Sunday, November 08, 2009

All I learned about parenting.....

I learned from Ashley.

My first child was easy. Delightfully, wonderfully easy. I spent many days patting myself on the back for being such a wonderful parent. Katie slept in her own bed, was potty trained at 2, ate all kinds of foods and almost never cried.  She was easy.

  Then along came Ashley. It was a bit of a difficult pregnancy and when she was born she had tremors (due to a med I take for a seizure disorder) an intolerance to formula both regular and soy, projectile vomiting (we used to measure it for distance 4 ft, 5 ft...) bloody stools, and then at one month old she got RSV and was hospitalized for a week. The next two years of her life were a struggle. Constant infections, poor growth and weight gain, ear tubes twice, delayed milestones, etc etc. She had a rough start. She didn't sleep much and cried a lot. Poor baby was always so sick and had to take so many medications all the time. I would have to wake her up at night to give her a nebulizer treatment followed by chest percussions to loosen the gunk in her lungs and hold her upside down to try and get it out. 

  Ashley was demanding, unhappy, miserable and difficult in many ways. I always felt like I wasn't meeting her needs the way I did with Katie. Nothing was easy. She was just as likely to have a tantrum over some unknown injustice as she was over a real boo boo. And her tantrums were on a scale I was unfamiliar with. Screaming, kicking, biting, spitting, scratching, flailing, injuring herself and anyone near her. I was totally unprepared for this total transformation from sweet girl to possessed demon child, and could not even predict what would set her off. I would tell her no and she wouldn't bat an eye, but say we were having peaches (and not pears) with lunch...BAM. Hour long meltdown. Often I didn't even know what set her off. If I had I would have given her the pears! She would tell me she hated me and wanted me dead and it broke my heart. I loved this little girl so much and she hated me. I was failing her! It took everything I had to learn to let it roll off of my back and not take it personally.

  Her fits lasted long after the toddler stage, years longer in fact. They were completely out of proportion to the thing that set them off. They were like a volcano erupting and I could see one coming but was powerless to stop it. She was just as miserable as I was, probably more so. She couldn't put into words what was eating at her, what we could do to make her feel better or even what she wanted. Her frustration grew and grew and fed the fits. 

  We sought out counseling (did our divorce cause this?) pediatricians for a physical basis, a child psychologist, anyone we could think of. Our child needed something and we just didn't know what. I tried sticker charts, behavior therapy, rewards and punishments. Incentives and hug therapy. As she raged I would sit next to her and calmly tell her how much I loved her and how wonderful she is. When the fits stopped she would crawl in my lap and be so sorry, utterly drained. 

  Then, a few years ago one doctor realized that her thyroid was enlarged.  It was big and full of nodules. Not a good thing in an 11 year old with a family history of thyroid disease. They started her on synthetic thyroid medicine and her mood started to lighten. It was slow at first, not really noticeable. Then one day it was like she was the happy, wonderful girl we had only seen glimpses of in the past. The fits came less and less often, were less severe and eventually pretty much stopped. She still has her moments, but now it's more like the typical teenager attitude. She seems so happy. She is a joy to be around. My Ashley shines!

  Do I think that the thyroid issue was the whole issue? No, I don't. I think she had some RAD* like behaviors going on, and I think they were caused when she was so sick during her first two years of life and me, her mother, couldn't stop the pain. I think she didn't get that healthy dose of 'Mommy can fix everything' that most babies get. I couldn't nurse her because of the seizure meds so we lost out on that bond from the get-go. I don't think she trusted me to care for her and meet her needs. She never treated her Dad with the anger she directed at me, and I think it relates back to this fact. She couldn't trust me. How sad is that. To this day I tear up and it breaks my heart to think she couldn't trust me. My sweet sweet baby. 

*RAD Reactive-Attachment Disorder  A condition where a child has a hard time emotionally attaching to a parent. Many children with a history of abuse, institutionalization or trauma have RAD issues. (That's a pretty short description) 

  Now that we have Ahren I see some of the same behaviors emerging. The constant arguing, the tantrums over inconsequential things, incessant non-sense questions, very dramatic and demanding personality, the physical aspects of the rages (hitting, kicking, spitting, scratching, hurting himself) and the need for constant reassurance. This time, it is easier. I am much more consistent and calmer. Even when he tells me he doesn't love me and I am not his mother. I just smile and tell him he doesn't get out that easily, he is stuck with me and I love him very much. I will not engage in an argument with him. If I say it's cold out and he says, 'No it's not', I drop it. He can go outside without a coat and see for himself. I spend more time down on his level, eye-to-eye, letting him know I see him, I hear him, I love him. It seems to be helping. 

I just wish I had known then (when Ash was little) what I know now. I hope Ashley can forgive me. I did the best I knew how but it wasn't enough. 


Angie said...

You are amazing!

Angie said...

I normally lurk but wanted to respond. I am guessing Ashley won't really understand all of your decisions until she is a mom herself. It is amazing how much more I understand my own mom now that I am a mom.

Forgiveness will likely come then. You are a great mom!!!

Anonymous said...

Mothers guilt, be it in a small way or a big way is something us Mums all feel at times.
We conect in differnt ways to our children because they are all different however we love them the same with all our heart, even if at times we may not like what they do. Sometimes you can have such a close relationship and then as teenagers they push you away as they make their way in world and think that they can go it alone and then when they have little ones of their own they fully realize what Mothers love is all about and how it can endure all.
Rest assure though that be it if they are close or far away their is a place in their heart just for you.
Dont doubt your own self worth.
I think you are amazing and you did the very best you could do at the time. All of us Mums could look back and think that we should have done some things differently.
Such is Life and as stated before Ashley if she doesn't already realize your great love for her will someday, even if it has to wait until she is a Mum herself and has a little Ashley.
with love from
Jo from South Australia

Becky said...

Thank you for this amazing, brave post. I have been reading your blog for awhile, but have never commented. Today, however, I was in tears this morning after having yet another "episode" of fits/tantrums over who knows what with my own daughter similar to what you have described with your Ashley. My daughter was adopted from Guatemala at 8 months old and was also very sick for the first couple of years of her life. Sadly, I had not even considered RAD because my older child is so well adjusted, but will definitely be exploring this avenue after reading your post. Thank you!

BT said...

I have been reading your blog for ages, but rarely comment. I just wanted to say I loved this post, and you are a source of inspiration for me.

ParkerMama said...

Wouldn't it be grand if kids came with instruction books?

The important thing is that she now knows how much you love her.

Ellie said...

First let me say, We learn by trial and error... You are a great mom, no matter what you think you should have done, or didn't know... Ash is an amazing beautiful young lady now, and she is who she is because you were there through think and thin...

As for Little Mr Ahren... I feel you pain... I think we need to put Angelena and Ahren in a room and lock the door, maybe they will realize they are 2 peas in a pod.!

Angelena goes for her Neurology apointment Thursday, and Psy. next Tuesday...

I miss you guys soooo much!

ManyBlessings said...

Beautiful, brave post. I have a child too who taught me to be a parent. So coincidentally, I've been thinking about this same thing a lot lately. Realizing what a blessing it's been to have this child in my life. How it's made me become who I am as a mom.

Your heart is so precious!