The Journey of My First Child – Watching from the Outside as She Moves into Joy and Pain

Shining the light on Domestic Abuse….

This has been a hard one to write and has taken me several weeks to formulate the words.  Partly because it is, again a private story; partly because it is still a current situation; partly because the pain of what happened to my daughter and my granddaughters is still fresh.

In the previous writing, I described the permanent damage that can occur emotionally, neurologically, and cognitively when a child (my daughter) has lived through such severe childhood abuse and trauma.  Christina carried that into adulthood and continues to work hard at processing things she hears and experiences.  She lives in the moment (which is a blessing at times) and has a hard time looking into the future in terms of recognizing how her current choices and situation will impact days and weeks and years down the line.

When Christina was barely 20, she met an abusive man and moved in with him.  In hindsight, she recognizes what happened and would probably know the signs were she to meet another person who acted as he did to gradually gain more control, then more and more abuse.  But it does not translate into other situations that can be just as abusive, but presents differently.

That is what happened with her current marriage.  Her husband presents as shy and withdrawn, but has a secure job, fun outings, and he knows the words to say to make a woman feel loved.  But he is all about what he wants and has complete control over my daughter, still, after everything that has happened.  He has what sounds like pretty severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder himself from service in Afghanistan, bursts of extreme anger, and uses primarily complete financial control over Christina to keep her dependent on him and to punish her.

Shortly after she met her husband, they became pregnant.  They married before he was to be deployed and he left shortly after a beautiful little girl was born.  She spent the next year quite happily parenting the baby and while he was gone, she spent so much time with extended family.  When he returned home, most visits stopped and he used finances (not enough money to drive up for a visit) to keep Christina more isolated.  He would cut her household budget if he was angry, to the point she didn’t have enough for diapers.  He was take her phone away if he was angry.

Christina’s husband had very little interest in parenting.  He’d change a diaper if asked and they did some outings as a family, but pretty much left all baby care, the work of it, to his wife.  Soon after he returned from deployment, they became pregnant again, this time with twin girls.  He was deployed for a bit during the pregnancy and Christina was able to spend a lot of time with us, with extended family, but she made no moves, no decisions of any kind without consulting him.  It was a situation where, from the outside, it would be normal for her to chose time with her nuclear family and husband over so much time with extended family, but for those of us who knew her, we could see how restricted she was.

After the twins were born, Chrstina really started to show signs of stress and depression.  She was allowed to visit very seldom and more stories were being shared that her husband helped very little with child care or home care.  He would yell at her to keep the girls quiet while he watched TV or played video games.  He’d get mad if the house was messy or he’d be annoyed if dinner wasn’t ready.  There did not appear to be physical abuse, though I did not hear most of the stories until after tragedy happened.

Christina told me she was getting more and more anxiety.  She begged her husband to let her go to counseling, but he refused, telling her that she would only be able to see a military counselor because of insurance and that anything she said would get back to his commander and hurt his career.  I tried to tell her the truth about confidentiality laws, but she was too scared to push it with him.  She begged for more time with us so she could get some rest, but he’d withhold funds for gas money.  By fall of 2014, Christina was very isolated, frequently in tears, and was starting to talk about divorce, because her husband was “mean.”  She’d never share with me.  My mother (Christina’s grandmother) died that fall and when we went to Oregon for the memorial, her husband would not come to support her.  He agreed to let their first daughter, the two year old stay with him while she brought the newborn twins along, but within hours of arriving in Oregon, he called her and made her come back home, because the two year old was misbehaving.  She left all the family and support and drove back home.

At that point, I started sending my teenagers down to her home on weekends and over the holidays to help out with the babies and the house.  They’d tell me how Christina’s husband would sit on the couch and ask for this and that and yell at Christina to come get a baby if someone started crying, no matter what she was doing (like cooking dinner).  My daughters said that once in a while, Christina was ask him to hold a baby while she took care of another one and he would set the baby on the couch next to him and pat her back while he continued to watch his show or play a game.  If the baby started to fuss, he’d call her to come get the baby.  Christina was reporting that she’d spend hours upstairs with the girls to try to keep them out of the way and keep them from annoying her husband.

Over and over, I offered a place for her to stay for a while so we could help with the babies while she got some rest.  She always said that her husband refused.  About a month after the holidays, in January of 2015, tragedy struck.

In one awful night, with the three girls crying, and their dad screaming to Christina to shut them up, she snapped, dissociated, and hurt the girls.  She still does not remember most of that night, except that she knows that she said something about the fact that babies cry and the only way they won’t cry is if they are dead and her husband was screaming at her and advancing on her saying, “If you’re going to do it, just fucking do it and get it over with.  Do it.  Do it. Do it.”

The girls were not hurt seriously (which speaks to the fact that, even though Christina completely dissociated, she still could not kill her beloved girls), but Christina was incoherent when police arrived and her husband’s story is that he was sitting on the couch watching TV and suddenly Christina was in front of him with blood all over, so he rushed upstairs to help the girls.

Christina was arrested and charged with 3 counts of attempted 1st degree murder and is still in jail 18 months later waiting for trial/plea deal.  She is still not allowed to see her cherished children.  Her husband continues to manipulate her financially and she is afraid to speak officially about what happened because when he gets mad at her, he stops sending money for her phone calls and commissary (soap and letter writing and socks).  She is also afraid that he has the power to not let her see the girls ever again.

My son-in-law lets the girls stay with me and my kids a lot (he still doesn’t show much interest in parenting except how it affects him) and I take videos and pictures to share with their mama.  She cries, but is grateful to see them grow.  But, as with Christina, he manipulates me in certain ways.  He got mad at me last fall and refused to let the girls come here for 2 1/2 months!  That is where he can manipulate me.  I have to be nice to this man because his real power over me is whether the girls get to come visit.  And he knows it!  It shows his real character, as letting the girls spend time with grandma and lots of aunties and uncles is in their best interest and should not be a manipulation tactic.

So, I play nice, Christina gets to see her girls grow and learn through our visits, and my son-in-law is gradually figuring out that his life is easier without a 4 year old and two 2 year olds.  He has them here for several weeks in a row which suits me with joy!  As to other manipulation… remember the financial manipulation with Christina (see above)?  He does not bring diapers, food, clothing or funds when the girls are here.  The one time I asked, he was displeased, but gave me $100 for a 3 week stint.  I don’t dare ask again for the girls’ sake.  Is it domestic abuse if he is manipulating me and I know it, but I let him do it anyway?  Maybe, but if it keeps the girls safe here in our home, I will play the game and document everything.

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Love!

Domestic abuse is most known for the real physical issues, but all forms of manipulation, control and fear affect families profoundly.  Speak up somehow, if you have concerns about someone!  Don’t wait for tragedy!

 

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The Journey of my First Child – Wounded Child Warrior

Shining the light on child abuse and it’s lifelong journey…

I want to share some of Christina’s growing up journey.  Some will remain private, because it IS her story and not mine.  However, some HAS to be shared because it’s a universal story of children being hurt by grown ups.  Because it is not her shame.  Because it is not her fault.  And because, if we do not talk openly and honestly about what child abuse does to a person and to our society, it will never change!

Christina was born to a young mother into a loving family.  But there were problems with the immaturity, lack of work and resources, and the childhood history of the young mother herself.  At 2 years old, Christina witnessed her mother’s murder.  The subsequent chaos in her young life included abuse and more neglect.  Family tried to intervene, but a preschool child with SO much pain was a lot to handle.

I firmly believe that the Spirit put my path and Christina’s path to meet at that time (and though this is Christina’s story, the extended bio family of any child who has been hurt is a valuable tool and has been a gift to me as well, over the years).  She was 4 years old when we met.  And she had such a beautiful mixture of spunk, joy, exuberance, pain, anger, resilience, and love.

Over the years, we slowly worked through intense anger, fears, sadness, and pain.  Day after day we cleaned up toys thrown asunder, washed up peas (and much more) spit across the room, fought in a strong grip of restraint to avoid physical injury, worked on apologies and amends, and created a strong, powerful safety net of family and community when the pain overwhelmed the growing mother/daughter relationship.  Therapy, repetition, advocacy, consistency and love helped to slowly eased the intensity of the hard minutes, hours, and days and made more and more room for the normal childhood moments – bikes and gymnastics and swimming and church and birthday parties and homework.  Year by year, the joy that is an inherent part of Christina’s personality had more room to just be there.  Each developmental stage saw some new version of rage and pain come back into play, but overall, the growth was slow and consistent.

The transition to independence was pretty rocky, as it is with many young people, but the extra issues of her trauma and her fears made it pretty intense.  When she finally settled into family life with someone who seemed like a nice young man, I’ll admit I breathed a small sigh of relief… safety, security, happiness.

But the demons of childhood abuse are always constant companions at some level for any adult who has lived through the childhood trauma.  I would like to share some basics about what goes on in our brains and bodies when we, as humans have survived significant abuse and trauma.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly thought to be a diagnosis for soldiers who have come back from war.  But it is a very real life journey for any who have lived through terrible things.  It is an entity defined by the memory responses of our bio-chemical and neurological systems to new perceived danger.  It’s not cognitive fear.  It is a physical, total body response to something that has triggered the intense feelings from what happened in the past.

This is how I explain it to my kids… over and over again.  It helps ease the confusion and shame of bad “behavior,” which is often, in fact, merely actions based on unconscious triggers and the subsequent efforts to keep themselves safe.

“When we are in a scary situation, our brains and our bodies have reactions to help keep us safe.  Our hearts beat faster to get our blood going so we can fight or run really fast.  Our brains switch gears so that we can see and hear things better to catch what is going on, but the part of our brain that helps us talk about it shuts down.  We don’t need words to keep safe in a really scary situation.  We need our brains to think and act quickly, not talk quickly.

The problem is, if we are in many scary situations over and over again, our bodies and brains start to change so that we can be ready faster and faster for danger.  If it happens too much, our bodies and brains change permanently.  Sometimes, that means that we react too quickly all the time and don’t have a chance to think about what to do if we get scared or mad.  Our bodies and brains go into action like it did when we were little when we really did need to keep ourselves safe.  But now, we have to figure out how to slow that reaction down again, because you are safe now.  You don’t have to fight or yell to keep yourself safe.  You don’t have to hit anyone or push everyone away to make sure you are safe.

NOW, you get to ask for help.  You get to learn and describe what your heart feels like and your stomach and your brain when you suddenly feel scared or mad and you don’t know why.  You get to show me what is really going on and we are a team now.  Your thoughts know you are safe here.  Now we need to teach the rest of you how to feel safe.”

Back into grown up language… the damage that childhood abuse does to our bodies is no less potent than the physical damage that can happen in a bad accident.  The problem in our society is that  one kind of damage is visible and everyone wants to step up to help.  The other kind is not readily apparent and the kids/adults can be a long way down the road in relationships before the friend/partner/family can see the injuries.

Most of the time, the damage cannot be healed, only treated or adapted to.  Cortisol is a chemical that floods our brain when we go into “fight/flight/freeze” response.  When our brains are constantly flooded, it changes the brain… most importantly, the Cortisol damages our hippocampus, which is a small part of the brain that is VERY important for short term memory.  When your short term memory is damaged through repeated abuse, it has a huge impact on schooling, testing, careers and relationships.  It’s hard to memorize and learn with an impaired short term memory.

If the abuse and trauma happens in early childhood, as it did with Christina, the language center of the brain is permanently affected.  If you are two years old and you are supposed to be picking up a dozen new words a day and learning to follow directions and learning nuances of speech, but the fear of your daily life takes the attention away from the language center so that you can figure out how to be safe, you do not develop those language skills.  There is a reason that Christina’s language was much like a two year old when she came to me at 4 years old, and a reason why she still needs people to repeat things differently or write them down.

A common response to trauma and abuse is something called dissociation, which is a wonderful trick the brain has at separating the feelings or even awareness of what is going on from it’s base functioning self.  Some people describe it as watching themselves from a distance, but not feeling it.  Others just have a blank space where they really don’t know what happened until the brain feels like it’s safe enough for it’s person to remember what happened.  If a person is triggered often by something that takes their body and brain back to a dangerous time, can you imagine how difficult that would make it to attend to learning at school, or details at work, or deep work in a relationship?  If you are sitting in a class and a smell wafts in through the window that makes your brain think of a previous dangerous time, it will protect you by dissociating from those feelings/memories.  The problem is that you disappear from today, too.  When I child has dissociated, you may not even be able to tell.  They are sitting at their desk, quiet and normal looking.  But when their attention comes back to class, there may have been 4 different topics discussed and they missed it all.  Then they can’t do the homework.  Then they feel stupid and discourage, or sad, or scared and are triggered all over again.  It’s a wicked journey!!!!

All is not lost, though, because, while many neurological and bio-chemical changes in a person’s body are permanent after child abuse and trauma, our human systems are amazing at learning to adapt or work around the hard things.  Such as Christina learning to ask for people to write things down.  Therapy and parenting help children (and adults) learn to create a space between the PTSD reaction and their reasoning brains, by learning to recognize earlier and earlier when they might get triggered, how to recognize the early signs of being triggered, and strategies for changing course before the trigger, or intervening early with relaxation, bio feedback, imagery, etc.

All of this is a long explanation to help explain some of Christina’s reality on the night her little girls got hurt and all the subsequent days that have followed with lost memory, misunderstanding and misinterpreting a new, scary reality, new difficult language and decisions that have to be made, and a physical separation from her support system that would have helped to keep her coping skills and adaptive responses to triggers firmly grounded.

And now I am crying, because this has led to the bleak reality of one awful night.  But the reality has continued and will continue and all of that joy and resilience and love that I spoke of about the 4 year old Christina is still there and she is amazing in her friendships, hope, and determination within her new reality.  And everything she has learned about herself and her trauma and ways to treat herself are still in play.

I am thankful for healing.  I am thankful for grace.  I am thankful for love.  I am thankful for Christina, who has given me a richer life than I ever would have known and a bevy of grandchildren who bless my days.

 

 

The Journey of My First Child – Intro

I will try to spend this day sharing what we now know about Christina’s case and what’s next.  I’m sorry I took so long… I wasn’t at the meeting (I got to spend the day at the hospital instead), so it’s taken the week to hear details (thank you, Katie, for being so diligent for me at the meeting).  Plus, I’m still working out the kinks with my lungs… feeling ok, but cough still kicks in easily and I’m just tired.  I’m no longer the 20 year old, or 30 year old or 40 year old who bounces back so quickly.  Patience, child.  😀

     I’m going to share most of it. A lot of people would keep much of this private, but this is a sad journey and nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it illuminates many dark corners of childhood abuse, PTSD, Postpartum depression, Domestic Abuse, and a VERY dysfunctional “justice” system. If we don’t shine a light on these things and talk honestly about them, they will not change.

     So…. the meeting on Monday feels in some ways like a light in this dark, painful journey, but also the point at which we start to work powerfully into the future for Christina and for all others who get caught in the cracks of our dysfunctional society.
     ———
     I am going to start with me, because many of you do not know my journey…. don’t worry, I’ll make it brief.  🙂
     I’m 57 now.  I’ve been a nurse and a nurse practitioner in a previous version of my life, which overlapped my foster/adopt parenting life for the past 25 years.  My nursing career spanned years from 1981 to 2012, so it has formed much of who I am (working with people, seeing the painful side of things, seeing the beauty in many people and families through their hardest moments, wanting to heal and fix, along with a whole lot of concrete skills).
     But from my teen years on, I wanted to be a mom and by the time I was 30 and there was no permanent partner in sight, I decided to become a parent through adoption, which started my foster care journey.  I had intended to be a single parent to one girl and decided that if a husband came along, he’d need to be the perfect person to also parent this child.
     Christina was my first child…. 25 years ago this month!!!!  A few year later, I decided another girl wouldn’t be too hard, so Areal joined our family.  Then, following nudges, murmurs, and a couple of smacks on the head from Gos’s Spirit, I was blessed to add Marcella, Ezekiel, Benjamin, Jada, Nathalia, and Octavio to my parenting roster.
     By 2012,  I made a conscious decision to retire from nursing and focus on my journey within the foster care and adoption world.  I had made a start at my own photography business to make sure I had some bits of income, but I’ve had a variety of health issues on a regular basis over the past 3 years, which keep co-opting my ability to participate fully in the photography world.  The conscious decision to retire from regular employment was also a conscious acknowledgement that I would be raising this family from a significantly lower socio-economic place.  Pretty scary in a society that places a lot of value on how much money and stuff you own.
     But in my entire journey with these children, and especially since I took in the last four within a year, I have discovered how rich I really am!  My community and family have embraced these children and they are truly being raised by a village.  I am talking very clearly about the financial support that has helped in many moments… even the meals, the help with physical time with one or more of the kids, the dishes, the vacuuming…are all pieces of that “financial” support as measured by society.  And as measured by my heart, and by the incredible kids that are growing up well because of this community,  there is no way to place a number value on the gift of community.
     It is Grace.  It is Joy.  It is Peace.

Lifestyle Dilemma

I’m not sure the title is quite the right phrase, but I can’t find a better word right now.   Dilemma connotes a problem and my pondering this week isn’t a real problem.

My kids are on spring break.  Five of them are at home, having a relaxed time of games and reading and screen time, with bike riding, photography, and a couple of outings thrown in (Treehouse Wearhouse tomorrow!).  One of my children is on a trip to Puerto Rico with a school club.

I see on Facebook some fabulous posts of friends who are traveling with their kids during spring break…. Arizona, Florida, California, Minnesota and the posts and pictures are so fun and enticing.  It makes me remember the frequent travel we did when Areal and Marcella were in competitive gymnastics and the new things they and Ezekiel and I got to experience.

The juxtaposition of these two ways to spend break time and free time has me thinking.  I love both.  I want the world for my kids and I want them to travel far and wide and learn about all kinds of people and all aspects of history and how our world works and what they themselves are capable of when they are out of their comfort zone.

At the same time, I treasure and find great value in just relaxing.  In letting the personalities and family life of fun, chores, sleeping in, running around outside ofr hours, fighting and making up…. all of those things are grounding and nurturing and consolidate family connections.  Those little every day minutes that are safe and relaxed and do not hold a single bit of shoulds or needs, especially for kids who have known such upheaval in life, are necessary for building a solid base of security.

So…. maybe it’s a dance and not a dilemma.  There is a time and season for each way of living through break times.  I guess my thoughts leave me hoping and praying that I will help my children find the right balance and honoring their own needs on what that balance will look like.

I will pass that wish on to each of you, too.  Find your balance and relax a lot and play a lot (and do what you need to do in  between to honor commitments and work and growth).

Be well,

Karla

Re-New

Greetings from Seattle!

I’ve not really left, but LIFE took over my life and pulled me in many different directions for a bit.

But I’m back!  Photography, kids, Love and Life.

If I still have any followers, I’ll catch you up over the next few days.  For now, I want to wax philosophical about a wonderful event I attended last night.  The auction for Sibling House was SO much fun!  I got to take photos all evening and enjoyed some fabulous, generous, deep-hearted people.

Lynn and Michael Gaskill founded Sibling house as a resource for families who take in sibling groups from foster care.  When a child loses everything they know through no fault of their own, losing the comfort of a sibling is almost the last straw.  If we can keep these kids together, they know their world is not completely destroyed and they have someone who knows the whole them.

So we ate, raised money, laughed a lot and cried a little.  And I got to do my true passion (other than my kids) — picture taking.  Here’s a sample… but you can find the whole gallery on my website.

I’m excited to be back!

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New Son!

Hello all!
After a VERY busy year, I’m back at my computer, camera, website, blog and hopefully a more routine life!
My biggest news this past month is that I’ve adopted my 4th child (and first son). Benjamin came to me a year and a half ago and, as of August 20, 2013, he has a forever home and I have a forever son. It’s been a journey and a blessing.
I also still have the 3 other foster children in my care, as well as two of my adopted daughters and my grandson. It is a busy home life, but oh, so rich. But school starts next week and everyone will be at school most days, so it’s time to get back on my photography ride and kick this into gear.
I’ll keep everyone posted (promise) as projects progress. In the meantime, here is a picture of me with my precious Benjamin.

Adoption Day

Adoption Day

OKaaaaaaay

It’s time to get this blog up and running again. I did not miss a single day in 2012, but have had a couple of CRAZY months here. We moved and if you think moving 8 people (7 kids and all their STUFF!) is easy, think again. My photography work took a back seat for a while. We are still unpacking, but are mostly settled and I’m getting to work on my pictures again. I have missed it SO much!
To give you a teaser about pictures I’ve been doing, I’ll show one I took of my granddaughter last week. She is a happy, healthy, sweet baby and, with me around, she already knows what a camera is! 🙂

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

Forty-two in 2013

My sweet Marcella turns 15 years old today!!!! She came to me as an emergency foster care placement at Christmas time when she was 5 years old. She was supposed to stay “for the holidays.” Our family joke is that we just forgot to ask the social workers how many holidays they were talking about. I am blessed beyond measure that this special girl is my daughter, and I am wishing her a fabulous day full of laughter, hugs, and yummy treats!

Happy Birthday, Marcella!

Happy Birthday, Marcella!