Monday, November 29, 2021

 

Before I dive into what has transpired since this past March in the life of our family, I want to begin by making a disclaimer, of sorts.  First, having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and attempting to understand and navigate ASD is a whole new world for us. We are still very much rookies in every way, and therefore, I may use some words, phrases, or expressions in ways that might not be “politically correct”,  but please know that I am being real and authentic, and don’t mean any harm or insult. My heart is to share our experience for the Glory of God and in hopes that he might use our story to encourage others.  Second, the decisions that Zack and I have made for our family have been prayed over for months, through tears, anger, sadness, and ultimately peace, trust, and faith in the Lord. They have not come lightly, and though everyone may not agree with, or understand our decisions, as Luke’s parents, God has entrusted us with earthly authority over his precious life, and we have sincerely sought God’s guidance and wisdom for the decisions that we have made for Luke and our family.  We greatly appreciate everyone that has prayed on our behalf these last few months.


On a beautiful March afternoon, Zack and I, along with our son, Luke, found ourselves in Fannie Mae Dees Park, or “Dragon Park” as it is known to the Nashville locals. While we love Nashville and have visited several times, this visit was to be different than the rest. The next morning, we had an appointment to have Luke evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.  Our journey here had been a God thing, as just a few months ago I sat in our pediatrician’s office and heard words that though slightly anticipated, still were difficult to here- “Luke needs to have a formal autism evaluation”. I say anticipated, because by the time Luke was 18 months old, we knew he was a little different than other children his age.  He had a keen ability to recognize and manipulate numbers, letters, colors, and shapes, often times being able to solve problems and manipulate them in ways that were well advanced for his age. He also enjoyed engaging in his own world, with his numbers, letters and other toys, much more than he enjoyed engaging with people. He was, and is, an incredibly loving, sweet, and fun little guy, and he enjoys a tickle fight and to wrestle just like any other child- but we just knew something was different. By the time he turned two, some other red flags began to emerge. His speech was definitely delayed- though he could say many individual words, he rarely, if ever, used them in a conversational manner, or to engage anyone socially. He didn’t acknowledge most people when they tried to speak to him or interact with him, or if he did, they had to try many times to get his attention.  Again, we knew was super smart, so we thought maybe he was just going to be a little different….but he also lacked the appropriate body language you would expect for most children his age. He didn’t nod his head or use gestures, and he failed to respond to his name being called most of the time, or to follow my lead when I pointed at an interesting object. I instinctively knew from my education background that these were all red flags for autism, and knew it was something we needed to discuss with our pediatrician.

 

And so we did. Our pediatrician did a quick screening, and felt that it would be wise to refer Luke for a formal evaluation for Autism. He warned me that the current wait time for such an evaluation was close to one year, but that in the meantime, we should go ahead and get started with some early speech intervention through First Steps.  I immediately arranged for an evaluation with First Steps, and also decided not to settle for a one year wait for an evaluation. I began to do some research and attempted to find other agencies and offices that performed evaluations besides the one we had been referred to. I found lots of long wait times, but didn’t give up. I ran across something called the Autism Care Network, a network of children’s hospitals and clinics across the country that bring together leading children’s hospitals and academic institutions to develop best practices in clinical care. The closest to us were Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, so I started there. Unfortunately Cincinnati was only accepting new patients from surrounding counties, and our county didn’t qualify. Vanderbilt was accepting new patients, but the wait time was several months. However, there was an exception- If we would be willing to be part of a research study involving comparing the results of evaluations done through telehealth versus in person, then they would be able to see us in just a few weeks. I didn’t even hesitate in saying, “yes!”. We would travel to Nashville a few weeks later for both a virtual evaluation and then later the same day an in person evaluation, and get a full report that day. I was elated and so grateful. God had already began to answer prayers and provide for Luke and our family.

 


Dragon Park, March 2021


 So that’s how we ended up in Dragon Park in Nashville on a beautiful March day. After a nice dinner downtown that evening, we retired to our hotel and to prepare for a day of unknowns for both Luke and us. The next morning, Zack dropped Luke and I off for his evaluations (because of COVID, only one parent could accompany Luke).  Thankfully, Zack was able to facetime with us for much for the evaluation. The virtual evaluation was first, and as I expected, Luke failed to interact virtually whatsoever. We then went into a different room and waited for the in person evaluation to begin. Our evaluator, Amy, was so kind and compassionate. She did manage to get a few smiles and words out of Luke, and was very patient with him throughout the several hour session. She put Zack and I at ease, and she is still a valuable resource to our family.  At the end of the evaluation she took some time to complete her paperwork, and then she spoke very softly but solemnly to Zack and I. I can still remember exactly what she said as she looked at me with such kindness in her eyes. “I don’t know what you were expecting to find out today, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that Luke should be placed on the Autism Spectrum”. She then went onto explain why Luke didn’t just have a speech delay and helped us understand his diagnosis. She felt that at this time, he was extremely impacted by his symptoms in terms of social and communicative impairments, and though she couldn’t tell us a firm prognosis, she gave us much hope by pointing out that Luke’s cognitive abilities were strong, and that he was verbal, even if his speech and conversational language skills were extremely delayed. She praised us for intervening early, as she helped us understand why early intervention was so crucial for any child with autism (that can’t be understated). She also shared with us some of her personal story, including of her son that was diagnosed with ASD and the amazing progress and strides that he had made over the years with the proper therapies and interventions. We thanked her so much for her help, and the rest of the staff warmly told us goodbye as we made our way out of the office.

 

On the drive home, Zack and I sat mostly quiet for a long time while Luke entertained himself in the backseat. I think we both knew that this had been a life changing visit to Nashville.  As we sat quietly, we were processing, thinking. Though we were just embarking on this lifelong journey, we quickly recognized that the life we had imagined for Luke was going to much different than what we had planned. My mind was racing. I was overwhelmed.  I began to make a mental list of all the resources I would need to secure for Luke. Amy had been very helpful in recommending resources for us as parents- books, online trainings, etc. She encouraged us to continue speech and occupational therapy, and highly recommended a therapy that I wasn’t familiar with, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).  One thing that Zack and I both agreed on before we made it home to London was that we were committed to doing whatever we needed to do to help Luke reach his full God given potential, and we would do it together. “Together”  became a very important word for Zack and I, one that we have held onto through these last few months, through the best and probably most difficult times of our married lives. It would only be together, as husband and as wife, and as God as the head, that we would make it through the challenges we would face over the next several months.

 

We vaguely shared the news with our family. It was still so new and difficult for us to process that we weren’t quite ready to get into all the details with them just yet. There was a strong hope among our family that Luke just had a speech delay and was very smart, different, but not in need of any formal diagnosis and the therapies that would accompany it.  Over the next few days, we would have discussions with our parents about his diagnosis, and we had a family meeting with our kids one evening to explain Luke’s diagnosis to them as well. It was going to be a learning process for us all, but one that God would use, and continues to use, for his glory and our good.

 Over the next few weeks I did my best to educate myself about ABA therapy. After the reading and research I had done, and after hearing from other families about the benefits their children had experienced, I agreed with what Amy had told us about the benefits of ABA therapy, and I began the process of trying to find the appropriate ABA therapy for Luke. I quickly found that securing this type of therapy wasn’t going to be nearly as easy as it had been to find the appropriate speech and occupation therapy that Luke needed.  In fact, the options in our area were, and continue to be very limited. I found waiting lists dating back to 2019, insurance roadblocks, and agencies that could offer a few hours a week of therapy, but not anything comprehensive like was indicated for Luke by Vanderbilt. Zack and I decided to continue searching and to see what type of progress Luke could make with speech and occupational therapy. He also would begin public preschool when he turned three in October, so we were hoping that this would help with his social engagement and communication as well.

 Over the summer we were blessed to work with wonderful speech and occupational therapists, and we saw Luke make progress with verbalization in terms of learning more words, and being able to ask for some basic needs when prompted, mostly related to food. His ability to understand and manipulate numbers continued to grow, and basically overtook all other interests. One of his favorite summertime activities was to write numbers on the trampoline with sidewalk chalk. I could ask him to write any number- 75, 36, 49, etc. and if he was willing to deviate from whatever he was doing, he could write any number I requested! Though we were thankful for the areas of progress we did observe, and for the amazing therapists he worked with through the summer, there were certainly areas, mostly in Luke’s behaviors and in his sleeping, that had began to deteriorate. It became very difficult to predict what would upset him and cause a meltdown or send him into an emotional downward spiral . He was very much insistent on the same routine each day, but sometimes even adhering to that routine wasn’t good enough, and he would become overwhelmed with anxiety and despair. He struggled with any change to his environment and to adapt to new environments- the simplest of transitions was a daily struggle. It was heartbreaking to watch our sweet boy deal with these big emotions and not be able to help him. Many days we just felt helpless and could only hold and console him through these difficult times. His sleep deteriorated to levels that I could never have imagined. Those who know our family well know that Luke has always struggled with sleep. After receiving his diagnosis, his sleep struggles began to make sense, as over half of children with ASD have some sort of sleep disorder. In getting acquainted with other families in the Autism community, my heart breaks for some of the sleep struggles their children, and in turn, parents endure. For Luke, some nights were full of hours of crying and screaming, with me helplessly sitting with Luke, trying to understand what was going on. On those nights, I would often find myself crying with Luke, while Zack would be in our bedroom praying for us, as Luke responded ever more harsher if Zack would try to help. Other nights, Luke would wake multiple times, not upset, but simply with his mind racing as he would recite the alphabet, count to 100, or mimic other sounds and phrases his toys would make. Other nights, he would awaken but could easily be calmed back to sleep in just a few minutes. Every night was different, except for one aspect- I knew Luke wouldn’t sleep all night long. At some point, I knew we needed to seek help with the sleeping aspect, and though I had been resistant to involving medication, we had exhausted almost every other avenue of help. So, at the advice of our local pediatrician and the developmental pediatricians at Vanderbilt, Luke began a very low dose of medication to assist with sleepiness. In about 3-4 weeks, the very difficult nights of several hours of waking decreased, and though currently no night is perfect, we were and are thankful for this improvement.

                                       Luke writing numbers on the trampoline....cool hair! 
 

As the summer came to a close, I considered the struggles that Luke was having, and recognized that though speech and occupational therapy had definitely been beneficial, and though preschool would provide exposure to social situations with other children, Luke still had significant needs that just weren’t able to be addressed by these therapies alone. I remembered Amy speaking about early intervention, and was reading on a daily basis about the success other families were having with their children and ABA therapy.  I was convinced after being with Luke day after day and witnessing how his behavior had changed, after hearing from multiple families from across the country, and after speaking with doctors from Vanderbilt and Cleveland Clinic, that ABA therapy, combined with speech and occupational therapy, would be in Luke’s best interest. The only issue was that the closest centers that could offer the comprehensive therapy that Luke needed were in Richmond, Lexington and Louisville, and it just wasn’t feasible for our family to commute to these locations daily for several hours every week. I began to realize that if we really wanted to take seriously Luke’s future and his needs, moving where he could receive a combination of these therapies would be necessary. My heart was torn because I knew what this would mean for our family- a move away from friends, family and a community we all loved. I also knew what it would mean for our parents, who love our children so well. There was no question it would be a huge sacrifice for our family to relocate. But the alternative, in my mind, meant not giving Luke every opportunity and chance to thrive, and as his mother, that was not an acceptable option. Luke had both the most to gain and lose in this particular situation.

 

I began to share my concerns and heart with Zack regarding the importance of therapy for Luke. He, too, had noticed changes in Luke, and though he agreed that Luke needed the therapy, he didn’t think that moving was in our family’s best interest, at least at the current time. Finding out God had blessed our family with new life certainly seemed to make moving even more complicated, and Zack remined me that we depended on the help our of parents to transport our older kids to different activities, to help out around our home, to give us a break from to time, etc., and he wasn’t sure how we could make everything work without them. I agreed, and readily admitted that I wasn’t sure how it would all work either, but I just knew in my heart that this was what Luke needed, and that the earlier we could intervene, the better. I told Zack that I trusted that in God’s sovereignty, he could put all the pieces together. And He would have to do just that.

 

In the weeks that followed, Zack and I continued the discussion about moving, and Zack’s opinion didn’t change much. One evening we were taking a walk and having a discussion about therapy, and Zack just stopped me and said, “Rebecca, if we are going to move, God is going to have to move us, because I just can’t see how it’s going to work. That’s just the way it is”.  I’ll admit, I was devastated and saddened, and tears instantly began to flow. I know Zack, and I know the love he has for his family, and his commitment to our well being.  I knew he was speaking from a place in his heart what he thought was best for our family, and I wasn’t angry with him. I just prayed that night that God would provide what we needed, whether it was at our current location, or someplace and in some way that we currently couldn’t see or understand - “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19.

 

Though not on the same page about moving, Zack and I did agree and were interested in at least checking out what a therapy center would be like for Luke, and this was something I had been looking into for some time. So, a few weeks after our last conversation about moving, Luke was scheduled for a functional behavioral assessment at a highly recommended center that had offices in Lexington and Louisville. This would give us an idea of what a treatment plan for Luke would consist of, a more accurate understanding of how many hours of therapy would be recommended, and allow us to see the type of environment that he would be in for ABA therapy. My mom and I took Luke to the center. From the time we walked in, everyone was so kind, positive, and helpful. Surprisingly, Luke didn’t respond as he usually did to a new environment and new people, and he stayed fairly calm. The BCBA (board certified behavioral analyst) that worked with us was wonderful. She was a former public preschool teacher and had a tremendous amount of experience working with children in the classroom and children with autism. She did a great job of explaining everything she was doing with Luke and the rational behind it throughout the session. Luke played with and discovered lots of new toys, visited their gym and jumped on the trampoline, and overall had a great time. At the end of the visit, she explained that it would take her several weeks to complete her evaluation of Luke and to begin creating goals for a treatment plan, but she definitely felt like he would benefit from beginning comprehensive therapy (meaning anywhere from 15+ hours a week) as soon as possible. She explained the research and logic behind early intervention and the reasons for the intensity of the therapy early on, and wasn’t afraid to answer my tough questions. I felt like God used that experience to fill in so many blanks and answer so many questions. I was  excited to call Zack and tell him about what a great day we had. He was very receptive to what I told him and I could tell he was thankful that we had gone.

 



Later that night, Zack and I were on one of our nightly walks. He had seemed to have a different attitude, one that was very kind and tender when we spoke about Luke and therapy that evening. As we were walking, he asked me out of the blue, “So, how have you been praying about us moving lately?” I told him that I had been praying that God would give Zack wisdom and that God would give him confidence in the Lord to know that He would provide all we needed, even if we couldn’t understand how it would all work out.

“Why?” I asked. Zack was quiet for a few seconds, then proceeded to tell me that a couple hours after I had called to tell him about our day at the therapy center, his boss had called him into his office. His boss was very apologetic, but told Zack that his position was being eliminated- immediately. It had nothing to do with Zack or his job performance- likewise Zack had only helped to make many technological and economical improvements in his role and time there. However, the board no longer felt his position was necessary, and felt that combining his role with another position would be “more efficient”. It was to be effective immediately.

 

Upon hearing this news, my mind was racing! My initial reaction was shock, but almost immediately I was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace, joy and maybe even excitement. Was this not what we had been praying for? A clear movement by the hand of God. My mind immediately recalled Zack’s words only a few weeks earlier, “….God is going to have to move us…”. Well, God had clearly done so, or at least had set the ball in motion.

 

After asking a few questions for clarification, and taking a few minutes to absorb all that Zack had told me, I immediately told Zack that I felt such peace, that I wasn’t worried about our future and that likewise, I was grateful because God had moved, and that was what I had been praying for. Zack agreed, and though he was of course in shock initially as well, he even told his boss that this was in a strange way an answer to prayer (I’m sure his boss was confused!). God had given him peace, and he knew that this was God’s response to his mandate about moving.

 

Since that night, we have been continuing to seek God’s will and path for our family.  The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of preparing for a future that we are honestly completely and totally relying on the Lord for! We don’t know where we will end up, but Zack has applied for several jobs in areas that we know have the proper therapies for Luke, are as close to home as possible, and that could provide a career that would provide for our family and that Zack would thrive in. God has been incredibly faithful as Zack has already had several interviews that have led to some “final round” interviews in the next few weeks.  We trust that just like God has always provided and led our family, he will continue to do so. This may be the most logistically complicated and crazy move yet, but thankfully, not even our big crazy family with all our moving pieces is too much for Him. This experience has been a tangible, “real life” way that our big kids have been able to see God answer prayer, even though it wasn’t the exact answer they were hoping for. I am so proud of our big kids and the way that they have served our family through caring for their younger siblings- certainly not perfectly, but they do truly love their brother Luke, and they, too, are able to see the big picture for our family and for Luke. We are all committed to walking this journey alongside Luke.


 I certainly don't want to make myself, or our family sound like we are always trusting the Lord and never doubting in His plans or purposes.... there are so many days when I worry, doubt, fear and sometimes just feel sorry for myself, Luke, and our family. There are days when I long for Luke to be able to just be a carefree kid- no fears, anxiety, and meltdowns over things that seem so trivial, no routines he has to follow, no walking on eggshells, worried about what might set him off next. There are days when I wonder if I will ever have the chance to have a conversation with my son, to hear him answer a simple question, for him to tell me how his day was, all about his favorite toy or what he had for lunch. I long to see him smile or say hello to someone as they walk in the door and greet him. There are days when I grieve, wondering if Luke will ever know the beauty and treasure of friendship and relationships in general. I have watched other children at church and in his preschool class approach him and say, “Hi Luke!” to which he usually won’t even turn his head in their direction or acknowledge their greeting at all.  I wonder if he will ever know what it’s like to have a crush, or to fall in love. I wonder if he will ever be able to experience being part of a team, a club, or any type of group activity.  I ponder these and many other things, and in all these things, I have so many hopes and dreams for Luke, because of my great love for him.  Zack and I love our sweet Luke so very much, and the joy he brings to our lives is immeasurable. He is so precious to all of us.  And if, indeed, none of my hopes and dreams for Luke ever materialize, and if God has a different purpose for Luke’s life than what we desire, then I must say, “To God be the Glory”, as His plans are greater and higher than our own. My desire is simply to love Luke the best I know how, and for Luke to know one day that his mom, dad, and family loved him to their fullest and best capability, with the help of God our Father.

Though the last 7 months have been some of the most trying for our family, the Lord has been so near to us as we have had to depend on him for each day, sometimes each hour. I am convinced, now more than ever, that as a child of God, there is no one else whom I would rather have guiding and directing my life and family than the one who created me in His image, gave me a purpose, and has numbered my days, already knowing every thought, experience, and care I will ever have. 

I pray that in someway hearing how God has been so faithful to our family will encourage you, whatever circumstance or situation you may find yourself in. May God bless you with his presence this Christmas season! 

 

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:25 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Night I Bought a $1000 Baby Bed.....


When I lie down, I go to sleep in peace;  you alone, O Lord, keep me perfectly safe
Psalm 4:8







Sleep. It’s one of those things that gets taken for granted….until it’s gone.  I know moms and dads of infant children can identify whole heartedly with this statement! Having five kids, I don’t get the standard 8 hours of sleep that most doctors recommend.  Many nights I spend an hour or so finishing up some cleaning, doing laundry, taking a few minutes to work out, etc. Every now and then Zack and I will turn on the tv and catch the end of a game, or an episode of House Hunters, but not very often. I don’t say this in a negative or complaining way- our lives are full, God has blessed us with a houseful of children, and we are very thankful!

Fortunately for us, when it comes to sleep, our four big kids have been good sleepers.  They do have some occasional sleep issues- Eden wakes up probably 2-3 times every week in the middle of the night and needs help going to the bathroom.   When we brought Emmie home from China, she didn’t sleep well for several weeks, but if she wakes now, she usually is able to manage on her own. When we adopted Caleb, he was a year old and would occasionally wake from time to time during the night. Noah is out cold the minute his head hits the pillow, and always has been. 

When I found out I was pregnant with Luke, one of the first things I realized was that I needed to educate myself on infant sleep….and hopefully how to “make” the baby be a good sleeper. I’m smiling as I type this- I was extremely naïve).

 I began reading  books regarding sleep, and felt somewhat prepared as Luke’s arrival got closer.  I had decided to try and breastfeed, so I knew that factor alone would mean quite a bit of sleep loss in the first several weeks. I was not afraid of sleep training, and believed (and still do) that routines and consistency are very important. I also knew that Zack didn’t sleep well until he was almost 3 years old. Yes, Punky has lots of crowns in heaven. I, on the other hand, began sleeping through the night at one month old. I was really hoping Luke would take after me in this regard, and armed with my sleep books, I felt somewhat confident about the whole sleep issue.

Then, October 3, 2018 a little after 1pm, sweet baby Luke was born. And all that “knowledge” went out the window, just like my sleep.


I still remember the first time we tried to lay Luke down in the bassinet in the hospital room. He had been sleeping so peacefully in my arms. Anyone who has had the amazing experience of holding a newborn while they sleep knows just how precious moments like these are. I really didn’t want to put Luke down, but I knew I needed to try and get some rest myself.  So, I gently laid him down, swaddled up just right, in his little basinet. The second his tiny little body touched that bassinet- instant screaming and eyes wide open. Hmm, I thought. He must like to be held. So, that’s what I did. Then we tried again to lay him down. Same result. I remember being a little concerned, but not too worried. The first couple nights we let the nurses keep Luke in the nursery throughout the night  and bring him to us for feedings, and  they never mentioned anything about him not sleeping, so we just thought maybe it was just a coincidence. 

When we brought Luke home, like many babies, he had no problem sleeping all day long. No noise, no movement, nothing could hardly wake him from his sleep during the day. But when it came night time, he was ready to party.  We realized that he had his days and nights confused (as they say).  I knew to expose him to as much daylight during the day, make his room dark at night, etc.  I also knew that in the first several weeks of life, there really isn’t much of a circadian rhythm going on with infants. I figured this stage would last for a few weeks, maybe two months, then all would be well. Everyone kept reassuring and tell me he would “get himself straightened out.” In the meantime, we did whatever we could to get Luke to sleep and keep him asleep-  white noise machines, swaddles, rocking, walking, etc.  But none of our efforts seemed to affect the amount or quality of sleep he got at night. When he did sleep at night, it was usually for two hours at a time (he always wanted to eat!) and absolutely only in the rock n’ play (yes, the product that has now been universally recalled) with vibration and motion.  I worried that in the long run this would be a bad decision, and sure enough I developed a love/hate relationship with that thing, but at the time, it truly was the only thing he would sleep in.  

 As time went on, Luke did sleep less during the day, but his night time sleep didn’t improve as it should have. A large portion of every night was spent with me rocking, bouncing, walking, singing, swaying….whatever I had to do to get Luke back to sleep and to buy myself an hour and half or so of sleep. Sometimes he would sleep for two hours, sometimes an hour and a half, sometimes three (this seemed miraculous!).  I spent many hours with my phone screen brightness turned all the way down, lying in my bed, reading about promising baby products on mom blogs and browsing  Amazon while trying to coax Luke back to sleep. This honestly became my pastime.  I ordered a steady stream of sleep help products. We’re talking an Amazon Prime package in the mail like every other day. Everything from “miracle” swaddles, tummy wraps, homeopathic elixirs, vibrating mats, a variety of portable baby beds, mattresses, you name it, I tried it. Thankfully Amazon has an awesome return policy, because none of them fazed Luke! Time after time, disappointment, and no sleep.

 I began to develop anxiety about the night- I would feel the anxiety creep in during early afternoon. What would the night hold? How much would Luke cry? Could I really do this another night? What affect was this sleep loss having on Luke…and me? How would I have energy to make it through another day? It was during this sleepless time that Luke also began to develop acid reflux (we didn’t realize what it was at the time). He cried the majority of the day and night, and though you would think he would be exhausted by nighttime, he still didn’t sleep. As the sleep experts love to say (and its true) sleep begets sleep. Needless to say, he was not a happy baby his first few months of life, and again, we did whatever we could to keep him content, even if it was for a couple hours.  Thankfully a close friend and the Lord’s providence put us into contact with a wonderful pediatrician that helped tremendously with Luke’s acid reflux, so that was one less thing to keep him awake!  Zack and I continued to do whatever we could to help him sleep, or at least we thought we were helping.  Looking back, I now  realize this was part of the problem to some extent- We were so intent on helping him sleep, we never gave him the chance to learn to sleep on his own.  More on that later.

By the time Luke was about 3.5 months old, I was on the verge of total exhaustion, physically and mentally, as I was only getting about four hours of fragmented (not consecutive) sleep at night. When I looked in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. Breastfeeding had taken a toll on my body, and because we suspected a dairy sensitivity with Luke, I had eliminated dairy from my diet and could not keep at a healthy weight. I had the biggest rings around my eyes I had ever seen, and my eyes always looked red. I felt guilty because I didn’t have the energy and stamina I needed to give my big kids the attention they deserved. I was cranky and not much fun. I didn’t like it. Something had to change.

It was at this very low point when I read about a “magical baby bed” called the Snoo.  As part of my Amazon purchases, I had tried lots of different mattresses and portable type sleepers. I had even paid well over $100 for a portable baby bed that was supposed to make your baby feel like it was being cradled  in your arms all night long.  Well, it didn’t work and Luke screamed as soon as we laid him down in it. So needless to say, I was very skeptical of any baby bed that made such claims. But, the Snoo had basically perfect reviews on Amazon. Aside from that, it was being used by major hospitals to help premature babies sleep. And it was created by the best selling author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block”. It seemed legit, and it had to work, right? There was only one problem, and it was a major one. The price tag- it cost over $1000! I knew we could not afford that. I knew Zack Caldwell wouldn’t even entertain such nonsense. But, I also knew we had to sleep, and that I could no longer function in this condition.

This bed seemed to be the answer to all our problems. We had tried everything else, so in my mind, this was our last hope for sleep. Notice where I was putting my hope….
 One night while Zack and I were both lying in bed awake, I rolled over and asked him, “How much would you be willing to pay to get to some sleep?”  You see, I had figured out the monthly, weekly, and daily cost of the Snoo, and in my mind, it was totally worth it to get some sleep! And, as luck would have it, that particular weekend, it was on sale! Now if I could only convince my frugal husband that we needed this bed! Well, the lack of sleep must have gotten to him as well, because he didn’t need any convincing. Once I told him it had a 30 day money back guarantee, he was sold. I laid in bed and ordered it right then and there on my phone. I began counting down the days until it arrived. Finally, we would get some sleep!

I still remember the day the Snoo arrived. It came in a huge box and was very heavy. My mom and I brought it in from the front porch, and unpackaged it. If you google it, you will see a very modern and sleek looking bassinet type bed.  But I didn’t care so much about how it looked as I did how it would help our Luke, and us, get some sleep! I got out the instructions and read them over very thoroughly. I downloaded the app on my phone and did everything I needed to do to pair my phone with the bed.  The technology aspect of the bed was super cool. The Snoo also came with its own swaddle. The swaddle hooked into the baby bed. Once the baby was secure in the bed, the Snoo could be turned on, and then you could use the app on your phone to control it, or allow the bed to sense when the baby was upset, and do its magic- either way, the parent could always be in control.  I was so excited for bedtime that night…I couldn’t wait!

We were still living with my parents at the time, so we all gathered in Luke’s room to see what was going to happen. It was like a live exhibition or something. We put Luke in the new swaddle, hooked him in, and walked just outside the door and watched- I had the app on my phone, turned on the bed, and we waited. As usual, it didn’t take long for Luke to begin to fuss and move about. That’s when the Snoo kicked in. Here’s a brief synopsis of how the Snoo works-  at the first signs of the baby’s agitation, the Snoo begins to move gently back and forth in an attempt to calm the baby- this is level 1.   If that doesn’t work, it progresses to the next level, where the motion is a little more intense. If the baby calms down, the bed reverts to the previous level after a certain amount of time. If the baby doesn’t calm down, it moves to a higher level, which involves more motion (there’s a reason the swaddle must be strapped into the bed before it will turn on). The cool thing is with the app, you can actually override the bed’s suggestion and put it at whatever level you want, or just let it do its thing. 
Well, let’s just say Luke never made it back to level one that first night. In fact, within about five minutes, he had the Snoo at the highest level and it appeared there was an earthquake happening inside his little bassinet! He was being shaken, rocked and his feet were flailing up and around in the air while he screamed and cried!  It was like a crazy ride at the Chicken Festival for newborns or something! This was not at all what I had hoped and longed and prayed it would be! My mom couldn’t watch it any longer, she had to leave the room. Zack and dad just stood there with their mouths open, and I was screaming, “Turn it off! Turn it off! “ (even though I had the control in my hand). I shut down the Snoo, unstrapped Luke and tried to calm him down. The Snoo was no match for baby Luke.  I admit, I didn’t give it a second chance. The sight of Luke’s body being bounced around and his legs flying up in the air were just too much for me. We repackaged it the next day and sent it back, and they did thankfully honor the money back guarantee. Another hope of sleep dashed. At this point I had used up all knowledge of any remaining sleep products. Where to go from here?

I had read enough about sleep to know that most healthy babies could begin sleep training  at around three to four months of age. Our pediatrician encouraged this, but I just felt like Luke wasn’t ready. Why? I had no answers. Because he wasn’t a good sleeper? The logic of that statement, well, there is no logic to that statement. That’s the whole point of sleep training. It’s training your child to sleep. Sleep comes easier to some children than to others. Training is also easier for some children than others. But one thing is for sure- the parents can either hinder or help the training along, and looking back, the first few months of Luke’s life, I believe we were hindering it.  Poor Luke never got a chance to learn to sleep on his own because we never let him! We trained him to rely on us to go to sleep. So, now, it was time to, well, retrain him.

So, we went cold turkey, straight up Cry It Out sleep training. I was done with anything in between and ready to endure whatever Luke threw at us. First night, about two hours of non stop crying. We were still living at my parents house. Sorry mom and dad. I had to leave for the house for a while. I thought my mom was going to have to leave as well. It was tough. But the second night was better, and the third night was much better. His sleep ever so gradually improved for several weeks (by improved, I mean he would sleep for 4-5 hours at a time).  But, around 8-9 months we hit another wall.  So, we embraced another sleep training method, the Ferber Method. By embraced, I mean that I read the entire book and took into consideration what the author had to say about every part of sleep, including naps. I would encourage anyone who attempts sleep training to read the entire book of whatever you choose. I worked very hard with Luke to keep his naps in synch with his night time sleep and on a schedule, as well as his feedings. It was really hard work with Luke, and involved our entire family sacrificing in some way. I  know this drove Zack crazy, as he felt like our life was dictated by Luke’s schedule, but I knew that if we didn’t come up with a plan and stick with it, it would mean more sleepless nights and the inability to have any sort of routine or normalcy in regard to a family schedule at all. It took a week or so, but the Ferber Method of sleep training seemed to be more effective for Luke at that point, and so we have been sticking with it ever since.  I’ll be the first to say that sleep training isn’t easy, but it is well researched and documented, and if we hadn’t tried it, I honestly believe that I would have had a physical and emotional breakdown, and that Luke would still be a very poor sleeper and a very unhealthy and unhappy baby. It’s tough, but if you can hang in there and be disciplined in whatever approach you take, you will see positive results.



Our sweet baby Luke is now 11 months old, and he has finally become a mostly normal sleeper for a baby of his age. Some nights he will sleep from about 8pm-6:30 in the morning. Other nights he will go to sleep at 8, wake up at 4 or 5 to eat, and then sleep until almost 7.  He takes only one nap a day (gave up his morning nap before he was ten months old), which was very hard initially, but it’s usually a good afternoon nap, so I can handle that.
Helping Luke to be just an average sleeper has been a long time coming. I have cried many tears and have had many frustrating days and nights. I have felt like giving up on any sort of sleep training multiple times and sleep, in general, plenty of times. I prayed for God to give me wisdom, strength, to help Luke sleep, to help me sleep, many times not understanding why my prayers hadn’t been answered. 



Looking back, I think I now know why my prayers for sleep weren’t answered in my timeframe.  I had made sleep an idol, a God almost, in my life. Please don’t hear me say that sleep isn’t important. It certainly is! Sleep was created by God and God knows our bodies require it in order to live and to be healthy.  But I had made my peace, my contentment, basically my existence, subject to the quality and amount of sleep I got and how well my baby slept, not the fact that I was a child of the living God, the Creator God who alone could give me peace and rest. Again, please don’t hear me say that sleep deprivation isn’t an extremely difficult thing to deal with and live with- it certainly is and it certainly has real consequences, but nothing that is too much for the Lord to see us through.

 My new petition to the Lord is that Luke will continue to sleep well and will be unhindered by the arrival of baby  Levi  in late January.   I pray that God will help me keep my focus on Him and the peace he gives, despite what type of sleeper Levi is.

 At the beginning of this post, I referenced Psalm 4:8. This is a verse my mom used to recite to me at night when I would be afraid or anxious, which was quite often. As a young girl, my mom spent plenty of nights lying in bed with me until I fell asleep. Little did I know at the time that she was using this same scripture to quiet her anxieties and fears over the many trials and tribulations they were experiencing with my adoption.  I committed this verse to memory as a young child, and it is a verse that I share from time to time with my children when they are afraid at night. I always explain to them that God is the one who gives us peace and takes away our fears, so that we may sleep in peace.  Recently, the Lord has shown me how the entire chapter of Psalm 4 speaks to what we place our hope in, and how placing our hope in the Lord can bring more joy than anything else. It has brought great comfort to me, even on the most difficult nights, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Psalm 4- A Night Prayer
1 Answer me when I call, God, who vindicates me. You freed me from affliction; be gracious to me and hear my prayer. 
2 How long, exalted men, will my honor be insulted? [How long] will you love what is worthless and pursue a lie? Selah 
3 Know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for Himself; the Lord will hear when I call to Him. 
4 Be angry and do not sin; on your bed, reflect in your heart and be still. Selah 
5 Offer sacrifices in righteousness and trust in the Lord. 
6 Many are saying, "Who can show us anything good?" Look on us with favor, Lord. 
7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound. 
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.


Hang in there moms and dads. Sleep will come….eventually. It may not be when you want it, how you want it, but it will come. Through those difficult times,  put your hope in the One who can give more peace than even the most fulfilling night of sleep. Our bodies need sleep, but our souls need peace even more.

(ps: I would be more than happy to share all the specific things we tried with Luke- what didn’t work, what worked a little, what worked a little more J  Just send me a PM! ) 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Eight is Great!




If you ended up here, then you must be a little curious….
or you want to see just how crazy we are…..or both!





Yes, that's right baby Luke!! 

You're not going to be the baby anymore! You're going to be a big brother!! 

Caldwell child #6 is on the way, scheduled to be here in late January 2020. 

 Caldwell, party of 8.
 Eight is great. 
That’s going to be our new motto!

So let me just go ahead and answer your first two questions 😀 yes, Zack and I do understand how babies are made, and no, we weren’t  trying to conceive 😄 
So this baby is very unexpected, but such a blessing to think that God would entrust us with another precious child. As Psalm 127 says, “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”. I think ours is filling up!

Many thoughts went through my mind the day I held the pregnancy test in my shaking, trembling hand! I must admit,  that one of my first thoughts upon finding out that I was pregnant was “What are people going to think??!!” I worried that we might be seen as irresponsible? Weird? Crazy?  What would our explanation be?  I felt like we had to have an explanation. This must have been an accident, something must have failed, etc. As my mind was reeling and thoughts were racing, it was then I realized, I don’t need to explain a miracle such as this. When God chooses to create a life, to God be the Glory! He is the giver, and taker of life (Genesis 2:7, Job 34:14-15).  All life is extremely valuable and precious to Him. I began to wonder, why does it seem that our modern culture no longer values and beholds life as the great and amazing creation it is? I fear that often times  we come to see children as more of an inconvenience and surprise pregnancies as more of an "oops” than a life intricately created by our Heavenly Father. I speak these words to myself, as  it was something that I was forced to think about when I found out I was pregnant this time. I had to search my own heart and ask myself, do I really value life the way God does?

I have always unashamedly been pro-life.  As an adopted child and an adoptive parent, and believing that God knew us before He formed us in the womb, (Jeremiah 1:5) I believe life to be precious in all forms. But if I claim to truly be pro-life, then I must hold to that belief at all times. When life is “planned”, and “unplanned”. When the timing seems to make sense, and when the timing doesn’t seem to make sense. The value of life isn’t dependent upon circumstances.  I must confess that in years past, I have observed families with multiple children and at times wondered why they would choose to have so many children- maybe even thought they were a little “different”. I was tempted to think of things from a very worldly perspective. But as the Lord began to lay on our hearts to add more children to our family through adoption, and now with the addition of Luke and our new baby, God has began to  teach me through His Word and through my daily interactions with my own children just how much He values life. I am grateful He is so patient and willing to remind me of the things that I should already know. He is a merciful Father.

Please don’t hear me say that we have don’t have any doubts, anxiety or concerns about what adding another baby to our family will mean- we certainly do! Do we feel overwhelmed? Yes! Our lives are very full with our 5 precious children. It is hard to imagine how life will work with a new baby. Do we feel anxious? Yes. I especially worry that the new baby will sleep like baby Luke and I’ll be a zombie for several months all over again!  I wonder if my body can sustain another pregnancy so close to the first, the toll it will take, etc. Do we wonder how everyday things will work? Yes! I worry about how I will spend enough time with our big kids, help them with their homework, watch them play sports, keep the house clean, keep up with the laundry, etc.  Yes to all of these and more!

 But then we ask ourselves the most important questions: Is God the author and creator of all life? Yes. Before He formed us in the womb, did He know us? Yes. Is He faithful and trustworthy? Yes.  Does He loves us? Yes. To every doubt, objection and fear I have, comes a resounding “yes” from the eternal, uncreated, holy and loving God. 

Praise Jesus.   

God has also given us some very tangible displays of his mercy as we have adjusted to being a family of 7, and now soon to be to a family of 8.  We have four awesome big kid helpers that have really stepped it up over the last 9 months, and we know they will be up for the challenge. I can’t say enough about what a huge help they have been. It has been a beautiful thing to see God work in each one of their hearts, helping them to become little servants and more selfless as they help care for their baby brother.  Not perfect, by any means. There are many days that we have to have a family meeting because the kids have been so mean to one another, or haven’t honored their parents like they should.  It's not a pretty picture some days.  God will undoubtedly have to continue to work in all our hearts as we welcome and prepare for the new baby.

Another display-thankfully, just a few weeks ago, sweet baby Luke began to sleep for about 9-10 hours at a time, finally, at almost 9 months of age. It was a long time coming, and took a lot of praying, crying, reading,  ordering from Amazon and returning products that are supposed to help your baby sleep, etc. but I think God’s timing was just right. If I had found out I was pregnant while Luke was still sleeping about 4 hours at a time, that would have been extremely difficult!!  God’s grace to us is never ending.

And we would be amiss if we failed to mention the unending support that our parents have given us. God in his mercy allowed us to move back home to Kentucky, and I can’t imagine what life would have been like if we hadn’t. We simply couldn’t have thrived without the help of our parents. We would have barely been surviving and our big kids would have suffered greatly. Our parents have time and time again helped take our children to practices, performances, given us breaks so we could sleep, helped with our laundry, spent time loving on our kiddos,  given the kids breaks from one another and the list goes on and on.  It truly does take a village! It’s also the beauty of family and the body of Christ in action.

Being a parent has truly been the most sanctifying experience of my life.  To be very honest, we never planned on having 6 children. But, life doesn’t always work out liked we planned, and for that, I am very thankful.  My plans could never equate to the greatness of God’s plans. Though it might stretch our comfort zone, grow our faith, takes us to distant lands, and at times cause our hearts to break more than we could have imagined, if we believe in God’s sovereignty, then we must trust His plans. And in doing so, we see how He is conforming us to the image of His Son, even through the long days and sleepless nights, well, especially through those. With each child God has graciously added to our family, parenthood has truly shown me just how in need of God’s grace and mercy I am, on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. It has also shown me a glimpse of the amazing love, patience, and goodness that God has for his children.  

Please keep our family and this new life in your prayers. It will definitely be a transition, in every sense of the word. We need God’s wisdom, grace, and mercy to cover us every day. We pray our family will bring glory to God, even if it means we might look different, bigger and crazier than “normal” families.

 After all, eight is great!