NOT Happy Birthday

Birthdays are a time of celebration and joy, a time to reflect on the blessings of the year past and the adventure that lies ahead in the coming year. For many, as we age, birthdays seem to creep up too quickly and the years rapidly speed by.

I have always loved birthday celebrating with my children. Over the years we have had small family celebrations and big parties with friends! There have been cakes…oh so many cakes….crocodile, helicopter, castles, hearts, ice cream, pavlova, swimming pool, caterpillar and piñata are some of my most memorable ones. We’ve been bowling, arcade gaming and jumping castle-ing….we’ve had art parties, garden tea parties and science parties!

But 3 years ago we started a journey that has had more downs than ups and trauma has changed so much of how we now live and celebrate and birthdays are NO exception. I am beginning to see that I have been naïve at times with my understanding of why and how severe trauma changes a brain to a point where happiness is so hard to find. Unfortunately for us our year seems to roll from one ‘trauma memory’ time to the next with little down time in between! We are just catching our breath from Christmas and now birthdays are upon us….in fact the day after Christmas the anxiety started to build with anticipation of the impending birthday.

This year we had talked about how we might make this time different to the past so as to avoid the pitfalls of last year that saw the entire day spent screaming, crying and our little miss spending the day being rocked like a baby. This year we talked about moving the celebration to a completely different day later in the year, but as the actual birthday started to approach I found myself wondering if this was just delaying the difficulty of the day given that all the anxiety was still evident. We removed calendars and reminders of dates throughout the house in a bid to ‘forget’ the date but I hadn’t banked on highly intelligent, hyper vigilant kids who have an innate way of knowing everything and only discovered the flaw in my plan  when miss 6 announced one morning that it was 11 sleeps until her birthday!

We seem to have hit the jackpot in having to celebrate not 1 but 2 trauma birthdays within a very short space of time….our little ones birthdays are a few days apart. This year we feel like we have had one win and one fail!

Birthday 1 went like this. The day started like any other, just an ordinary day. We got up and the little people headed to vacation care for the day – there was an excursion planned and we decided that this would help to take the mind off the day and past memories. I must admit, I struggled a bit with my own feelings of ‘but this isn’t how to celebrate a birthday’. The day went well and even though I had expected a phone call to say the wheels had fallen off, it didn’t come! The plan was to pickup, bring little people home for showers and then ‘spring’ the birthday dinner as a surprise….mind you, a very calm surprise, family dinner, presents and a very simple understated cake!  At this point I can hear some of my fellow carers saying ‘NO’ surprises don’t work, these kids need lots of warning BUT let me clarify this by saying that for our little ones we have learnt  that they operate much better under ‘the less notice the better’ theory! Too much notice for them is too much time for their overactive brains to contemplate every possible problem. My plan was going well, we had kept the celebrations hidden as a plan to get through showers etc without incident….. and then it happened! Miss 8 was digging in about something and I said ‘come on we just need to do this and then we can have dinner and celebrate your birthday’…..as I saw the reaction to those words I was trying desperately to pull them back into my mouth. The anger and tears started, then the violence, then the shut down! I tried talking, empathising and calming but the mere mention of the word birthday was enough to destroy the rest of the evening. I went to bed feeling defeated and saddened that presents still sat unwrapped and cake uneaten. I was angry that the day that is your one special day had again been stolen from my precious little girl.

Birthday 2 was for the child that has been a little less reactionary but this year had displayed great levels of anxious behaviour in the lead up to her birthday. We kept her day very low key and managed to open presents, have family dinner and eat cake….WIN! The biggest problem on this day was with birthday 1 child trying to destroy every ounce of happiness for birthday 2 child! She was jealous and unhappy that her sister should celebrate and have some joy. Again we empathised with her and named her feelings, telling her we got that she was jealous that her sister was getting the attention and was actually enjoying her day. We gave her the option to join in or opt out…mostly she opted out.

The birthdays are now over and done with for yet another year but I have been left saddened that our little ones who have missed out on so much continue to do so. I struggle with feelings of anger that trauma is the big stealer for our children. They deal initially with the physical aspect of living in an environment that is not ideal for them and once they are removed many people believe that they will be ok, they are with a loving family and they can get on with living life normally. But talk to anyone who has lived with children who have suffered early childhood trauma and we will tell stories of trauma impact years and years later…no matter how much work we do.

I now have another whole year to contemplate how we may celebrate next year and find some happiness in that celebration.

A life interrupted

Let me start with a hearty wish of a Happy New Year!

I’ve been sitting here having my own little pity party over the last month or so. The end of the school year is always particularly difficult for our trauma kids and this year was no exception. There is a little too much disruption and lack of routine, there are things to stress and worry about…like ‘who will be my teacher next year’, ‘will I have friends in my class’ and then of course there’s the parties and endless supply of sugary candy cane treats from friends. Then comes the lead up to Christmas where the trauma brain goes into overdrive and little people start reflecting on Christmases past which were not pleasant.

For us this year we had an extra burden in the form of a very unsettled 7 year old convinced that she was no longer going to live with us because ‘she doesn’t like being told what to do’ and she’d decided that she’d had enough and was leaving. She’s been here before but this time went a step further by telling other people that she was leaving us and totally disengaged from our family!

Christmas is always a very busy stressful time anyway and this year I found myself dragging my feet complaining about the burden I have been given to carry. I found myself restlessly wishing that I could have my ‘old’ life back and was even heard to say that ‘our family has lost all its joy’. I found myself wallowing in how I have had everything joyful stolen from my life and wondered how we ever arrived in this place. I even had a few moments of thinking I’d turned into the Grinch!

I used to love Christmas….it was a season of great traditions and joyfulness when our kids were little. Each of them had their particular requests during this period…shortbread, mince tarts and a fresh Christmas tree were just a few. The advent calendar was always celebrated more for the chocolate it yielded than the other treats found inside. Even now my adult children will say ‘I’m ready for my advent chocolate now’ as soon as the calendar goes up! Many of these things have become a chore in the last 3 years as we struggle to juggle all the extra trauma stress, and instead of finding myself looking forward to the season I often feel full of dread! For the first time ever I also found myself struggling with the actual purchasing of presents for people….I couldn’t justify buying presents just to have something under the tree when there are so many people struggling in the world to just achieve the very basics.

I think this year it all caught up with me and messed with MY brain! I struggled to find joy anywhere and found myself just wishing the time away in a hope that better times would lay ahead. Post Christmas I found Facebook full of photos of people celebrating and relaxing….meanwhile I found myself feeling resentful as we were stuck at home trying to keep things calm and routine in a hope of staying off the impending stress of January birthdays….which this year seems more heightened than usual.

I found myself alone in my pity party and wondered if anyone else could feel my pain. Then came my wake up call! A fellow carer posted a comment in a group asking other carers ‘how long did it take them to stop wishing for their old life back and feeling guilty for having such feelings’…I read comment after comment from people just like me, feeling the burden of the Christmas season and all that brings into your family when you open the door to trauma! Upon reading I started to see that what I was feeling wasn’t just unique to me, which then allowed me to accept and validate how I was feeling and that it was ok to feel like that, because at the end of the day I have suffered loss!

My next wakeup call came at church on New Years day. (I’d like to make a note here that I have never hidden the fact that I’m a Christian but have also been very careful not to offend others in what I write. This may seem a bit spiritual but I guess it’s where I am at the moment.) I was reminded that what I am experiencing is really ‘a light and momentary trouble, which is achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ 2 Corinthians 4:17. What I have been called to do whilst on this earth is not going to be easy, it’s going to challenge me to refine me and make me more like Jesus who has suffered more than I will ever experience. My hankering for the old life is really nothing more than me selfishly wishing for easier things so I don’t feel so uncomfortable. But the last 3 years have also brought about in me some of the most significant and intense personal growth and although tough, in reality I wouldn’t change it for the easy path. I was also very clearly reminded that my JOY should be found in the relationship as a Christian that I share with Christ, my joy should be found in what he did for me and not anything that is on this earth. That doesn’t mean I can’t gain joy from things on earth, for me it just means that my joy does not come from these things, there is a deeper soul felt joy that should permeate my life.

I have been reminded that becoming a foster family is something that we have been called to do. It is the work that we are here to do at this moment in time, it will be hard, it will be challenging and it will definitely change us as a family and as individuals. We may never again be able to undertake many of the things that have made up our Christmases past but hopefully in years to come we will be able to look back and see new traditions that have emerged.

 

Broken

I was about to start this post with the words ‘this week has been a really tough one’ but then I considered that MOST weeks are really tough for those of us who have taken up the call to become involved in the foster care system. I feel however, that this week (or maybe I should be saying, this year) has been one of those that will impact and change the way I approach this system.

As fresh faced carers we enter into fostering full of enthusiasm and a drive to help those vulnerable little people. We hear the stories of others and wonder how they have become so jaded, we don’t want to believe that their stories and experiences are real. We are ready to jump in boots and all and we have to believe that everyone working in this system has the same goal…..best outcomes for little people, child focussed care! We also believe there will be people around us who will support what we’re doing and understand how tough some days can be. But the reality is the system is broken, a broken system working with broken people.

I have alluded in a previous post about the traumatic events we have endured this year that almost saw our family ripped apart. In this situation the system protected us, the system knew that we had integrity and that we would never commit the things we had been accused of, the system fought for us and ultimately won. Although we have suffered consequences as a result of malicious actions we are slowly rebuilding….I can’t help but wonder though the number of man hours spent investigating innocent people whilst real perpetrators go undetected.

Another story this week of a carer friend being put under immense pressure as decisions were made that she had no control over, was not consulted about and has left her family shattered.

I turn to a facebook page of a person claiming to be a carer then posting videos of themselves doing questionable things.

I attend an appointment only to be given information for the very first time about a child in my care….information that may have been really nice to have known almost 3 years ago. Information that I thought would spur this professional into action to help but unfortunately did not.

I come across people keen to become foster carers and I find myself wanting to tell them not to do it…it will cause you heartache and grief. You will work hard for very little reward and, in fact you may just lose more than you gain!

The last few weeks I have struggled as  I have lost hope! Lost hope that these little people will ever heal, that this system will make decisions that will help and not hinder them, lost hope that a system that requires so much of me and knows everything about me can be so secretive and not trust me with information or decision making authority.

In this state we are in a period of change. A Royal Commission has been handed down with recommendations, people working in the system and using the system have been consulted about what needs to be done. Everyone is feeling hopeful that the future will be more positive but from where I’m sitting it’s hard to feel positive. The system is broken.

So how do I find hope in something that seems SO messy and hopeless. For me, some of that hope has come in a set of tiny feet that came through my door this week. These tiny feet are smaller than my thumb and as I look at this tiny human my fight has returned. I will get up and keep fighting, I will fight where I can to make change….real change, change that will mean a better future for these little feet, change that may be too late for my little people but change that will help make a better future for the ones coming. These children did not ask to be born into the mess they find themselves, my tiny one has no idea what the road ahead is going to be like for him, he is unable to do anything for himself right now….but whilst he is under my watch it is my job to fight, to advocate and notch up the wins for him.

Many of these battles I will lose but if I can win one then there is purpose for the fight. If even the smallest of my fights means that another carer doesn’t need to suffer some of what I have then it’s worth it. If another child gets early diagnosis or access to supports because mine didn’t then I’ll fight. I will fight for my little ones because there is no one else to do it for them, I will keep on fighting for them until I have taught them how to fight for themselves and my hope is that they will grow and find the strength to also fight for those who cannot.

 

Stealing

There has been something rotating around in my head of late. This seems to be how my brain works….something gets trapped inside and I keep processing until I’m able to get some clarity and then usually I share it. This is where I’ve been the last few months and I think now I get it.

My little poppets steal!

This is not an uncommon behaviour in children who have suffered neglect and trauma. The simple professional opinion is that it is a result of severe neglect where a child feels compelled to look after themselves and make sure that they have enough food.

This behaviour has been one of the hardest for me to accept and come to terms with and I now understand why. Firstly, it goes against everything within me, stealing is wrong and I’m the kind of person who will never steal even if there is a chance I could get away with it. So imagine if you will how this sends triggers through me when this is something I am faced with every single day. Secondly, I have come to understand something about myself, as a mum one of things I see as important in my role is to provide food for my family. I spend a bulk amount of time every week providing food….shopping and cooking, packing lunches and finding nutritious recipes. So when my little people steal I feel like I have failed to meet their needs and that I haven’t done my job well…..what’s more when my children throw out the food I have prepared for them and steal other food I feel even more inadequate. It was these things that were actually causing me so much stress over the last few years. Just recently I have had some time to stop and reflect and really think about what is going on for me.

In recognising the above I have now come to a place where I can reconcile this within me, but this has also led me to realise that I am not ever responsible for someone else’s behaviour. As parents we seem, to cop all the blame for the way our children behave…or don’t behave. When we see a toddler  having a tantrum we are quick to judge the parents. I have written before about how fostering has taught me that I don’t have the information ever to judge someone’s parenting and I just shouldn’t do it. But this behaviour has had me judging myself….’why can’t I help this child to stop this behaviour’, ‘what will other people think of me or my child’ and ‘I mustn’t be doing my job well enough if I can’t help this child’. So much of this blog has been about ‘me’ and how I feel! BUT my little people don’t steal because of me. My little people steal for a variety of reasons, severe past neglect, attention and because they get a buzz from it. Miss 6 recently told her principal that she didn’t think she would ever be able to stop stealing because she liked doing it too much!

This has led me to wonder if stealing for them is a little bit like drugs or alcohol to an addict! I’m going to try to explain this as simply as possible….and given that I’m not a scientist or a psychologist it will be very simple. This is what I know….cortisol levels in children who have experienced trauma sit at a resting rate way higher than for those who have no trauma experience. They get used to this cortisol being high…this is a ‘safe’ feeling for them because it is what they know as normal. If I were to go to a bag that didn’t belong to me and steal a muesli bar my heart would start pumping faster and my cortisol would rise to a level that would cause me to be anxious and scared that I would get caught. For my trauma children this rise in cortisol feels ‘normal’ so they actually feel calmer…these words actually came from one of my little ones last year after she had stolen a juice box…..’I was feeling scared, so I took the juice and it helped me to feel calm’.  When they moved in with us their living conditions changed considerably, over the last few years they have been learning that there are different calmer ways to do life, slowly we are helping their cortisol ‘normal’ level to become lower! (none of this thinking of mine has been scientifically proven and I could be completely off the mark…but in thinking this through this makes sense to me).

No matter what’s going on for them what I have learnt is that the stealing is not going away anytime soon and the best thing I can do is not blame myself but just patiently give them time. Yes, we’ll still keep talking about it and reminding them that they have plenty now and that they live with a family who love them and I’ll keep working on my internal responses so that I don’t react poorly! As we continue through this journey I am learning more and more that it is time that they need….unfortunately for me I’m not very patient and  I want it now!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carried inside my heart

These are the precious hands and feet that we kissed for the last time and sent on their way just 2 days ago.bubba-c We will probably never see these little ones again. We will never get to see them take their first steps or catch their first ball.

Since taking on emergency babies I have had comments like ‘I would have to adopt them, I couldn’t send them back'(rarely happens in this state) ‘I couldn’t do emergency I’d want to keep them long term’ (not always possible) or the most regular ‘I could never do that because it would break my heart having to move them on’. I always find these comments confronting because we DO take in emergency bubbas and we DO hand them back and it isn’t easy but one thing I know is that it DOESN’T break your heart. In fact it does the opposite….each one of these precious little ones finds a special place inside our hearts.

WE are the blessed ones. This is what emergency care looks like. You’ll be going about your business and then the phone rings and you are asked if you can take a placement. For our family there is no consultation that needs to take place we believe that each child sent our way is sent for a purpose, when that call comes we are ready to receive whoever arrives at our door. You hang up the phone and go into a little bit of a tailspin, notifying family members who are not home of the impending arrival and then quickly preparing bedding, appropriate sized clothing and any other necessary items. Usually within a few hours you are answering your door to a social worker or two and your new visitor. Information (sometimes a little, sometimes a little bit more) is exchanged and then they leave…..and there you are with this new little person now depending on you. To be honest, it is one of the weirdest feelings I have ever experienced….a baby arrives at your house….you have not anticipated this delivery, you have not spent months carrying this child, you have not suffered any of the effects of pregnancy or birth but here is this precious human entrusted to you….what an absolute privilege. There is this instant response that fires inside…protect, nurture and love this little one, don’t hold back, don’t think about when you have to say goodbye…just give them all of you right now, because that is what they need.

What generally happens next is that this child will take over your life. They will have regular access to keep their families connected, they may need Dr’s appointments and health clinic visits. There will be calls with their social worker and discussions around what their particular journey is going to look like and how long can you keep them. Sometimes there will be clear cut direction and other times not. Then you will THINK there is clear cut direction only to find that things have changed. There will be all the practical things like feeding and nappy changes, washing and baths and special times where you watch sleepy eyes and have early morning cuddles. You will continue to love and nurture and allow this little person to crawl deep inside you and find their nestling spot! They will not only affect you and your immediate family but those you come into contact with. Then one day when you least expect it that phone will ring again and you will be told that they are moving on….again, usually with very little preparation time. You will spend what precious time you have letting the family know, packing up belongings, writing notes so that this child will receive a continuity of care, cherishing that last feed, snuggle and cuddle and wiping away tears…usually yours, not theirs. Then their ‘ride’ arrives and you carry them to the car, hold them close and give them one last squeeze and kiss and then buckle them in their seat. Wiping away tears you wave goodbye and retreat inside where usually for me, I let myself cry. Before long the tears are wiped away and you begin cleaning up and thinking about how long you might have before that next phone call.

We are not a spectacular family because we can do this. We’re vulnerable people who are  willing to love and give so that a small child may find a soft place to land for a time in their life when things for their family are not going particularly well.  We don’t get to see them grow up, we do get to see them develop and celebrate some milestones, first smiles, first teeth, first words etc. and maybe, just maybe, we might hear a name or read about someone in years to come and remember that we had a small part in the life of that person.

But here’s the part I love the most, we get to carry this person inside our hearts forever. We will have a memory and wonder what they’re doing now, we’ll be looking through photos and stumble on them and reflect, their name will come to mind and we’ll calculate how old they are now and we will pray….every time we think of them we will pray for those little hands and feet. We will pray that they are growing up strong with people around them who are nurturing, enjoying and loving them.

We are indeed the BLESSED ones, blessed beyond measure, because we get to hold these little ones inside our hearts forever and that makes my heart not broken but very very full!

Friends

There are times I sit to write and what is churning through my head makes complete sense. There are other times, like today when my brain is in overdrive(and has been for sometime) trying to sort through a collection of thoughts. There is always a fear that accompanies writing deep and vulnerable thoughts, there’s a fear that someone in my circle will think it’s personal and get upset and then there’s the fear that I will make absolutely no sense to anyone reading and you will all scratch your heads wondering what is going on! There is, however, a freedom in being vulnerable….oftentimes I write from a deep place and I am then humbled by those who make contact and mention that they get it, they’ve felt the same and they get it! So with these thoughts in mind…here goes.

I’ve been pondering over my life and reflecting on all the people that have been a part of it. I’m finding as I get older that the passage of time seems to be speeding up, I find myself thinking ‘that was yesterday’ only to discover that was 5 years ago. I was thinking about my earliest memories of friendship and although it’s not necessarily the earliest my strongest memories are of my first year at school when I buddied up with a gorgeous soul. One of my fondest memories was sharing my lunch with her. The way I remember the story (and maybe she’ll correct me if I’m wrong) is that her bread was often not the freshest and the spread was often lard!…yes lard….now I’m showing my age. I used to trade her one of mine because my bread was always fresh(we owned a shop and the bread arrived early) and I would have an assortment of fillings! This friendship lasted my entire school life. We had our ups and downs, people were added to the circle and some left but we pretty much supported each other through all the tough stuff. We then lost track for many years but have now reconnected through the wonder of Facebook.

As I continue to reflect through time there are some important friendships that have had a profound impact on the person I am today, there are others that have been born from a common stage of life or interest and then there are those that are just ‘there’, people that pop up from time to time, then disappear and then arrive again! My latest soul searching however, has been over the thoughts that what if I see this person as more important in my life than they see me in theirs! AND who are the people in my life who may be feeling this same thing. I guess to put this in context, I often feel like I am the one just outside the circle…you know that feeling….ooo maybe you don’t! You have a person who you spend time with, enjoy their company, you think they’re good friends but then when they gather with other friends you are never included….don’t get me wrong here, I’m not having a pity party…I’m just doing some thinking. What about the friends who never seem to need YOU, they are there if you need a hand but you never seem to be able to repay the favour, in fact, you often don’t even find out they were in need until after the event. There are friends who you only seem to catch up with when you take the time to organise something, and then there are those who just appear and take you by surprise, they drop by with flowers for no reason or they send an encouraging message just when you need it.

All this thinking about friends has lead me to a place of deep thankfulness and the desire to care for my friends regardless of where I sit in their friendship circle. I’m thankful that I have been blessed with friends, I’m thankful that my life has been full with so many and varied relationships. I need to be aware of the times when perhaps I have left others out and seek to make sure that I don’t repeat this pattern. I think too that in those moments when I feel really alone and ‘friendless’ that instead of feeling sorry for myself I should  search out others who may be struggling with similar feelings, and when I find myself in a season of a friendship ending  I need to grieve that loss and reflect on all that was rather than wishing it back. Most of all my greatest desire would be that I allow my friends to leave their mark whatever that may be and that I would be vulnerable with my friends allowing them to see the real me, and maybe, just maybe I might leave a small mark on their lives.

 

Fear

I have been suffering from writers block and struggling to move forward from the events that almost crippled our family. I think my block has been around some of the attack being levelled at my writing BUT today I found myself saying to my little ones ‘We need to heal from the past and deal with it so we can head into the future unhindered’ and it made me think that my blog was one area I was struggling to move forward in…so here I sit, ready to not let fear dictate anymore and write I will.

I knew today was going to be tough from the minute our two emerged. My plans today were to attempt to take our little people to the show….I was going to attempt just 2 hours but, we didn’t get there! The girls have both had a very strange and difficult week at school, old behaviours have emerged and they have attempted to return to some of their more comfortable emotional places (the ones that are not healthy). Today they had all guns firing! The interesting thing about today was that they were BOTH escalated…my 2 have been known for their tag teaming but today they were in unison….not working as a team but both dealing with and processing different issues.

Miss 6 for some reason decided today to go back to the little person who joined our family two and a half years ago. She was initially aggressive and abusive and then became dissociative. For those aware of therapeutic parenting approaches I spent a major portion of the day working through her behaviours by getting her to focus and reflect on what was going on for her. We were making lots of progress and then she just shut down…nothing. No talking, no reacting, no responsiveness…she was standing and staring with eyes that were somewhere else. I must admit my first response to this was fear….when this little one came to us this was our everyday experience for about 9 months….we have not seen this intensity since then and I found myself feeling fear that we were headed back to that same place ….and that is not a place I am keen to go to again.

Miss 7 woke up with several issues that indicated that today was going to be a struggle for her. Her usual pattern is anger…lots of anger. Her anger is very loud and very aggressive (usually on the doors and walls of our house and not the people thankfully). We now know that the anger is her mask hiding her real feelings and emotions. In her anger she does a lot of yelling and I will always listen and make note so we can work these things through when she is calm. Today her yelling was very interesting, she was screaming that she “never wants to sort things out, she never wants to feel good and she wants to be grumpy for her entire life”. In response to her never wanting to sort things out I found myself giving her the advice I wrote above….in order to heal we need to deal with the past.

There was a moment(or two) today when I found myself wondering if we had achieved anything in the last couple of years and if there is really any point to what we are doing. Are we really making a difference, can we really help these little people, can kids who have experienced early childhood trauma really have a chance at healing? I must admit, I hit a bit of a struggle point myself today.

To finish this blog on a high point I want to share how our day ended! Miss 6 eventually got to a point where she could look at herself in the mirror and say,  “YOU ARE LOVED”. Three simple words that most of us take for granted, because we grow up surrounded by people who express their love to us and help us to feel worthy and valued! My little poppet is struggling with the fact that her early experiences have left her feeling not only unloved but unlovable. My fears that we were heading back to the beginning were unfounded as she was able to get to a point of being able to talk about her big feelings!

As for Miss 7…well she arrived at a place where she worked out that she actually did want to feel good but was really scared of feeling good because for her “it was something new in her life”. She has moved schools this term and has been really happy and starting to enjoy building friendships….but this feeling of happiness has left her really scared because it doesn’t feel normal and she is scared to relax into it in case she loses it. She is also starting to feel more and more settled in our family but has a deep fear of losing something that she has never had. I have been humbled to realise that she is 7 1/2 and only just really experiencing good and happy for the first time….no wonder she’s been scared!

I must say, I’m glad the day has drawn to a close and the littlest ones are tucked up in bed, I can hope that tomorrow will just be a little quieter and uneventful!

 

 

 

A Family under attack

I thought since taking on our little poppets that we had been pushed to the very edges of everything we are as a family. We have been through some really tough stuff as we have worked with our little ones to make steps toward healing, much of which, has been documented in my writings here. I never thought for a minute that fostering was going to be easy and that it wouldn’t change us as a family as well as impact the individuals we are. However, nothing really prepared me for the reality that there are people in the world who,  for whatever reason and agenda, decided to launch an attack on our entire family that threatened everything we have worked so hard to acheieve.

The details of this attack are irrelevant and not the point of my writing. As is usual for me, when slammed by something, my reaction is usually shock, sadness, anger, confusion and a number of other emotions. As the dust clears I then find myself processing and seeking to find some reasoning behind events. This is who I am, I have never been any different. I have a belief that things happen in my life for a purpose, that in every experience I can learn, grow and change. This latest challenge is no exception.

Over the last 10 months I have worked through much of what is going on in our lives by blogging. Part of the reason I began blogging was as a form of therapy to process and make sense of a life that has been turned upside down by someone else’s trauma. Over the last 2 1/4 years we, as a family have been on an extremely steep learning curve. We have become reasonably well informed about Reactive Attachment disorder, trauma behaviours, brain development and how early trauma impacts development. I think I had a reasonably good ‘head knowledge’ but I’ve come to understand through recent events that I needed to attain a ‘heart’ knowledge.

Although our family as an entire unit has been under attack, it is me personally that the sharpest arrows of this attack were aimed. So, I could allow those arrows to penetrate and rip apart my very inner core OR I could process and seek to use these arrows as another learning experience. I now have an even deeper, more empathic understanding of what my little people live with every single day. That is what I am wanting to share with you now and hopefully it will shed even more light on what trauma does to the brain….here goes.

Hypervigilance

For the last month I have been living with this ever present in my life. I am not sleeping well as my brain is on high alert. My dreams are vivid, scary at times and are a way that my brain is coping with what is going on. Last night I dreamt that our youngest poppet was standing by the edge of some water and a ‘crocodile’ type creature leapt out and swallowed her whole, I awoke in a lather of sweat, crying and gradually came too enough to realise it was just a dream and that she was still soundly sleeping upstairs. As I venture through my day I am not restful and I am feeling unsafe. I am constantly ‘on guard’ unable to know if I am truly safe or if another attack is imminent.                                                                                       Here is the parallel, 2 1/4 years ago our little ones were hardly sleeping, they would wake every morning looking like they had wrestled a crocodile all night long. They eventually felt safe enough to talk to us about their dreams…vivid and scary dreams. They were on constant high alert as they felt unsafe wherever they went and would wonder all day long if their attackers knew where they lived or went to school, and if they would just appear and snatch them away.

Trust

I am now unsure who I can trust. I have never felt like this before in my life. I have always had the ability to discern people and work them out fairly quickly. I have a small group of close female friends who I can openly chat to and confide in….now I find myself in a position of not knowing who to trust. There is a small part of me that doesn’t want to talk to people at all as I am afraid of betrayal.                                                                                          Here is the parallel our little ones have an exceptionally hard time trusting anyone. Any person they have put trust in has turned on them and ultimately caused pain for them. From Day 1 we have reminded them that we are people they can trust, we will not hurt them, we will love them and we will keep them safe. Miss 7 recently told me that it is really hard to trust because it’s scary…it’s scary because it means she needs to allow vulnerability into her life. When you have been abused it is much easier to trust nobody, only trust yourself….at least you can depend on you! But in order to bring healing in both my life and theirs we need to learn to trust, not all people mean to bring you harm.

Fear

Fear is linked to trust but fear can also stand alone. I have been taken right to the edge and stared fear in the face over this attack. Someone has maliciously tried to rip our family apart, destroy our family unit. Miss 21 commented that such a callous person has no understanding of the depth of love we have for our little ones. In her words ‘ these are my sisters mum, they clearly didn’t realise that their actions would affect our entire family’.  Here is the parallel our little ones live in a constant state of fear. They are fearful that if they let themselves really become relaxed here and ‘fall in love’ with their family all of that may be ripped away from them, abused children do not believe that they deserve a happy ending.

Control

The repercussions and consequences of this attack are completely out of my hands. There have been discussions that I have not been a part of, ultimate decisions that are not mine to be made….my fate completely, out of my control. I feel like a plane on auto pilot, I am no longer at the steering wheel.                                                                                                                   Here is the parallel control is a huge deal for abused children. Anytime they have handed over control to bigger people it’s generally spelt disaster, so they try to control everything, constantly. To relinquish any control means I have to trust you and as explored above trust is scary, risky and means vulnerability.

Anger

This one has aroused great feelings of anger in me. Anger that someone I trusted would and could be so personally hurtful with such malicious intent. However, for me, the anger passed really quickly. What replaced my anger was sadness, sadness for this person. Sadness that the burdens they carry are so enormous. I have written several times on this blog about the anger we endure from our poppets, anger that although taken out on us, has nothing to do with us and things we have done to them….and there is the parallel.

Shame

This is something that cuts deep deep down inside of us. No matter how vulnerable we become with others we will find it very hard to deal with shame. Shame for me has been that feeling inside that I am no good, I am a terrible person, I am an unfit mother, I am nothing, no-one! I am useless, because I am such a horrible person there is no way anyone could ever love me. No matter how many times a day I tell myself that ‘it’s all lies’,  I cannot shake this feeling of shame’.                                                                                                  Here is the parallel my little ones carry deep shame. Negative messages were sent to their brains really early on – you’re not loved, you’re worth nothing, I don’t care about you, you are no good, it is your fault that you are abused, you are nothing, no-one!

So, through the pain that has been inflicted upon our family we are gradually coming up for air. The difference that I have over my little people is that I am older. I have a stable base on which I can depend. When my brain pulls up with ‘you’re no good’ my faith and heart tell me that I know differently….mind you, this has been an immense battle to actually believe it….some days have been better than others, some days I’m emotionally stronger. My faith as a Christian tells me that I’m worthy because I have a saviour who loves me so much that He died for me….no-one can ever take that away. My faith has brought me to a point where I have forgiven my attacker and pray for them daily. My days are not so punctuated by the events of the past month as time is the greatest healer of all. Here is the parallel we are working really hard to build a stable base for our little ones, a base where they will experience, for the first time in their lives, a love which is unconditional, a love that values and cherishes because they are who they are – not because of anything they do. We are working really hard with their brains to rewire and set up new pathways that allow them to trust, love and express every single emotion without fear. We are working really hard to teach them how to live without fear and shame and to ignore the voices that tell them they are nothing. We are working toward a new kind of normal and that takes time.

Today, right at this moment, I can say that although this has been one of the toughest battles of my life I am thankful that through all that has happened I have been given the privilege of a much deeper understanding of what happens for my little ones. I have not had to endure anything like they have and would never claim to fully understand the depth of their trauma and the lifelong impact…but I now know some of those feelings that they battle daily.

So if the process of our family being under attack has made us just a little more empathic and compassionate then surely that is a great thing.

Held in Heart

I never wanted my blogging to be a chore, yet another ‘thing’ to be ticked off the ‘to do list’!

I think I’ve been living in a blocked moment in time…..many times I have wanted to sit and write, I actually even started a few weeks back but nothing seemed to flow! My brain has been really busy processing life and circumstances that have arisen. So I waited! Last night I was filled with bubbling joy and said to my daughter…’I need to blog’.

Yesterday I had one of those joyful ‘parent’ moments, watching my second born graduate from University. Although she has already been working in her chosen field this day was significant because it allowed us to celebrate and remember all the hard work that has lead her to where she is now fulfilling her lifelong dreams. We completed the days’ celebration with dinner out, relaxing and enjoying family. I am proud of all my children and the things that they have achieved so far in their lives and I look forward to many more celebrations in the future.

Yesterdays events lead me to some thinking. As I sat in the beautiful old university building I was wondering if one day we may be here with our eldest foster child, attending this very same ceremony. She has already declared that when she grows up she wants to be an Ophthalmologist (she is only 7 though!). If she follows this desire, there is every possibility that we will be watching her cross that stage with her medical degree in hand in 2033! The thought of that was as exciting as it was daunting as it was saddening.

Exciting – It occurred to me that one of the joys about yesterdays ceremony was that our daughter had people to share it with. She has grown up in a family that has encouraged and valued education, she has had parents who have fought for her and made decisions about her education, she has had siblings who have assisted in her ‘shaping’, she has had some amazing teachers who have left their mark on her and she has been blessed with great  similarly minded friends. What a privileged life she has had.

Daunting – For many foster children their story is the complete opposite. They have come from homes where they have never had people who believed in them. Homes where their thoughts were so constantly taken up with survival that education has suffered. They have often never had anyone to celebrate their successes or encourage them when they have struggled. They have at times had to fight for the basics in life never having the ability to imagine they could actually BE someone that meant something to someone else.

My little girls often tell me when we are parting that they will ‘hold me in their heart’ until they see me again. This is a term that I used with them when they moved in over 2 years ago and now I think they get it. There is something pretty special about ‘being held in someone’s heart’, it means they are thinking about you, loving you, caring about you. If someone is holding you in their heart you must mean something to them. For little girls who had never felt loved and never knew how to love ‘being held in heart’ was what we needed to teach them. They now have the privilege of being in a family where they are celebrated…we share their successes, their sadness, their joy! They will now grow up with a valued sense of education and learning, they will be surrounded by people who will celebrate their achievements big and small, personal and academic. They will have the opportunity to fulfil dreams which they now have ‘brain space’ to dream!

Sadly this is not the same story for every foster child. If you live in South Australia you would be aware (as the media regularly reports) that our system is struggling (I’m certain the problem is not just in SA but the world over). There are not enough foster carers for the rising numbers of children coming into care. This means many children will never experience what it’s like to grow up in a stable family. Many will never get to realise what it is ‘to be held in someone’s heart’…..and that,  is the saddening part.

 

 

 

Stolen days

One of the reasons I started blogging almost a year ago was as a therapeutic way to deal with and process all that was happening in my life. Today, more than most I find myself drawn here because I am struggling to make sense of recent events.

I have learnt that when my day starts with ‘mummy I’m really happy today’ it usually doesn’t take long for everything to deteriorate. Today had some added phrases that should have put me on high alert, but I was hoping things might be different. Those phrases were, 1. I’m going to stay calm today

2. I’m not going to have any tantrums

3. I’m going to have a better day than yesterday

Well….we got about 2 hours of that and then when I gently tried to remind said tiny human of her plans for today I was screamed at in a rather animalistic kind of tone. Today has been one of those days that when bedtime finally arrives there is a sense of relief but also a great sigh of exhaustion. At one stage today I was sitting quietly, trying to keep myself distracted and calm while not one but two little people screamed and screamed, kicked walls and generally released their anger. The reason for this anger? They were angry at the people in their past who have stolen from them.

All of these lovely, joyous family times throughout our year….Easter, Birthdays and Christmas have been stolen from these two, and I suspect from many children who have experienced trauma. These are the times, when, for a lot of these children they were abused by adults who should have been looking after them and providing them with happy family memories. They are the times people often come together as extended family and as the pressure builds arguments erupt, people become influenced by various substances and then people lose a sense of who they are.

We have already struggled through one birthday that was filled with so much anxiety, anger and stress that we made the call to cancel our celebrations on the day and spring a ‘surprise’ birthday after the actual day. I am considering celebrating half birthdays instead of full ones because they are days with no past memories.

This is the third Easter that we have celebrated with our little ones and although I wish I could say they are getting better, I think after today I’d have to say there is little improvement. What happens in a traumatised brain is a recollection of a time or experience that has not been pleasant. For our little ones we are not certain what happened at Easter, but we have enough experience to now know that they have some pretty horrid memories and  something pretty significant must have happened. What we now get to take part in is something that I would rather not have to go through. For the week leading up we notice more and more escalated behaviours, a fear of being safe, a need for high levels of routine, an increase in trauma behaviours – stealing, soiling, tantrums, defiance. Our seemingly happy little people change overnight, when you least expect it. We constantly remind them of the safety we are now providing them with but this is never enough to override the strong messages coursing through their brains. They are in survival mode as their instincts take them back to bad places, all we can do is ride through the storm and hope for calmer waters once the special day is over.

As you could imagine, the stress this puts on everyone else in the family is immense.  As chaos is what our two are remembering it is chaos that they are trying to recreate…and it is hard not to be drawn into this chaos. Why would anyone want to create this chaos? Well apparently for traumatised children this is what they know, this is what feels normal, this is what feels safe. I feel like some parts of today I have done really well and then in others I have failed dismally. I found today particularly difficult because I struggled with how people can actually steal joy from the lives of ones so young. I felt angry at the people who have hurt them and left us with every joyful celebration being one that I now dread, and ones that our little people fear.

Yesterday we had people over for lunch, it is one of the few times in the last two years that we have felt in a good enough place to feel that we could get through it ok. We did, everyone had a lovely day and we managed to hold meltdowns and tantrums until the end of the day. But after today I feel that our ‘success and joy’ was short-lived. The lasting effects of trauma are just that…lasting. Trauma does not simply go away because they are living in a loving home, or because a certain period of time has lapsed. Scars in the brain, like scars on the skin fade over time but never fully disappear. The issue we now face is how to make celebrations that have no historic memories…how do we create new memories, healthy and happy memories, how do we steal back what has been stolen from our little people? I wish I had the answers. Maybe if any of you, my readers have ideas you could share them with me.

So, as you wake up tomorrow and eat way too much chocolate please spare a thought for traumatised children everywhere who will struggle with the day because of haunting memories of not so pleasant times past.