I have a ton of pictures to share, from Ethan's 6th birthday to our sweet Mother's Day celebration.....BUT I don't have a strong wifi signal here this week, so I'll wait and upload all of them at once next time I have a good connection speed. :)
For now, I'll share two of my favorite pictures ever! I feel SO blessed to be Mama to these eight gorgeous children! :)
I'm working on Part 3 of the Residential and Results series, and should have it up by the end of tomorrow. Blessings!
*Please read to the END of this post, then come back for Part 3. It is very long, but if you're going to read, please read the entire story. I am very transparent about the joys and struggles of older child adoption, in an attempt to help other adoptive families in their journey. I realize that if you're not familiar with the needs and struggles of a child that was deprived of all childhood nurture, you might think we made some wrong decisions along the way. Please know two things: 1) We have always followed Jesus and His leading, with Johanna and our entire family's best interest at the core of EVERY decision. 2) Don't judge unless you've walked a mile in someone else's shoes. :)
For the first few weeks Johanna spent at the center, things went pretty well. The exception was the weekly (sometimes by-weekly) phone calls from Dr. Y and his nursing staff.
It was the same thing every time. Would we give our consent for him to try medication? I continually repeated that while I was NOT against any and all medication, I wanted them to have a true baseline for Johanna before jumping right to prescription anti-psychotic drugs. Dr. Y was only seeing Johanna ONE session a week, and I felt like he was heading down the wrong diagnostic path. I continually tried to educate all of them on attachment and trauma issues. (Remember, she had already had a FULL psych evaluation at the first center. It was recommended that she be moved to the second center for some intense trauma and attachment therapy, before returning to our care.)
Johanna had one rough weekend towards the beginning of September. She acted out a bit at the staff and needed physical restraint. They administered "emergency" meds via shot, to "calm her down", then called me and let me know about the incident. Naturally, I asked many questions, and the nurses reassured me that she was doing better at that point, and that the meds had helped.
Two days later, there was another incident. More emergency meds.
Two days later, another incident. More meds.
By the end of that week, the therapists had noticed a huge change in Johanna. Instead of working nicely with them at their daily sessions, she started refusing to come or being uncooperative during the sessions. (We really liked both her therapists, but later we realized that they were not being completely truthful with us.)
Dr. Y called me the next week, and told me Johanna had begun head-banging and he felt she might be schizophrenic. I was really starting to get annoyed with him at this point.
He asked me, "Is there a history of mental illness with Johanna's birth parents?"
(I was thinking---"HAVE YOU EVEN READ HER FILE??" We have NO family history on Johanna. She was abandoned at 4 weeks old.)
She was in the room with him at that point, and he was asking her, "Johanna, do you hear voices?"
He said she was banging her head on the wall of his office, that she had been banging her head DAILY, constantly, everywhere, on hard surfaces, to the point of injury.
I was in tears at this point. I was wracking my brain for answers as to WHY she was head-banging. I told him that she had rocked/banged when we first adopted her, but it was only to self-soothe, and ONLY when she was overly TIRED. We had absolutely never experienced head-banging like he was describing.
"Is she sleeping okay?" I asked. The only thing I could think of was that she was sleep deprived for some reason and was banging because she was tired.
He suggested sleep meds. I suggested melatonin. He agreed to try it. (We discovered later that he never tried it.)
The next two weeks were a repeat of the previous week. It seemed like every couple of days we were getting a phone call about behaviors (mostly head-banging) that required intervention. We had planned a family week with her at the beginning of October and I told them that we would talk to Johanna and see if we could figure out WHY the incessant banging.
The Wednesday before our scheduled visit, Dr. Y called me again. He REALLY felt strongly that Johanna needed to be on a daily med. (Remember, the only medication she had been on up to this point was the "emergency" meds.)
I sighed. And gave our consent. Things were getting worse, he said. The emergency meds were working great, he said. She really needed to calm down, he said.
So we finally gave our consent.
He prescribed Haldol and Benedryl 3 times a day, and a sleep med at night. We were scheduled to visit with her the following week, so I felt the timing might be good....we could observe her and decide whether the meds were a good thing or not.
(I know at this point, some of you are shocked that he put her on such STRONG medications. Trust me, knowing what we know NOW, we are shocked, too. Time would show that Dr. Y was not interested in TREATING Johanna---or any of the precious children in his care----he was interested in MASKING the behaviors by drugging them to the point of delirium.)
I tried calling Johanna four days later, that Sunday. We were due to arrive on Tuesday, and I wanted to tell her our plans for the week. The nurse said she was sleeping. I said, "Why is she sleeping in the middle of the day??" (This child never naps.)
"Oh, she's been a little sleepy...." was her reply. They couldn't get her to come to the phone (very odd) and I was confused.
Tuesday morning, as we were checking into a local hotel and getting ready to head to the center, I received a call from the therapists. Dr. Y wanted to pull Johanna's off-campus pass to visit with us. Apparently she was having a "rough morning" and he was concerned we couldn't handle it.
I told the therapists that we WERE coming, we WERE taking her off with us, and to let Dr. Y know that we could handle Johanna just fine.
We arrived on campus a couple of hours later. The therapists set up a session in the large family room, but our Noah had broken out with chicken pox that morning and they wouldn't let ANY of our children on the campus, so Brent went to the van with them. (They were all in tears.)
They brought Johanna to me, and the moment she walked in the room, it felt like my heart had stopped. She was disheveled and her face was dirty; her hair was a mess. Her eyes didn't open fully as she tried to smile at me, said, "Hi, M-o-m-m-y" slowly, and promptly FELL OVER ONTO THE FLOOR and started banging her head on the carpet.
I looked over at the therapists in complete SHOCK. They sat there like this was some kind of NORMAL behavior. I instantly knew why Dr. Y had tried to pull our family pass.
I started to sob, quickly pulling Johanna off the floor and onto my lap. (She's 17, but so tiny that I can still hold her easily.)
I started rocking her. She was having trouble swallowing, and drool was running down her chin. She rubbed my face while I cried.
I texted Brent to GET IN HERE NOW, while my whole body shook in sobs.
"This is NOT OKAY." I told the therapists. "I want to speak with the director NOW."
We called the assistant director and we hysterically told her how upset we were. We had left a fully functioning child with ATTACHMENT issues with them---and here, just a few weeks later, I was holding a child with a COMPLETELY altered appearance and personality. She seemed VERY VERY delayed.....a shell of who she had been.
We immediately pulled ALL consent for meds. "Don't give her so much as a Tylenol without my approval!" Brent said.
The director was VERY quick to be understanding. She told us that she had observed Johanna on Thursday and Saturday and KNEW she was severely overmedicated, but that Dr. Y was OUT OF TOWN for 5 days and couldn't be reached. She did apologize for not calling us. (After this initial apology, which we did feel was genuine and truthful, the rest of the week everyone on campus tried to cover their tracks.)
An emergency meeting was called for the next morning. We wanted to speak with EVERYONE involved in Johanna's care. All of the nurses, the school teachers, the therapists, the dorm staff, EVERY single one of them had observed Johanna in this altered state and not a single one found it important to inform the PARENTS (whom they all knew had been leery to start meds in the first place!)
We returned to our hotel in shock and tears. Brent and I began praying and praying. We were angry and worried and overwhelmed. Here we were, in a hotel in a strange town, with 6 children (2 of whom ended up with chicken pox that week) and a newborn. We didn't sleep at all that night.
It would take me hours and many posts to share all that truly transpired that week. We look back now and so clearly see the hand of GOD but at the time, we were in a deep valley. We had done everything possible to follow each step God had revealed to us in this older adoption journey, yet it seemed like our best laid plans were hurting our girl.
We didn't hold back our thoughts and feelings at the meeting the next morning. One interesting moment was when we asked Dr Y, "What exactly are you treating Johanna for?"
He answered, "Well, I don't really know yet. I haven't ruled out autism or schizophrenia..."
Brent said, "HAVE YOU EVEN READ HER FILE???"
"I don't have all the files of children memorized." he responded.
I said, "Sir, she's here for RAD!"
He looked up and quietly said, "What's RAD?"
I hit the table in disgust and looked up at the directors. The entire room was silent while we cried in frustration.
The rest of the meeting was a blur. They removed Dr. Y from Johanna's case and set a new plan in place. We told them we were taking her straight to the ER to be fully examined. She had a half-dollar size wound on her forehead where she had been head-banging and we wanted it examined.
Naturally, this made them all nervous. We truly weren't looking to hurt the center, but we didn't trust them anymore, and needed a second opinion.
The next two days were very rough. We visited Johanna each day, but as her sweet little body had begun feeling the withdrawal symptoms from the overmedication, she was still VERY altered.
Thursday night was the worst for her. She vomited ALL night long, and had extremely restless legs. The staff stayed by her and walked her around OUTSIDE all night, but no one CALLED us yet AGAIN! We were furious when we arrived on Friday morning. She wasn't in school, she was walking laps around the campus with a staff member. She fell down on her knees when she saw her daddy and cried, "Oh, Daddy! I'm so sick! Please make it better!"
We sat down with the assistant director yet again and discussed our options. We hadn't desired to pull Johanna from the program abruptly, as we knew she would need closure and wanted her to feel successful about her progress.....yet we just did NOT trust them any more. When we told the director that Johanna was repeatedly vomiting, her response was, "Well, Haldol withdrawals don't last that long. She must have a stomach bug." (Behind her back, the staff member who was walking with Johanna shook her head a quiet NO.)
I told the director that if she had a stomach bug, why wasn't she in the INFIRMIRY? Why would they allow her to still be in the dorm?? Because the truth is that she was experiencing EXTREME withdrawal symptoms and was NOT vomiting from a stomach bug!
At this point, as we held Johanna, we demanded an examination by the pediatrician. They said he was gone for the day. We told them to call him back in and they refused.
Brent and I looked at each other and knew what we needed to do. We told the assistant director that we needed to take Johanna home NOW. She quietly said, "I think that is the best for her at this point." (And the best for them, since they were all in fear of malpractice at this point....)
We made quite the scene, packing up all of her things, and trying to explain to her that she was coming home with us. Riding in the car made her feel so much worse, so she didn't want to come with us initially. While I was packing for her, Brent was letting the director know that we wanted a COMPLETE medical record before we would leave the campus.
They went round and round for a while, as no one wanted to help us at all by this point. We ended up sitting outside on the grass, rocking with Johanna, parenting our other children, and waiting several HOURS for the medical records.
At one point in the afternoon, the head nurse came up with a form she wanted me to sign.
"The below is removing their child from XXX's program AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE."
"No way am I signing that." I said. "I am removing her because of the incompetent care she has received. And the DIRECTOR agreed that it is the best thing for her!"
The nurse walked quietly away.
They appeased us with a printout of every medication Johanna had received and a promise to mail the completed records to our home address. We had no choice but to leave.
I went straight back to the hospital with a violently sick child. She was so, so miserable. It was heartbreaking. They admitted her overnight.
Twenty-four hours later, we started seeing some improvement, but it was almost 2 full weeks before we took a breath and relaxed.
Slowly, our girl was back.
In the end, we can see so clearly what was happening, and why Johanna was head-banging. The Haldol made her feel "crazy and very sleepy", but they didn't let her sleep during the day, so she started banging her head CONSTANTLY to try to take away the crazy feeling. The staff would intervene by administering MORE Haldol, which would start the drugged/sleepy/crazy feelings all over again. This cycle repeated itself for several weeks until Dr. Y LIED TO ME and convinced me that Haldol would STOP the behaviors. He then overmedicated her and the end result was a completely unresponsive, drugged child. What makes me the most upset is that EVERY SINGLE person that saw Johanna had to have known she wasn't doing well, yet NONE of them called us. Then, when we saw for ourselves exactly what was happening, they tried to cover their tracks instead of owning up to the mistakes.
Within one week of being back in our care, Johanna stopped the head-banging. We haven't seen ANY of those behaviors in the 7 months since that day.
Initially, we thought that the entire "residential" experience was nothing but bad. Had we made things worse for Johanna? Why would God lead us to place her in the facility only to have things go SO VERY WRONG?
The amazing thing is, God was moving--even in the storm! We have said from the very beginning, that God is writing Johanna's story, and it is a story of REDEMPTION. Of HEALING. Of TRIUMPH.
In Part 3 of Residential and Results, I will share the very BEST part of this series----THE RESULTS! While the first two parts have been very painful to remember and recreate in words, the end result brings me nothing but J-O-Y to share. Stay tuned! :)
I could go on an on about how fast the years have flown by, or reminisce about all the adorable things you did when you were a baby, but instead, I want to take a minute and share my heart with you.
I want you to know that I am proud of you. You are a born overcomer. There have been many things that life has thrown your way that have been challenging, and yet, you have overcome each one.
You are a forgiver. Only your family truly knows the things you've faced, but each time, you were given two options: become bitter, or forgive. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness that you chose what God wants---forgiveness.
You are an example. I love that I can tell the little girls to "be like Ellie" and it's a GOOD thing. :) I watch the way you mother them, and I listen to the way you speak to them, and I can hear Jesus in you. Always choose G-R-A-C-E in your dealings with children. They look to you for an example.
You are loved. From Aunt Rhonda (pictured above) to the rest of your extended family, from Johanna down to Titus, and especially from your Daddy and myself---YOU ARE LOVED. Wherever life takes you, never forget that we love you. Right now, at 13, you may take it for granted, but someday you will wake up and find yourself lonely for the chaos that is your f-a-m-i-l-y.
And we will be there for you. (Hopefully that's a reassuring thing. LOL)
You are beautiful. I look at you and stand in awe of your beauty. I love the fact that the inside is as beautiful as the outside.
It won't be long before young men start noticing the lovely young woman you've become. Don't waste your time with those who are more interested in your outer beauty than your true inner beauty. Save your heart for that very special young man who is waiting patiently for YOU.
Remember that there will always be someone "prettier" than you, "thinner" than you, more "popular" than you, and that seems "happier" than you. Don't fall into the female comparison trap. You'll never please everyone anyway.
The one God created in my womb thirteen years ago.
The one who fills our days with such delightful J-O-Y.
You're radiant with the love of Jesus. Remember that serving HIM will bring you true joy in life.
Money, fame, popularity, and plenty of STUFF will try to distract you from serving Jesus. Keep your heart close to HIM so His voice is louder than all of the distractions.
People say the "teen" years are hard. I know it has to be hard to feel stuck between child and adult. :)
Your Daddy and I are there for you as you navigate this path to adulthood. We aren't perfect parents and you won't be the perfect teen---but you will ALWAYS be the perfect teen for US.
I'm not sure I'm ready for you to grow up. I've never walked this journey before. It's exciting and scary all at once.
I know the time will come (sooner than I'd like!) when you will examine all that we have poured into you and determine what YOU truly believe. Your faith and your purpose in life will be brought under deep scrutiny.
If you only come away with one thing, my prayer is that it's a vibrant love relationship with Jesus. None of the rest is important if you don't LOVE HIM.
You could not do or be anything that could make us any more proud of you than we are right this very minute. You are our precious first-born, our miracle child, the child we begged God to allow us to have.
The last two weeks have been relatively uneventful. A couple of good meetings, homeschooling, and other normal things. We have been parked at Eastside Baptist Church in Mebane, NC, for almost 2 weeks and that is a VERY long time for us to be in one place! In a way, it's nice, because I get comfortable finding the local grocery store and library, and we don't spend hours moving our trailer or driving, but usually we're all ready to "hit the road" when it comes time.
Our new trailer is having some humidity/condensation issues. We have tried all the recommendations for eliminating the issue to no avail, so we will be dropping it off tomorrow at the dealership. This is always an adventure as our "home" is unavailable until it's done being serviced, but thankfully this is supposed to be a one-day job. We will have an entire day to "kill" but Brent did mention the word IKEA so one can hope that it will be a fun day. :)
The day before we leave a place is almost always a very busy day. I need to find a good local Laundromat (and get all the laundry clean!), plan and prepare breakfast for the next day, get everyone showered and dressed before bed (so the morning routine can go quickly and smoothly as smoothly as possible), clean the trailer, and prepare the van for traveling (cleaning it out, organizing backpacks, packing extra diapers and wipes, etc).
Yesterday was spent with our dear friends the Deloziers. Loretta and I have been friends since we were teenagers, and her friendship is one of my sweetest treasures in life. She is my true kindred spirit (to quote Anne of Green Gables). Their family lives near Mebane, so we have spent EVERY possible minute together these past 2 weeks! Loretta has 5 precious little girls ( Moriah, Charity, Naomi, Chloe, and Lydia) who are a mix between delicate ladies and rough and tumble farm girls. :) Our children have SO much fun together. From BB guns and pocket knives to sheep and cows (and lots of M-U-D), they had a blast. And Loretta and I were able to catch up on some talk-as-fast-as-we-can-between-cooking-and-caring-for-13-children fun.
Mariah, with her sweet smile (and her ever ready BB gun, lol).
Gorgeous, toothless, curly-haired Naomi.
All THIRTEEN children, after a long play day!
Love you, friend, more than words can ever say. God knew I needed YOU.
My wonderful sister-in-law Rhonda bought our older children tablets for Christmas and we are just LOVING the new world of digital books! Last night, I downloaded new audio books (from the library) onto Nathaniel and Noah's tablets and this is what they looked like all morning.....
Such cute boys. :)
Okay, well, I'd love to write more but I'm off to have fun at the local Laundromat this afternoon. Hopefully I can dig myself out of the pile of dirty clothes!
Here's a virtual "tour" of our new trailer. Even though it's small (and we would all love to be in a real house again!), this is our HOME. It's where memories are made, where children are loved on and educated, where meals are eaten, and where we all feel "comfortable". Is it always easy? No way. But we are SO SO thankful that the Lord has orchestrated events in a way that we can stay together as a family while we raise support.
The front door opens to the "living" space:
I took out the two tables that came with the trailer and replaced them with one long "craft" table. It can be folded down when we travel, moved at night for bed arrangements, AND it's large enough that we can all scrunch around it for meals and school! :) All day, every day, you will find a child (or 2 or 3) playing around this table.
Above the couch/table is storage for toys, backpacks, craft supplies, puzzles, and games.
To the right of the kitchen is the "master bedroom". My things are on the left and Brent's things are on the right. There is some nice under-bed storage that holds things like extra blankets, important family paperwork, Brent's shoes, etc.
Titus' diapers/wipes/blankets/toys are to the left of the bed. His diaper bag fits nicely there, too.
Being transparent here for sure....this is my closet. Yes, this is ALL of my hanging up clothes. LOL. It's amazing what you can learn to live without! Every single item that comes into our home must have a place and a purpose---and it must get USED frequently or this Mama will find it a new home in the trashcan or local donation spot. :)
To the left of the kitchen is the "kids bedroom". Johanna, Eliana, Nathaniel, and Noah share this room. They call it the "big kids room" and enjoy staying up later than the little ones, talking, playing, and giggling way too much.
That's reading/sticker/coloring books on the top shelf, and school books on the bottom two shelves. Library books are on the floor. We can't usually utilize the local library, but a friend graciously shared her card last week with us. We LOVE books!
More toy totes, couch and dinette by day and Johanna and Noah's beds by night. :) I'll need to do a nighttime post to show you how everyone sleeps.
Much of the children's bedding gets stored on Eliana's bed during the day and brought out at night. Believe it or not, they got rid of most of their stuffed animals!
Nathaniel's bed fold up during the day and folds down at night. This table is SO useful, not only for school but also for Rook tournaments.
Gabbey and Lyssie have a doll tote shown here. The green tote is for tablets/headphones/Leap games, etc.
All 7 older children have their "hanging up" clothing in this closet. They each have a drawer or cabinet for all of their folded clothing as well. Boys socks are held in that large laundry bag. (Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with boys socks??)
And there you have it! Life in our trailer. I did forget to take pictures of the bathroom (although it's quite unexciting!) but I will try to get to that when I answer any questions from the previous post.
Blessings on you and your day---This is the day the LORD hath made, so REJOICE in whatever circumstances HE brings your way....even if that means living in a 35 ft travel trailer. :) He is always, always, good!
I cleared all the pictures off my memory card today and came across never before seen footage a bunch of pictures of life in our trailer. Since I frequently get asked about HOW we have managed to live on the road for 19 months now, I thought it would be fun to share them below. :)
Also, I'm opening this post up to questions from you, my sweet friends. If you're curious about how life works during this stage of our lives and ministry, please drop me a quick note. I will do my best to photograph and blog about the answers to your questions!
(Side note: Two weeks ago, we traded in our first trailer for a different model. We had been having serious manufacturing problems, and although the company claimed responsibility and covered the too frequent repairs, we felt safer working with a new company. So these pictures are from this past fall and our "old" trailer. I've already taken a "photo tour" of our new trailer, which I'll post soon.)
**Early morning, showing sleeping arrangements for all the children except Johanna, who was gone at the time these were taken.
Noah on the couch and Ethan on the couch/dinette. Our laundry is normally stored in the bathtub, so anytime someone needs a shower, we have to move it to the living room. Hence the turquoise laundry baskets seen below!
Nathaniel on the top bunk and Gabbey and Lyssie on the bottom.
Nursing Titus, while attempting to wake up sleeping children. This was a Sunday morning and it was EARLY. :)
Titus, playing on my bed. He wasn't rolling over or scooting yet. :)
Eating breakfast. The box fan was for white noise at night---but we've upgraded to 2 noise makers now and they work SO well!
Sorting socks with Lyssie. The top bunk folded up during the day and was part of our morning routine. Making beds and cleaning up blankets and pillows always takes a good amount of time, and I've had to adjust to the fact that nothing happens "quickly" in the trailer. I find myself repeating, "Take it slow and don't panic" throughout the day. LOL.
Working on the little girl's Sunday hair. There's not enough room in the bathroom to do this (and someone else is always needing it anyway!)
We rotate morning chores---this day, Gabbey organized the shoe shelf, Lyssie vacuumed the floors and couches, and Nathaniel worked on dishes.
(Notice the TINY kitchen space! This presented quite a challenge for me at times. Our new trailer has a much more functional kitchen space and I'm SO grateful!)
Ethan and Noah reading and playing quietly before church. Once the little ones are in their church clothes, they can't go outside and play, so we assign quiet play until we leave for church. :)
All dressed and ready, trailer cleaned up--time to leave for church!
Sunday afternoon nap time.
Outside play is a large part of our life! Because we are always parked somewhere "new", the children get to constantly explore their surroundings. Sometimes we are at a church, and sometimes (like these pictures), we are at a campground.
I keep totes of various toys and rotate them in and out of the trailer for variety. We have a storage unit in our hometown so I can keep these things organized and available as needed.
I never thought I would bring a newborn "home" to a travel trailer, with no nursery, no crib, no swing, no bouncy seat, etc----but Titus hasn't lacked for a single thing! He has been the sweetest, easiest little guy and I stressed about all of that "stuff" for nothing---he couldn't be happier!
Coming up next: Trailer Tour! I'll walk you through each room and space in our home and show you how it works for us.