Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two years...

Two years… Two years ago we brought Mikiyas and Eyob home. What a joyous time that was! These two precious little boys were FINALLY home! We had prayed for them, we had fallen in love with them, we couldn’t wait to get them home! The airport homecoming was incredible and joyous and happy!

 The drive home was exciting and terrifying all at once! We had just became a family of 6 after living nearly 4 years as a family of 4! Eek! We were prepared for a few hard weeks of transition and endured them. The “honeymoon” stage of adoption had worn off, but we overcame some trials and things seemed to be going smoothly. Finally, we were able to live “happily ever after” like it always seemed would happen. You know… People spend long, hard, trying years in adopting a child. They usually have an abundant amount of support and prayers and encouragement during those times. And once they bring them home, many people stop the prayers, thinking “Things are perfect! Their children are home now! And now they will live happily ever after!”

But… We only thought the adoption process was the hard part. Did you know that once the newness of bringing them home wears off, they struggle with loving you and YOU struggle with loving THEM! I can almost hear you gasping “What? You struggled with loving those two beautiful boys? The boys you advocated for? The boys you wanted home so desperately?” Yep. Those boys… Loving a complete stranger does not come naturally. Yes, they were strangers. They were strangers in our home and in our family. Crazy sounding, huh? They had to learn about us and get to know us. We had to learn about them and get to know them. We had to become the parents of a 15 month old and a 6 year old. To two boys who have not been in a family setting for a long, long time… Loving them took time. Them loving us? Took time… It was hard. I felt alone and SAD. These weird feelings of sadness and questions of what were we doing began to take over… I wasn’t aware of the fairly “normal” post adoption depression. Why? Because it’s rarely talked about! But after speaking up and talking to other adoptive mommas, I quickly found out that these feelings were NORMAL. These feelings happened to just about every adoptive parent (AND adoptive siblings!). It was reassuring to me… After a couple months, things began to improve, my feelings began to change and I began to truly enjoy my boys and we were on our way to “happily ever after”.  Six months into our “happily ever after” things changed. Radically changed. And for lack of better words, I felt like I was in a living hell… My sweet not even 2 year old boy began to change drastically. He used to be a momma’s boy, loving me, wanting only me... To be honest, I forget exactly what he was like, because here we are now 18 months past the radical change and he’s still not that boy he once was….

5+ months into those hard times, I finally began to Google, trying anything to see about getting help. There was something wrong. Very wrong. This was not typical 2’s tantrums. After assessments, questionnaires and talking to attachment counselors/therapists we had a diagnosis. RAD. Reactive Attachment Disorder they said. Finally. An answer. Something to go by. RAD. How could 3 letters make such a “RAD-ical” change in our life? The great thing was that we could finally start getting help and a therapist would begin coming to our house once a week. I was hopeful that things would finally improve. I prayed for change. I prayed that things would begin to get better within 3 months. Little goals helped me endure the living hell. 3 months passed. No better. 6 months passed. Still no change. I had been pregnant during some of that time and I prayed things would get better by the time we had our sweet baby girl. October 8, 2013 came and our baby girl entered the world. Things at home continued to be rough. Dealing with a newborn and a RADical child was a struggle… “A year,” I said. “Things have to be better after a year of his diagnosis! That’d be 18 months of him being home!” A year came and went and I began to feel discouraged. I began to feel disheartened. I wanted to give up. I couldn’t handle this anymore. I couldn’t handle any of it. And I had to keep it all inside because no one knew what he was like. No one understood the effects of RAD. Even those closest to us. They only saw a sweet, charming, happy little boy. They rarely, if ever, saw his fits. His rages. Where he’d be happy one minute, and the next I’d be sitting with him getting clawed at, slapped, kicked, or bitten. It was hard to stay silent, but I knew I needed to. If I said anything, that could turn people from adoption! I still cared about adoption and how God’s Word said to care for the fatherless. I didn't want my experience to scare people from doing His command of caring for orphans… I spoke a little bit about it to some close friends and some adoption friends I trusted. Found someone who was going through something similar and she became my venting partner . It got worse and got harder for me to keep quiet. I became a ticking time bomb and began to get depressed. So. Very. Depressed. I felt alone. I felt so completely alone, despite being in a house with 5 other children and a wonderfully, amazing husband who did everything he could to get me through this. There were times that I didn’t think I’d ever make it through and I wanted to just quit. With EVERYTHING… I never imagined I could get to such a low point. But I did. And then I’d hold my sweet baby girl in my arms who would just stare deep into my eyes and seemed to bore through my soul. She was worth it. She was worth continuing the fight. My older kids were worth it. My husband was worth it. And yes, Eyob. The little boy who seemed to hate me and want nothing to do with me was worth it. I began to speak up and wrote a blog post about RAD and what it was ( People were amazed and many had no idea… At that point in my life, I thought nothing could get worse!

Boy was I wrong… Within 2 months, things piled on. We went on a vacation to Nashville(okay, really, we just tagged along with Michael on one of his work conferences). We thought it would be great to get away and enjoy some great family time and do lots of fun stuff. Unfortunately, it was awful. The change in location/scenery/time/sensory/etc. caused Eyob to freak. I quickly found myself sitting in a hotel room having to hold Eyob down for hours while he threw fit after fit after fit. That was the first time he began acting out to more than just me and he hit Mireya (5 months at the time). The only good part of the trip was getting to see Michael’s parents, who got to meet Mireya, Mikiyas, and Eyob for the first time. Eyob was great around them (like he always is with other people, especially new ones!).  After that, things piled on more and more. The day after we returned home (after a looooong drive home with me having food poisoning ALL the way home….), Mireya began throwing up blood. She was transferred to a Children’s Hospital and was admitted for a couple days for testing. A couple weeks after that, we discovered our 5 year old son suddenly was blind in one eye. Turned out to be a detached retina in which he has since undergone 2 surgeries and we are looking at one or two more in the fall/winter. Mireya continued throwing up blood, we continued having tests with her (eventually finding out she has a milk protein allergy which caused an esophageal tear). I was having thyroid issues. And then Mireya was having breathing issues – turns out she has RAD (only a different type of RAD – Reactive Airways Disease). It was just problem after problem after problem. All these appointments were rough on all of us, but for a little boy who struggles with “go with the flow” and any change in routine, it was hard. The only way he knew how to react was to fight. And he fought. And fought. And fought. I thought a year and a half ago, when he first started the RAD symptoms, was hard. I never imagined it could get what seemed like 1000x worse… But it did. He began acting out more to others, and not just me. His siblings, specifically Mireya. It got to the point where I couldn’t ever leave her out of my sight because I had no idea what would be done. She’s become such a momma’s girl, partly due to me providing her sole nutrition, and partly because she is either constantly attached to me or within my view… For her safety…
At that point, I realized I could not continue this. Along with the RAD, he was significantly delayed in speech. He had been receiving speech therapy for a year, but he still only spoke at about an 18-24 month old level. He was 3 years old. I couldn’t be the mom that all the other kids needed me to be because I was so focused on Eyob and the RAD. I couldn’t be the mom I needed to be for Eyob because dealing with a tantrum-ing three year old abusive child for hours every. single. day got long. Got tiring. And made a mom who became impatient. Made an angry mom. Made a mom who could barely look at her son. I could deal with his tantrums for the majority of the day, but by the afternoon or evening I was done, and to be honest – wanted nothing to do with him. That’s when I couldn’t become the wife Michael needed me to be. I was sad and defeated every single night. Yes, I’d still have supper on the table and the house cleaned for the most part… But gone were the days of coming home to a happy wife. Gone were the days of coming home to a cheerful greeting. These were days of him coming home to a tear stained, frustrated, hopeless wife… I couldn’t continue going on like this, and that’s when we learned he would qualify for all day preschool in the public school system due to his speech delays. I jumped at the opportunity. I never wanted to be *that mom* who counted down the days until my kids would start school… I was a homeschooling mom, so was used to my kids always being home and loved it… But that changed and I couldn’t wait for Eyob to start school and for me to get a break…
School started and I think I was the only mom in his school who was not sad. I was rejoicing. I was rejoicing the fact that I did it. I survived. I survived one and a half years of what seemed like pure hell. I was proud. Proud of myself. Proud of my family. Proud that we did it!! And now. Finally. After one and a half years. I was getting a break…

It has been two weeks since school started and I've learned a lot these past two weeks. I’ve realized that just because you’re following God’s call for your life, your life won’t be easy. Many people tend to think “Oh, I have God in my life. Things will go great now!” My life is living proof that it won’t. My life is living proof that following God does not equal happily ever after. Following God will sometimes make your life harder than you ever could have imagined! But… I’m so thankful for His promises like in James 1:12:

"God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward They will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." 

Or 1 Peter 5:7-10 
"Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation."

 I realized that through these hard times, I actually became further and further from God. Satan was using Eyob’s tantrums and Eyob’s RAD as a distraction. As a distraction from God’s hope. I had spiraled deeper and deeper into a depression forgetting that I WASN’T alone! That my Lord and Savior was there to support me. To strengthen me. To restore me!! I know that God will use these trials for His glory! He has used EVERY single trial in the past for good. He WILL do the same with this. 

While things are still difficult when Eyob gets home from school and we’ve started some other issues, I’m able to be a better mom to him. I didn’t realize how dealing with fits all day every day had really effected me and pushed me further and further from being the mom I wanted to be. A day or two after Eyob started school, Mikiyas came up to me and said “Mommy? What’s wrong?” And I looked at him confused and questioned him “What do you mean? Nothing’s wrong!” And his reply stunned me. “You look different. You’re happy!” I didn’t realize how I had allowed RAD to steal my joy. 

Do I regret what we did 2 years ago? Absolutely not! Has it been hard? Harder than I ever could have imagined…. I couldn’t have survived if it weren’t for God and His amazing grace! I have learned to “rejoice in confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” (Romans 12:12) All this to say, do I still recommend adoption? You betcha! Adoption is amazing. Yes, adoption comes with hard trials and while I struggle with Eyob, I am thankful. Thankful that he has the ability to call me mommy. Thankful that Mikiyas is able to call me mommy. Thankful that they are in a family. Thankful that they are able to have brothers and sisters. Thankful that they are able to grow up to know God. Thankful that they are able to get good medical care. It’s truly amazing to see what all we have overcome in two years and how while our struggles still continue, we can continue to rejoice in confident hope!! 

I’m not going to let RAD keep me from sharing just how important orphan care is. I’m not going to let RAD keep me from sharing about HIV adoption, because God wants us to use our adoptions to educate and to bring awareness! Am I going to keep quiet about RAD? NO. It’s something not many talk about and I feel it is important to bring that up so many others don’t feel alone like I once did…

Bringing home Mikiyas and Eyob two years ago was one of the hardest things we've done, but it’s been one of the best things we've done. I know that God is developing a great endurance in our family… “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-5)

***If you are dealing with RAD, please know, you are NOT alone. I know how hard it is and how easy it is to want to give up. Please speak up. Don’t hold it in. Don’t feel afraid to share with someone. It is SO important to get help. For you. For your child. Don’t try to endure it all alone. If you need to talk to anyone, please feel free to email me at

In honor of bringing them home two years ago... Here's our homecoming video!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Our RADical life. Something not much talked about...

So, after a long, hard, trying week, I decided I need to blog about it.... About our RADical life. Radical... Hey- that's one of my favorite books by David Platt! But I'm not talking about that kind of radical. Not the wow-my-life-is-rad-dude! kind of radical either...

This is NOT to scare adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents. This is for awareness. This is for those adoptive mommas (or daddies!) who feel alone. This is for family and friends who know someone who has a child with RAD, but you don't quite understand... When you adopt, it's usually required to take a few online courses on parenting and attachment related topics, but to be honest, there isn't a lot talked about with RAD, especially from adoptive parents. From my personal experience, it's because it's hard to talk about a side of your child that hardly anyone else sees. I also fear that it will turn people away from adoption. But I've realized that it's important to talk about. It's important for people to know and understand and for other parents going through RAD that they are not alone. It's also important for family members and friends to realize what is going on at home, how to help and things not to do.

So here we go... RAD. What is it? RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder and is most common in adopted or foster children. "RAD kids have learned that the world is unsafe, and that the adults around them can’t be trusted to meet their needs. They have developed a protective shell around their emotions, isolating themselves from dependency on adult caregivers. Rather than depending on their parents or other adults to protect them, the protective shell becomes the child’s only means of coping with the world. Dependent only upon themselves for protection, they come to see anyone who is trying to remove this protective barrier as a threat, not to their emotional well being, but to their very lives. They turn on those who seek to help them the most."

This explains my everyday life as Eyob's mom. It's not uncommon for our day to be filled with screaming tantrums that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour. It can occur over just about anything. Asking him not to poke our cat's eyes, telling him to please put his pants on, suggesting for him to play with a toy (any toy!), not allowing him to go out the front door on his own... Literally anything can stir up a control issue, resulting in a screaming fit where sometimes he can try to hit or kick, and if not me, then he turns on himself and will try to throw himself on the floor, bang his face on the floor or even run into a wall. This is why it's not unusual for him to have a bruise on his forehead or a bloodied lip.  Then after the fit, he can do a 180 and be perfectly fine and normal again as if nothing ever happened, just for it to start over again sometimes just 5 minutes later. It began to be normal for this to happen 10, 15, 20 plus times a day. I thought I was doing something wrong, because it seemed like no matter what I did. No matter what I provided, not matter how much I tried to love him, to show him I loved him... Nothing helped. Nothing worked. The more I tried to show love, the worse it seemed to get...

For many of you who know Eyob, this probably sounds like a completely different child to you... He is known for his sweet, charming attitude and his cute, flirty smile and eyes. He is one of the most "loving" little boys. To everyone else, but me. This is a common symptom of RAD.

"Superficially charming and engaging, particularly around strangers or those 
who they feel they can manipulate 

Indiscriminate affection, often to strangers; but not affectionate on parent’s terms"

It was so hard to see how it seemed like he wanted nothing to do with me, but any chance he'd get, he would go to any other person, especially women. Even strangers! And he would be the sweet, loving little boy I had fallen in love with when we first brought him home. Everyone at church would tell me what an amazing little boy he was and how much they loved him and how lucky I was to have such a good little boy! I'd politely smile, try to say thank you and walk away, with my heart in my throat, wishing desperately that the little boy they saw was that same child to me at home. This is why it was hard for me to talk about in the beginning. I went months without saying anything, not even to Michael, because even HE never saw that side of Eyob. I thought it was just a phase or that it was because he was nearing his twos. As the months went by of no improvement, I began to feel like I was in a dark, lonely place in my life. I opened up to Michael when he began to see issues with Eyob. And I began to question our adoption and to be honest, I began to question my faith. I knew without a doubt that we had done God's will and purpose for our life, but the human side of me wondered, "God, I did what you asked me to do! Why is this happening? This isn't what it was supposed to be like!"  It wasn't unusual for Michael to come home, ask me how my day was and for me to burst into a sobbing, crying mess. I thank the Lord everyday for such an awesome husband... Many days he didn't even have to ask. One look into my eyes and he knew. And that sweet man, full of grace and understanding, would quietly bring me into our bedroom, tell me to lay down and he'd go out, shut the door and take over, fixing supper and taking care of the kids. Other times he would hold me and let me cry and just pray, when I felt like I could no longer pray.

As I questioned God and His perfect plan and purpose, He began to reveal to me that, yes, adoption is a beautiful thing, but also reminded me that adoption must occur because we live in a fallen, sin-filled world. The cause and need for adoption is due to death, abandonment, sickness, disease, tragedy, heartache, and just awful situations. God never said "Adopt these two beautiful boys and your life will be great, perfect and easy." God said "Adopt these two precious boys that I love so much and your life will be great, but difficult. Your life will be amazing and beautiful, but filled with heart wrenching stories, backgrounds and trials. You, Amanda... YOU will get to witness what true unconditional love is like. YOU will get to witness what it is like to love a child who doesn't love you back, who fights you, who feels like they don't need you. Just remember. You are not alone. I am with you. And most of all: I understand... More than you could ever know. I understand! "

Day after day, I'd silently wish for the day to hurry so bedtime would come, and yet dread morning, knowing it would all start over again. Fits. Screaming. Hitting. Kicking. Trying to protect him from hurting himself. Fits over nothing. He'd sit in front of me rocking, screaming, and crying, not allowing me to even touch him, as I'd quietly tell him over and over "It's okay, Eyob. Mommies touch. It's okay, Eyob. Mommies hug. It's okay, Eyob. Mommies LOVE. It's okay, Eyob. Mommies hold." As he continually screamed and revolted at a single fingertip touch to his arm or cheek, as if it burned his skin. His eyes glazed over. For minutes. For hours. And then all of a sudden, a blink, eyes cleared, screaming stopped, and touch was okay. For a little while. Until it all started over again. That was/is my day, repeated over and over...

A song struck me once months ago in the van... "Oceans" by Hillsong. The lyrics stood out to me and it felt as if this was the song I needed to be singing, as I drove home in tears...

"You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior"

I began to open up and found out that I actually wasn't alone... I knew that God has never failed us, especially during our adoption process and He would certainly not fail me now in the midst of hard times. I began to realize that what Eyob was doing wasn't "normal" so to speak. We eventually took him to be assessed by a specialist who almost immediately diagnosed him with RAD as he met almost every one of the signs/symptoms such as:

  • Superficially charming and engaging, particularly around strangers or those who they feel they can manipulate
  • Indiscriminate affection, often to strangers; but not affectionate on parent’s terms
  • Problems making eye contact
  • A severe need to control everything and everyone; worsens as the child gets older
  • Hypervigilant
  • Frequent tantrums or rage, often over trivial issues
  • Demanding or clingy, often at inappropriate times
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Destructive to property or self
  • Abnormal speech patterns; uninterested in learning communication skills
  • Developmental / Learning delays
  • Problems with food; either hoarding it or refusing to eat
  • Sneaks things without permission even if he could have had them by asking
  • Triangulation of adults; pitting one against the other
  • A darkness behind the eyes when raging (this is one of the biggest things that triggered to us that something was not right. His eyes would almost glass over)

Many wonder how Eyob has it when he is so little. RAD can come at ANY age. And you must remember, that for the first months of his life, his needs were never met. It has been ingrained in his small little brain that none of his caregivers ever met all his needs. He wasn't always fed when he needed it. He wasn't always held when he needed it. He was never left with ONE person. People came and went in his short little life. His brain is telling him that he shouldn't get close to me. I will eventually leave or eventually I won't meet the needs he has. RAD can literally be a coping mechanism! He cannot trust me and is too scared to try...

We were assigned with an attachment therapist and I began to feel a little more hope. We've been having therapy for a couple months now. While we still don't have much improvement, I still have hope that things will eventually get better. Despite that hope, I still struggle a lot with hard days. It's normal for a mom to have hard days... And with being a mom to 5 little ones under the age of 7, having a newborn (which results in many sleepless nights), homeschooling 2 of the older ones, dealing with just everyday life as a mom and wife, and then throwing in RAD? It'd hard, to say the least. This past week was a particularly difficult week. His tempers had increased and you can see some bruises, scratch marks and bites on me from him... But I have hope. Hope in Jesus Christ. Hope that love will conquer all. I will admit, though. Loving unconditionally has been hard, and I sometimes do a terrible job at it. I'm thankful I get to retry every single day, though, and I pray that God will teach me to love like Him... And as crazy as it sounds, I'm thankful for the opportunity for God to break me from my content attitude and humbling me to be able to be more like Him... And totally thankful for Eyob... 

"A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me." - Jody Landers

I know we still have a long way to go, and I know that not everyday will I go forth with such a great attitude, but again, I'm thankful for His grace and am thankful that He is here by my side every step of the way. I'm thankful that "His grace abounds in deepest waters, His sovereign hand will be my guide. Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, He has never failed and He won't start now." 

***** ~ ****** ~ ****** ~ ******~*****

Are you a friend or family member to someone you know who is dealing with a child with RAD? Wondering what you can do to help? Here are some ideas:

What to do:
Pray. Pray from afar, pray over the RAD child, pray for the parents. Cover them in prayer as often as they come to mind. I truly believe RAD is Satan's way of fighting against adoption... 

If they're having a hard day, bring them a meal. Believe me, at the end of a difficult day, it's almost all you can do to function enough to think about food. Often times, I want to curl up in a ball and hide in my closet! But that could just be me and my coping mechanism! ;) My sister has done that for me after a really hard day. It meant more to me than I think she realizes... Especially knowing she is busy herself, as a mom of 4!

Watch their kids for an hour or two so they can have a break. Seriously, breaks are needed SO much for the well being and sanity of the main caregiver. A day of constant crying, tantrum-ing, screaming, and attachment issues can wear down a mom/dad quickly, but dealing with that day in and day out can drain a person more than you can imagine... Trust me! So an hour or even an evening out for RAD mom and/or dad is great! 

Be supportive and encouraging. Let them vent or talk without casting any sort of judgement. Encourage them and tell them they are doing great. Chances are, they feel like they're not. Chances are, they feel like one of the worst parents in the world. Even if they may not believe you, the encouraging words help.

What to NOT do:
If RAD child is in the middle of a tantrum and you are there, walk away and let child and parent deal with it alone. If child goes to you, ignore and walk away. PLEASE let the caregiver deal with it. Remember that the child will try to manipulate anyone they think they can. They know they can't with mom/dad, so they may try to go to someone else. It's important for their attachment that only mom or dad deals with these tantrums and that you don't even look at or talk to RAD child and don't question the parenting techniques that are being used.

If you haven't been through it, don't say you understand. I haven't dealt with that, but some have, and not only is it frustrating, but it can be discouraging. It's nothing like a normal two or three year old temper tantrum. It may seem like it to you, but there's much more to a RAD tantrum than that. 

If the parents are there, do not give RAD child food, drinks, change their diapers, etc. This is an attachment thing in general, not just for RAD kids, but for all adopted kids. It's SO important for the child (whether a baby or a big kid!) to understand and learn that their needs of food, water, clothing, love, and more comes from Mommy and Daddy. No one else. It's very common for RAD children to "mommy shop", meaning shopping for another mom (or dad) who will give into their every want and it's common for RAD child to go around a room "begging" and putting on their sweet, flirty face trying to find out who will give them what they want. For example, if RAD child asks you for a cookie, please say something similar to "I'm sorry *insert name*, but I can't give that to you. Go ask your Mommy/Daddy! They give you cookies. Not me!" 

You may be in a store and see a tantrum-ing child. Don't always assume it's a "bratty spoiled child".... It very well could be. Or it could be just a tired, overwhelmed child. Or there may be other underlying issues, like a child with RAD. Instead of giving disapproving stares, whispers and pointing fingers, I'd really encourage you to instead give mom a gentle pat on the shoulder and say "It's okay, momma!" and walk away. Believe me, the last thing you need is a stern, judgmental stare when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and cry in the middle of the store, knowing there's nothing you can do to stop said child from their fit. And being a mom with 5 little ones, including a newborn, when you're by yourself in a store with all the kids, it's not easy to take all 5 of them out of the store at the time, and many times the fit must be dealt with in store (or doctors office, waiting room, etc.).