Becoming Thankful

Our summer was magic. I wasn’t ready for it to end. For many reasons it was a new beginning for us. We have started a new era as a family. We are done with baby gear, for one. I’ve kept a stroller for long walks and a booster seat, just in case, but all things baby related are out of the house. Essential oils have played a major role in the peace and awareness that is in our family now. We have a new, calmer normal. Sofie’s behaviours have been curbed and her abilities have sky rocketed. We are all functioning as better versions of ourselves. We are feeling how we want to feel. We are leaning into the emotions more. Becoming who we want to be.

Myself, in particular, has been changing. I’m on an interesting journey right now. Jon actually worded it beautifully. He said “you’re just letting more people see the real you.” (He’s generally not the most romantic, so this made me swoon.) My wall is coming down. I actually texted one of my good friends, after I started noticing people approaching me more, that it was scary! I’m still not sure how I completely feel about all this connecting. I like my protective wall! It’s easier. I’ve never been someone who is very approachable. My wall has served me well!

I’m realizing what being vulnerable really means. I thought authenticity and vulnerability were more similar than they actually are. I thought, in order to be authentic I was already vulnerable because I felt like I was laying myself out there already. I used authenticity as a way to challenge people to judge me and keep people at bay. It worked. In turn, I felt justified to judge them. Authenticity is something that I truly value. Part of my core beliefs. I didn’t fully understand it though. I’m embracing my journey of becoming through vulnerability. I’m realizing, in order to truly be authentic, I have to be vulnerable. It’s an easier choice to make now that I understand it.

With vulnerability and real authenticity working so well together, now comes true gratitude. I’m feeling real gratitude now. Living it. Giving voice to it…

On this Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend, I’m thankful for a lot. Here is me giving voice to it. I’m thankful for:

  • My compassionate, thoughtful, insightful, balancing husband. He’s a ridiculously incredible, capable father and we do life so well together.
  • My Livi. Her heart is pure gold. She is compassionate, kind, emotionally wise beyond her years and gentle. She is quite possibly the best big sister I’ve ever met and I don’t know what I did to deserve such a precious, sensitive soul in my life. I love her goofiness and willingness to help anyone.
  • My Sofie. She is my brave, warrior princess who could survive anything! I am always astounded at her ability to overcome on a daily basis. I love her dance moves, joy and empathy.
  • My Evelyn. This kid has enough passion in her to fill a stadium. She is my experiential learner and as scary as that is for me it really is so very beautiful. She is independent and keeps trying even when its hard. I love her humour and how she says “well….” before answering a question.
  • Livi’s grade 2 teacher, Mrs. N. Livi has come home every day since school started with wonderful stories about how much she loves grade 2! Her favourite subject is now writing, which was her least favourite last year! She told me she LOVES Mrs. N! One of the most beautiful things I’ve heard is that they end each day going around thanking a classmate for something! I feel like this might be a magic year for Livi.
  • Sofie’s EA, Mrs. I. This is her 3rd year with Sofie and I think this is the best year yet! She is thoughtful, kind and patient. She loves Sofie and Sofie loves her!
  • For Sofie’s ENT and Anesthesiologist during her tonsil and adenoid surgery last week. Here is the full story..

When Sofie had tubes put in over a year ago she was already stirring before we were in the recovery room. She metabolizes anesthetic and freezing very fast. She woke up in a sterile environment, in a bed with bars, with nurses caring for her and no mommy and daddy… just like in the orphanage. She screamed and thrashed and fought and raged for 3 hours, until Jon and I decided to just take her home and hope that calmed her down. The nurses didn’t know what to do for her anyway. The second we stepped outside of the doors of the hospital she started to calm down.

I was TERRIFIED we would have a repeat experience and didn’t have the option of going home this time, since we were planning to stay at least one night. I asked, begged, pleaded with anyone who would listen that we be let in the recovery the second she is there too. My doctor listened and heard me and know I wasn’t crazy but said he didn’t have the control once the surgery was over. I teared up imploring the anesthesiologist student who was the first one I felt really listened and understood. She brought out the head anesthesiologist who cam up with a plan to get us in recovery asap and try a bit of a different med cocktail. I was thankful but still very anxious.

Then the most cathartic, beautiful, respectful gift was given to us… the doctor came out to update us that everything went fine and brought me back in to the operating room while she was still intubated. Walking in, I knew this was an honour. I knew not all parents could handle seeing their child like this… blood still being cleaned up and a tube breathing for them. I knew that our ENT had talked with the anesthesiologist and told him our concerns where not false and I was not a helicopter parent. I knew the anesthesiologist was the one in charge and allowing me to be there in this moment.

They say people don’t remember what happens that early from waking up but I know Sofie could feel my presence and was comforted. She started to stir with the tube still in her throat and bolted to a sitting position, not uncommon for this med cocktail, I was told. Blood spilled out while they removed the tube and she leaned in to me, not the nurse, as we were on either side of her. I fully believe she felt my energy even if she wasn’t conscious of it.

I was allowed to carry her from the operating room to recovery. This is where it all hit me. She was waking up. She wasn’t crying. She felt safe. I was so honoured and respected by the operating staff at Children’s hospital.  Sofie was in my arms and the team was walking with me down the hall. It was cleansing for both of us, from the trauma we experienced last time. Tears of thankfulness were welling in my eyes and I still don’t think I adequately expressed how grateful I was through my awe.

And through it all… Sofie didn’t cry. Not once. Just shows how attachment is SO vital in so many areas of life.

  • For my family and their ability to always make me feel loved! One sister brings me tea and baking often and makes herself available for errands when I need. My other sister helps with childcare as often as she can. My mom is beyond incredible and helps with everything. She taught me how to be a mom and even had a pot of delicious vegetable soup for our dinner the night we came home from the hospital.
  • For the friends who have been part of my journey this summer. It’s been pretty rad and they have been my sounding boards, my supporters and my challengers.
  • For tea. Need I say more?
  • For a beautiful house, in a beautiful city, in the most beautiful province in the most beautiful country.
  • For essential oils that help facilitate positive mental health and good physical health!
  • For courage and creativity and communication and strength and vulnerability and authenticity and for becoming.
  • For my journey. I don’t know why now is the time… but I’m thankful. I’m excited. I’m scared. And I think I’m ready.
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4 Years Home and the Anniversary Reaction

4 years ago we brought Sofie home.

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August 1st we met her in the orphanage and spent every morning and afternoon with her until August 4th when we took her out of the orphanage doors and she was ours forever! We had to spend 9 days waiting for paper work to come from the embassy and got home on August 14th after the most hellish 24hrs of travel we’ve ever experienced. Sofie only slept 2 hours of those 24 and not all in one chunk. She was hyper aware of everything and her little body could barely handle it.

Even though these 2 weeks ended in the best possible outcome for Sofie, a family, they were traumatic. She had never been outside the orphanage walls except once to go get her passport photo taken. Usually she wasn’t even out of her crib. Everything was new. Nothing was familiar. Everything was terrifying and too much to comprehend. She was in fight or flight mode and when she was overstimulated she would retreat into herself. It was heartbreaking to watch. She handled it all as best as she could but she had absolutely no tools to be able to process her new experiences and she was further traumatized, which added to the abuse and neglect she suffered from the orphanage.

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Meeting Sofie August 1, 2011

Every year since August 20111, a switch seems to go off in Sofie on August 1 and her behaviours are magnified between August 1-14. It’s a fascinating and frustrating phenomenon. Her bad behaviour happens more often and worse. She hits and yells more. She seeks sensory input way more by touching everything she walks by. She can’t sit still. She throws things more. More impulsive. More tired. Less ability to make good choices. She is in fight or flight mode again. And the kicker… poop. She ALWAYS has a poop smearing incident, or nine, in these two weeks.

I have always just known it to be how trauma works. My sister would get sick every Christmas because Christmas growing up had more stress and fighting than peace and love. My husband would get grumpy, tired and irritable every year in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of his father’s death. I had never really looked in to the research behind it until a friend asked me for more of an explanation.

There is an actual name for it! It’s called the Anniversary Reaction or Anniversary Effect. HERE is an article Huffington Post circulated that does a decent job of explaining it.

“Anniversary reactions are considered the re-experience of a prior traumatic event — a death, a disaster or an individual tragedy. They are triggered by a specific date or event that strikes a chord deep inside our minds, which can be a traumatic portal to the past. A birthday, a notable date or a holiday can link to an earlier moment in our lives that was full of trouble, hurt or conflict. When they do occur, a person who may be highly functioning can be overcome and feel powerlessness, even immobilized.” – Mastering the Anniversary Reaction

I would push this Anniversary Reaction theory a little further and include the theory that our cells can actually hold memory… though I couldn’t find a good article to reference in my quick 5 minute search.

The Anniversary Reaction can improve. Over time we heal. Jon no longer is depressed for 2 weeks leading up to his father’s death anniversary. My sister no longer throws up at Christmas. Sofie’s “trauma week” (as I call these two week in August) are much more mild than they used to be.

These 14 days were once filled with countless poop smearing episodes, hitting, screaming, throwing, destroying, pulling hair, anxiety, silence from Sofie and crying from me. It’s not like that anymore.

This year, year 4, is better, but still bad. Sofie being unable to sit still or handle too much stimulation for the first 4 days. She was extra tired at the end of each day and would touch and hit everything for sensory input, not to hurt people. She did trash my mom’s house the first day but didn’t actually destroy too much. After day 4 she calmed down. We only noticed extra rocking (the ‘orphan stim’ rock she occasionally does) and teeth grinding. I thought I was in the clear this year! I thought we had healed enough to bypass any poop incident!

Unfortunately I thought wrong…. We are on the last day of “trauma week” and woke up to the pungent smell of poop. It was epic. I should have known that a final climax might be in the works. Our last 24hrs 4 years ago was trauma for us all, but especially Sofie. It was the climax back then and it is again this year.

Sofie is healing. I hate what being an orphan did to her. I hate what she had to go through. If I sit and think about it too much I get so angry and sad. Thankfully, each year gets a little bit better. We have a mantra each day that I go through with her in ‘trauma week’. I tell her that she is safe and then we go through all the people who love her, and she is SO LOVED! I think it helps.

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4 years ago we started the most amazing journey. I can’t imagine our lives without her. I would be quite bored I think. Her Anniversary Reaction is completely worth it for all the smiles, dancing, hugs, hair playing, joy, and love we receive the rest of the year.

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Cuddling on the couch a few days ago Livi gave Sofie a big hug and said “I would definitely not be this happy without Sofie.” Queue my heart melting…. until she followed it up with “who would I watch movies with?”

Oils and Sofie

Down Syndrome is not a disease, disorder, or defect. The extra chromosomes attached to the 21st chromosomes effects all the individuals with DS differently. Commonly, though, it does effect their brain function and learning style, with great variance. Down Syndrome is a genetic occurrence that often results in a global developmental delay, predisposition to varying medical conditions, and disinclination to other certain medical conditions.

The brain of people with Down Syndrome grows differently. Its size is generally smaller, its shape is altered, and its function develops differently than a genetically typical person. Interestingly, at 4 months old a child with DS has a very similar dendritic tree to his peers. Dendrites are the branches that basically grow and reach out receive information from other neurons and feed it back to its cell body. They are essential in learning and memory. In the first year of a child with DS, his dendrites stop growing and become almost atrophic.  (HERE is a super clinical, very medically written article that explains some of the science I just mentioned. *Disclaimer* It uses the R-word as it is still accepted and in some cases required in the medical field*)

Stress affects kids brains negatively. (You can read a less clinically written article about this claim HERE.) Brain matter is reduced, cells age faster, cognition and memory recall is impaired and hormones are released that can effect the entire body.

We have even more to consider when we think about institutionalized children (children from orphanages) and brain function. Due to neglect, abuse and malnutrition they show deficits in memory, attention, inhibition control, language and learning (HERE is another clinical read).

Sofie falls in to all of these categories. She is a post-institutionalized child with Down Syndrome who has experienced prolonged stress and trauma. Her brain was always in fight or flight mode when we first got her. It didn’t function the way her typical peers brains did because of all these factors mentioned above. Thanks to stability, nutrition, love, family and therapy Sofie has come a long way in these past 4 years, but she still has difficulties. Her brain function is still affected. Down Syndrome and trauma lend to a smaller brain size and her dendritic branches not receiving info well which makes it difficult for her to learn.

Just over 5 weeks ago we started using essential oils. We put some oils in a roller ball that we thought would be beneficial and we let her choose some oils that she liked the smell off. We thought letting her body/brain choose what she needed would be the most beneficial. Jon was not convinced she’d be able to tell us but her choices where clear. She pushed away some oils and grabbed at others.

The oils she LOVED were the Lemon and Lemongrass. Lemon cleanses and purifies. It is also great for cognitive ability and uplifting mood. Lemongrass is similar to lemon but aids specifically to awareness and positivity. Interestingly lemongrass is known to help with the symptoms of hypothyroidism, something that is very common in people with DS. She also liked patchouli which is a grounding and emotionally regulating oil.

There are two oils that we added because of their known benefits. Vetiver, a wonder oil for sensory issues with a calming and grounding effect. Frankincense is the oil that is proving to be the real gift from God! The wise men got it right when they brought it for baby Jesus! Studies are being done on Frankincense and it’s amazing qualities. (Check out a write up on some of the studies HERE) Some research has found Frankincense actually grows dendritic branches. Those branches that receive information so vital in the process of learning. Those same branches that become atrophic in kids with DS at a very early age. Amazing to me!

I can’t deny the impact these oils have had on Sofie. She has been using this rollerball for just over 5 weeks now and is learning and developing at an incredible rate! A growth spurt for her has never lasted this long or covered so many areas.

  • Day 1 she was able to think clearly enough to respond appropriately to a flash card test at her hearing appointment. It was a test she had never been able to do before.
  • Day 5 she started feeding herself breakfast. She has not fed herself breakfast before 9 am in years! She usually takes a while to wake up and get going.
  • Week 2 there had been enough awesome days in a row at school to mention that something was different, aside from issues around a specific EA that she was not happy with.
  • Week 2 we saw Sofie talking way more, not yelling so much, thinking before doing things, and generally being more alert and responsive.
  • Week 3 we were in the middle of a crazy 12 day schedule with over 30 appointments and obligations. Sofie sat patiently, quietly and respectfully for hours in waiting rooms, not typical for her. She was playing better with her sisters and eating dinner more appropriately.
  • Week 4 she started consistently using 3-4 word sentences and showing us obvious problem solving skills like getting herself another chair instead of fighting with her sister over one, and asking for her roller when she was feeling down and grumpy. She was showing us that she is recognizing the oils help her.
  • Week 5 she toilet trained herself! She decided she didn’t want her pull ups anymore and I rolled with it. She had 2 days of little drip accidents but would then race to the bathroom to finish. On day 3 & 4 she didn’t have any accidents, even used public washrooms! Toilet training kids with DS usually takes longer. Little drips are still occasionally happening but she is stopping it and holding her bladder until we get to a toilet! (She did already know how to use the toilet. She had her regular bm’s on the toilet every night but would not use the washroom for anything else.)

It’s just amazing to see what these oils have been doing for Sofie. There is another blog post HERE about essential oils and adopted children. It is a great resource too. From our experience I can see oils having so much potential for kids who have issues from adoption or foster care, kids with special needs, kids who have experienced trauma, kids like Sofie.

The oil quality does make a difference too. I use a much cheaper quality and brand of oils in my cleaning products and had diffused them a little bit for sleep seeing no results. DoTerra is great quality and I really like them because they indigenously source the plants. DoTerra’s main competitor green houses the plants in the States. I’m much more comfortable with getting a better quality plant from the source where they have grown for thousands of years. Others like the control the other company gets from the greenhouse. Whatever you are most comfortable with really. I also like that doTerra is seeing the potential in these oils for kids with special needs, specifically kids with autism, and partnering with organizations to assist with therapies! That alone is very encouraging!

Because of the amazing results we are seeing with Sofie we of course have started using the oils for the whole family. Jon has an anti-stress/balancing one. I use Balance and an uplifting/energizing blend. Livi and Evelyn use a balancing one for anxiety and moods and sometimes a sleep roller. Livi also uses cypress for bedwetting as well. We used it for 3 weeks before we saw any result but the fourth week she has been completely dry! This is the longest stint of no bed wetting in over a year! Maggy uses an Alzheimer’s blend and my mom uses deep blue for her pain and lavender for sleep. We have all seen results. It hasn’t been quite as magic for us as it has been for Sofie, but our house is calmer and more peaceful. Maggy is showing less symptoms. My mom is feeling better rested. I am too happy and thankful to be mad that I didn’t try doTerra oils earlier.

I am now officially selling these oils… I know, crazy. I’m not that person. I just can’t ignore what they can do for us and maybe you! I’m educating myself daily and eating all this knowledge up. If you want to talk about oils that might help you or if you want to try a roller ball blend let me know!