

if I love 

with my whole soul 

having no strings attached 

then I can truly love 

which means 

my heart was whole at the time 

i chose to give it away.

my love 

in beautiful essence 

was pure

a true gift

shared by my own choice

bringing me pain

but also the satisfaction of joy. 

true love 

requires no reciprocation

and provides me

the experience

of death

and rebirth.

love allows me to live 

a thousand times over.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

What My View of Homosexuality ended up teaching ME

I believe that God Himself put me in a situation that (while it surprised me) taught me an important lesson:

We had adopted 2 children and had one space left on our license.  The license was temporarily on hold by our choice.  We weren't ready to take on more children but pressure was on from the State for us to make a choice quickly about that one remaining spot. We were going to need to either open our home or close our license by a specific date. As we weighed the pros and cons of opening the bed, adhering to strict family rules and home regulations for maintaining licensure, and also dealing with the heavy schedule of therapies we were already committed to, we also had to weigh an internal conflict and moral obligation.

During this season of deciding, we were approached about taking in a specific child.

It's one thing to look at the children of the world who need help and say your hands are tied when you're not truly able or even licensed to help and it's another thing entirely to have THE ABILITY and even the opportunity to do something for a child in need but to then turn that child away.

So we looked into it -- to see if we could take this particular child.

Besides the fact that we had already made the commitment to two other children from the system and were in over our heads with therapies and doctor appointments working to heal their traumas along with meeting the needs of our other 4 children, and besides the fact that we WANTED to help but didn't feel our whole family was ready for such an immediate disruption to the routine we had just barely been establishing post adoption, there was ALSO an additional moral issue that created internal conflict for me.

That conflict is that we were told that this child would have a homosexual couple adopt if we didn't.  As a result, my firm beliefs in what type of family is best for a child was put to the test.

Would I do something I knew my other kids, spouse, and myself were not able or ready to do BECAUSE this child needed a mother AND a father?

The child had adoption and trauma needs I had experience with but I also knew it would be a combustible situation with my other children's needs. I knew it wasn't right timing for our family and my husband felt the same way, but by not taking the child, I knew the child would NOT have the ideal family definition I had believed in so strongly.  If this child needed a Mom and Dad and WE were the last shot at that, was I being faithless in God's plan for the family?  Did I need to leap forward in faith and trust that God would make up the difference simply so I could give this child a Mom and Dad and simultaneously uphold my extremely deep beliefs in what family should look like?

If I personally ended up ALLOWING a child to go into a situation with homosexual parents when I FIRST had the opportunity to help that child and IF I believed that homosexuality and unions like that are a sin that keep us away from God, THEN by not taking this child into my home, I had an extra weight to my moral conflict because I was becoming responsible for something that had been labeled as bad or "wrong" to me. Because I couldn't take the child, I was then participating in allowing them to go to a home that I shouldn't have allowed them to, and so then I was sinning more than just turning a child away--my sin made me essentially guilty of the same thing as these people who are homosexual.  Their sins were now my sins and their faults were now mine.   Everything they were guilty of, I was suddenly too, because I wasn't good enough to live up to the pedestal or family utopia I had based my beliefs on for my whole life.

If they were bad for being homosexual then I was also bad for sentencing a child to the fate of having homosexual parents.  People say they "love the sinner and not the sin", but that approach and method of judgement didn't allow ME any mercy, either. The logically implied justice was the same--if they were sinners for being in a homosexual union, then I was sinning for sending a child to them.  If what they were doing was bad, then what I was doing was also bad.

So then I had to decide what I REALLY believe in.  Do I believe that the family in its traditional form alone has the power to save children in need? Or do I believe that JESUS has the power to save?

What do I believe?

Does "traditional family" trump all and give us all our solutions or does the Lord's grace and goodness do that?

I have decided to believe in Jesus.

I don't know if anyone out there can FEEL the internal conflict that this particular situation caused me to face and the walls that had to come down inside for me, but that doesn't really matter because I believe this moment in time was tailored exactly for me and my family to show me in a personal way that God Himself is in the details of our lives--no matter who we are or what type of family situation we have.

God Himself is bigger than the capacity we have to serve His children.  He is bigger than the ways we try to obediently follow Him.  He is bigger than the commandments He's given us.  He's bigger than the ways we are capable of following the truths we think we know and try to understand.  He knows who we are, where we're going, how to help us, how to bless us, how to teach us.

I still grieve over and consider this child an adoption loss because I wanted to be able to be this child's parent.  BUT with all of the considerations of the situation, and with the complexities and dynamics of all the people involved, it was not the right fit for our family.  I can rely on the strength from prayer and understand that God knew the end from the beginning.  I do in fact believe this child is in the RIGHT place with parents who happen to be of the same-gender and not with traditional family parents.  I believe the child went there to heal in specific ways that my husband and I could not provide.  I am grateful for the divinely inspired same-sex couple who are able to provide a family for this this child that I do love but am not capable to take care of.  Whether we call their family non-traditional or modern or anything else, the point is that they ARE a family and God is able to work in their family just like He can work in mine.

I do not fear for this child simply because this child has homosexual parents instead of a Mom and Dad model that our family has.

I trust in God, and I trust in God MORE THAN I trust in the family model my husband and I still devote our energy to building.

Even if I build a traditional family in the belief that that is what God wants me to do, and even if I do that trying to follow Him, that does NOT make the traditional family model bigger than God or bigger than what God can do for any and all of His children -- across the world in different cultures and religions.  God sees much further than we can now see.


On a different note, since that moment in time where I had to measure what I believe in family and God, my Uncle has since been married to his partner. I am very happy to say that I have 2 uncles in a gay marriage.  I am proud to call them both my family.  I am learning a lot from them and from the way they view the world. There have been specific times I have been stuck with some difficult conflicts. I said a prayer to ask for help, and shortly later I got a call from my Uncle Warren who happened to have encouragement I needed that day. That was God.

I specifically love people from the gay community because they typically have had to be fighters for authenticity.  They have usually been born into a set of life circumstances where under social, religious, or other scrutiny they could not EVER measure up or win--they could not force themselves to not be gay and they also could not force themselves to fit in a box of living in a painfully unauthentic way, so they faced their "rock and hard place" and found a way to be true to themselves and live without inhibition.

Because of this strength that is found in the gay community, I believe that a gay couple was actually MORE capable of showing their adoptive placement HOW to break free from a life circumstance that was imprisoning to that child more than I could. Maybe that couple is more capable of helping that child thru their trauma because they'll know how to empower the child in ways I'm still learning to empower myself.  They'll know because they ALREADY walked a path where everything from social status to biology was against them from the moment they were born and they can teach this child how to come out stronger on the other side.

In the darkest moments of our adoption journey, I have found that besides other families who have walked through foster care or adoption, the ONE other group of people who could relate the best and with truest empathy to the types of struggles we have faced have been our gay friends and family; they have been a tremendous strength in our lives and some of the best encouragers to keep on going.

What still boggles my mind is also that after viewing the meaning of "family" with such a black and white lens (with no acceptance or variance from that norm) for so many decades of my life, and then being shown a different side thru a painful, soul-searching, stressful and pressure filled moment of time where I had to also make a choice...all allowed me to understand and accept with peace inside that there are quality families in the world with same-sex parents doing amazing things. That became a catalyst that allows me to accept myself too.

When we learn to accept others and their differences we can learn to accept ourselves.  When we can find peace with others, we can feel peace within ourselves (and vice versa).

I believe that God works in beautiful and personal ways to show Himself to us, because we're ALL part of His big and wonderful family.  I'm learning that when we can be true to who we are, we are being honest in heart before our Maker. That's when He can take us and make more out of our lives than we could dream possible.

At least that's how I see it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

PTSD and Forgiveness

“Forgive and forget”.

We’ve all been told to do this at some point or another in our lives.

“Don’t hold a grudge,” we’re told.


These lessons were ingrained within me. I remember as a young mom when my first little boy Tyson would be hurt by a friend I would immediately have him find something to apologize for, too. I would make him analyze the situation to find what he did to cause it. As if the cause for someone else hurting him was something he must have done to deserve it. My quickness to skip over his negative experience to have him fix the problem implied the wrong message. Little did I know at the time that that’s codependency in the making (especially because this child was already naturally not an instigator). Now he’s 11 and I see that when others make poor choices he feels responsible for their choices regardless of whether or not he had any true responsibility connected to the situation. That internalized problem in my son was caused by me as his parent when he was little because it was something I had had so deeply ingrained within me. The idea that the need to forgive is the victim’s FAULT. The idea that a victim is not allowed to feel anything but to surrender all their feelings unto the concept of forgiveness (whether or not the human process of the grief cycle that allows forgiveness to come has even been completed). The idea that you cannot be forgiven unless you forgive so therefore you cannot feel anything as a result as another’s infraction against you or else you will be accused of not forgiving and will then be unworthy to be forgiven too (unworthy for God to forgive or love you).

All this extreme kind of misinterpretation really does tho is lead an individual into cycles of anxiousness and self hatred. It makes someone feel so worthless that who they are and how they feel are not allowed to matter even when they’ve been legitimately perpetrated on by another. It’s so unhealthy. 

I’m happy to say that my son and I are both working to look at things differently to heal together from what was a potentially very harmful outlook.

A friend told me a story of a very serious type of abuse that happened to them. At first disclosure to their trusted adult there was an attempt from that figure to provide sympathy. But as time went on and emotional issues from PTSD still arose for the victim in the situation, when they told their trusted adult in their life about how they were feeling, the trusted adult said, “You need to get over it.”

What a way to add insult to injury, right?

But here’s the clincher—someone who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex PTSD is someone who knows better than anyone else that they NEED to get over the trauma that occurred to them. They know their need to “forget it” is in the way of their ability to move forward with their life. They wish it never had happened and they wish that they could forget it. What they don’t know however is HOW to get past it. Onlookers with no empathy, who scrutinize the situation, also do not understand HOW to help them. Everyone’s experience with trauma is different so even the experiences of a person who has found a way to move forward from their own similar circumstances may not even be able to help another. Because trauma recovery is not one-size-fits-all.

One sure way to contribute to the problem, however, is to tell them what they’re doing wrong and how they just need to forgive or the worse sin is on their shoulders. That is a fantastic way to become part of the problem instead of part of their healing process. 

I believe the best people at forgiving are actually the ones who experience PTSD. Someone who has PTSD will find a way to forgive, let go, and move forward. But then their trauma will be triggered and they have to do it all over again. Trauma can be stored in the mind, the body, and the heart. If a traumatic event has not been fully processed in a way that allows healing or closure, any of these triggers could come at any time (even if the individual has invested lengthy amounts of time working through the situation).

Triggers are unpredictable. It could come with a date of the year, a smell, a look, a fabric, a sound, a season changing, a similar circumstance—all things that cannot be controlled by the person who has been hurt. The trigger will come and the person will relive the moment and the pain as if it were fresh. It is exhausting because the pain of the current situation will be present and compounded with the pain of the previous situation that is triggered in the PTSD.

When that happens the individual will have to go through the process of forgiveness all over again. The emotions will blindside them and they could lose a day, a half a day, a week, OR MORE to the triggering situation (in children this kind of situation actually STOPS or dramatically slows their childhood development and hinders their ability to learn in school). Sometimes they might come out stronger.  Most times they’ll probably be feeling weaker after having experienced the memory again. They’ll make the choice to forgive and to move on in wholeness (or as much wholeness as they can muster).

Until another trigger comes again.

Then the moment is fresh. The feelings come back as if it all just happened again. 

The person will make the choice to forgive all over again. But it’s very difficult. They already did that. They’ll wonder why they had to go thru that again. They’ll wonder what’s wrong with them. They’ll feel bad about what’s happening. But it’s not their fault. 

The Biblical scripture about forgiving 70 times 7 is potentially applied all the time in people who experience PTSD. But others who do not understand PTSD may pass judgments about the victim’s ability to forgive. In reality, however, the victim’s ability and strength in forgiving is likely much stronger than in an individual who only has to choose forgiveness once as opposed to having to choose forgiveness from multiple angles of realization that comes from the retriggering of past trauma over time.

For me there was an experience that I was reliving thru triggers. I was not a victim but I witnessed a traumatic death that forever changed me. After a decade of living with it and working thru it on my own, I had EMDR therapy and I was finally able to forgive myself for the negative beliefs I had absorbed in a situation I could not change or control. It still feels healing to remember the weight that came off of my shoulders. The weight was removed after someone who could show me HOW helped me to fully process the situation. The weight could not be removed just because anyone told me to get over it. The weight could not leave by talking myself through it. I understood logic but the feelings were forever stored in my mind and heart, memory, and body. The weight could not leave permanently even when applying faith in Jesus and that the situation that happened was in His hands. In order for Jesus to heal me, I had to use therapy. Now when that memory comes back, I still feel sad for what I saw that happened but because of EMDR therapy I do not feel all the feelings of inadequacy anymore. I do not feel the undue guilt and burden I had carried as if it were fresh every single time a trigger brought back that memory.

Now imagine having an incident where a traumatic event caused by one person to another ends up being so bad that it causes PTSD (or imagine the little events that eventually become big because they are continually repeated offenses across a long period of time that can cause CPTSD). Imagine the difficulty someone may experience with triggers from an event that is ongoing or from a hurtful individual that is still present in their life. 

I believe that all too often we get frustrated with ourselves and others and we use the phrase to just get over it. We judge others and ourselves for our inability to apply forgiveness. But the truth of the matter is that many of the people we are judging harshly are actually some of the strongest and most practiced individuals we may know at applying their skills of forgiveness, especially when the consequences of another’s choice or choices affect their lives time and time again and at no fault of their own. Each realization of the domino effect requires reprocessing the Greif and trauma and requires forgiveness for the same event—perhaps even “seventy times seven times” for JUST THAT ONE EVENT. That is a heavy load to carry and even tho Jesus can eventually heal all of us completely, He also made our mortal bodies with natural responses to things. Unfortunately for many individuals “natural responses” to awful things includes PTSD, and it’s exhausting. It’s even more exhausting when people with PTSD are blamed for what they experience or even continue to experience as if it is their fault. 

Maybe you know someone in a situation like what I’ve talked about. Maybe they could use a hug and trust from you. Maybe they need to be told how strong and powerful they are because they don’t feel that they’re strong despite the amazing feat they accomplish every day. Maybe they just need understanding that the burdens they carry happen to be invisible to others but are very real. Maybe simple awareness will help so that the person you love with PTSD will not have to feel isolated for the things they cannot control. Maybe just looking at the PTSD experience in an open and accepting way will empower them enough to help them trust themselves and find the path that’s right for them for their own journey of healing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

On Parenting and My Reproductive Rights

Photo credit: Erin Eileen-Photography 

When you get married people will usually ask when you’re going to have kids. After you have a kid they ask you when you’re having the next. I’ve been guilty of this too and actually look back wishing I hadn’t participated in the cultural pressuring of others. Eventually tho, there comes a different point when you have a seemingly “large” number of kids where people start wondering when you’re going to stop. 😂

It’s been interesting to me to see just who is comfortable with our choice to adopt and who is more comfortable with our choice to keep birthing children. People generally don’t do very well hiding their fears and concerns or even lack of confidence in another couple’s ability to make choices that they themselves didn’t make or wouldn’t have made. Fortunately for us tho, there’s usually a group of people who just stay supportive among all parenting situations.

For us the local foster/adoptive community has simply been easiest to belong in. 

In that community, I’m not accused of having more children just because I’m only concerned about numbers. In that community, it’s not unusual for a family with 4 kids to look around the dinner table and feel like someone is missing. And when that family of 4 grew to 6, and the same feeling of missing another child happened, it was no odd circumstance in that we would became pregnant with our 7th child and then still honestly happen to toy with the idea of potentially adopting again someday (if or when the time feels right). In that community, there was no weirdness when our friends found out we were expecting our 7th child. No mouths dropping to the floor, just genuine congratulations. Other friends and family in my life may have had different reactions and that’s okay, too. But what I love about the foster community is that we’re still a “small” family in that group of people and to them we seem normal. There also exists within that community the understanding that comes with the life experiences of a large family, the struggles that come with it, and the sentiment, “We know the types of struggles you’re choosing to face and we’re here for you to help you in a way other people might not be able to understand, because we’ve been there.”

With all that being said, I happen to be on my 9th pregnancy. I have delivered 4 babies and lost 4 babies. My husband and I have also adopted 2 kids. I’m hoping this child makes it safely into our arms. We’re very close to that. Of all of our children I would say that this one soon to be bundle is technically the first child I have chosen to have entirely of my own free will. Last year I had a serious mammogram reading that required a return visit and several additional scans to make sure everything was okay. Before I knew everything was okay, my life was literally flashing before my eyes, and I had a culminating moment with several realizations. One of those realizations came very clearly, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks. If I get out of this, I want to have one more baby.”  

When you’re at the larger end of family size it requires courage to choose to have more kids. Usually by then you know what you’re getting in to and because you know that “more is more”, and you know you’re looking at “harder not easier”, but that doesn’t change how you feel about moving forward. I do believe in God and I do feel that He expressed honor of my choice for many reasons that are far bigger than myself.  But this was the first child I’ve had where I wasn’t guided to birth out of a desire that was also coupled or tainted by a sense of obligation, a sense of cultural pressure, a sense of religious pressures, or a concern of judgement from the people closest to me. I made this choice because I wanted one more baby. The doctor told me with my increased health problems up to this point that “It won’t be easy, but if you get a confirmation from God, I’ll help you thru it.”

The confirmation came when I had actually already conceived before that conversation but hadn’t realized it yet. It also happened at a time that should have been medically impossible for me to be pregnant as I typically need fertility assistance. Later I would find out that both my sisters would miraculously be expecting children with me at the same time also.

My doctor was right, tho. It has been the least pretty of all my pregnancies. Instead of being high risk for the baby in just the first trimester, I have been a high risk patient for either the baby or myself (or both) at every stage of this experience.

A couple months ago I decided after this child to be done birthing children. I was keeping a mental list of all the medical reasons why. And my husband was supportive. We even planned for him to have a surgery. But a couple weeks ago my doctor told me I CANNOT have more children and he also told me that I would likely have a c-section. He said, “Would you like your tubes removed at the same time?”. What I heard was: “You have lost your choice and you need to be sterilized.” I was brave in the office. But boy was it emotional trying to process the situation regarding my own reproductive rights. We already made the choice. I told God we were done. My husband was genuinely willing to have the procedure to ensure we were done birthing children, but even with the choice we made BECAUSE someone else I trust my life with told me I needed to or medically should, it felt so disempowering. Like my choice in the matter was taken away. 

The idea and presentation of sterilization felt so cold. And the necessity or perceived force of it felt like the taking away of a large part of who I am and who I have chosen to become in my life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have logically weighed all the options, and if for my personal health I need to remove my tubes I will. I have also decided that even with a c-section if I am not comfortable with the idea and would prefer the other plan my husband and I had already chosen, then I will only have the c-section and either wait for tube removal later or allow my husband to move forward with vasectomy instead. I am empowering myself by allowing myself to choose what I feel I should do based off of intuition amid the actual delivery circumstances that are presented. I do also realize that menopause is a natural sterilization process that happens to all women. I also realize that many women never are medically able to make this kind of a choice (especially not with a heads up going in to it). I do not take that lightly.

But what I do know is that it means a lot to me to be a mother and that my body is meant to be my body (even tho I choose to share it with my baby). I am a unique person and so is my husband. We are people who desire a large family, and it’s not because what we have is not enough. I respect people in a way I never have before who have chosen to have one child and be done, two children and be done, or even no children and be done. I admire their confidence, their empowerment to make choices, and their direction to know what they want and where they are guiding their life to go. I admire people like never before who have more children than I do, and who live in a way that I am not capable of. I feel so grateful that finally by my 7th child, that I have learned the value of choice. The value of consent. The value of being a parent because I choose to be a parent and not because I feel pressured along with that choice.

Parenthood is such a wild ride, too. It’s always a wild card. By birthing or adoption you can choose to love a little soul, but you cannot choose anything else that comes with that. You cannot choose how the child will turn out. You cannot choose their medical trials. You (usually) cannot choose their gender. You cannot choose if you will feel connected to that child in all their phases of development. But what you can choose to say when you birth and raise a child is, “I gave you life, now live it!” Or in adopting you can choose to say, “I gave you a different path, now let’s see where you run with it.” As a parent you can always choose to say, “I can’t wait to see who you choose to be, and I will be cheering you from the sidelines all along the way.”

Of course I’m a parent who is learning more about myself and my children every day. I’d say my children are the ones who spark  growth inside me more than anyone—even more than my own parents (which is hard to do because they have taught me so much). But because of that I know that my children may not learn everything from me that I hope, and someday their own best growth may come from their personal life choices and/or future families. Even so, I love teaching and I love learning. Both of these deeply rooted desires are gratified by my choice to be a mother. I truly do love having little children in my life and family. Even if my little kids put me thru the ringer, and even if the life I have chosen to live is harder than I ever imagined, and even if there are many people who might not necessarily choose what I have chosen. It’s okay for them to be them and it’s okay for me to be me. 

I can’t wait to see who this little person is going to turn out to be and I’m grateful for the lesson of self-empowerment that my 7th child has already participated in teaching me.

Come quickly little one, we can’t wait to meet you!

Photo credit: Erin Eileen-Photography 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Dear Higley District and State of Arizona

Dear Higley District and State of Arizona:

My daughter bears an Autism diagnosis. For 2 years I have been her voice. Time and time again you have ignored not just my voice, but HER VOICE. Besides Autism, she suffers with other diagnoses and interesting circumstances which you have used to discredit what she experiences and have thereby, more than once, violated the Child Find Law because she used to be a foster child and your method is faulty. “This is not a delay, her problems are caused by something else.” As if the something else you SPECULATE from her first environment negates that she still has Autism (a diagnosis given by a doctor after a lengthy process of ruling out everything we were seeing. She didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for this.)

Let’s get to your failed promises from January of 2017:
  1. “There’s nothing we can do for her even with an Autism diagnosis at the preschool level, but we can make an IEP for her and she can ‘hit the ground running in Kindergarten’.” 
  2. We can put her on a ‘watch list’ for the emotionally disabled.
  3. You can pay for the preschool program if there are openings, ‘it’s too bad we can’t fit her in now tho so that we could be collecting data all of this time before Kindergarten’.
It appears we have hit the ground at the realities we see, and she’s not running. We are in the second quarter of her Kindergarten year and we have left yet another meeting without an IEP. You explained the reasoning to us that “medical autism is different than school autism”. The ‘watch list’ doesn’t actually exist (neither of my children who were screened by you had any info from you provided to their home school prior to Kinder enrollment). My daughter’s needs were too high for the regular preschool program even tho your tests said her needs were too low for the SPED program. Because she is a high needs child I was also told there was not enough room in the class the public could pay for, and that it was too late to register. We had to go to a different community daycare/preschool where they were not well enough equipped to handle the needs of a child like mine and she was kicked out of preschool—the child you told me was ‘normal’ could not function in a normal preschool. 

Conclusions from interacting with your Special Education teams: 

  1. You have framed your teachers’ positions so that their job is not to help but to reject children who have needs while also putting off parents who advocate for as long as you possibly can.
  2. You will not help us and at every turn you tell us we’re alone (with a smile no less).
  3. Your system rejects kids in need as a money game, but then you pay for it dramatically later when their needs are more severe because you contributed to their problems when they were young by not helping them. Surely in the field of childhood development you would understand that time is of the essence, and yet you act like all we’ve got is time.

Fortunately for us we found someone who WOULD help us. It was SUPPOSED to be you. We were sent to YOU by our pediatrician, developmental pediatrician, psychologist, occupational therapist, and attachment therapist. Five medical and mental health professionals who have worked directly with my daughter said she needed to come to you and that you could/would help her, but you refused her time and time again. We did find someone who would help us. You won’t be happy to hear who it was. His name is Eddie Farnsworth. 

Eddie Farnsworth (yes, the same man who has been painted to be a villain to AZ public education itself). When our public education system wouldn’t listen, THAT man HEARD parents who have kids with special needs like mine. He participated in writing and passing Jacob’s Law. Jacob’s Law was essential to helping me get medical and behavioral health therapies for my children in need during the most critical time they needed it.

You have been routinely rejecting my daughter because your system and extremely difficult process for qualification dubbed her as a “normal” child who doesn’t need any help. My daughter has not only received an ‘alphabet soup’ of medical diagnoses to prove that she is deserving of assistance in educational setting, but also through that route she has been qualified for and attended the following:

  1. Occupational Therapy
  2. Attachment Therapy
  3. Behavior Coaching
  4. Anger Management 
  5. Psychologist and Counseling appointments
  6. Social skill assistance

Apparently children with these types of needs at a very young age and rigorous therapy schedules are “normal” cases to you.  At times our family has averaged 9-12 therapies IN ONE WEEK. Apparently that’s so normal that in order for you to believe us you have now put more responsibility on our plate to get an “outside evaluation” to prove her needs are high enough. Sure thing—we’ll just cram that extra, time consuming, expensive, and lengthy process into our schedule while we’re still working to survive daily life since obviously our daily life is as normal to you as people who raise neurotypical children. 

What could raising neurotypical children be like? Wait—as I think about it—I DO have experience with neurotypical children—a lot, too! Besides being a teacher and seeing hundreds of children in my classrooms, I have also raised neurotypical and gifted children. There was a day when our family only had an appointment for medical reasons when something small like an occasional ear infection came up—once every few months or so. Back in those days I had plenty of time to schedule outside evaluations if they had been needed.

To you our kids are just “other people’s children”, and by the time there is equitable change in our state’s education system for children who have special needs like mine, MY child’s needs have been and will continue to be missed by you.

Don’t worry about my child. She’s a fighter (her two in-school suspensions from last week are evidence of that—oh wait—never mind, I guess you believe that behavior is normal for Kindergartners). Being alone and left without any additional SPED help from our public education system is something we’re getting used to. We can and WILL move this mountain without you (thanks to Eddie Farnsworth, Anika Robinson, Susan Woodruff, and Angela Teachout, we have more tools to do it) but it would have been nice if in the process the one place that no less than 5 other doctors and therapists sent us to had actually done their job to help my daughter. We believed you would be on her team, but you chose not to. As her parents who have worked harder than we ever thought could be possible to raise this one child, WE will be taking the credit for her progress and also giving HER all the accolades for overcoming mountains larger than a 5 year old should ever have to climb on her own. We will also give credit where it’s due—to the people who were listening to parents like us and who opened the way for outside assistance even tho it’s still been rough.

In the mean time, you need to understand that children JUST LIKE MINE in our district and state are being rejected for services.

You also need to know that there are MANY children with similar situations as mine, but their parents have a different socioeconomic status that prevents them from finding a way to help their children get what they need. Those same families will be directed to you and you will reject them. They may not have the financial ability to stop working to take their child to therapies like I did. They may not have a college degree to eventually pick up a higher paying  job to undo the financial damage from the hardest season of their life. They may not be married and they may not be able to weather the storm of care-giver burn out on their own. Their pediatrician and developmental pediatrician will send them to you for help, they will feel like there is hope for their child and situation, and there you will be using your screening/evaluation system that’s set up to reject their children with special needs and you’ll be turning them away with a smile. 

All of this will continue to happen, unless of course, you understand that the following changes in the way you run your Special Education program are essential to the future of these kids and their families.

  1. A developmental disability such as Autism (or the equivalent ASD verbiage for kids under 5) needs to be recognized as qualification for special ed services at the preschool level (Kindergarten is too late).
  2. Girls with Autism fall under the radar and are not served best by the same ADOS testing system as boys with Autism. This does not negate that they still have ASD. This does not mean their needs are to be neglected.
  3. A mental health diagnosis such as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can not discredit other diagnoses such as Autism.
  4. Mental health diagnoses such as RAD, PTSD, or unspecified mood disorders must also be recognized as special needs both educationally and developmentally (the earliest interventions for these disorders are essential for their future, and they CAN be treated when done early).
  5. Recognize that one-on-one testing systems with an adult evaluating a child are done with completely different scenarios than the social settings a school classroom provides. We cannot reject children with special needs diagnoses because they can perform cognitively well in a low stress setting. Recognize that stress (such as social situations) can trigger meltdowns and rages where their IQs drop. These drops in IQ affect themselves and others and is something that needs to be worked on on the spot, regardless of their ability to stack cubes in a silent room with one on one adult attention.
  6. A child who has trauma has a situation that affects their childhood development. They have a situation in which they manifest delays. These delays can be reversed with early intervention, but leaving them on their own because you don’t believe the situation counts as a true delay is ignorant on the part of the educators, and also violates the Child Find Law because it is impractical to view their situation as undeserving of additional special educational resources and assistance. Whether genetic or caused by environmental factors, ANY delay with adverse effect to childhood development IS an educational special need.
  7. Foster parents who have a child less than 6 months cannot be rejected from testing because their child has not been with them for very long.
  8. If a home district rejects a child with special needs, open enrollment and school choice options for other public preschool programs must also apply to the special education program. (We would have gone to the Gilbert Special Ed preschool program upon finding out the lacking nature of the Higley’s program, but once again state law continued to mandate our children with special needs had to face their struggles alone).
  9. All teachers (and special education teachers especially) need trauma training and certification to appropriately recognize and work through the behaviors that come with these types of children. Foster parents have a deeper understanding of and more training hours on the adverse childhood effects of trauma than educators do (I know, because I have become both a certified educator and a certified foster parent. To my dismay ONLY ONE person on the special education team that rejected my daughters even remotely understood and was concerned for the adverse developmental implications of my daughter’s Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis). Just as the Structural English Immersion endorsement was required of teachers, trauma certification needs to be added into University classes and teacher certification requirements.

It has been brought up to me by a school psychologist that certain types of mental health diagnoses such as schizophrenia can look like autism at a young age. Because my daughter has a RAD diagnosis and we live with it, I am WELL AWARE of the dark odds that are playing against her future—that realization has been crushing to me and my husband. Let’s remember that schizophrenia and other such diagnoses are not given until a child is in their late teens or early twenties. For MY daughter, that kind of an evaluation is FIFTEEN years from now. Shall we wait for a decade and a half to decide if we will meet the needs of this child, or will we actually do something to deal with the diagnoses she CURRENTLY bears? Will we discount what she experiences because we do not know what other mental health issues she may deal with in the future thanks to RAD? Are we going to be the ones to nail the coffin in her future when it’s not our place to play the doctor? It IS possible to have Autism AND Reactive Attachment Disorder. My child has both, and I see it every day. Her highest chance of beating the odds against the challenges of both issues comes with early and intensive focus to therapeutically help her, and part of that therapy must be appropriately helping her in her educational setting. Will you or won’t you decide to be on her team?

We look forward to watching the Higley District and the State of Arizona make the necessary changes in our education system to serve not just my child, but to effectively, appropriately, and adequately serve the state’s most vulnerable population of children with special needs.


Debra Jo and Mitchell Borden

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Ministering by Adoption

Ministering by Adoption

What comes to mind when you hear the word Ministering? I think of Mother Teresa helping orphans in Calcutta. I was fortunate to do a report on her in 6th grade, and while I cannot remember all the details of Mother Teresa’s life, I do remember that studying the way she helped mankind is something that changed me. I was only 11 when I did that report, and now I’m 34. It’s been more than 2 decades.

In my life I have been called to adoption. Called because my heart had dreamed about it for years. Called because my spouse was also open to it and had his own experiences to lead him to this path. Called because once we decided, we felt God in the details guiding our way and supporting us at every turn. Called because negative comments or projected fears others expressed to us could not match our internal understanding that “come what may”, it was our time to do this in our family NOW.

When our adoption placement came 2 years ago, it blindsided us. Months of researching, preparation, and training could not equal the magnitude of the crisis our children were in from their short lives filled with too much trauma—they’d suffered more grief and loss than most adults I know have ever had to bear (and my soon to be kids were only 3 and 4 years old at the time).

Everything marketed about adoption and often displayed in movies is pretty glamorous because the adoption itself is basically portrayed as a cure-all, or the end of the struggles. Adoption gets painted as the “happily ever after” resolution to the difficult path a child was on. But the truth is that adoption is just the beginning of a long road for healing and wholeness. For some, the holes left in a child’s heart and mind are never repairable even with a loving adoptive family who gives everything they have to try to fix it. 

I remember when the ministering program came out at church. I tried to express at church that I was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted from ministering. Some tried to explain to me that it’s not supposed to be that way. But there’s no other way for an adoptive parent raising kids with special needs to truly feel (especially in the throes of a schedule laden with doctor appointments and endless therapies) while ministering to their children, and especially when the world at large does not understand the burden or what it feels like day in and day out. 

I believe that you can come to know what it is like to minister without being an adoptive parent, but becoming an adoptive parent is like a complete immersion in the concept—a way to drink what “ministering” means from a fire hose, a baptism by fire in every way within yourself that you never knew was possible (and we’re not talking a one day fire, we’re talking a lengthy fiery furnace) because there is no other way to pull your adopted children out of the hell that they had been living in. When you adopt, your job is to walk through the hell with them and everyone in your immediate family is asked to do it, too.

Ministering by adoption will change YOU. Instead of “saving” the child, it might actually save YOU. You will not be the same person you were before the journey—but how could you be? Why would you want to be? 

Beware—it could consume you for a season (maybe long, maybe short) where your ONLY priority will HAVE to be your immediate family alone until you can function enough to reach out beyond your adoptive family. But that’s okay—it has to be okay. That’s just how it is when you “leave the ninety and nine” to help “the one”. Also beware—your heart may be as big as the desire to bring in all the orphans you meet, but your physical and mental capacity may not allow you to help more than a “small” number. It’s not about the number, it’s about the call to extend love to the one in a way that sometimes no one else but you can do, maybe in a way no one else has chosen to do, and in the way the Lord trusts you to do when you have felt the call to adopt.

Every time I hear talks on how to minister and see church efforts on how to show and teach people what it means I usually think to myself that more lives touched by adoption would produce the desired outcome of the ministering mission in no time. And truth is, kids all over the world and in our communities are waiting to be ministered to as we speak. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Oh, How I Loathe Thee! Let Me Count the Ways!


“So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable, and strangely easy to mistake for loathing....”

Mitch and I quote this part of Stardust to each other often. I have experienced what this character is talking about, and my husband knows it, too. So in honor of our 14th Anniversary, we have been fondly remembering and have chosen to commemorate some of the ways my husband makes me LOATHE him! Haha!

  1. He doesn’t know the color of my eyes. My entire life I’ve always known that my eyes are GREEN. My driver’s license even says so, okay? A lot of people comment on my eyes. A boy in high school even called them weird. I’d prefer “weird” to the ongoing fight my husband and I share that just fills my heart with rage! He says that because my eyes have brown with the green, that they are HAZEL! While I believe the word hazel sounds pretty—it’s even a beautiful name for a girl—it’s also not the color of my eyes. One time we read a cheesy Jack Weyland love story together and a couple in the book had this same sort of fight; the boy in the book won so my husband thinks that he gets to win on this, too, but these are MY eyes, and they are definitely GREEN!

  • He has a love affair with his BIKE. Mitch likes to ride mountain bikes. That’s fine with me. I love that he has a healthy outlet and hobby. What I don’t like is when I find more picturesque photos on his phone of JUST HIS BIKE (or of him with his bike) than I can find of him together with me. And let’s not even mention the way I have to remind him to take photos of important milestones with the kids. But the bike? We’ve got plenty of those! He’s even written an ode to one of his bikes when the best deal he’d ever had turned too good to be true. He openly POURED his heart and soul out about his sob story on a biker page! Sometimes I even wonder if he LIKES that I am JEALOUS of his bike! 

  • My Clarinet Puts Him to Sleep.   Poor Mitch may never live this one down. When I studied Music Ed in college, I was preparing to be a band teacher and had many performance classes for clarinet. One semester I worked on literally the hardest clarinet piece I have ever played. Mitch sat by me for the whole concert and was awake the whole time UNTIL it was my turn to perform (I did a great job, by the way). When I got back to our seat, my husband was asleep! Not just sleeping, but OUT COLD! I had to wake him up after my part of the concert! (Mmm-hmm.) I can laugh about it now. I used to say that was the reason I quit playing clarinet, but that’s not really true. What is true is that he gets a well deserved glare every time this story is brought up, even if we’re both laughing about it and especially if he says clarinets are boring! 

  • He’s “Horn”-ie (His words, not mine). Whenever our family goes somewhere, he’ll load up all the children and lie in wait for me to stroll out to the car. Just as I walk directly in front of the hood, he honks the horn and I jump 10 feet into the air. It happens EVERY SINGLE TIME! I’ve got this startle reflex that I cannot control. It always makes him laugh and it always ticks me off, and he tries to smooth it over by calling what he does “flirting”! Grrrr! 

There are more things I could list, like the way he licks my hand to gross me out if I cover his mouth, the way he says exactly the right thing to push my buttons on purpose, and the way he makes fun of some of the most romantic songs of all time that I happen to love. When you add it up it all creates this sensation of highs and lows, happiness and rage, and before I know it, I am proclaiming to the world just how much I LOATHE MY HUSBAND! I loathe him and I love him deeply!

Here’s to 14 more years and beyond, Love!  I honestly love who I am when I am with you, and I love the way joining our lives has allowed us to create something beautiful together.

Happy Anniversary!