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.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Our Day in Court

I've been meaning to write about this since it happened, back in October, and for obvious reasons, now seems like the right time.

Back in late 2008, we found out that the rules had changed for people adopting from where we live, and we were going to have to make two trips to Ethiopia. We were also going to have to appear in Court in person. What can I say? We were incredibly upset. All that extra time and money, not to mention the thought of having to meet a baby and then leave it behind. We got the news a long time ago, and a lot has happened since, but I do remember how awful it made me feel, especially when it came totally out of the blue.

I do remember that. But we did end up going to court, and here is something that I will never forget: A tall, older man, probably a grandfather, leading a tiny girl by the hand through the doors of the adoption court. Her, scurrying to keep up, chattering away to him and tugging on his clothes. Him, reaching down to touch her head. The love between them was palpable. I didn't see what happened to her, but I think I can guess.

Something else I will never forget: the sharp and obvious divide between those who seemed to be there to represent adoption agencies, and those who must have been there to formally relinquish their children. For one group of people, laughing and chatting to each other and a chance to catch up. Another day at work. For so many of the others, a quiet murmuring, or silence, and eyes cast down. A sense of disenfranchisement so intense you could taste it.

And something else: We were one of only three white couples there, and I think we three couples were the only PAPs in court that day. I know one other couple was also British, and the third seemed to be speaking Spanish. And that was it. And I knew we were only there because we absolutely had to be - I'm not claiming any kind of moral superiority, because we didn't make a choice, just did what we were told. But I did wonder. Why is it that birthfamilies have to be there, and on the whole, we do not? They are ushered into a room with a judge and make some kind of declaration, and relinquish their child - to whom? Where are these new parents? Why aren't we all here to promise these children a lifetime of love?

So. There are definite upsides to taking two trips. And I'll post more about those personal upsides another day. But appearing in court? Well, I think these new rules are right. Not because it benefits us, but because I feel we should be there, and be there humbly. It is an inconvenient journey. It is definitely expensive. It is, in so many ways, heart-wrenching. But not, surely, in comparison to the journey taken by these other mothers who are also there, the journey that ends with empty arms.

This is a very serious thing we do, taking somebody else's child. I think I'm only really realising how serious now. And if relinquishing parents have to be there? Well, I think we should be there too.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

I hereby make this solemn promise to myself

I will never, ever leave it so long between uploading my project 365 pictures ever again. My poor computer is protesting at the action by making clanking noises that belong sometime during the industrial revolution, not on the information superhighway. It sounds like somebody is running a steel mill in there - mysterious.

So, due to my behind-ness, lots of photos today. It's been quite a while, and things have happened.

The babies have outgrown their bearsuits. I nearly cried.
(Just to avoid any confusion, the captions refer to the photo above....)

It turns out we have a push-me-pull-you that sleeps in our cot.

The babies have started to learn what toys are for...

our little man is sitting up!

our little girl just concentrates on being beautiful...

all together.... aaaaahhhhhhhh.....

Grandma came to help us go to the hospital, and found out what happens when you say 'yes' to the question 'will you pose with the babies?' without asking any questions first

the babies turned seven months... (and J got home from work early because he was at a conference! Woo hoo! I think this is the first time he has ever seen the babies before bathtime on a weekday)

we bought our little man a carnivorous cardigan...

he found his feet...
I really don't like this picture, but it was a busy day and that was the only one I got. This spotty outfit sure looked a lot cuter on ebay.

there were weekends...

I can't remember what happened on this day, but it was obviously shocking

We went outside for the first time ever just to enjoy the sunshine rather than to get somewhere as quickly as possible through the whipping wind

yep, the babies have feet

I messed around with my flash, trying to get a vampire picture (who says being at home all day is not intellectually stimulating?)

dining al fresco

We visited J's family up north... this is the three brothers with their three sons. This photo makes me happy.

L appears to be plotting world domination

We see this face a lot at the moment... not quite sure what it means...

and L learned to sit up too.

I was warned, but I couldn't really believe it - it's all happening so fast.

Monday 1 March 2010

Homemade MRIs

We've been home just over three months now, and  I feel very much like our transition phase is now over, and the rest of our lives has properly begun. And, like so many others who have been here before me, I feel like I'm in a phase of not quite knowing what to write. Endless photos don't count. After a little bit of musing, I think I've found out why. Is it because I feel awkward, writing about my new perfect life? Not so much. Is it because I'm just sooooo busy, with my new perfect life? Hmmm, not that either. No, I think it's this.  Here's my homemade MRI* of the inside of my brain, circa 2009:

*yes, i know that isn't what MRIs really look like. 
 See that one really big slice of pie? That gave me a lot to think about, mull over, and work through. Whereas now:

I am so totally not kidding about my new big slice of pie. It turns out that sadness was taking up an awful lot of space inside my head, and most of it just isn't there anymore. I don't mean that I've resolved every feeling of loss we ever had - far from it - but that big yellow isn't gnawing at me any more. And while I adore the babies, and love spending time with them, that feeling of happiness just does not take up as much space in my cranial area as the unhappiness did. Nothing sinister about that, in my opinion, and I've been making a conscious effort not to slip into anxieties or negativity about this new bit of our life, purely out of habit and reflex. Not saying that nothing is hard, because things sometimes are hard, but I don't want that pattern of thinking to be my default mode. There are definitely some things for me to be thinking about, in the short term and the long term. Do my children have developmental delays? Are they attaching well? Will they ever forgive us for adopting them? Really, I'd love to know, but it feels too early to be assessing much of it right now and I'm trying not to let the not-knowing automatically become panic.

Wow, don't I sound very zen about all of this. I swear, all I've drunk this evening is tea.

I'm looking at that 2010 graph again, and to be honest, part of it feels not quite right. Rather than a big area of empty space - a cranium just waiting to be filled - I sometimes feel like my entire brain has just shrunk. So much of what I'm doing all day - lots of rocking, lots of talking, lots of orange mush on babies, my hair and the floor, lots of singing - is wonderful, and important, and I'm very happy to be doing it, but it's using the instinct bits of my brain rather than the reasoning bits. And that's an odd feeling. Maybe some of that empty space should be re-labelled 'the not unpleasant mental torpor that comes from living at the pace of a baby, and also doing an awful lot of washing'.

About the mental torpor. I've been keeping a secret, guilty list of things that I now need to admit that I was wrong about, during all the time I spent over the last few years being angry at the people I knew who were parents (ie, pretty much everybody). I have something saved in drafts, but am having a hard time finishing it because of the mental torpor - which is ironic, because I'm pretty sure the mental torpor is on the list. (Wow, turns out that 'torpor' is one of those words that very quickly loses its meaning if you use it too many times in succession). I'm trying to think of a way to express myself that doesn't just end with me saying 'yeah, but I was right about ALMOST everything', which could potentially be construed as ungracious.  So, watch this space. But, you know, you could probably look away for a while without missing anything.

I think all I'm trying to say is that I haven't gone anywhere. It's just that the cogs are turning a bit more slowly at the moment. Please bear with me. And in the meantime, I'll probably keep plugging the gaps with baby photos.