Early Intervention and Prevention: IT MATTERS!

Many of you know my story. You know that Bryce is now doing well. He is in a full-time therapeutic school and gets the support that he needs. It took years to get Bryce at The Frost School. He struggled immensely in elementary school and it was a difficult road. We asked for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as soon as he started kindergarten and were told that he did not qualify. We tried again in first grade and he was given a 504 plan which is not binding and does not give the same protections as an IEP. Bryce continued downhill – he was not completing schoolwork, he was suspended and restrained repeatedly and he was hospitalized numerous times. It was traumatic. 

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Bryce feeling good at The Frost School

This summer I saw Bryce’s second grade teacher for the first time in years. We were chatting about how well Bryce is now doing. She told me,The year I had Bryce was the hardest year I’ve ever taught.”

When his second grade teacher said those words to me it devastated me. She did not mean it to cause me pain though. She did not mean to suggest she didn’t want him as her student. She didn’t say it because Bryce was a difficult student. I mean – he was. But she meant it a different way. It was hard on her emotionally. She saw Bryce restrained over 10 times. She felt hopeless. When we did finally have a meeting to try and get Bryce an IEP she told the truth. She did not sugar coat anything. She told the county she spent over 60% of her time with Bryce. She told them that Bryce needed additional services, that he needed smaller class size and could not be safely maintained in the classroom. Yet, since Bryce did not even have an IEP at the time, the county determined that there was more they could try at his home school. They were not willing to fund full-time special education. Although early intervention and prevention would have benefited Bryce, the school system does not work that way. They did not yet see full failure and they believe in a least restrictive environment and maintaining children in their home schools.

Although Bryce was finally able to receive an IEP and a placement at a full-time therapeutic school in 4th grade, it should not have taken that long. The placement was recommended after Bryce spent an hour and a half banging his head on cement walls and breaking the door off of the quiet room at his school. It was finally determined then and only then that the public school could not adequately maintain him. It should never have gotten that far. There were warning signs and Bryce was not making progress in school. Bryce is in 8th grade and even though he is safe and doing well, he is years behind grade level. He struggles with every day tasks and may never catch up to his peers.

If he had gotten adequate support starting in kindergarten, could things have been different? We will never know. We tried. I had him in private therapy early on and I ASKED, BEGGED, PLEADED for services from the school but they were not provided. Why is it difficult to get our children the help they need? Why do our kids have to hit rock bottom, scream for help or hurt themselves before they are given appropriate placements?

I realize it is too costly to give support to everyone. However, early intervention and prevention matter. Research shows that early intervention works and can have long-term benefits. Providing support when the brain is still developing is crucial for children to ensure positive outcomes. Young people who struggle with mental health problems miss more school resulting in lower grades and educational outcomes than students with stable mental health. There is evidence that money can be saved in the long-run if screening procedures are in place to identify those that would benefit from extra support or special education services. That is because paying for long-term disability or hospitalization has significantly higher costs than paying for up-front interventions. However, governments and school systems are not set up to lay out money until there is a problem and need is proven. Once someone is already sick or struggling, costs for treatment skyrocket.

In addition to saving money, we can save children. Evidence shows that early intervention can improve educational outcomes and well as emotional well-being. Many people are afraid to get help for their mental health due to stigma. If teachers and school systems are trained to identify students early in a non-threatening, mainstreamed way similar to hearing and vision tests, it will become commonplace and normalized. Mental health matters as much as physical health and should be part of normal school screenings.

Having gone through the IEP process now, I have counseled many friends on what to do and what to ask for. It feels good to help others in crisis and I am happy to assist those in crisis or who need advice. I can tell you that it helps to have a lawyer or educational consultant but that can cost thousands of dollars. Many people with children that are struggling cannot afford that. We tried early on to get Bryce the help he deserved. We told the school in kindergarten of Bryce’s challenges and his diagnosis. They did nothing. It took years before they helped. It should not have to be that way.

As parents, educators, and advocates we must continue to stand up for children and ask for early intervention. We must ask for services, recommend more funding for programs and training in schools. We must make it the norm that all children get what they need. It should not be a fight, it should be a given. We owe it to our kids, our future and our communities.

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Mother’s Day – A Story of Hope

I talk about Bryce’s story. But I do not always tell my own. This is part of my story.

On Mother’s Day Weekend, I celebrate being a mom. I celebrate the two women who made me a mom, my children’s birth mothers. I celebrate my mother and my mother-in-law who are amazing mothers, and my sister who I love so much and is also a fabulous mother. I celebrate all of my friends who are mothers. As mothers we work hard, we do our best.Best-Happy-Mothers-Day-Images

My path to Motherhood was not as easy as some.

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I could not wait to be a mom. I was working long days (and nights) as a corporate attorney. I could not wait until I could tell them that I was pregnant and would be going on maternity leave. But every month my “friend” would come. I was not pregnant. Again. And Again.

After months and months and months of trying, we knew we needed to do something. We got tested.

I am not going to go into all of the details, but we found out that we were not going to be able to have a baby naturally and we needed to do IVF if we wanted to have a baby. We went to a highly recommended specialist in Dallas who told Terry and me that we were young and healthy and there was no reason IVF should not work for us. I took all of the meds, did everything I was told. It was not easy. It was a miserable experience, but we did it.

Not pregnant. Lots of tears. Lots of money. Lots of pain. Failure.

We will try again. The doctor said that our embryos were very good so that was not the problem. At the time, I worked as a corporate attorney at one of the biggest law firms in the world. It was a high stress job. Maybe it was stress? I remember clearly that the managing partner at the time came in my office and suggested that I take a month off to concentrate on the IVF. Rest, he said. Don’t worry. We want you to take the time. We will still pay you.

What? A month off paid to try and get pregnant? Who does that? It was awesome.

Round two – this time we were told we had perfect embryos. PERFECT. They said. As I was leaving the embryologist said to me, “Congratulations on your twins.” I cried. REALLY?

The 10 days you wait. Those awful 10 days. I waited. I felt terrible.

NOT PREGNANT. I cried. I was a failure again. But she said I’d be pregnant. The doctor called.

You should probably think about not trying again. Maybe try a surrogate. I don’t think I can help you.” Failure. A huge failure. But they gave me time off. I am a woman. My job is to get pregnant. My other job gave me time to get pregnant. I have always succeeded at things. Why can’t I do this?

That was Sept. 8, 2001. I failed. My high-pressured job told me to take a month off and relax I get pregnant. I did not. I went back to work on Sept. 10, 2001 to face them as a failure.

The next day the world came crashing down. Literally. I watched the towers fall as my own personal world was crumbling. I was not going to have a child. I had let everyone down. I could not take it. Slowly, I began to crumble just as the towers fell.

My husband Terry worked for Southwest Airlines. I was worried that my husband was going to lose his job. I was worried there would be an another terrorist attack at any minute. My house was in a flight path. Every time a plane flew overhead I thought it was going to crash into my house. Planes flew by my office window. I thought everyone of them was going to crash into my office. I could not be in my house. I could not be in my office.

I could not sleep. I could not eat. I could not stay in my house.

I quit my job. I lost a lot of weight. I cried. I drank. I literally had a breakdown.

People told me I needed help. Terry was there for me but I know he was scared. My coworkers  were there for me. They told me I needed help. Terry told me I needed help. I knew I needed help. I found a therapist. I was diagnosed with PTSD. They said that the combination of the two events happening simultaneously was too much. There were other things too that contributed to it, but those were the triggering events.

It took time to recover. I started to sleep. I went back to work. Medicine helped get me on the right path. I decided to keep going on my path to have a baby.

I would adopt a baby. I was devastated when the doctor told me to give up, but I was not going to let him keep me down. I was devastated that I felt like a failure, but I was going to find the strength to keep going.

I made some calls. I walked into Hope Cottage, a local adoption agency, and from that day, it just felt right.

I have told Karen’s – Bryce’s birth mom’s – story of recovery and how I loved her when I first met her.  And I told you that I love her.  I love her for so many reasons – one of which is because she helped save me too. She made me a mother when I couldn’t be a mom. She allowed me to not be a failure.

I did not have a baby grow inside of me, but I did have a baby with the help of Karen. I did not give up, I made a choice and chose another way to be a mom. I needed help and she helped me with her choice as well.

I was suffering from PTSD after 9/11 and after failing to have a baby. But Karen and Bryce saved me.

You never know how things are going to go in your life. You never know what will happen. I thought I was not going to be a Mother. So on Mother’s Day I celebrate the fact that I am a Mother. I celebrate my Mother. And I celebrate the women who made me a Mother.

Don’t ever give up. Don’t let someone say something to you and let it make you change your dreams.

Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.

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Karen’s Story – Hope and Recovery

I want to write about a truly remarkable woman who means a lot to me – Karen, Bryce’s birthmother.

It makes sense to write about Karen. Without Karen, there is no Bryce and no story to tell. Without Karen, I would not have the life that I have. Karen is a big reason I am the person that I am today. And I like to think that I am part of the reason that Karen is the person that she is today as well.

When I met Karen, she had just given birth to Bryce and she was handcuffed to a hospital bed. She had just made me a mother and she was beautiful. She asked me to buy her a comb. That was all she wanted. Of course. I went down to the hospital gift shop and got her one. It was the least I could do. She gave me a son – I could give her a comb.

When Bryce was born, Karen was suffering from drug addiction and had been for years. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She had a completely different life than me. But she was a smart young woman. I could tell that when I met her. I could also tell that from the amazing letter she wrote to Bryce when he was born. In that letter she told Bryce about the difficult decision she made in choosing adoption, that she chose Terry and I to be his parents and that she loved him very much. They were words that any parent would want their son to hear. I could not have written a better letter if I tried.

Karen struggled with drug addiction for years. She was in and out of jail, hung out with a bad crowd and soon after giving birth to Bryce, lost her mother to a heart attack which just made things worse for her. But Karen did not give up. And I did not give up on her.

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Karen, Bryce and Tracy at the Hope Cottage Christmas Party.  Karen is still dealing with addiction at this time, but sees Bryce through the adoption agency

I cared so much for her for what she had given me, and I wanted to help her. Since we had an open adoption, I wanted to and was able to be in touch with her. Given her background, at first our contact was only through Hope Cottage, our adoption agency. I wished I could have done more for her. I wanted to take her in my arms and tell her how much I loved her and that anything she needed, I would give her. But I couldn’t do that. My responsibility was to Bryce, to do everything I could to take care of him. And at that time, Karen was using drugs and was in and out of jail. Having a close connection to her would not have been in the best interest of Bryce.

I wanted her to know I cared. She was Bryce’s birthmother. I called to check on her when she was in prison and found out I was on her visitor’s list. I had no idea she would put me on her list. It meant so much to me that she put me on her list, that I went and visited her in prison. I was like a fish out of water, but it was an incredible experience. She was so surprised to see me. I just needed to know how she was, and I needed her to know that I thought of her and loved her.

Karen and I stayed in touch. I would send letters to Hope Cottage, she asked for pictures of Bryce, and she wrote letters back.

Years later I found out Karen was clean. She tells me that one day she was in church and “the addiction just left her.” She says that when in jail, she voluntarily admitted herself into a rehabilitation program. She felt that she was only being “warehoused” in jail, and if she didn’t get help, there was no other hope.

When Karen was released, she held on to her Hope. She started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, got a sponsor and followed their step work. She did service work for others and kept going to church.

Karen has been clean for 7 years. She got a college degree, works full-time and is getting a Master’s in Addiction Counseling.

Karen is a true story of Recovery. It was not an easy road for her, and this does not begin to tell the details of it. But Recovery is possible.

Karen’s story is one of Hope. Mental illness and addiction can drag you down, but there is always a way back up.  We must continue to advocate for funding for recovery programs as well as funding for mental health as the two often go hand in hand.  Bryce’s birthmother is a true example of Strength and Recovery. I know that Strength and Hope have been passed on to Bryce.

Thank you Karen for allowing me to share part of your story. We love you. I know fate brought us together for so many reasons.

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Strength and Hope – Karen and Bryce two years ago during a trip to Dallas

Most Wanted? Absolutely!!

I just read a review of the latest Lisa Scottoline book entitled “Most Wanted” – one of those books with a sensational storyline. This one has an infertile couple who finally gets pregnant thanks to a sperm donor but then finds out that their hand-selected, “perfect” donor might actually be a serial killer. Oh no! Now What? Will their precious baby inherit those “awful genes”? The parents to be are heartbroken. Apparently, causing therm and the reviewer in The Washington Post, Carol Memmott to ask questions such as, “What would you do – abort the baby?” and, “Could you love the baby knowing the biological father is a killer?” As I am reading the review, I am thinking to myself, “Am I really reading this?” This is their baby! They will love and raise the baby. Is there any other choice? Is this really a story for a book?

I am shocked by all of this because I adopted a baby whose “genes” were not perfect. So what?

My son’s birth mother and father were not serial killers. But they were diagnosed with mental illness. They used drugs. I knew all of this going in and of course I still loved my baby. I remember driving to the hospital to see our son after he was born. My husband and I realized we had not asked our social worker if he was healthy or not when she called. We said, “Oh well. I guess we will find out when we get there. He is our son now.” That baby is now 13 and I could not imagine not having him in my life. Bryce does have his challenges and life with Bryce has not always been easy, but there is nothing that I would change about any of the choices that we made.

When you have a baby of your own DNA, you do not know what will happen to the baby. Anything can happen. You love the baby. You raise the baby. It is no different if your baby has someone’s else’s genes. I often forget that my children were not born from my belly but from my heart. I’m just a mom like everyone else.

Thanks for reading!