Monthly Archives: September 2016

new path

A new beginning for Baby M

As I close this challenging month of advocating for Baby M, I want to give you a final update.

After an emergency meeting held by social services this week, the decision was made to remove her from where she is now and place her in a temporary foster home.  While she is living with the temporary family, social services will be facilitating the long term placement for her with a specific foster family that her biological parents requested.

No, this will not be our family.

While to others involved we were the obvious choice to take home Baby M,  I never had confidence that the parents would make the choice based on the factors that seemed relevant to others.  Like the parents, we are charedi native English speakers.  However, the parents are chassidim and we are not, we are from America and they are from Europe, and I expected that cultural compatibility would be of very high priority to them.

I don’t have any details on the two families who will take Baby M and I won’t be getting any details.  In a conversation a week ago with the grandmother, she told me the mother was very excited to find a woman from the same country that she came from who would take Baby M and agreed she would give her back when the parents wanted.  I assume this is the family they requested at the meeting with social services.

Was this decision a huge disappointment to me?  Yes.  I have a huge place in my heart for this baby and was emotionally completely ready to take her.

However, I believe that G-d makes no mistakes and therefore whatever happened was the best thing to have happen in this situation.   If it was truly the best scenario for everyone (including us), we would have been chosen.

So I’m trying to keep my focus on this – remembering that G-d runs the world, that He cares about each of us more than we can imagine, that everything we experience is for our ultimate good and that He knows what He is doing.  As difficult as this last month has been for me, every tiny aspect of it was engineered for the spiritual benefit of every person involved.

My other emotion is gratitude: gratitude that Baby M will finally be with a family who will care for her.  And gratitude for emotional closure for myself and my family.

Thank you to all of you for your prayers and concern for Baby M.  I am so glad that as we go into Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, she will have a new beginning of her own!

Avivah

broken heart

Baby M – permission to visit withdrawn

I didn’t know when I got a call a month ago regarding a newborn baby girl with Trisomy 21 whose parents didn’t want her that getting involved was going to break my heart again…and again…and again.

I didn’t know that it would bring me under attack and accusation, that I would be treated like a criminal and even threatened with jail.

I didn’t know how very, very hard I would have to work to let go of my anger and blame towards those involved, how hard it would be to balance staying involved and respecting my own emotional boundaries, how I could invest so much of myself into helping and then be forced to walk away and still trust that G-d is protecting this baby.

But I’ve done it.  And I’ve grown a lot through this process.

This has been a dramatic and gut wrenching situation to be part of and every day there are changes in this situation that make it an emotional roller coaster.  Sometimes I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone.

  • Yesterday a senior staff member from the institution where Baby M is called and cried when she told me how sorry she is how badly I’ve been treated.  (This was after receiving a very sanitized update from the management.)
  • Yesterday I got a call from a social worker that social services was aware of my involvement and was seeking more information about me.
  • Yesterday an emergency meeting was held by social services to determine what to do for Baby M.
  • Yesterday approval for me to visit Baby M was withdrawn by the parents.

And that is where the situation stands now.  Though I’m now unable to physically be there for Baby M (Malka bas Esther), I will continue to pray that the final outcome be for the highest and best good for all involved.

Avivah

father bonding with baby

How attachments in early infancy set the stage for the rest of your life

After my last post about Baby M, a woman in her sixties called me.  She shared that she spent the first year of her life in an institution and wanted to know what the cognitive and emotional deficits were that occur in order that she could begin to heal from them.  She told me that despite a wonderful step mother who came into her life when she was one who loved her completely and deeply, she has struggled her entire life with emotional attachments to people, and that she never really felt connected even to her children.

Someone else told me that her single mother struggled with giving her up after birth and though in the end she kept her, mentioned that her mother would keep her in a drawer in a closet when she taught.  She is now doing a lot of work to heal from her experience as a newborn.

For many years it was believed that newborns were little blobs that weren’t conscious of what went on around them.  If they were fed and changed, that was all the care they needed.  There are those who still are unaware of all the research that shows how extremely aware and influenced newborns are by the circumstances and even feelings of those around them, and how the experiences of this very formative time in an infant’s life sets the foundation for his emotional future.  Unfortunately, Baby’s M’s parents (who I haven’t met but believe are genuinely kind and well-intended people) are in this category and though it is sin is one of omission rather than purposeful denying of an infant’s needs, the end result is the same.

Babies are hard-wired for attachment to one or two primary people and secure attachment is at the root of their emotional and physical development.  When from the earliest days of life an infant is responded to, held close and given lots of love, he integrates a positive sense of his own value and is able to later have healthy and emotionally satisfying relationships.  When this closeness and resulting trust is absent for whatever reason and however unavoidable or undesired it was by the parent, the result is a deep seated sense of insecurity and unworthiness.

A child is biologically programmed to thrive with lots of love and physical contact.  A child denied that won’t thrive.  When I first met Baby M, my overriding concern was that at the age of one month she was already emotionally shutting down.  Her brain was protecting her from the pain of not being emotionally tended to by keeping her asleep and lethargic.  It was extraordinarily difficult to wake her up.

Once she woke up, she wasn’t able to focus her eyes.  Learning to focus is a skill that comes with practice and she wasn’t getting it.  She also wasn’t getting the sensory stimulation and input that is important in activating different parts of the brain.

The attachment deficit was my biggest concern, however.  (Reactive Attachment Disorder is the diagnosis when this deficit is prolonged but the damage is there even when less apparent.)  When I found out that Baby’s M’s parents weren’t going to keep her, I called someone experienced with this issue and told her my concern about the effect being in an institution for 2-3 months could have on her long term emotional health.  She suggested that since ‘Mohammed wouldn’t go to the mountain’ (ie Baby M isn’t being placed yet with a loving family), that ‘the mountain go to Mohammed’ (that we provide her with consistent attachment figures by being there with her all day long).

This advice really resonated with me because it matches my own conviction about what she needs, and dramatically limits the damage she is experiencing while in an institutional setting.

Dd15 and I have been with her the last few days – I took the first 25 hours, she took the following day and a half, and dd20 arrived late Weds. evening and will be there until early Friday morning.  I hope that we will continue to be allowed to offer this support for her.  It’s quite moving to see her becoming dramatically more alert, socially interactive and physically active  – a senior staff member exclaimed that it was obvious that our time with her was making a big difference.

We would love to make Baby M part of our family and it is my hope that this will somehow happen.  There is a lot we can give her that most families can’t.  However, the parents want the family who takes her to agree that they could take her back in nine months or two years or five years or ten years or whenever they might change their mind.

I can’t do that.  I just can’t. While I’m willing to allow the birth family regular contact, it isn’t fair to agree to raise her without the security and sense of belonging that she deserves.

Right now Baby M and her parents need prayers.  I could use some prayers as well since this is a very hard situation to be part of.

Avivah

balance scale

Staying involved but staying out of judgment – a hard balance

I’ve been emotionally preoccupied the last couple of weeks with trying to get help for a newborn baby girl with Trisomy 21 who has been left in an institution while the parents decide if they should keep her or not.

I was asked to get involved by someone aware of the situation.  Initially I was told the parents definitely didn’t want her and she would stay in the institution until a home was found for her.  As I got more involved I learned the situation was much more complicated.  Through the staff members I’ve repeatedly told them the parents can be in touch with me to get accurate information about T21 to help them with the decision.

Eventually the grandmother reached out to me and I spoke to her at length.  My goal has been to communicate the importance of placing the baby with someone who will care for her while the parents make up their minds since Baby M is in a physically and emotionally sterile environment and every day that goes by is causing her emotional and cognitive harm.

Has any of this effort been helpful?  To my mind, not nearly helpful enough.  But after two weeks of no change in the situation, my two daughters and I were officially given permission to visit Baby M (the day we visited she was exactly a month old).   The next day, volunteers were organized to come for four hours a day.  Two of my daughters will also be visiting for 6.5 hours a day and this means that now she will have substantially more stimulation and social connection.  Clearly a newborn needs more than this but this is where it stands now.

There are a lot of details I’m not including and this has been a situation that has raised a lot of emotion for me. Dealing with this been a hard balance.  On one hand, I don’t want to judge the parents.  Everyone does the best he can with the resources he has.

On the other hand, I’m deeply, deeply upset to see an infant not getting the care she needs, especially since the financial and social resources are available to support it – and it’s appropriate to feel anger when you see injustice perpetrated.

On Tuesday the parents will be making a decision as to if they will keep Baby M or not.  I am hoping and praying that that very soon she will be in a good home and ask you to whisper a prayer for her sake as well.

**Update: I was notified by the grandmother that the parents were told to find a family for the baby.  Continued prayers, please.**

Avivah

misbehaving child

Would I accept my child if he didn’t make choices I approved of?

I haven’t had a working computer all summer so my online access has been spotty.  I’ve missed sharing with you about so many things – our fifth aliyah anniversary (I couldn’t be happier to have moved to Israel and specifically RBS), summer activities, homeschooling plans for the year (we’ll have two high schoolers home this year in addition to the younger four boys) and lots of thoughts on different parenting issues!   But thanks to a lovely blog reader who brought back the new laptop I bought from the US, I’m now back with you!

>>Hi, I’m wondering how you would react if any of your children decided they didn’t want to be charedi anymore? What if one of your daughters decided to be Modern Orthodox- still keep shabbat, kashrut and taharat Mishpacha, but wear short sleeves, pants, not cover her hair after marriage, etc. Would you be able to accept that? What if one of your kids decided he/she was an atheist and left religion altogether? Would they still be accepted as part of your family?<<

I was sitting with dd20 at breakfast and told her about this question.  She looked a little surprised and said – obviously our children would be accepted in our family regardless of their choices!

As a parent, I try very hard to nurture each child for who they are and to let them know that my love and appreciation for them isn’t based on them performing in a given way.  I believe that every child deserves to be loved unconditionally – this is a foundational belief of mine about parenting and is a significant underlying theme in how I parent and what I teach others.

When we expect our children to make the choices that validate our value as parents, it places a heavy and unfair burden on them.  My child wasn’t put in this world to make me feel good about myself.  It’s my job to feel good about myself.

I don’t give rewards or incentives to get my children to do what I want, not when they are young and certainly not as they get older!  My primary tools of influence are the relationship I have with them and the values that I model.  If there’s something that is important to me, I need to model that through my own actions.

My choices are right for me – while my spiritual and religious beliefs and practices are of great meaning to me, each child will need to make his own decisions in order to have a meaningful life.  I  hope my children will experience as much meaning and satisfaction from their lives as I have from mine – I hope they have even more, actually!

But I don’t think they need to do exactly what I’ve done in order to have a meaningful life.  They don’t.  To have a meaningful life, they do need to know themselves and what matters to them, to think for themselves, and then to take actions in line with what is important for them.  I’ve told my children this explicitly.

It’s a mistake for a parent to think he can control the choices his child makes.  While I do provide lots of active guidance, I don’t try to control what my children think or what choices they make.  I only have control over my own choices and actions.  There are choices that would be harder for me to accept than others and if my ego got in the way, I’d need to do some work on myself to be sure I wasn’t reflecting my own fears and insecurities instead of providing loving guidance to my child.

I hope that my children will always feel they are loved and accepted by me for who they are, whatever life choices they make.  Isn’t that what being part of a family should be about?

Avivah

school

Tips for the first day of school – how to orient a child in new situations

It’s that time of year again, the first day of school!

New situations are hard for everyone.  For kids, the first day of school is filled with many unknowns and not knowing what to expect can be a source of anxiety and tension.  You can minimize this tension by recognizing how important it is to help your child get his bearings, and then taking steps to help make his world more predictable.

The need to be oriented to one’s surroundings is an inborn need in all people, and is so uncomfortable and distressing that we do all that we can to avoid this. We seek out someone to help us get oriented – ideally this is a reliable person who is a source of authority, compassion and warmth.

In the absence of a reliable and trusted adult, children who are disoriented will get their bearings from the children around them.  However, kids who are disoriented taking the position of guide for one another is incredibly ineffective!  So don’t leave your child with an orientation void to be filled by others much less capable and compassionate than you!

Here are some tips to make the first days of school smoother and more successful for you and your child:

1) Talk to your child in advance about what to expect on the first day.  An attendee in a recent parenting workshop I gave shared that her teacher’s kindergarten teacher made a video of the classroom and emailed it to all of the student – this is wonderful! Anything that helps a child feel more prepared for a new experience reduces his anxiety, and primes him for more success socially and academically.

2) Encourage your child to share how he’s feeling about this new beginning.  If he expresses discomfort, don’t assume that this is a problem that you need to solve.  It’s uncomfortable as parents to hear your child expressing fear or other negative emotions and we tend to want to shut that down by jumping into solution mode, or to reassure them that their concerns aren’t valid.  Instead, reflect back and validate to him that you’ve heard his concerns.

3) Introduce your child to his new environment – accompany your child into the new situation to the degree that he’s comfortable with you being there.  For young children, take them into the classroom and introduce them to the teacher.  Help make an emotional connection with the teacher so that your child feels comfortable being left with her.  Walk through the classroom and show him where to hang his backpack, where are the bathrooms, where to get a drink of water.

You might wonder if this the teacher’s job.  Ideally, the teacher will spend time connecting with a child and helping to orient him on the first days of school, and the more she does this the more smoothly your child’s adaptation will go.  However, my experience has been that there is often a large gap when entering these situations and that children benefit from the parent proactively filling that gap.

4) Let your child know when you’re leaving – do not disappear when his back is turned!  It’s common for parents to want to avoid the child’s distress when they leave, but he needs to be able to trust your presence.  It’s scary for young children to be left in an unfamiliar place with people they don’t know, before they feel a sense of connection or trust in them.

When you leave, reassure him that you’ll see him later – help him feel connected to you even in your absence.  A loving note or a little drawing tucked into lunch can be reassuring for them and remind him of your love even without your physical presence.

5) Give your child something wholesome to eat before he leaves for the day so that his brain and body are well-nourished! This includes proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (eg eggs, milk, oatmeal with butter). Send snacks that will help his body stay on an even keel – I’ve shared lots of recipes (click on link to see them) that make delicious and easy to pack treats that are good for your child without looking ‘healthy’.

(If you’re reading this and missed the first day of school, you can still apply these ideas.  Helping your child’s world be predictable is important any day of the year!)

Above all, smile and stay calm!  If you can, take a bit of extra time in the morning so that none of you feel rushed.  If you can’t, don’t worry about it.  Just keep smiling and send your kids off with the message that you love them, you think they’re wonderful and you trust that they’re going to have a wonderful year!

Avivah