Thursday, 25 March 2010

I wish I knew

Since we started solids, the babies have been pooping like crazy. They used to be once-a-day, nice and regular, but now our house is a bowel movement free-for-all.

Bear with me, there is a point to this scatology. I'm not inflicting it on you for no reason.

Poos can come at any time, and any place. I'm sure this will all calm down once their little guts start to cope with all the new food, but for now? Like I said: free-for-all. There's only one exception to the unpredictability - baby L always feels the call of nature during her midday nap.

Ah, the delights of a midday nap. I'm aware that I posted about sleep a few months ago, promised a follow up, and never did it. Well, here's the quick version - after doing sleep training for just a few days (cry it out, with check and console) their sleep changed utterly and they turned into magnificent, calm, happy sleepers. And yet - I guess part of the reason that I never posted an update is that I still feel a bit conflicted about the whole issue of sleep training an adopted baby. And I feel kind of bad talking about the fact that we did it, because hey, I know it's a bit controversial and I want people to like me.

But this was my thought process. Somehow, through my brain fog, I managed to read 'healthy sleep habits happy child'. This book is written by a guy who knows a LOT of things. Unfortunately, how to write well is not one of them, so getting through this book is a bit like picking jewels out of a big pile of dung. It's not my intention to review this book in detail, because I can't be bothered. But I compared his views (a man who knows pretty much everything about sleep) with those of people who know a lot of about adoption, and I realised that there is no concensus on sleep, just like there is no concensus on any other area of parenting. There are experts, but they don't necessarily agree. And putting something in bold type, or in a little box, doesn't necessarily make it true. At least I hope so, because reconciling all the little boxes and bold type in all my different 'definitive' books was making me crazy.

I was terrified about the interactions between sleep and attachment. I knew that attachment is really important because attachment experiences affect a child's brain chemistry. This freaked me out when I first found out about it, in books like this, and one of the monster bad nasty chemicals I've been totally phobic about ever since is cortisol, the evil brain chemical of stress. And yes, I know I shouldn't be getting my information on neurochemistry from a book with a picture of a dancing child on the cover, but to be honest, I don't have enough knowledge of biology to get my information on neurochemistry from anywhere else. So anyway, lots of my thinking about parenting styles (including sleep) had revolved around trying to make sure that our babies got a nice flow of happy, bonding chemicals in their brains, and not too many of the evil stress chemicals. One of the reasons I originally wanted to always respond and soothe during the night was to reduce the evil stress chemicals. And then I found out that: sleep deprivation also causes the brain to release cortisol. [in bold type, so it must be true]. Cue major freakout from me. Obviously this wasn't our intention, but the way we were approaching sleep (always being there, always soothing) meant that the babies were probably getting about 11 hours total, when babies their age should have been getting 14-16 hours. And as time went on it was getting, not better, but much much worse. Arrgghhhh! The cortisol!!!

It's absolutely not my intention to try to convince anybody else that they need to try our sleep methods with their children (also, I'm really hungry, AGAIN) so I'm going to skip any kind of long defence of what we did and why. I guess what I'm really writing about is the fact that I feel defensive in the first place.

I know that sleep can be a really big issue for adopted children. But I think that it might be an even bigger issue for adoptive parents. I think that the dark, silent unknowableness of sleep plays into so many of our insecurities. And know all parents have insecurities, but I'm sure that adoption is a good way to multiply them. And I feel like this: my child had to go through so much trauma before joining our family - now that they are in it, I want everything to be perfect. (Not physically perfect - I'm really quite remakably laid back about things like what they eat, and clothes from ebay, and cat hair, and so on - but emotionally perfect). And most of this desire is good. But when I look down into the deepest, worst recesses of my soul, I think there's a tiny bit of me saying 'because if you are super perfecto attachment parento, then, if they grow into messed up adults, it's not your fault'.

And the problem with me being issued my super-parent cape is this. I would do anything for them, but often I don't really know what that is. As time goes on, I'm pretty sure that we did the right thing (or at least, not the wrong thing) by sleep training them. Once they were sleeping more, their energy levels increased, they are able to sleep solidly for hours at a time (because sleep begets sleep - probably the most annoying thing a sleep deprived parent can hear) and their feeding improved hugely. It used to be the case that baby L would start to drift off to sleep as soon as she got a bottle in her mouth, because she was living in a constant state of chronic sleep deprivation and the relaxation from the milk was enough to tip her over the edge. But remove the bottle from her mouth and wham - she would wake straight up again and howl. Bottle in again, drifting off again, snoring, bottle out - more howling. Now that she is properly awake, she can drink a whole bottle wide eyed, and it's only when she's had a really disturbed day (eg, hospital trips during naptime) that I see the old milk-sleeping thing happen again and think 'oh yeah, every day used to be like this'. And I feel pleased with our choices. But then sometimes other things happen - like when L starts screaming in the middle of the nap for the first time in months and I think it's the pooping but I just don't know - and yes of course I'm changing her if she poops during her nap, I'm not a monster- and I think 'oh no, they aren't attached to me at ALL' and I'm gripped by The Fear. 'They don't trust me. It's because I'm not cuddling them immediately when they wake up. They feel abandoned. All their loss issues are surfacing and I'm not supporting them'.

And I suspect you're thinking 'lighten up!' but it's hard to realise that I'm never, really, going to know whether or not we made the best choice regarding their sleep. Or anything else. And even if we found out, we couldn't go back in time and change it. And it seems that this is the case for pretty much every parenting decision I make - there is no feedback form. There are no grades. I'm flying blind, here.

And of course, I already knew this going in. Obviously. This is not exactly a news story. Time magazine will not be paying me for my insights about this. And yet, I do wish I knew. I wish I knew what to do with them all the time. I wish there was some kind of light up display on their foreheads that would indicate, at any given moment, whether I was providing adequate love and stimulation or scarring them for life. I can pretty much tell the cries that mean 'hungry!' 'bored!' 'annoyed!' 'stinky!' or 'my brother is chewing my ear!' and I'm really pleased that we have come this far. It means so much that I am beginning to understand them, on some level. But I do wish there was a way to decode what would mean 'attachment disorder!' 'trauma flashback!' 'I'm processing intense grief!' 'I'm feeling my primal wound!' and how that would differ from 'oooooh, that sweet potato made me a little bit constipated'.

Sometimes it's simple. You want to play, kiddo, but you need to sleep and we'll have hours to play when you wake up (refreshed and happy) after a nap. So down in your cot you go, my little friend. And in thirty seconds you're asleep, and I know I did the right thing.

But other times? It's not that I'm lazy. (Okay, sometimes I am lazy, but mostly it's not that). It's not that I don't care. It's that I really don't have any idea what I need to do for you right now. There have been multiple cases of me holding a crying baby and sobbing a little myself and saying 'honey, mummy wants to help you but she doesn't know what to do!' And the thing that is freaking me out is that I realise that nobody has the answers. With most things I have done in my life, I may have messed up, but at least I knew what I had done wrong. I didn't deal very well with a lot of my issues surrounding childlessness (of which more, I think, another day) but at least I knew what I should have been doing. But now? Yeah, not so much.

Which brings me back to sleep. I don't want to give the wrong impression here - this isn't something that is eating me alive. But sometimes I do wonder. What if we did make the wrong decision on sleep? What then? What does it mean?

Mostly, I'm really enjoying all of this, and mostly, I think I was pretty well prepared. But sometimes, this parenting stuff messes with my head way more than I expected.


  1. My word verification for this comment is "sucks". Very insightful, isn't it?

    I struggle with this all of the time. I also sleep trained for naps and it was very hard. It went against my adoption-prepped mommy learning. But I knew that he needed naps during the day. I KNEW that he needed them. I also knew that he thought that being with me was more fun than sleeping, and that was what he was complaining about.I could also tell he was SO tired. He needed that nap. But it was terrible every time.

    Now I have it where he is super attached to me. He is in a phase where he wants to be with me all of the time- daddy is a second class citizen. I worry now that this is due to an underlying issue of him feeling insecure about us still and it presents itself as a need to be with me all of the time. I can't tell if it is a normal phase that 22 month old kids go through, or he is feeling insecure about the trauma. I don't know how to tell the difference. It's enough to make one's brain EXPLODE. If only they came with check engine lights and other such indicators.

    Hang in there! You are doing a fantastic job. The fact that you are thinking along these lines shows that you are on top of it.

  2. I definitely relate to your feelings, having dealt with some tough sleep issues for my two bio kids. One sleep training worked and the other didn't at all. So not only do different parenting strategies and sleep strategies work for different parents, but different kids within a family, biological or adopted. I haven't even had to deal with whether or not they are dealing with loss or brain chemistry yet and it was still overwhelming and stressful!

    And it's tough. I pray as a mother that my good intentions will somehow be able to do something to heal the wounds I might inadvertantly aggrevate or God forbid create because I just didn't know.

    I think you're a rock star. And if anyone gives you crap about how you're doing it, they should shut up.

  3. When my son was a baby I had this policy of only evaluating my mama performance on a daily basis. At the end of the day, I would ask myself I had done well, mostly I would ask, have I done any harm? According to my own internal standards, which how am I to know if they are good enough (I wish I knew), I would figure it out. The days strung out along with me getting a passing grade. (I always seemed to have no grey areas, it was a pass/fail test.) As for sleep, I judge no one on how they deal with it. Unfortunately, it is only in retrospect that you can get some perspective on how it is all panning out. OMG, now I am freaking out about cortisol!

    Claudia, I admire you.

  4. We also used the "cry it out" method (roughly following Babywise- but not the totally weird things the book promotes) and it's amazing.

    We realized that Dawit was MISERABLE tired and he was constantly "just checking" that we were still around. Tired baby= unhappy baby= unable to bond and attach IMHO.

    Now, we lie him down he blows some kisses, curls up with blankie and doesn't wake up for 2 hours (naps) or 12 horus (night). It's amazing.

    good for you for finding the best thing that works for you. That's the jist of parenting; doing what works for your family and not giving a care about what the rest of the world thinks ;)

    PS- my "word verification" is EVILL
    Should I be concerned??? :)

  5. we did a very light version of cry it out for baby boy's naps, didn't have to do anything for baby girl (she's always been a bit more independent). I worry that we made a mistake by not co-sleeping....we had one chance at that and maybe we blew it by keeping them in cribs. But they were used to separate cribs (sorry, i mean cots :-) and didn't really like us holding them till they fell asleep. SO I 'think' we did the right thing but I worry about it. Luckily they have always slept well at night--fall asleep w/in 30 mins of being put down and sleep 11 hours straight.

    Our big issue has always been naps--making sure they get 3 hours is hard. And now that they are standing and crawling and trying to walk--their naps are all over the place.Sometimes they take two 1.5 hour naps, sometimes one 2 hour morning nap and no afternoon changes every day. I'm constantly wondering if I should move them to one long nap versus the two short ones or I should give up on the semi-tight schedule we've always been on and let them sleep as long as they want (at the risk of no second nap)... UGH! I feel Cortisol coming on! It's not a huge problem, I know we're lucky sleep wise--but it's exactly what you said: the fact that we'll will NEVER know if we're doing it right!

    So listen...since I no longer have time to blog (see bit about crazy naps) I was hoping I could just link this entry on my blog... I mean, you just said everything I'm thinking (we also read that dancing child book) so why should I write it all again? :-) You can feel free to link to one of my posts one day when you're too tired to write something... :-)

  6. I've got today off from work and just went through a HORRIFIC battle with Elfe over going down for a nap, which I knew she needed! And the thing about a toddler is that there's really nothing you can do to keep them in the bed if they don't want to be there...let's just say I also spent a good chunk of time wondering just what the hell to do for her that wasn't going to scar her for life...

    It's hard. Harder than I ever thought possible. But still worth it.

  7. Oh my word, I don't know where you get the time to think all these things LOL

    And do you smell the poo and then go change her? :)

    I don't go NEAR their bedroom during nap time so if they poo, they poo. If they don't also great :)

    As you know I'm too much of a wuss to CIO. And also I discovered our babies actually don't sleep that badly. yes, they do wake up but it's 10 minutes half asleep and then they're out like lights again.

    My paed said once during the night is normal until 9 months so that's my yardstick.

    I need to write a sleep update because things have been TONS better over the last 2-3 weeks.

    I so agree with you on Weissbluth - maybe that's why I didn't find him wonderful at all. After Mommy Esq raved about him, I went back to the bookshelf and took the book back down. Because I thought I must have been not concentrating because I did not find value!

    Anyway, relax - i don't think they remember a thing. Even when I've left mine to cry now and again they are just the same next time I get them as when I don't leave them to cry.

  8. I am so glad you posted about this. We just brought our daughter home from Ethiopia in the beginning of March and I have been toying with the CIO idea. At the same time, I am scared that I will screw her up forever. I am going to have to read that book.

  9. SLEEP!!! ARGHHH!!!

    I have found almost every bit of parenting to be tricky. Almost every single bit. It pissed me off actually because my degree is in early childhood education- infants and toddlers are my thing. HAH!

    When it comes down to it, when it's your kid(s), everything feels so much more important. So much more... "every single thing matters." It's my own pressure, I know.

    Yes, I worry about everything. EVERYTHING. Napping, eating, type of formula, sup, bottle, diapers, wipes. Thing is, I was planning on being a very laid back mum. Again, HAH!

    We MUST be more gentle on ourselves. When that is happening, the children can tell. It will come through in all areas. It will.

    The most important thing I've learned is to learn to read Sol's cues. The crappy part is they seem to change every week.

    Mostly, I want you to know I understand.


  10. Also? Sol prefers to poop at night and during his afternoon nap. The nap one wakes him up, the night one doesn't. I'm already worried about potty training and midnight poops. GEEZ.

  11. We also sleep trained. I hated it. I cried like crazy the first day when they cried. I felt incredibly guilty. That said, I am so glad that we did it. My children are 3, 3, and 2 and all sleep pretty darn good. They even ask to go to bed when they are tired, aka around nap or bed time. If we're out late, they ask if they can go to sleep in the car. They like sleep and it's never a battle at bed time.

  12. Oh man, I love the idea of a light on their foreheads that indicates what kind of a job you are doing. That would be so cool.

    Good post Claudia.

  13. Nothing helpful to add, but I always think that mama knows best weather she believes it or not. You make the best decisions you can with what you have right in front of you. At the end of the day I think that really is all you can do. You really are a thoughtful and amazing mama.

  14. YOU should write a book, my dear. I, for one, would read every word.

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