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Confessions of a Buena Madre: ‘I Should Have Listened When My Son Kept Telling Me His Stomach Hurt’

“Mamá my stomach hurts.”

Growing up I had a lot of unexplained stomachaches and headaches.

“Maybe you just have to go to the bathroom,” my mom would reply to me every time. I was a scrappy, smart, sensitive child, and I could tell that there was something about the way she said it that felt as if she was repeating someone else’s words. As if, someone had said the same thing to her when she was growing up, maybe her dad, or her grandma Lupe. Maybe it was the far-off tone, the way she avoided eye-contact, or maybe it was the the tinge of worry in her voice. It was the way she always sounded when she thought there might be something wrong with me that she could do nothing about.

Still, she did take me to see a doctor at one point who told me that there was nothing wrong. That “it could just be stress.”

Back in those days, in a small town, and growing up on welfare, there was little my mother, or I could do about stress. Kids were not going to stop bullying me at school for being Mexican, “shabby,” or poor. And they would not stop saying things about the color of my skin. Adults were not going to stop asking me “what are you?” We were not suddenly going to have more money or not be living below the poverty level. My mom wasn’t going to stop being sad about how her mom had left their family when she was five, or about having to leave the rest of her family in Los Angeles to escape my dad who beat her and kidnapped me.

Just stress.

We went home from the doctor’s appointment without any practical advice about what to do about the stress.

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The doctor had given it a name, and now I was expected to move on.

I continued having stomachaches and headaches, what we now know can be somatic symptoms of stress or anxiety, but back then because the doctor had said there was nothing wrong with me, my mom thought I might just be a hypochondriac.

But according to a Harvard Health Publishing article from 2010, the relationship between stress or anxiety and stomach pains is easily explained:

“The brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the “fight or flight” response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Still, despite my own experiences, when I first started hearing, from my son I  copy/pasted my mother’s reaction.

You might think that I would have kept my own experiences of dealing with my own health and anxiety would have prepared me for when my own child began complaining of the same, but it didn’t at first. “Mama, my stomach hurts,” became a common complaint I heard from my son over the years, and somehow, even though I’d experienced such aches and had known them to be very real, didn’t totally or always react the way that I should have. I did encourage him to talk about his feelings and helped him role-play how to handle difficult situations at school, but I often felt or reacted in the same way about my son’s stomach pains in the way that my own mother did to mine: worry, avoid and sometimes dismiss.

As a parent, I made fun of myself for asking my own child if maybe he had to go to the bathroom when he complained of stomach pains, but I also knew that the feelings of nausea that he had those first days of kindergarten and first grade were indeed stress. The kind of stress, as a former pre-school teacher that I knew how to deal. So, when I dropped him off for school on those days that caused him anxiety, I drew on my training as a childcare worker. I spoke with the teacher. I worked hard not to allow him to feel like his anxious feelings about school were bad or wrong, and I let him talk about his feelings until it was time to make a clean break and leave him for the day. I reassured him that I’d be back, and I come back on time.

And yet, my eagerness to be attentive was not always applied or pursue so thoroughly or possibly with enough vigor.

Often when I heard complaints from my son about his stomachaches, I neglected hunting for answers. On occasions when the words “Mama, my stomach hurts” came out of his mouth, I didn’t ask him why? Or question him on whether or not he was feeling anxious or fearful about something. And while I did bring up his recurring stomach pains in the context of doctor’s visits, I did not take him to medical visits for these pains specifically. Mostly because I attributed his pains to his stranger anxiety and complications with making transitions.

What I did not realize at the time, was that stomach pains, or other somatic symptoms of stress, can lead to anxiety disorders and/or depression if left untreated. I also was not aware that there are ways, some that don’t cost money, that are capable of reducing stress and minimizing its effects. And simply knowing that the stomach pains could very well-be stress could minimize the stress and re-direct a family to take steps to reduce or treat stress.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are several psychological interventions that can be enacted to reduce stress and ease gastrointestinal pain. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy in order to “recognize and change stress-inducing thinking, relaxation techniques to calm the body, and gut-directed hypnosis, which combines deep relaxation with positive suggestions focused on gastrointestinal function.”

Recently, an article by Awareness Act titled “Children Won’t Say I Have Anxiety, They Say My Stomach Hurts,” caught my eye and motivated me to reach out to my circle of friends about their experiences of dealing with anxiety as parents. Many of my friends commented about how accurately the article described them as children and quite a few pointed out that oftentimes children will complain of being tired or having a headache.

As parents we often find ourselves wishing for a chance to pry open our children’s heads and see just what’s going on inside of their thoughts.

For parents of teenagers, this thought process can be especially true when our children become more quiet and insular and often even withdrawn.  Still, now I realize that sometimes as parents we’d do better to listen and watch. After all, how often do we as adults become withdrawn, tired or evens so filled with nerves in our stomachs that we become irritable and withdrawn ourselves? Over the years I’ve learned que mi hi’jo was trying to tell me how he was feeling all along: anxious and in need of my help.

If he were little again, I’d listen and take him to talk to a professional about his anxieties sooner. I’d also sit with him every day and tell him to close his eyes, take some deep breaths. Then I’d rub his tummy and say quietly, “Sana, sana, colita de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.

More Latinos Are Struggling With Epilepsy Than You Might Think

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More Latinos Are Struggling With Epilepsy Than You Might Think

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Epilepsy is a disorder that is characterized by unprovoked seizures that are not tied to alcohol withdrawal or low blood sugar. The disorder can be genetic or a result of a traumatic brain injury. Hundreds of thousands of Latinos in the U.S. are diagnosed with epilepsy and there is more we can do as a community to help those with the disorder.

There are around 400,000 Latinos who are living with epilepsy.

Camila Coelho, a Brazilian fashion influencer and blogger, recently shared her own journey living with epilepsy. In an interview with PEOPLE, Coelho opened up about being diagnosed with epilepsy since she was 9 years old.

“My mother said to me, ‘Camila, you are a normal child. You will live your normal life. There’s nothing you can’t do,'” Coelho told the magazine.

Coelho is using her platform to educate people about epilepsy.

“I have EPILEPSY and I didn’t let it stop me from achieving my dreams 🙏🏻 💜 I am happy to announce that I am not only an @epilepsyfdn Ambassador, but now also a member of the BOARD,” Coelho shared on Instagram. “As someone who lived with epilepsy since the age of 9, I feel honored and excited to join this amazing team, and help change and save lives of those with epilepsy around the world, who may feel different and alone like I once did!! (I shared more on my stories)! #epilepsyawareness

The Epilepsy Foundation did a study to find out the cultural awareness around epilepsy.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, there is still a perception of fear and misunderstanding around epilepsy. The misunderstandings around epilepsy make diagnosing and treating the disorder a challenge.

There are different therapies and treatments for epilepsy. The Epilepsy lists some of those therapies as:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This form of therapy started in the 1960s and has been successful in helping people to overcome some of their symptoms. This form of therapy is based on the belief that the thoughts are responsible for guiding behavior. The therapy helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression that might lead to seizures.

Educational Intervention: Studies have found that people being diagnosed early and supported have a better time adjusting to the diagnosis. The younger someone can learn about epilepsy and how it can be managed with appropriate therapy, the better they can adjust.

Relaxation Therapies: The Epilepsy Foundation claims that massage, acupuncture, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and deep breathing therapies could be beneficial for people living with epilepsy.

Make sure to consult with your doctor before making any changes to your existing treatment plans.

You can learn more about epilepsy and how you can help by going to the Epilepsy Foundation website.

READ: Salice Rose Gave Her Family A Vulnerable Look At Her Mental Health Struggles: “I Was Asking For Help”

Parents Angered After Priest Refuses To Offer Autistic Son First Communion

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Parents Angered After Priest Refuses To Offer Autistic Son First Communion

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First Communion is a very important moment in any Catholic child’s life. The family gets together to watch the little ones walk down the church aisles in white and partake in the sacrament for the first time. For one family, however, a priest has taken that moment away from them because their child is autistic.

The LaCugna family is upset that their autistic son was denied his First Communion.

Credit: Jimmy LaCugna / Facebook

Jimmy LaCugna took to Facebook to share his disappointment with his church for denying his special needs son his First Communion. First Communion is one of the most important moments in a young Catholics life and the family feels like it has been taken away from them.

“They said there is no way he can make his Communion. He doesn’t understand what the Holy Communion is about,” Nicole LaCugna told News 12 New Jersey. “Nowhere in the Bible does it ever show discrimination of anybody.”

Since the Facebook post by Jimmy, the church tried to change course then deleted their reversal from Facebook.

Credit: Jimmy LaCugna / Facebook

Allegedly, the church released a statement that painted the LaCugna family as being dishonest about the situation. However, it was deleted from their Facebook page without warning.

The post initially stated that “new information has come to light” stating that children with intellectual and cognitive disabilities “should be presumed to have an inner spiritual relationship with God.”

“My heart shattered,” Nicole told the New York Post. “My first thought was, how do you take a child who was one of God’s children and say that he is not good enough, basically, to be making the sacrament?”

At the center of the controversy is the fact that Rev. John Bambrick made the decision but hasn’t addressed the family personally.

Credit: Facebook

In a statement posted to the church’s website, Rev. Bambrick blames the controversy on a breakdown of communication.

“With the guidance and support of Bishop David O’Connell, we were able to discern a way for the child to receive First Holy Communion without any delay,” Rev Bambrick stated. “We have made the family aware of this development and hope to be able to meet with them to discuss it. Their child continues to be welcome in our program, and will be able to receive First Holy Communion this year.”

Catholic parishioners have been shocked and dismayed by this church’s handling of a child with special needs.

Credit: @TaylorCVaughn / Twitter

The decision to withhold the child’s First Communion for mental or health issues isn’t the first time. A quick Google search brings back several cases of children being denied their First Communion because of mental or health issues.

READ: 21 Things Latinos From Catholic Families Know To Be True