This month's blog entry was penned by guest blogger Jenny Wise from specialeducator.com.
Dealing with grief is one of the most traumatic experiences any person can face. The pain caused by loss affects not only those who knew the deceased but their friends and family members as well. Factor in the complications that come with parenting special needs children and the burden can strain even the stoutest soul. We can't erase your sadness or undo the past. We have no quick solutions or easy answers. But we can suggest options that might make the burden easier for you and your child to bear. Let's do that now.
Understanding the Mind of a Special Needs Person
Many factors make coping with loss profoundly difficult for those with special needs. These include:
● Impaired ability to process emotions. For example, autistic individuals often find themselves frustrated by circumstances most others regard as routine. A major life transition can overwhelm their cognitive processes, leading to verbal outbursts and other behavioral issues. As a parent, it's important for you to remember that these actions entail no disregard for your feelings. Your child is using the only coping mechanisms she has.
● Pronounced dependence. Persons with special needs need the help of caregivers to navigate their way through life, according to AARP. This dynamic can provoke deep set anxiety in your child, especially if the deceased was a source of aid or comfort.
● Limited emotional resources on the parent's part. We know what you're thinking: "I would do anything for my child, no matter how trying." We're not questioning your commitment; far from it. But all of us must face facts. Caring for a special needs person takes a lot out of anyone. The difficulties caused by a time of grief may exhaust your already limited reserves, unless you make time for yourself, more on that in a bit
Now that we've looked at the challenges before you, let's explore how to rise above them.
● Give yourself a break. It's easy to blame yourself if your behavior during hard times is less than ideal. But, as we pointed out before, you're only human. So stop punishing yourself. The fact that you care so much about your child shows you're a good person at heart.
● Find a support network. You're far from alone when it comes to have a special needs child. Millions of other Americans are going through similar trials. You can find advice, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on by linking up with other caregivers, either in person or online.
● Get professional help for your child. A capable grief counselor can make all the difference in the world to how things turn out for your child and yourself. If possible, choose a counselor who is trained in dealing with special needs people.
● Do what you can to provide for your children's needs over the long term. Not only will this provide solace to your child, it can help you to have control over the situation.Trust funds and other financial vehicles are options, not only for the wealthy, but for people of average means as well, according to Investopedia.
Healing Takes Time; Let It
There is no "normal" period of time for the grieving process, despite what you may hear or read online. Your emotions may range from calm acceptance one day to anger and despair the next; and that's okay. In the end you'll look back on this time as a period of discovery and growth for both your child and yourself. So keep your head up and your eyes on the future, knowing that this too shall pass.
In a few days we will celebrate that day set apart for us moms, Mother's Day. As busy as we sometimes feel our lives are, it is important to make sure we take the time to appreciate every aspect of our little ones lives., It may sound cliché, but the time really does go by faster than we think, and we need to make sure we pay attention and notice before we miss it. The following is from one of our clients trying to do just that:
"My daughter's birthday is June 10th. We decided on having a Rainbow Theme Birthday Party because she loves all sorts of colors as well as the My Little Pony Rainbow Dash. Birthday planning for a two-year-old party that arrives in June makes a mom reflect on how much her life has changed. There are so many firsts within the first two years of your child's life that it is amazing to watch. I thought the first year flew by fast, but I was wrong. My daughter has changed so much from year one to year two. She did her first trick-or-treat during Halloween, understood what opening presents at Christmas is, participated in her first egg-hunts, among so many other adventures. She has made new friends, gained more skills, and her vocabulary is sky-rocketing. She is our little sponge and she loves learning. I am so proud of her for trying new things and being excited when she gets it. She is in the process of learning numbers and alphabet. She is interested in learning about potty-training. She is everything girlie and more!
With Mother's Day approaching, I'm glad to say that she is the one that made me into a mom. She makes our world a little brighter and a lot more fun. I can't wait to see what's in store for Year Two and how much she grows. We know she is going to have Terrific Twos! If I could give my daughter three things, it would be: the confidence to always know her self-worth, the strength to chase her dreams, and the ability to know how truly, deeply loved she is."
Being a mom is hard work. There is no denying that fact. This Mother's Day may we urge you let go of the busyness and hard work of motherhood to reflect on those little ones that gave you a reason to celebrate this day. Take a breath and revel in the cliché. It really does go by too fast.
When looking up the meaning of Labor Day, one will find that on Google it states, "a public holiday or day of festivities held in honor of working people in the US & Canada on the first Monday in September." It is a day to relax with the family and friends as well as enjoying the nice fall weather. Labor Day is a day to recognize the hard work that people put into the community and remember the beginning of the Labor Movement. With being a first time mom, this year I've been thinking more on reflection on actual labor that moms go through. Every labor is different. Some are quick and natural, others are scary and cesarean. It all depends on how the baby wants to enter the world & each labor is a blessing no matter what the circumstances.
Here is my labor story: I started to get contractions on June 10th at midnight and they kept getting stronger so we drove to the hospital and got there at four in the morning. I found out that I was five centimeters dilated which was better than what I was at during my due date checkup five days before. We were supposed to have an induction day on June 12th, but baby girl was not going to wait anymore than she already did. I waited out having an epidural for five hours and received it at 9:00am. The epidural was one of the worst parts for me because I'm not a fan of big needles or doctors who try to tell jokes when you would rather get the procedure done and over with. Once the epidural was in, we waited. And waited. Waited some more with no more dilation progress. Nurses did the usual checkups, gave more pain meds, changed my position in the bed, yet still no progress. The doctor broke my water hoping more contractions would start. Around 3:45pm we started to notice the baby's heart monitor wasn't in a good spot. During the entire pregnancy she was near 140 bpm, and now her heart beat would drop around 60 and 90 then back up to 140. It continued like this for a few more minutes before my husband went to get a nurse to examine it. She said to keep watching and that she would get the doctor. We waited, but didn't like the looks of the numbers so my husband went to get the doctor this time. The doctor decided to do an emergency C-Section because he believed the baby was in distress and could have the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, which we eventually found out she did. They called for a C-Section at 4:15pm and our beautiful, healthy baby girl was born at 4:31pm on June 10th. The hospital staff had to put me completely under because of it being an emergency, so I didn't get to have that initial first meeting with my daughter when she was born. It took me awhile to wake up from the anesthesia. It was an hour and a half to be exact, before I was reunited with my husband and brand new daughter. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, but it was all worth it in the end.
Here is a quote by Jane Weideman that definitely fits this topic -- "Giving Birth Should Be Your Greatest Achievement, Not Your Greatest Fear". I can truly say that becoming a mom is the greatest achievement I have done. I have a wonderful life, loving husband, a great college education with three degrees, great family & friends, able to dream big, and most of all, enjoy a new chapter in my life with a sweet baby girl. My husband and I are so proud of all that our daughter has accomplished and she brightens our world everyday. We have so many dreams and goals for her future, and we are so blessed to call her "Ours". We look forward to every minute we have as a family and wouldn't change it for the world. The one day of labor turned into a birthday that we get to celebrate every year. It's a "Labor Day" that we will never forget because it changed our lives forever.
Nothing can quite compare you for motherhood. Even for those who always envisioned themselves as mothers from a young age, no amount of forethought, planning, or dreams can compare to the reality of welcoming a little one into your arms. One of our clients has touched on just this ideal in a beautifully written article. The remainder of this post will be turned over to her thoughts and experiences and she encourages each new mom, and perhaps even experienced mothers, to sit back and "cherish the MOMents".
"As a first time mom everything is brand new with all sorts of emotions. Time seems to go fast and slow all at the same time! I have always wanted children ever since I was a little girl playing with my dolls. When I found out I was pregnant I couldn't believe it! One of my goals and dreams was going to become a reality. My husband and I found out that we were going to have a little girl in January of 2015, and she arrived on June 10, 2015. That date changed our lives for the better and we can't picture our lives without her! She has hit so many milestones within her thirteen months of being born, and she is advancing with her learning abilities. It is absolutely wonderful to watch her grow and change into a beautiful little girl.
My favorite MOMents with her are making her smile and laugh, watching her play with her Daddy, watching her dance to music, babble and talk as if she has a story to tell, discovering a new talent or ability and my absolute favorites: big kisses, hugs, and her little voice saying Mama. There's nothing quite like it to have so much unconditional love for someone that is a part of you and your significant other. I love exploring the world through her eyes and capturing every little thing I can through videos and photographs.
Some advice I have for future mommies out there is to write in a journal throughout your pregnancy. It helps you get connected more with you little one. I wrote in a journal every other day, explaining what was going on in our lives while she was in my belly. I have two more pages to write in; one for her 10th birthday and one for her 16th birthday. I plan on giving it to her as a present on her 16th birthday. I try to stay in the MOMent as much as I can and cherish everything that comes out of the day!"
That phrase is often followed by squeals of delight and the pattering of little feet as children run to be scooped up in the loving arms of their father. However, not all children get to hear this phrase. For some, they are left wondering who daddy is, and why daddy isn't there. There is a troubling trend of fathers being absent in their children's lives, a trend that has long reaching consequences. Studies have shown that the absence of a father in a child's life can affect a child in a very negative way, and has further consequences on society. A report in 2011 in Psychology Today published these sobering statistics:
Beginning in October of 2015, the CPC has been offering the “Fatherhood Bootcamp” class to our male clients. This class provides new or expecting fathers with the skills and knowledge they need to help take care of their child. It also helps prepare them for when their children grow up, so they know what to expect and can lead their children down the right and righteous path. Most importantly, it teaches fathers how to love their children, and sacrifice themselves for their children just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Too many mothers have been forced to play the dual roles of mother and father. While single mothers usually strive to do all they can for their children, parenthood was never intended to be a job performed alone. Being a man is not easy. Being a father is more challenging. Being a godly father is even more challenging still. However, the rewards are exponentially greater than the challenges. Every father should experience the joy of scooping up their child and having little arms squeeze his neck; just as every child should be filled with joy, love, and excitement when they hear the words, “Daddy's home.”
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
(This blog entry was penned by one of our male volunteers.)
That title might sound a little strange at first, so let me begin by providing a little backstory. My four year old nephew loves dinosaurs. Now when I say he loves them, I mean he has a complete and total preoccupation with them that borders on obsession. It is actually quite impressive. He can tell you what kind the dinosaur is, when it lived, whether it was an herbivore or carnivore, and about any other tidbit of information you may ever want to know. I once made the mistake of calling a dinosaur he was playing with a Tyrannosaurus Rex when it was not one. He looked at me with his big blue eyes and effectively made me feel like an idiot with the retort, “I’m not playing with a T-Rex. This is an Indominus Rex.” Well then. Now I know.
My sister does a great job encouraging his passion. Coloring books, toys, and t-shirts adorned with dinosaurs galore fill his closet. This obsession with dinosaurs has caused a few headaches and embarrassment at times though. My personal favorite example of this would have to be the time my sister took my nephew for a walk down the main street in their small town. My nephew refused to answer to his name, and in fact would only respond with growls and roars. This would be okay had he not been roaring as loud as he could at every person they passed complete with dinosaur-style walking. If you can imagine an elongated, high stepping stride with hands drawn into his chest startling elderly women and making other toddlers cry as he roared in their faces.
As embarrassed as my sister may have been, I find the situation as equally wonderful. We are a society completely inundated with technology. This technology can be a great tool when it entertains and assists us. Yet, children today spend more time in front of a screen than ever before. My nephew’s dinosaur demonstration on the sidewalk was a display of creative and active play that seems to becoming more and more rare all the time. A generation ago screen time was limited to the television. Now in addition to watching televisions kids are surrounded by PlayStations, Xboxes, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, iPhones, tablets, laptops, and more. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children today now use electronics at a rate of more than four to five times the recommended allotment. When a child’s first reaction to “I’m bored,” is to grab the nearest electronic, then Houston, we have a problem.
Numerous studies show the undisputed benefits to creative and active play that just cannot be replicated by anything with a screen. On the other side on the coin, overexposure to electronics can have devastating effects on the developing brains of children. Between the ages of 0-2, children’s brains triple in size and continue at a rapid rate until age twenty-one. Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010). While that fact alone may seem scary, children who use too much technology also have higher rates of obesity, mental illness, aggression, addictions, and sleep deprivation (Anderson 2007, Rowan 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Tremblay 2011, Boston College 2012).
So, what exactly is creative play? Creative play includes games, painting, building, drawing, pretending, or any other artistic or imaginative activity. The benefits of creative play are endless. Specifically, creative play helps build intellectual curiosity in skills such as math, geometry, measurement, and more. The creative process helps kids develop critical thinking skills every time they ask themselves questions such as, “What color should I use when drawing this picture?” or “How high can I build this tower before it would fall over?” Physically, creative play helps small children master fine motor skills through actions like holding a paint brush or taking two Legos apart. In addition, creative play can give children a positive opportunity in which to express their feelings therefore promoting emotional well-being.
Active play has some of the same benefits as creative play. Playing outside gives children the opportunity to learn about nature and the world around them by exploring. Active kids have far less rates of obesity and juvenile diabetes (Tremblay 2011). In fact, kids with an electronic device in their bedroom are 30% more likely to be obese (Feng 2011). Team sports or other athletic opportunities not only possess the obvious physical benefits such as gross motor skill development, but also have social and emotional ones as well. Children who belong to a team have better cooperative skills, tend to make friends easier, and are less shy.
These facts can seem overwhelming. What are parents to do in a world that seems to thrive on technology? Like anything in life, moderation should be key. Technology doesn’t need to be outlawed, but parents should definitely keep responsible expectations in mind for its usage. Take this as an opportunity to invest in your child’s interests. Go for a bike ride, paint a picture together, play a board game, make a blanket fort, play catch, and by all means, walk down the street with your hands drawn to your chest and roar together like dinosaurs. After all, “Rawr!” is just dinosaur for “I love you.”
“Sanctity of human life.” That phrase can cause some people to cringe with uneasiness. The notion of the value of human life has certainly taken on a political edge where abortion is concerned. Politics is ripe with candidates who expound their beliefs on the matter, and though the Caring Pregnancy Center does not support, perform, or refer for abortion, this article is not a political essay. Rather it is an attempt to explain how the value God places on human life is the reason we do what we do. First, a little history lesson: On January 13, 1984, then President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating January 22, 1984, as the first ever Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. The date commemorated the eleventh anniversary of when the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in all fifty states with the Roe v. Wade decision. According to the Guttmacher Institute (a pro-abortion, non-profit organization) there have been approximately fifty-eight million abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade took effect in 1973. We continue to recognize the third Sunday in January every year as a day for Americans to focus on the value of each and every human life, remember the millions of lives lost, and celebrate the babies saved from abortion. This year’s Sanctity of Human Life Sunday will be held on January 17, 2016.
Pregnancy centers like the Caring Pregnancy Center are often criticized by the pro-abortion lobby as only being interested in the birth of babies versus the well-being of that child or its family after it has been born. However, in the true spirit of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, the Caring Pregnancy Center provides emotional, physical, spiritual, and material help to men and women during pregnancy and well after the birth of their baby on this day and every day. We believe that the lives of our clients are as sacred in the Lord’s eyes as those of their unborn children. The assistance we provide is to improve the life of the family unit as a whole, which in turn can improve the quality of life in our community.
As evidence of this, our parent organization, Care-Net, released a report showing the value of pregnancy centers to communities all around the country. In 2014 alone, the over 1100 Care-Net Centers offered over $56,826,000 in free services to families in need. That’s hundreds of thousands free pregnancy tests, free ultrasounds, free baby clothes, free diapers, free parenting classes, and many other services at no cost to the client. Yet, the most important commodity we offer for free is compassion, help, and hope. All of this is made possible by an army of over 30,000 volunteers and over 462,000 donors across the country.
On a more local level, the Caring Pregnancy Center’s impact on the communities of North Iowa is evident by the numbers. In 2015 alone, the Caring Pregnancy Center saw 1709 appointments while providing sixty-six pregnancy tests, fifty-four ultrasounds, 183 hours of classroom education, and 53,994 material items at absolutely no charge to our clients and those seeking emergency assistance. The casual reader of that statement may ask, “Yes, but at what cost to the amount of taxes that I pay every year?” The answer to that question is: None. The Caring Pregnancy Center does not and has never accepted government taxpayer money. We are able to keep our ministry going thanks to our very own small army of seven staff members, forty-one volunteers, and approximately 350 donors; and the tenet that the life of every child, every mother, and every family is sacred in the sight of God.
Does this network of centers, volunteers, and donors save lives? Absolutely. Guttmacher Institute statistics show that the rate of abortion has dropped consistently since Roe vs. Wade. However, there is still much work to be done. On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we at the Caring Pregnancy Center ask that you remember the lives lost to abortion, celebrate the babies saved, and pray for the mothers and fathers struggling with the uncertainty of an unplanned pregnancy. All life matters, both that of the born and the unborn. For in our Father’s eyes, all life is sacred.
It’s that time of year again! School has been under way for over a month. There is just something special about the beginning of a new year. Whether it is a first time student excitedly waiting for that big, yellow bus, or the seasoned senior going through their “last first day”, a new school year just seems ripe with potential. Anything is possible!
Sometimes though, despite eagerness or a willing attitude, that potential or possibilities can quickly fade into frustration bathed in tears. Special needs students can face a wide gamut of challenges that a lot of their peers can scarcely imagine. Mental, physical, or learning disabilities can make basic school tasks such as homework, or even simply paying attention to the teacher a real burden. Some of our clients’ children are no exception to these struggles. I am going to turn over part of this blog entry to the hands and insights of one of our moms. She knows firsthand what it takes for her child to succeed from day to day. Though the specific condition the client mentions is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), her words can resonate truth with parents of children coping with any disorder, condition, or even those who are just simply having a bad day.
”Having a child with a neurological disorder can be trying at times. Even with proper medication, a normal day can be very chaotic. Simple tasks like picking up toys can take hours, while trips to the store can become a full on adventure. It takes three very important things to be a parent of a child who has ADHD; patience, understanding, and lots of love.
Having a full and true understanding of this (and any) disorder will be your greatest benefit. Along with any and all information your child's doctor will give you, do as much research as you can. When it comes to day-to-day activities, patience will be your greatest virtue. Maintaining a calm but firm attitude is the best way deal with any outrageous behavior your child may display. Even though you may be frustrated when your child is having a frantic or even manic moment, show them lots of love and affection. Knowing you love them regardless of their disorder will help them push through the day.” -CPC Client
As I read her words I was struck how alike this advice is to how our Heavenly Father treats us. How much are we like a child with ADHD? Even when we know what the Lord expects of us, we can often become distracted by what looks more appealing. When we have a problem we will frantically try to solve it ourselves when it might be better to sit peacefully and listen to what God has to say. When temptation does get the best of us and we give in to sin despite our best efforts, the Lord understands us and loves us anyway. Where would we be without God’s patience, understanding, and lots of love?
Unlike many new parents, God has never needed to learn patience. He did not have to acquire it. The Lord IS it, and He continually displays it. God shows us the way to righteousness and salvation, but we often reject that teaching and turn instead to what is easy or feels good in the moment. We reject God’s goodness in this way through refusal or inability to learn. Nevertheless, God is patient. He will not give up on us. His love is unchanging and forever. What a gift the Lord has given us by faithfully showing us His patience, understanding, and love. Just like the special needs child who understands his mother’s love regardless of his daily challenges, we too can continue to push through. God’s love sustains us every moment and every day until that great day when we can grow and learn to be like Him.
It is often funny how many times women will compare themselves to other women. We are all unique individuals so there really is no use in doing this. More specifically is when we moms compare ourselves to other moms. God made us differently and blessed us with our own set of challenges relating to the little people under our wings. Maybe it is just human nature to doubt our abilities, or perhaps we want so much for our children we cannot help but notice when we see other moms doing what we think we never could.
I certainly remember after my first son was born noticing the primped and polished mom at the grocery store at a time when I could not have felt more unattractive. I took in her perfectly styled hair, cute outfit, and beautiful sleeping baby and marveled at how perfectly she had this whole mom thing figured out. I can never be like that, I thought as I tried desperately to calm my screaming son who had spit up all over me. My ponytail, wrinkled t-shirt, and jeans just did not measure up to what I had considered her standard of perfection.
Have I got motherhood figured out now? No, that's a fantasy. The reason I say that is because no job in the world is as rewarding, unpredictable, stressful, challenging, fun, or important than that of being a mom. Children can boost their mother's ego, crush it with an iron fist, or go from one to the other at a speed an Olympic sprinter would envy. My three year old daughter is especially good in this regard. She is silly, playful, sensitive, and has absolutely zero filter. She and I were playing on the couch one day making faces at each other. Oh, how my heart soared as I heard that sweet little giggle, UNTIL.... “Wow, mommy. Your neck just got HUGE!” What you need to understand is I have what you could call an “at-risk” chin. In other words, if I don't keep it at sea level or above it is at risk of doubling in size. It's not a pretty picture I can assure you.
Her response was just another piece of evidence of what I think it takes to survive as a mom: a sense of humor. Anything can and will happen when it comes to kids. Having a sense of humor does not make you a good mom, but it certainly helps keep a person sane. I know I certainly would have checked myself into the nearest mental institution long ago without the ability to see that almost everything will be funny eventually. Whether it be the botched home hair dye job that my eldest son described as “scary gwoss,” the sliced cheese in the dvd player, or the many permanent marker art masterpieces adorning my walls, the frustration I felt at the time pales in comparison of how those memories make me smile now.
It is important to remember when we go through those times of feeling completely overwhelmed, frustrated to the point of tears, or worried about the people our babies will some day become, that that “perfect” mom from the grocery store just might be us to someone else. I will be the first to admit that I frequently wish I was a better mom, as most moms do, but I am often surprised how many people in my life tell me that I am doing a good job. My friends with one or two children regularly marvel at my ability to parent four. “I just don't know how you do it with four kids,” they might say. I usually like to quote the comedian Jim Gaffigan when I am confronted with this statement. “Imagine you're drowning, and then someone hands you a baby.” I don't think it matters how many children we have. Whether it be one or six, motherhood will always feel like a roller coaster with no brakes at some point or another. We need to remember to just hang on and enjoy the ride, bumps and all.
So why do we compare ourselves to other moms? Whose standard is it that we don't think we are living up to? That other mom's? Society's? God's? I think if we really are truthful with ourselves, it does not matter what other people think of our abilities, it is our own standard that we feel we fail to meet. I have come to understand that there is no such thing as the perfect mom, but rather there are moms who love their children perfectly. We call the Lord our Heavenly Father. God refers to Himself in this way, yet in Isaiah 66 God likens His love for us to that of a mother.
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you...” -Isaiah 66:13
God's standard is really the only one I should ever try to meet. For God made me the mom that I am and he loves me just for being me. No matter what I do, or how hard I try to convince myself that I am not enough, I am always enough for God. He sent His son, Jesus, to die for me, as He did for all of us, because He loves me just that much. It seems silly to assume that God in His almighty wisdom would have made a mistake giving me the kids that he did. I don't need to live up to anyone else's expectations. God loves me the way I am, and that's enough.
So after debating your suspicions you took a home pregnancy test. You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions depending on the result. If your result was positive you may be wondering what to do next. One of the most informative options available to our clients is ultrasound. One of our peer counselors will be there every step of the way to explain the process and support you before, during, and after your scan. The use of an ultrasound by our trained nurses is incredibly helpful in determining whether your pregnancy is viable or not. In other words, is the baby located in the uterus. Ultrasound scans can also help to pinpoint your baby's approximate gestational age and heart rate. Following your ultrasound the peer counselor will discuss all of the risks and benefits of the options available to you. Being fully informed is the best way to insure you are making the best decisions for you and your baby. Having a baby can be both a wonderful and frightening time. It's important to remember that no matter what, you are not alone. We are here to help. If you would like to schedule an ultrasound appointment, please call our office at 641-424-2237.