Saturday, August 22, 2015

Crazy Day (Day Camp, July 2015)

Because of our deputation ministry, our summers are different than before.

There's no long break from school. 

We homeschool year-round in order to allow time to finish our work while traveling so frequently and attending so many missions conferences. We've visited zoos and science museums in just about every state we've been to so far and that's been one of the fun parts of the "traveling life". :)

Anyway, one of the highlights of this summer for our kiddos was a Day Camp at Eastside Baptist Church in Mebane, NC. Not only does this church support our ministry, they also have full hook-ups for our travel trailer and have allowed us to park there several times. Since we were parked there during their yearly Day Camp, they invited our children to attend.

They had a blast every day, but CRAZY DAY was definitely their favorite day. :)

It was a fun memory from this summer. :)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Happy Birthday, Titus!

Titus turned ONE today.

Sigh. A whole YEAR, gone, just like that.

We weren't near family or friends, so we just celebrated with the children. Titus didn't seem to mind (but Mommy wishes everyone could have been here to enjoy our little boy).

Nathaniel bought Titus a light-up ball. It was a HIT.


The siblings may have been more excited than the birthday boy. (OH, the joy of big families. So much love going around!)

"What is the creation that you are PUTTING RIGHT IN MY REACH???"

"Oh my---I can touch it! And eat it! YAY!!!"

"HEY---I wasn't done with that yummy, messy CAKE!" :)

His toes. Sweet, tiny little toes.

His favorite part of the party? The BUBBLES!

Titus, you were loved, wanted, adored, and cherished from the moment of your conception. You are the best thing that has ever happened to our family. We adore you and rejoice in this, your very FIRST birthday!

The Bergey Bunch :)

Titus Alexander Bergey, One Year Old Pictures

He's gorgeous. He's cuddly. He's chubby and soft and spunky. He brings JOY to the entire Bergey Bunch. 
We love you, Titus Alexander!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Surviving to Thriving: Refreshing Tips for Successful Older Child Adoption

I wish that parenting came with a perfect "how to" handbook. I REALLY wish adoptive parenting came with that handbook. :)

I've been asked to share what we've learned so far in our adoptive parenting journey. Most of this applies to adopting an older child, but some of it is helpful with the younger crowd as well. Johanna has encouraged me to blog these things, and I plan on getting her to participate in the series. (We've got a great plan for an interactive video, too!)

There are so many things we wish we had known when we first brought Johanna home, things that have literally made the difference between us making it or not. I'm always learning and willing to share what I've learned---so, here goes. :)

(Please remember that I'm not THE expert in this field, and that all of my advice may or may not work for you and your child.)

Let's start at the beginning with number one. :)

1. Focus on the Essentials

Often families are struggling because of a focus on non-essentials.

Here's the thing: Kindness is an essential skill.

Eating oatmeal is not. 

Respect for authority is another esssential.

Throwing toilet paper into the toilet (and not the trashcan or floor) is not. :)

Communicating needs and feelings in English is an essential skill.

Reading in English is not. 

Bonding and forming healthy attachments with both parents and siblings is an ESSENTIAL skill----Education is not. 

Yes, they need an education. Yes, we want them to "catch up". Sadly, many families focus on catching up with education MORE than they focus on catching up on healthy attachments. 

If you're more stressed about what workbook/curriculum/online program/school your child needs than you are their ability to fully communicate with you in English, you are likely focusing on the WRONG SKILL. 

And here is where you find frustrated families, because a child with no healthy attachment skills will more than likely NOT CATCH UP on their education. So you're pushing, and forcing, and stressing, and the child could care less because the skill they need most is an attachment with you, not an education.

My number one advice for families adopting an older child is for them to FOCUS ON THE ESSENTIALS. 

Early essential skills worth focusing on:

---Kindness to both people AND animals.
---Communication of needs in new language.
---Healthy sleep and eating habits.
---Family rules for chores and safety.
---Playful interaction between family members.
---Loving touch is a GOOD thing.
---Parents are primary and NECESSARY for meeting needs.

Behaviors NOT worth focusing on in the beginning:

---Public behavior (even when it's incredibly embarrassing, lol).
---Gross habits (nose picking, burping at table, wiping snot on their sleeve, etc).
---Hygiene (daily showering, changing of clothes, brushing teeth, etc).
---Food preferences.
---Unhealthy attachment/idolization of past relationships or country.
---Heart change. (More on this one later.)

Now, of course, many of the things on the non-essential list are able to be addressed while still focusing on the essentials.

But anytime you find yourself overwhelmed or upset at your child, ask yourself--"Is this an essential skill I'm stressing about?" 

If the answer is "no", consider easing up, letting go, and returning to the essentials for awhile. :)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Residential and Results, Part 3

*Please take a few minutes and read the first two posts in this series. The below will make much more sense if you do so! :)
*Part 1

*Part 2

She was home.

We were happy and yet incredibly nervous. Our family was complete again, but the circumstances which brought Johanna back home had been traumatic on ALL of us, especially her.

The first week was rough at times, as we all tried to make things work. There were natural adjustments as we blended back together.

I held my breath, hoping and believing for the BEST.

It felt so good, so right, to have all of our children under our roof again. Brent and I had spent months researching and seeking advice from experts on parenting trauma kiddos, adding more tools to our parenting arsenal, and preparing to eliminate any obvious stress triggers for Johanna.

That is why it brings me SO MUCH JOY to share with you that the past 7 months have been nothing short of miraculous! The combination of our new "tools" and Johanna's new desire to try to make things work has made all the difference.

Over the past year, we've come to realize just how many of the extreme behaviors were FEAR based. You see, Johanna was adopted twice as a younger child in China---both times, she was returned to the orphanage for behaviors. When I met her on "Gotcha Day", she truly DID NOT KNOW what adoption was. She didn't realize it was forever. And no matter how many times we told her that it indeed WAS forever, she didn't believe us.

Johanna thought that if she was "good", we would keep her. And if she was "bad", we would send her away.

Over the years, as she would start to feel attached to us, and loved, and happy, she would react in fear, acting out and pushing us away HARD.

She was convinced that once she entered residential care, we would all be happy, and she would move on. She told me that she honestly didn't think she would see us again. 

As the events of residential unfolded (and we did NOT abandon her!), she realized how much she missed her life with us. Her fear still crippled her, though, as she still felt she had to live up to this elusive "perfect" standard.

When we had to remove her from a very bad situation with residential (as I've already blogged about), she felt rescued. She had not changed anything in her behaviors, she didn't "graduate" from the program, she didn't DO anything except be our DAUGHTER----whom we would NOT leave alone.

It's as if she finally accepted that we WANTED her, that we truly love her for who she is, and that she doesn't have to be afraid of the future anymore.

With that crippling fear gone, she has done AMAZING things! For the first time since bringing her home, she has worked hard on schoolwork. She loves freely and openly. She talks beautifully about her future goals and dreams. She sweetly communicates her deepest feelings with us. She is a complete joy. (And you should see her love on baby Titus! He has captured her heart completely.)

A few months after returning home, Johanna came into our room late at night. With tears streaming down her face, she shared with us that she didn't feel she was truly a Christian. Unprompted by us, she wanted to make sure of her salvation, and dedicate her life to serving Jesus. She devours spiritual things now, and reads her Bible daily.

Yes, we as parents have changed some things in the way we interact with Johanna. The more tools an adoptive parent possesses, the better the outcome! But so much of the change came about because of answered prayer and a God who loves to give second chances.

Adoption has taught me so much about God's LOVE. The Bible says that "while we were yet sinners", He LOVED us. God didn't wait until we hit a level of perfection and holiness and righteousness before He showered His love on us. HE LOVED US IN OUR SIN, and His love is what drives us to seek His holiness and righteousness!

Adopting a young child often comes "easy", as the love-feelings come in waves and we are softened by their tiny cuteness.

Adopting an older child can be much "harder". We must CHOOSE to love, regardless of the child's personality, behavior, past trauma, or acceptance of our love. The showering of our LOVE on them is necessary for their healing and BEST FOR THEM, whether they realize it and accept it or not.

I realize that many who read here are adoptive parents, and I want to close this post by offering you some encouragement. Maybe you are in the valley right now---you're choosing to love, yet your love is being trampled daily  by your child.

You feel like you're drowning under the weight of this love-choice.

You feel guilty that you don't love EASILY, that it feels like WORK, and that your other children are suffering because of it.

You may even be keeping your true feelings a secret because you CHOSE this adoption and you don't want to feel the judgement of those who wouldn't understand.

Maybe you're even considering disruption.

PLEASE don't give up! Get more education. Try new techniques. Seek out encouragement from others who have walked the same path. Keep your marriage STRONG. Don't fear respite care. Find a friend who will listen and keep you encouraged.

I promise you this---God has NOT forgotten you. In the midst of the darkness, the loneliness, and the unknown, He IS there. And when you CHOOSE to love, He is able to LOVE YOUR CHILD through you.

It may not ever be perfect. It might not even be pretty. For Jesus, His love-choice was painful and difficult. Ours may not be less.

But in the midst of the loving, the greatest miracles can happen. They may be in your child---but they MOST DEFINITELY will be in you.

Blessings to you all,


Friday, May 15, 2015

Mother's Day, 2015

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!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Residential and Results, Part 2

*If you're new to my blog, and haven't read all of Johanna's story, please consider starting HERE before reading below. There is so much more to the story than this post.

* You can find Residential and Results, Part 1 HERE.

*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..."


"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! :)