Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some Honest Mama Words

 Lately I feel like I’m hovering somewhere in between “adoptive family” and “special needs family.” As Matthew’s challenges with Autism become more pronounced, it seems like so much of our energy is being spent finding solutions and resources to support parenting him with his current struggles and behaviors. It’s easy to lose that sense of adoptive family, which is something I have really delighted in and been so proud of since we began our journey to adopt Matthew.

I remember in our training before Matthew coming home that a social worker with our adoption agency described the point in an adoptive family’s journey when the family “normalizes” and adoption, rather than being a big deal and central to the family’s identity, becomes just past of the history but not the present. She also told us that sometimes it’s just when parents really settle into a sense of “normal” that an adopted child begins to ask the big questions about his or her birth and early months. In other words, one person’s loss and questions subside while another’s begins to increase.

One of the realities of Matthew’s current developmental delays is that he’s not cognitively or emotionally at a place where he’s even close to asking those questions. I don’t believe he has any sense right now that he is adopted, which is probably both a blessing and a curse. Who knows.

My ability to really know what his experience is like feels limited, which makes parenting him hard. There are so many needs to meet—physical needs, learning and developmental needs, and the emotional needs that present themselves through day-to-day interactions and routines. I can’t even begin to imagine addressing the deeper issues related to belonging, identity, etc. I don’t want to forget about these, as I’m sure that sometime in Matthew’s journey, they will come up.

But in our “normalizing” of Matthew into our lives, I do feel a subtle but present transformation from “adoptive family” to “special needs family.” Our family blog is listed on several cleft lip and palate websites as a resource to other families currently dealing with cl/cp or considering it from an adoption standpoint. But I find that Matthew’s issues related to cl/cp become fewer and fewer as we focus on the challenges that are currently in front of us.

I’m not sure why I’m rambling on so, except perhaps this is my way to apologize to those readers who are reading only for the cleft perspective, and to tell you that I don’t have much to say about it anymore. We’re in the long waiting stretch—several years from the bone graft and gum surgery, but already considerably past the lip and palate repair. We do have speech challenges, which are probably partly resulting from Matthew’s cl/cp, but those challenges around compounded by Autism, orphanage neglect, and what we now believe to be apraxia of speech (or some kind of oral motor delay).

If you want to talk about speech challenges, ADHD or Autism, this just might be the place for you. Each day we wake to a developmentally delayed four-year-old struggling with so many behaviors that are the result of his diagnoses. There are some ways in which Matthew is developing on track, and we could list those ways for you. But the identity of Special Needs Family seems to fit for us right now, and since this is our current reality and our current struggle, this is what I find myself thinking about regularly.

We’re still “Holding On For the Ride” (this blog’s title) at our house, so nothing has changed, but everything has changed too. This kiddo came to us through adoption, but it doesn’t really matter HOW he came. What matters is that he’s our kid—to love and care for, and to advocate for.  And like we do with all our children, we are constantly refining our parenting and our rhythms so that we can help him grow and help the rest of us live fully and grow too.

So please keep swinging by “Hold on For the Ride.” Your presence and interest means a lot to me. We may not be in the thick of cleft lip and palate repairs, but I still give you the same pledge I’ve always given: to write and share with honesty and authenticity.

You won’t get anything less from me, no matter how things change here at our house.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Narrow Ridge

Recently I was having a conversation with a close friend about the many challenges we experience parenting Matthew. As I’ve said before on this blog, most of what is hard about Matthew these days has nothing to do with his adoption and everything to do with his delays and special needs, which we are still only beginning to uncover (at least that’s how it feels).

We had a lovely Christmas break for the first week, but the second week, we noticed that Matthew was getting a little discombobulated. I’m not sure if I have written this before, but after a terrible trial with Ritalin last October, we switched to Adderall and had great success for a couple months helping Matthew be more focused and less impulsive. In early December, at a follow up appointment with our neurodevelopmental pediatrician, she urged us to move up his dosage of Adderall a small amount, with hopes that he’d have even more relief from some of his impulsive and hyperactive behavior.

So we did, right before the start of break. Well, the first week we noticed he was more sleepy and lethargic, but eventually as the meds seemed to take hold of him more, he started showing signs of aggression, increased tics, and a return to the level of impulsivity he had formerly seen.

For a few days at least, both Aaron and I thought his changes in behavior were due mostly to the changes in routine—ie. he wasn’t going to preschool, and the holidays had changed our family schedule in significant ways.

However, early last week as we returned to the routine, his behaviors continued to escalate. The hardest thing we’ve been dealing with is his increased aggression, which is saddening to me and also makes me very empathetic towards him.

Finally late last week I scheduled an urgent care appointment with our family pediatrician, who agreed with me that something neurological was going on for Matthew—and so now we are in the midst of shifting his meds, paying more attention to his environment, and trying to enact some positive changes so that all the negative behaviors go away and we can once again enjoy our sweet boy.

So back to this conversation I was having with a friend. Recently I have found a metaphor that is helpful to me in thinking about parenting Matthew: With our first two kiddos, who grew in my body and were with us from the moment they arrived in the world, parenting feels like a wide path. At the edges of each path is a steep decline and rocky ground, but as long as we stay on the path, we do fine. If we get too far to the side and start falling off the edge, we have to work hard to correct our direction to get back on the path. But in general, the path is wide and gracious.

With Matthew, sometimes I feel like we are walking a narrow ridge—if we keep our feet straight ahead of us, one in front of the other, the path is straight and we can manage. But one misstep to the left or right, and we are slipping down a steep, rocky mountainside. And the amount of effort it takes to get back to the narrow ridge is no small feat sometimes.

The good news about this metaphor—and its translation into our real, day-to-day lives, is that it is possible to find a path with Matthew where we can exist in relative peace and harmony. Every single day (when things are going well) is not an arduous climb through perilous terrain. But it also reminds me that when we do slip down from the narrow ridge (often through no fault of our own), the climb back up is challenging and takes a great deal of energy.

If you are a praying person, we would greatly appreciate your prayers in this season. Things are a little bit better with Matthew than they were last week, but he’s still showing a lot of aggression and impulsivity—so much that his teachers and others who care for him each day are sharing with us about it. We are grateful for the many folks in our community and family who help care for our boy. He’s lovely and wonderful, but right now he’s also exhausting.

And I’m pretty sure life is a little exhausting for him right now too as he’s trying to navigate a body that doesn’t always cooperate and try to live in a world where he has very little skills in communication. Poor guy.

But we carry on, knowing that parenting this little human being is part of our calling and purpose in life, and that although we take two steps forward and then one backward, those forward steps are SO important in helping Matthew learn, grow, and move toward adulthood.