A Little Blessing

My name is Brandon Burditt. I was born with a bilaterral cleft lip and cleft palate. I had three surgeries in my first year of life; but that hasn't stopped me. Some say I am a little charmer; I love to cuddle, laugh, and play.
This is my journey...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Seeking Support

I have had the good fortune of being linked to some amazing professionals, all of whom have helped guide me through this journey with Brandon. I am forever grateful to all of these professionals, but one in particular has touched my heart deeply. She is a therapist working in the mental health field, but she is also dear friend of mine; so I have had the benefit of sharing my feelings and experiences with a friend, and have undoubtedly benefited from her knowledge as a therapist. Talking with a counselor or therapist has many advantages, so you should never be ashamed to seek out those services if you feel you need them.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce Raquel Wilson, MSW, LISW-S to you all. I have asked her to write a post for this blog sharing her perspective as a mental health professional. Raquel has graciously agreed to do so, and has shared the following message below:
So, here you are. Maybe you’re standing in your bathroom or maybe, you find yourself in your doctor’s office. Regardless of where, when or how, you now find yourself with a positive pregnancy test. For some, it’s a planned and predicted test result. For others, maybe it’s a welcomed surprise. Nonetheless, the moment the results of that test read “Pregnant”, your life changes. For some, thoughts of nursery colors, frilly dresses, and baby names instantaneously begin to occupy the bulk of your brain activity and conversations. For others, a positive pregnancy test has you running straight to the bookstore to pick up the latest edition of “What to Expect When Expecting”. No matter how you look at it, change is inevitable. Change, is the one thing that is certain when it comes to pregnancy. Physical changes win the title of “Most Certain” (and maybe, for women, these are the toughest changes to accept). However, emotional changes (and not just hormonally induced ones) may be a close second. Once that pregnancy test comes back positive, the long list of “real life” responsibilities starts to cloud your mind. Will I be able to provide for all of my child's needs?” “How will I pay for day care?” “What kind of disciplinarian will I be (or better yet, will my spouse and I agree on discipline)?” There is no doubt that being responsible for parenting a human being is one of the biggest undertakings of a person’s life.
You want things to be perfect, so you follow the doctor’s orders, eat healthy, take vitamins and try to stay educated on the never ending lists of “do’s and don’ts” related to pregnancy. But what happens when things do not go as planned? Some people are affected by physical ailments early into their pregnancy that indicate something may be wrong with the baby. For others, the news comes after an ultra-sound detects an abnormality. And, maybe, it’s not until after your baby is born that you and the doctor realize that there is something wrong. The idea of “perfection” can come crashing down in an instant.
When Amy asked me to write a post for her blog, providing my insight as a mental health therapist, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s hard not to be inspired to contribute to such a wonderful project. I love that in
http://www.btbalittleblessing.blogspot.com/, Amy has graciously allowed us a glimpse into her life and the life of her son, Brandon. As her post “Finding Out: A Mother’s Perspective” documents, at her 20 week ultrasound, Amy’s doctor revealed that possible abnormality had been detected, and four weeks later it was confirmed that Brandon was going to be born with a bilateral cleft lip and cleft palate. Now, at just 22 months old, Brandon has endured three surgeries, countless medical tests and has befriended almost every specialist in the Toledo area with his many doctors’ appointments. Amy says that her blog was started so that she could share Brandon’s journey, however, Amy’s journey as a mother undoubtedly seeps through each post. Some posts educate us on all the practical matters involved in Brandon’s care, such as which sippy cups work the best, but Amy also highlights the intense emotions, such as shock, guilt and sadness, that she felt when her idea of perfection came crashing down. In one post, Amy talks about a conversation she had with one of the nurses shortly after Brandon’s birth:
I know now that it was not something I did wrong, or something that happened to me. Brandon was the one who was going to have to go through the pain of surgeries, etc... He knows no different. He is innocent, and is a child that needs love like any other. I believe now that God chose me to be his mom, because he knew that I could give him all of the love and care he needed...I love him unconditionally.
I am sure if you were to ask Amy if the acceptance she came to, as described in the excerpt above, was a quick and painless journey, she would tell you, “Absolutely not!”. For parents, especially mother’s, it can be difficult to not blame yourself when your baby isn’t born “perfect”. Certainly, all parents hope for a healthy pregnancy and baby, but what is a parent to do when that does not happen? In addition to shock, guilt and sadness, a parent can be overcome by grief when they find out that there is something wrong with their child. Often times, we think of grief only in its relation to death. However, the true meaning of grief, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary is:
Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.
I think it’s safe to say that finding out that there is an abnormality in your pregnancy or that your child has a health problem constitutes as, and justifies, “keen mental suffering or distress”. Labeling a negative feeling is sometimes the first step to resolving that feeling. Allowing yourself to feel grief after learning of such news and knowing what you are feeling is “ok” or “normal” can put you on a path of healing rather than a path paved with only denial, hopelessness, guilt and anger.
Sometimes labeling and allowing yourself to feel the magnitude of a feeling such as grief, is enough to ensure resolution. However, sometimes it’s not that simple and you need to take different steps in order to begin to heal. Having a support system around you is essential in times of grief. The value of calling on your family and friends for emotional and physical support cannot be measured. However, this can be a difficult step for some, as you may feel that you have no one to call on or the people in your life might criticize you for expressing your true feelings. Grief associated with complications in pregnancy or health problems in children can sometimes feel like an isolative journey, especially to mother’s. Some parents I have worked with in therapy have told me that they have purposefully kept their feelings to themselves for fear of looking “weak”, fear of offending their spouse or because they had an intense need to “stay strong” for the rest of the family. However, these same clients have told me of how this tactic backfired on them and the feelings they tried so hard to suppress ended up coming out in the form of arguments and have created emotional distance between them and their family members. So, even though it is hard, I would encourage you to utilize your support systems such as family members, friends, colleagues or your church community. Reaching out to communities on the internet, such as support groups and blogs, can be a positive way to share your grief as well.
Another strategy that may help to resolve symptoms associate with grief, such as depression, anxiety and increased levels of stress is to continue or start a healthy diet. Participating in safe forms of exercise (if it’s ok with your doctor) is also a great way to cope. Both of these steps can help to restore “happy” chemicals in the body, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which can combat symptoms associated with grief. For others, prayer may be the leading source of comfort and release. Choosing strategies to cope with grief is not a “one size fits all” scenario. What works for one, may not work for another. Keep in mind that you may need to incorporate a combination of strategies in order to find which methods of coping and healing are most beneficial for you.
If the above mentioned strategies are just not enough to overcome your grief, seeking professional help may be the next appropriate step. Going to see a professional counselor may allow you to share your feelings in a safe, supportive and unbiased environment. A professional familiar with treating grief and associated symptoms may be able to help you identify ways in which you can effectively cope with your grief and take back control of your emotional and mental health. Going to see a professional counselor does not mean you are “crazy”, “weak” or that there is something “wrong” with you. Sometimes, short-term talk therapy can be enough for a person to resolve their grief and learn skills they may need to combat negative feelings in the future. For others, long-term therapy or talking to a doctor about medications such as anti-depressants might be exactly what they need. Whatever the case, allow yourself to seek the help you need, so that you can begin to heal, resolve your grief and get back to being the parent, spouse and friend you were meant to be.
Raquel Wilson, MSW, LISW-S is a Clinical Therapist at Wellspring Counseling Services in Toledo, Ohio. She specializes in individual and family therapy with children, teens and adults working on issues such as grief and loss, depression and anxiety. More information can be found at www.counselingatwellspring.com

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year..."2010"

Brandon is nearly 22 months old now and 22 pounds. We are looking forward to what this year will bring. As far as we know Brandon should be surgery free this year.
We will continue to see our wonderful pediatrician on a regular basis. Tis the season for colds, flu, etc... Brandon is actually trying to get over pneumonia right now. Sickness seems to hit him pretty hard, but he is a tough little guy.
We will also continue to be involved with Help Me Grow which has been very helpful. Our early intervention worker comes to the house for home visits to see how Brandon is progressing. She is even bringing a speech therapist and occupational therapist here and there to evaluate Brandon as well.
Brandon will also be following up with his endocrinologist for his growth hormone deficiency. He is growing taller each day with the help of his growth hormone shots, however he is not gaining weight as fast as we thought. He is doing fabulous with his shots and even rolls over into position on his own when he sees us coming towards him with the supplies. No tears, he just says "All done" in his own little way when we are finished. Such a good boy!
Also on the agenda this year is our scheduled follow ups with his opthamologist, Dr. Delmonte at U of M, his geneticist Dr. Hoo at St. V's, his urologist, Dr. Liu at St. Vs, and his orthopedist, Dr. Buerke at Toledo Hospital. As you can see, Brandon has a very busy social calendar. :o)