Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New blog post up at www.gillianmarchenko.com

Don't forget to switch your google reader etc. to my the new blog on my website: www.gillianmarchenko.com.

I have a post up today about how I met my husband Sergei in Ukraine, in honor of Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Moving to www.gillianmarchenko.com. Join me!

After careful consideration, I have decided that in the interest of sanity, design, and simplicity, I will no longer post on Pocket Lint.

Instead, I will post at least once a week at www.gillianmarchenko.com. I hope that all my friends from Pocket Lint will join me over there. Please? I have so enjoyed our interactions here and look forward to continuing relationships in my new digs.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do you spend more time with facebook than your kids?

Or, for those of you who profess faith, do you spend more time with facebook than Jesus?

I'm over at Dancing With The One You Love today confessing my addiction to social media. Would love for you to pop over and share your thoughts.

Chester and the Unbearable Burden, Parts I and II

I wanted to let you know about a play opening up tonight in the city called Chester and the Unbearable Burden, Parts I & II. This Harry Potter with a splash of Lord of the Rings parody is written and directed by a very good friend of ours named Ben Fort (a graduate of Second City's writing program). The play is family friendly, and our oldest daughter Elaina even has a small part in the very last scene! We've seen some of it at rehearsal. It's well done, hilarious, and completely appropriate for the whole family (that is, for anyone who can sit quietly and enjoy something for two hours).

Check out the acting company's website, Six Hours Short for details and a description of the show:


And here's the show's trailer:

Please, go like their page on facebook

Where: The Atheneum Theatre, Studio #3   (2936 N. Southport Ave.)

Opening: Friday, Feb 10 at 7:30pm

Runs: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm until Mar 6

General- $15
Children under 10- $10
Groups of 8 or more- $12

Athenaeum Theater Box Office 773.935.6860 or online at www.athenaeumtheatre.com

Pass this on to any Harry Potter fans!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The importance of a voice

These last two weeks, I actually sensed God's desire for me to open up more about my personal life. I've written about my struggle in telling the whole truth in the memoir I recently finished writing, and about the severity of my experience with post-adoption depression after we brought our daughter Evangeline home from Ukraine. 

A little bit of electricity zapped my fingertips as I hit the publish tab on both posts. What would people think if I put myself out there? I should just keep these things to myself.

This year, in addition to therapy and after school activities and church and writing and querying agents for my book, I've also had the privilege to speak to a handful of MOPS groups in the Chicago land area. I talk about the birth of my daughter in the former Soviet Union and her diagnosis of Down syndrome and about the grief that ensued for almost a year over the loss of the child I expected. I have other presentations about how to teach our kids to be good friends to those around us with special needs, and about loss and grief in motherhood. 

Every time I have a presentation, there is a part of me that is afraid of judgement. Maybe I shouldn't share all of me. Maybe I should just share the good Christian/ pastor's wife/ missionary parts of me and tuck away the other parts: the mom who didn't want her child. The mom who went to a bottle of Chardonnay instead of to the Lord. The mom who adopted another child with Down syndrome; a quasi stab at redemption, only to find that she, of course, was still the one who needed redeeming.

But each time, and I'm serious when I say this, I can almost hear God's voice saying, "share all of you, Gillian. Because in the hard parts, in the times you made bad choices, in your brokenness and lack of faith, I was there. And that's MY story in you."

Before I speak, I usually run to the bathroom and grab a wad of toilet paper to sop up the sweat underneath my arms. I smooth my hair, and look at myself in the mirror. 

I think of God's voice telling me not to waste the life he's given me. I think of one mom who may be struggling. If my voice encourages her to speak up to someone about her struggles, than sharing the ugly parts of me is more than worth it.

And I think of Polly's voice, chattering in my ear non-stop throughout the day. I think about her reciting the Star Spangled Banner with her class in the morning at school. I think about when she tells me that she loves me, and how it fills me up to the brim of my existence with thanks and praise that I get to be her mom.

I think about Evangeline. Oh, how I long to hear her voice. I anticipate it. I wait for it. And until then I stand up for her as her voice.

So, I step out in front of strangers and tell them my story, and I keep querying agnets for my book, and I keep writing down my rambling thoughts here. 

I include the embarrassing parts for sure. But I also include the best parts, how Polly and I are crazy in love now. How thankful I am to be Evangeline's mom. How awed I am that God knew I needed to be broken in such specific ways in order to be used for his purposes and for his glory alone.

Last night, I got an email from someone who attended one of my talks in September thanking me for my willingness to be vulnerable and for sharing my dark moments, thoughts and actions in my presentation. She is a mother to a child with special needs. Here's a little bit of what she wrote:
What you said made me feel “normal”, connected and accepted.  (I’m tearing up as I write this to you, even now, because it meant so much to me and I understand how difficult it is to be honest like that with others…even if they are “strangers”.)

That's really the point of why I do what I do. 

I have a voice, and I am learning not to be afraid to use it.

What about you? How are you using your voice?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The wrong diagnosis, one mother's struggle with post-adoption depression

 One of the first times I was with my daughter in Ukraine in 2009

Second opinion

Last Thursday I took Evangeline, our adopted daughter from Ukraine, five years old, diagnosed with Down syndrome, to a developmental pediatrician.

"I heard this doctor is good at what he does, and I want his opinion about Evie's lack of development since she's been home from Ukraine," I affirmed rather loudly to my husband Sergei in an effort to hide that really, I was taking Evangeline to this doctor for a second opinion.

A year ago, Evie was evaluated at the Erikson Institute here in Chicago for Autism. At the time, her main activities included rocking back and forth, sitting on her bed, and looking at a light-up toy. Her eye contact was sporadic at best and she could not tolerate textured food nor touch (unless it was rough housing). I was certain we would come home with a dual diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and Down syndrome because almost every time I reached out to my beautiful blond little girl, my hand would get slapped.

After several appointments, Erikson concluded that Evangeline was not on the spectrum, but probably suffered from the debilitating effects of orphanage life paired with cognitive and developmental delays that can accompany Down syndrome.

But I wanted an answer

When the report came in the mail, I opened the letter while sitting on the toilet seat behind a locked bathroom door and cried. On some level, I wanted the dual diagnosis because I wanted answers. I wanted to know why Evie ground her teeth constantly, why she sought out dust and dirt to eat but refused real food. I wanted to know why she scratched her sisters when they tried to hug her, and cried at loud noises, and sat off to the side of our lives alone, most days, rocking.

But I did not get a concrete answer. I got a "keep doing what you are doing. Find more therapy opportunities, give her time to bond with your family." And slowly over the next few weeks, I started to shut down. I found it too painful to try to connect with my daughter. For months, I went through the everyday motions of caring for my family as best I could, all the while holding back from climbing into bed. I no longer attempted to bond with Evie. If she was fine being a part of our family without really being close to me, than maybe, I could live like that too.

Wrong person diagnosed

I was seeking out the wrong diagnosis for the wrong family member. Sure, it was good to have Evie evaluated a year ago. She certainly had characteristics that could point to ASD. But really, I was the one who needed the most help. I was struggling from post-adoption depression, which could have only been aggravated by a little post-traumatic stress disorder thrown in after Polly's stroke, diagnosis of Moyamoya, and two brain surgeries. After our time at the Erikson Institute, I quietly unravelled.

I have struggled with depression all my life, but alas, it is kind of like that pesky monthly period for women. Every month I am shocked that my foul mood results with menstruation. And I am 36 years old!

Depression is like that for me, too. It sneaks up on me: a few aches and pains, feeling a little down in the dumps, sleeping poorly. I fight, I do what I absolutely need to for the family and then when I can't anymore, I get into bed and I don't get out.

I started to see a doctor and a therapist, but I wasn't feeling better. I cried out to God to help me, to show me how to trust him and get back on track, but to no avail. I struggled for months, but still, somehow managed to post perky facebook stati often enough so that people outside my direct family wouldn't suspect a thing.

But I was drowning.

About three months ago, God gave me the strength to try again to get help for my depression. I went back to my doctor and let her put me on a higher dosed anti-depressant. I started seeing a different therapist and we clicked right away. I started to wake up in the morning and notice that the sun was shining.

And I saw Evangeline, a little girl considerably changed from a year ago.

Since Evie has been with us (over two years) there have been little breakthroughs here and there in our bonding. I liken them to nicking the surface of a frozen lake with a BB gun.

Now that I am above water again in life, the ice is starting to thaw. I can sit a stare at Evie for a while, marvel at her button nose, appreciate her smell, want to pull her to me.

Why the second opinion?

So, why did I take Evie for the second opinion last week?

Because I wanted to make sure that a dual diagnosis isn't in the picture for our girl. A lot of her behaviors have fallen away but she has a lot left. And although we are doing much better, I am now struggling with the guilt of that missed time when a shadow of a mother was parenting my daughter.

At the appointment, Evie climbed up into a chair, uninterested in the train set the doctor attempted to entice her with. But she laughed when he tickled her, and followed his finger as he played with her, and looked both the doctor and me in the eye almost the whole time.

I loved the doctor. He was a bit brash and un-orthodox (took a text from his wife during our interview and laughed out loud at what she wrote :). But he cut to the chase with me and it was just what I needed.

"I don't see any definite red flags regarding a dual diagnosis off the bat, of course, if you'd like, we can do a full evaluation of Evangeline to get more in-depth. But I have to ask, why are you here? You've already had your daughter evaluated at Erikson?"

"Because, well", I took a deep breath. "Because I am afraid I am not doing enough. Our other daughter got sick and ended up needing two brain surgeries six weeks after Evangeline came home from Ukraine and I. . . well, I've struggled with depression." I kind of left my answer there but in my heart I added, I am afraid that I have already failed her.

"Mrs. Marchenko, your family has been through a very difficult time these last few years. I want you to know, you are doing a good job with your kids."

I had to look away as the tears pooled in my eyes.

"And now, Ms. Evangeline," the doctor turned to Evie and let me attempt to compose myself.

After the visit to the doctor, I realized I had been looking for two things: 1) the wrong diagnosis, and 2) validation that I am the right mom for my child.

I share all of this with you because I am notorious for putting it all out there. It doesn't occur to me to keep things to myself. My husband takes issue with my need to tell people how much I spent on the sales rack at Target.

But more importantly, I share this because adoption is beautiful, but it is also very hard. I share this because  other parents and caregivers are struggling today. Post-adoption depression is real. I want you to know you are not alone. At some point, your feelings may be out of your control. Get help. There is no shame in taking care of yourself in order to care for your family.

One last thing: With God's help, we all can be the right parents for our children.

Post-adoption depression resources:
Adoptive Families
Baby Center
Adoption Issues

Jen Hatmaker, After the Airport

Life: Unmasked

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why it is hard to tell the truth in my memoir

 (NOTE: I added this post to Joy in this Journey's life: unmasked linky. Read more here.)

Most of you know I recently completed a memoir and am now querying agents for representation.

So far no one's bitten. I have received a handful of polite rejections regarding my project. I suspect I will continue to get rejections for a while. There are just too many aspiring writers trying to get their work in print. Some agents claim over 100 new query letters hit their inbox every day. EVERY DAY! And so I trudge on, do my research, send the queries, and continue to work on my craft.

But I have a confession: sometimes when I get a rejection, I breathe a slight little sigh of relief. It's not that I love rejection ( I mean, come on, I was in Junior High once). It's not because I want to tell one more person in my life that I have spent over three years writing a book and it seems that no one, as of yet, wants to read it.

I breathe a slight little sigh of relief because of fear. I made a commitment to the story and to God to tell the whole truth about those first years of Polly's life. In memoir, (as in life) its a no-no to lie. When I got serious about writing our story, I knew that I would have to be real about everything that happened after Polly was born. As a missionary and pastor's wife, my response to having a child with Down syndrome was much less than Christian. The bottom of my faith easily fell out. I got depressed. I stopped showering. I drank too much Chardonnay. I struggled to love my baby.

Do I really want people to read all of that?

To tell the truth, the answer is no. I don't want people to read the whole story because I am afraid of what they will think of me. I would rather hide the hard parts of my life and let them think that I scooped up my child with special needs and said a prayer of thanksgiving for her life and moved on. I would rather them think that I am always a woman of faith, worthy of the call to be a child of God.

But Flannery O'Conner says the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.

I would also add that truth loses its power when altered.

Even though I am afraid, I realize that my story isn't worth telling if not told in its entirety. The very essence of my memoir's power (if there is any) is brokenness. The fact that God came in and rebuilt me and my faith and my relationship with my baby after I fell apart is the real story. The redemptive story. And I am convinced the very thing people need to hear to truly get a clear, non-superficial, non-judgmental idea of Jesus.

I used to think of redemption as a one time thing. I believed in Jesus when I was sixteen years old. His payment for my sins on the cross equaled a done deal. I still believe this. It is the very core of my beliefs.

But I also believe that we are all a work in progress. There is a continual need for everyday redemption. The kind of redemption that heals a mother's heart. The kind that sets a person back up on the wagon after he has fallen off, that helps someone apologize to her kids for freaking out over spilled milk, or causes a shoplifter to put the bra in her purse back on the shelf in Target. A redemption that showed me that the child I was afraid to mother was the exact child I needed to reach depths of joy and wonder otherwise unknown in my life.

So I will keep putting myself out there. If my memoir publishes one day, not everyone will like it. There will be criticism (well deserved, I should add). There will probably even be disappointment. But most importantly, there will be the truth of everyday redemption and unexpected beauty, displayed in the birth of a child with slanted eyes and the widest smile on the planet.

And I think, that's enough.

Life: Unmasked