Life With a Child With Anxiety and Trichotillomania, Part 1

“You do what?” was my response when my 11 year old daughter told me that she pulled her hair when she was stressed. “You mean, out?”

“Yes, Momma.  When I’m stressed, I pull my hair out,” was her response.  I wish I could tell you that I gave her a hug and calmly told her that we would figure this out, but I didn’t.  My response went something like this,

“Stop doing that!  That’s not good for you, Allison.  I’m glad that that bald spot is where it can be covered with a pony tail.”  I didn’t intend to be insensitive or harsh.  In that moment, I didn’t know what to say much less how to process what she had just confessed to me.

Allison had always twirled her hair around her fingers.  When she was about 2 years old, I decided to put her hair in two piggytails for the first time.  As I gathered her hair on one side of her head, I noticed it was very thin.  I leaned in closer and realized that she had very little hair there.  How strange!  I tried brushing the hair up on the other side of her head and noticed the same thing. Then it hit me:  the balls of hair that I had seen on her bedroom floor and in our suburban had been hers! While twirling her hair, Allison had pulled out the majority on both sides of her head.  Horrified, I immediately grabbed the scissors and cut her hair in a short boy’s haircut.  I was certain that if her hair was short enough, she couldn’t twirl it or pull it out, right?  I needed to stop this habit before it started!  As her hair grew back in, she resumed twirling it, but I never noticed those bothersome bald spots or hairballs on the floors again.


I had totally forgotten about Allison pulling her hair out until that day she confessed to me a couple of months ago.  I realized then that I had often seen her playing with her hair, but never processed it as something to be concerned about.  Now, I remembered seeing her chewing on the bottom of her braids or holding a piece of hair between her fingers and chewing on it, but she always stopped when I pointed out what she was doing.  I had even occasionally noticed a ball of hair on the floor when sweeping several times, but never connected it with Allison.  I thought that that was normal with two daughters!

I knew I needed to do some research, but was reluctant to turn on my computer.  I had no idea what to even call what she did!  Guilt and panic threatened to overwhelm me.  Why was my child doing this?  How had I missed it?  What if this was my fault?  My fingers felt as if they had lead weights on them.  I had had my own experience with stress and anxiety 10 years ago.  What if this was related to my own experience with anxiety when I was pregnant with her?  Overwhelmed by all the search results that came up, I decided to talk to our family doctor when I was there for one of the other kid’s scheduled appointments the next day.

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After hearing my story, the doctor told me that Allison most likely had anxiety and trichotillomania.  Trichotillomania referred to Allison’s compulsion to pull her hair out when she was stressed.  I went home empowered.  I wasn’t a bad parent.  I hadn’t done this to her.  Although heredity can certainly play a part in the development of anxiety and trichotillomania, it was only one factor of many.  I left our family doctor’s office armed with an appointment with a pediatrician for the following Monday and a prescription to stop worrying before I actually knew what was going on.

It is now several months later.  We haven’t found any answers yet, but I am definitely more knowledgeable.  As we are working with our pediatrician, I am continuing to read and research online.  I am also more aware of Allison’s anxiety level.  Prior to her confession about pulling her hair out, I hadn’t realized that she had anxiety at all.  Now, I can more clearly see her anxious episodes and help her through them.  Anxiety and trichotillomania are much more common in children than I realized.  And, having either one is certainly not a death sentence.




#Momlife-The Early Days

Four months ago I gave birth to my 9th baby. My 10 lb. baby boy seemed huge and teeny tiny all at the same time. Our little Michelin Man was the cutest thing I had seen in years!

I noticed pretty quickly that little man cried a lot. I am not referring to cute little newborn whimpers. I am talking about full-on crying baby for hours, only stopping for a few minutes every so often while he catnapped. I didn’t understand what was going on. I had just spent the last 9 months of pregnancy carefully monitoring my diet and avoiding my kids’ known allergens, trying to get at least a little exercise, my planned home birth had been flawless (the best yet!), baby had been my biggest, and all he did was fuss. I was devastated. I was also reminded of several rules I made for myself when I was pregnant several babies ago.

THROW ALL YOUR PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS OUT THE WINDOW. How had I forgotten that one? I had spent months looking forward to newborn snuggles and simpler days. That first month with Silas felt so much harder because I grieved the loss of what I had expected. I had become complacent because my pregnancy was so easy, forgetting that babies are tiny humans, each with their own personalities and life experiences in the womb (sounds silly, but it’s true!). Silas was tender and sensitive. His response to birth was not to sleep for 4-6 hours like the typical newborn. Instead, Silas’s response was to let us all know that he was here and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He was a stranger in a new land!

BE PREPARED TO FEEL MORE EXHAUSTED THAN YOU HAVE EVER FELT BEFORE. Even after 8 other babies, I still felt more exhausted than I remembered feeling with the other babies.

CREATE A DISTASTROPHE PLAN. Yes, I coined that word on purpose. Little Silas’s first month was certainly not going according to my plan. With exhaustion addling my brain, it was tough to figure out what the next step should be. It’s important to talk with your support team (husband, mom, mother-in-law, best friend, etc.) and figure out what your plan is BEFORE having a baby. It was certainly not the best idea for me to try to locate a good lactation consultant after I hadn’t slept in 3 days with the now-super-frustrated baby in my arms. It would have been much better had I taken the time pre-birth to do my research and create a distastrophe plan. Details that you could include in your plan would be who would take care of baby in the event mom has complications and has to remain in the hospital, a lactation consultant’s name and phone number if you are planning to breastfeed, whether you want to rent a hospital-grade breast pump or which pump you would like to buy should the need arise, and document the point at which you are willing to give baby formula and which kind you would like to use. I have successfully nursed 7 babies and have needed to temporarily supplement 2 of them before my milk came in. It happens.

SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY. With 7 other kids to take care of, I overlooked the most basic rule:  Simplifying your routine before baby is born makes the transition much easier after baby is born.  Before baby arrives, stock up on easy snacks and simple meals that even a toddler can prepare (i.e. something microwaveable).  And, if you have other children, you might as well embrace the fact now that they will watch A LOT of Netflix during the first couple of months after baby’s birth.

NEED TO MAKE A BIG DECISION?  JUST. DON’T. DO. IT. I have long had a hard and fast rule for myself: no decision-making 3 months before a baby is due or 3 months after the baby is born. Pregnancy and postpartum hormones are cray-cray! Thinking about selling your house and moving? Nope, don’t try to make that decision right now. Dietary changes? Not the time to tackle them. While spending hours doing the timeless bounce-bounce-sway with your new baby, did you noticed that you really don’t like the color of your baseboards and trim? Put that decision off for another day. Not sure if you are finished having babies and want to get your tubes tied? If you haven’t already made the decision, don’t try to make it now. Your uterus and fallopian tubes aren’t going anywhere. You can come back to that decision later.

In my experience the timetable after birth looks something like this: The first month after birth is about survival and getting to know your new little one. The second month is spent creating a new norm for your family. During the third month, healthy, objective thought slowly returns. You will catch glimpses of your former intelligent, witty self with increasing frequency this month. By the fourth month, you and your family thriving in this new norm! Although sleepless nights will still have the capacity to reduce you to a hot mess, overall you will feel better and more human. Be watchful for the symptoms of postpartem depression (PPD) during the first year after baby’s birth. Please seek the advice of medical professional if you suspect you are suffering from PPD.

Pay attention to your self talk. If you find yourself often thinking thoughts like, “I can’t do this,” it’s time to take those thoughts under control. Obviously, you CAN do it, though you may not feel too great while you ARE doing it. Make a deliberate effort to repeat to yourself, “I am fine. I am (fill in the blank: tired, disappointed, stressed, etc.), but I am fine.” My internal dialogue usually goes like this, “This sucks but I am not going to die.” (Then again, I have always been a little melodramatic.) Follow that up with, “I love this little one so much! Look at those sweet little feet. His skin feels so soft on my cheek. I love the way his lips make little sucking movements in while he sleeps.” Feel free to add in whatever feeds your soul. As I explained in my last post, you can’t change the facts, but you can choose how you react to them. By choosing positive, life-giving thoughts, you will take the stress level down immensely!

The early months after a baby’s birth are alternately the sweetest you will ever experience and can be one of the toughest seasons you will ever have to walk through. My timetable will not necessarily be your time-table, but the milestones are similar for all of us. My best advice to a family with a new baby:  Relax, don’t over-think things, and enjoy the ride.

Motherhood: A Blank Canvas









A contradiction.

Humans are fickle creatures.  It amazes me how easily we can flip-flop from one side of the spectrum to the other.  So, what is motherhood really?  It is a blank canvas.

Several years ago I met with a doctor to discuss my backup plan should my planned home birth not be possible. When I questioned him about his philosophy about C-sections, he answered, “I do not do C-sections like the average doctor,” and then went on to explain his process.  “This takes about 10 minutes longer than the standard C-section.  What do I do this?  Because it’s my art.”

Motherhood is our canvas.  We choose the picture we paint.  I attended a lecture recently where the instructor stated, “Facts are neutral.”  Initially, I wanted to argue this point.  I could think up a million facts that were clearly not neutral.  Death is not neutral, right?  It is horribly painful.  A strained relationship with a family member is not neutral.  A fight with my husband is surely not neutral under the best of circumstances.  I hate fighting with him!  After thinking it through, I slowly came to understand what the speaker intended with her statement.  Death is a fact.  We choose how we respond to it.  We can choose to work through the natural grief process or we can choose to get depressed and be angry at God for the next several years.  As painful as it may be, a strained relationship with a family member is a fact.  We get to choose what comes next.  And, if I argue with my husband, I get to choose whether or not I am going to hold a grudge for the next week, or if I am going to forgive and move on.

Last night my 13-year-old daughter walked into my bedroom and stated, “I wish I had your room, Mom.”  She didn’t see the primary color red and blue paint on the walls, left over from the previous home owner, damaged window blinds, or the broken dresser drawer hanging open, waiting for me to find the wood glue. My daughter saw warmth, love, comfort.  Most days I all I see are sheets that need to be changed, clothes that need to be washed, a bed that needs to be made, and WHEN AM I GOING TO FINALLY GET AROUND TO COVERING THAT UGLY PAINT? Neither of our pictures was untrue. My daughter’s picture was the true masterpiece.

Which picture would you choose to paint of the months after the birth of a new baby?  Sleepless nights, endless diapers, a mountain of dirty laundry, and no dinner when Daddy gets home?  Or sweet, slow-moving mornings, baby smiles, days spent in your jammies, and a healthy, yummy dinner shared with Daddy of bagged salad and grilled chicken breast (even if it’s for the 3rd time this week)?

Motherhood is our art.  Next time you feel bogged down by motherhood, take a mental step back and consider what the facts are.  Then, repaint your canvas.  Stay away from the blacks, grays, and reds.  You can accent your painting with those, but they shouldn’t be the primary focus.  Let soft pastels or vibrant primaries be your overarching theme.

What are you finding challenging about motherhood right now?  What are the facts?  Which picture are you going to paint?

5 Things I Learned Because of the Tornado in Floresville

Let’s face it.  Families are busy.  Kids. Work. Home. Church.  We all have more priorities to attend to than we naturally have time for. After a destructive tornado touched down 6 miles from my home, being prepared for an emergency has moved up my priority list.  Below are five basic things that I think are necessary for being prepared in an emergency situation.

First, never leave your vehicle’s gas tank empty.  I am the queen of pulling into my driveway with the van’s fuel gauge reading EMPTY.  It is my intention to ask my husband to go fill my van up later in the evening when the gas station isn’t so crowded, but that rarely happens.  By the time the kids and I arrive home and get the van unloaded, I have usually forgotten that the van’s gas tank needed to be filled.

Second, keep a case of bottled water on hand. Bottled water usually gets a bad rap, but in this situation it’s necessary.  If basic utilities were temporarily down (power and water), having drinkable water at home is a necessity.  If it was the kind of emergency that necessitated loading my family up and hustling out the door, grabbing that stored-away-case-of-bottled-water would be a cinch!

Third, keep some cash on hand.  Cash ALWAYS has a voice.  

Fourth, keep your cell phone charged.  Depending on the emergency, this could be useless because of the potential for cell towers to be down.  However, in the case of the tornado yesterday, we were able to use our cell phones to keep up with the latest weather reports.  If my phone had been dead (like it usually is) and the power was out, that wouldn’t have been possible.

Fifth, have a disaster response plan in mind and rehearse it with your family.  What is your plan if the urgent need arises to load up the family and leave your home?  What will you take?  Where will you go?  We have already covered the most basic necessities:  gas in the van, water, cash, and a charged cell phone.  To ensure that no one gets left behind in the chaos, we have assigned each of the bigger kids in our family a younger buddy.  I plan to do drills with the kids next week to reinforce how the plan will work.

What do you think?  What else is essential to your family in case of an emergency?

Preston’s Story

Recently I had the opportunity to write up the story of my twins, Patrick and Preston, born 14 years ago.  Twin B, Preston, was unexpectedly born with a heart defect and died a few days after birth.  Because all of our pictures of Preston either have the ventilator covering his face or he is under the oxygen tent and slightly blurred, we do not have a good picture of Preston’s face.  About 18 months ago, an artist named Bethany Kerr created a pencil drawing of the twins together based on pictures I sent her. Using my original pictures, Bethany was able to remove the machinery and bless us with a beautiful pencil drawing.  Here is Preston’s story:

Shortly after my husband and I were married, we found out we were pregnant with twins.  We were ecstatic!  I called both grandmas at work, saying, “We saw the baby!  And the other baby!”  Their classic response was “WHAT???!!!!”  The pregnancy progressed like normal twin pregnancies do.  I got to peek in on the boys every other week via ultrasounds to check that they were progressing normally and all was well.  After a few premature labor scares, my water broke in the middle of the night when I was 35 weeks along.  The boys entered the world after a textbook labor.  At first, all seemed to be going well.

I lay there while the doctor stitched up my episiotomy, drinking in the whir of busyness that was the delivery room.  I was very excited.  My boys were here!  In the brief moment that I had seen them at delivery, they seemed to look exactly alike.  As I lay on the delivery table in the surgical suite, I could see both bassinets at the opposite end of the room, surrounded by nurses.  My husband moved back and forth between them, taking pictures. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of my boys as the nurses moved about doing their work.  Their vitals were checked and footprints were done.  While the nurses around Patrick seemed to be relaxed, standing around chatting, I noticed that the nurses around Preston seemed more serious.  I didn’t give it any thought until I saw his leg out of the corner of my eye.  It was bluish.

Curious, I asked if that was normal. No one answered.  A few moments later, two nurses walked past, stopping briefly to show me my swaddled babies.  They casually let me know that they were taking them to the nursery as a precaution.  I was directed to relax and recover and that taking care of myself was my first responsibility so that I could be a good momma to my babies.  My husband gave me a look and I nodded my head, communicating as married people do.  He followed the babies to the nursery.

I was wheeled into a recovery room a short time later.  Because family had gone to watch the boys through the nursery window, no one came to see me.  After an hour and a half, I was getting antsy.  Where were my boys and where was my husband?  Why wasn’t he coming back and bringing me the camera so that I could see my boys?  The nurse avoided my questions, repeating the instructions for me to rest and heal.

My husband finally arrived back at my room.  Before he could tell me what was going on several doctors came in.  Preston was struggling, they said.  He had been placed under an oxygen tent in the nursery.  Because the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, they theorized that his little body was having trouble transitioning to life outside the womb and needed a little help.  They assured me he would be fine.  I was comforted, sort of.  

During the next 24 hours Preston’s condition went from bad to worse.  Eight hours after birth, he was transported to a bigger hospital that was better equipped to handle whatever his issues were.  By morning he was on a ventilator and fighting for his life.  Preston was diagnosed with pulmonary valve atresia, a heart defect.  One of Preston’s heart valves was fused closed and was not allowing the blood from his body to flow through his heart and back to his lungs to be oxygenated.  The next morning Preston was transported to a third hospital, this time one that was equipped to handle babies with heart problems.  Preston underwent corrective heart surgery, but died 12 hours later.  Little Patrick was doing great and had been released from the hospital 18 hours earlier.  

In the few short days he was alive, I remember thinking that I would do this again and again even if the only life my babies had was inside the womb.  Although David and I originally planned for the stereotypical American family of 2-3 kids, our hearts were changed because of Preston. My husband and I realized how much of a blessing each life is, no matter how long or how short.   In the ensuing 14 years, I have given birth to 7 more babies and had one miscarriage.  It is because of Preston that these babies exist.  They are his legacy.

Patrick and Preston-original 2Patrick and Preston-originalPatrick and Preston

Changing Direction

Three month old Silas’s meningitis scare this past weekend showed me three important things.

First, I don’t spend enough time WITH my kids.  Sure, we are always together.  But, we are also ALWAYS BUSY.  BUSY getting school done.  BUSY cleaning house.  I’m BUSY balancing my checkbook while Brook Lynne holds the baby for a few minutes.  The little ones are BUSY watching their umpteenth show on Netflix while I get dinner on the table and the older kids are getting ready for church.  BUSY, BUSY, BUSY all the time.

Second, I noticed that my kids are not as well-behaved as they used to be.  I realize that my kids are pretty well-behaved and I know that they have sweet hearts.  But, that’s not enough.  If we were ever in a dangerous situation, I don’t know that I could trust my kids to respond to me immediately.  It would be much more likely that they would respond, “Why?”  And, trips to the store with all the kids have been very frustrating lately.  By the time I get to the register, I am completely frazzled.  Your sweet heart might be saying, “But, Darlene, that’s normal for kids.  And you have EIGHT.”  But I know better.  The world gives kids permission to express themselves at others’ expense.  I disagree with that philosophy.  Unconditional love is being a blessing to those that you are around (putting others first), even if it’s just your momma at the grocery store.

The third thing I noticed is that in spite of being so focused on figuring out how to live in a small house and how to get homeschooling done, we aren’t in any better a place now than we were a year ago.  The house is still cluttered.  The schoolroom/dining room/storage room is, well, a dumping ground!   I have not invited anyone for dinner in over a year because my house just isn’t that nice to be in!  

Silas’s sickness reminded me that I need to slow down and enjoy my children.  The truth is that we aren’t promised tomorrow. Life isn’t about ceaselessly struggling to get “it” all done.  It’s about relationships.  My children’s’ attitudes and behavior are a direct reflection of my own priorities.  To correct this, I don’t need to create more rules or be tougher on the kids and myself.  I need to love them more.  I need to slow down and enjoy their company more.  I need to have meaningful conversations with them.  When my older kids were younger, I would take them in the bathroom with me, sit them down on a stool, and have them tell me a story.  It might seem like a strange way to spend time with the kids, but it kept mischievous 2 or 4 year old safe and out of trouble and I chose to enjoy their company.  Now, those moments (and their silly stories) are a precious memory!  Embrace the season in life that you are in.  I will be.

Gaining Traction

Yesterday was a hard day.

It started when I got out of the shower at 7 am.  My 13 year old brought me the baby and started happily chatting.  My response was, “Brook Lynne, I am having a very bad day.  Can we talk later?”

I went to get a glass of water before I made my breakfast.  Drip.  Drip.  Drip.  My 14 year old told me that he had intended to tell me that he put the last jug of water on the water cooler the day before, but he forgot.

I told my child that suffers from anxiety to TOUGHEN UP.  Then I walked away.

I promised said child with anxiety that I would be at the church the whole time she was in her class, so she had nothing to worry about.  Then, I loaded my toddlers and baby back up and went back home to pick up the kids’ supper that was forgotten on the counter.

I caught myself talking to my children at church in a tone of voice that I wouldn’t generally use outside my home.  I don’t even like using that tone of voice INSIDE my HOME!

I left the bible study class that I usually attend and took my 2 year old to the nursery (something I rarely do) and LEFT HER THERE (something I have never done.).  Then, I walked the hall with my baby, enjoying 30 minutes of “alone-time” (you know, in the middle of a busy church hallway) instead of going back to class.

During the 5 minute drive home, I had several moments of panic, counted the kids multiple times (‘cuz that’s what you do when you have eleventeen children.  You count them instead of trying to remember all their names), certain that I must have forgotten one somewhere.  I hadn’t, by the way.

Yep.  Yesterday was one of those days that could be best characterized as do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do.