Monday, March 5, 2012

The saga of sleep

This is a post I've been wanting to make for a long time! As of a few days ago, Clarissa is FINALLY sleeping all night, in her big girl bed without us in the room. YAY!

Sleep has been a big problem with Clarissa ever since she came home. I haven't blogged much about it, but it's been on ongoing issue that we've been dealing with the for the past two and half years. (Can you believe that she's been home for two and a half years?!)

When we were waiting to bring her home I did a LOT of research on attachment in adoption. Attachment when adopting an older baby or child is tricky. When we were waiting for Clarissa I tried to talk to a lot of people about it and most people who had never adopted and didn't know anything about attachment just figured that we'd bring her home, we'd all instantly love each other and it wouldn't be that big of a deal, but it generally is a bigger deal than that.

When you're dealing with a child whose whole life has just been turned upside down there's going to be an adjustment period and sometimes that comes with attachment difficulties. Clarissa didn't automatically love us when we became her parents. In fact she didn't even LIKE us at first! The day we picked Clarissa up for good was one of the most wonderful and also one of the most traumatizing days of my life. Finally getting that beautiful child who we loved so much in our arms was amazing, but watching her scream for her foster mother and try her best to get away from us was heartbreaking. I sat with her for hours that first night while she screamed and screamed and all I could do was apologize to her over and over for taking her away from everything she knew and loved. She went through a lot of trauma being taken from the life she had known and I went through a lot of trauma being the one responsible for that.

So when I talk about attachment, that's where I'm coming from.  When I talk about our adoption process I usually like to stick to how wonderful it was-and it WAS and continues to be absolutely wonderful-but any time you adopt a child who isn't a newborn, there is going to be some trauma involved at first, and there definitely was.

So when Clarissa came home and we were all reeling from the trauma of it all, I vowed to do every single thing I could for her to make her feel safe and loved. I had read horror stories of children with attachment disorders who never properly attached to their adoptive parents and that's a very real disorder with lifelong consequences. Attachment disorders kind of scared the crap out of me, to tell you the truth! I'm a reader and a researcher and sometimes I know too much for my own good. That's pretty much the cause of my anxiety issues.

So when Clarissa came home, one of the ways we wanted to foster that attachment was to have her sleep in our bed. She slept with her foster parents in Korea and I wasn't about to just plop her in a crib and shut the door in a new place after everything she had been through. We've never been co-sleepers before, in fact I used to be adamantly against it, but with Clarissa I didn't see any other choice. She needed to be with us every second at first.

The first night she was home we tried sleeping in our bed with her. She wasn't having it. She screamed the whole night long. She would sleep in short bursts on TOP of me, if I was holding her, but if we tried to lay her next to us she freaked out and would cling to me. So I spent the first few very looong nights holding her while she slept.

When she was in Korea she slept with her foster parents on the floor, on a thin mattress called a yo. That's pretty typical in Korea. Most Korean houses have heated floors and since that's where the heat is, that's where they sleep. We were lucky enough to have been given a yo mattress from Clarissa's foster mother and after a few sleepless nights in our bed we decided to try it out. Clarissa was in love. She gave us a look like "FINALLY! What took you so long to figure this out?" and finally went to sleep. BUT only if we were sleeping next to her.

Thus began the year of sleeping on the floor. Now, you have to remember that we were coming from a place of watching this sweet child go through the trauma of the adoption and we were kind of traumatized by the whole thing ourselves and I had vowed to do whatever it took to make her feel safe and secure. If sleeping on the floor was what she needed to attach to us and feel safe, that's what we were going to do. If I had not adopted and someone told me that they slept on the floor with their child for a year, I would have told them they were nuts and to put that child in a crib and get over themselves, lol. Frankly, we occasionally tried to tell that to ourselves, but the floor was what was working, so the floor it was.

In all this time, from the first night Clarissa came home, she never really did sleep through the night. She's always been a terrible sleeper and there was pretty much never a night that she didn't wake up at least once. She also wouldn't go to sleep unless someone was laying there with her. At bedtime and naptime we had to go lay by her until she fell asleep.

This is not my first time as a parent and not the first time I've dealt with sleep issues. With my boys they had one choice. GO TO BED. lol. I'm not someone who believes in a big song and dance routine at bedtime. When my boys were little I would tuck them in, give them a kiss, say goodnight and that was it. I was pretty strict about it really. I will snuggle and love on my kids all day long, but at bed time you lay down and go to sleep. I firmly believe that kids need to learn how to fall asleep on their own. I would hear about people rocking their kids to sleep or staying in the room until they fell asleep and I would secretly think they were insane. Didn't they know that they were just setting themselves up for years of sleep problems? Don't they know it's better to sleep train your child early so that they get used to going to sleep on their own? I was going to be the mother who never coddled her kids like that. At bed time you get in bed and go to sleep. Period. My boys have always been great sleepers and I secretly patted myself on the back for being such a great sleep trainer, lol. Way to go me, right?!

So then Clarissa came along and all my ideas about kids and sleeping went out the window and there we were with this monster that we'd created, sleeping on the floor with a whole song and dance bedtime routine where Clarissa wouldn't sleep without someone next to her at all times. I want to say that I regret letting it go on for so long, but on the other hand, I don't know that I would have done anything different. She needed us with her at night and we needed to be there for her. Clarissa really did attach just fine to us. I used to obsessively go down the healthy attachment checklists that I found online and in the books I read to make sure that she was developing normally and honestly, she has a perfectly healthy attachment to us. She didn't leave my side for the first year that she came home because it was important to me for her to know that we weren't leaving her. She was fine. Some of that attachment stuff was more for me than for her. I really did carry a lot of guilt for taking her away from her life in Korea. I think she got over it faster than I did, lol.

Eventually we were able to move her off the floor at night and into a trundle bed that is all of about nine inches off the floor. She has a beautiful trundle bed in her room that I'm SO glad we bought.
We still had to lay by her at night to get her to go to sleep, but at least he was sleeping in a real mattress and not on the floor anymore! We could also leave the room after she fell asleep but she was still waking up during the night and we still had to go back in there with her. She was two years old and still not sleeping through the night.

That was the year of the trundle bed. Things were a bit better but not super great. We had constant discussions about how to handle the situation. Should we let her cry it out? Should we make her put herself to sleep? Should we stop going in there at night? If someone else was telling me this story and it wasn't my child I would say YES! Sleep train the poor child and be done with it!

We tried letting her cry it out a little bit. I could only make it for ten minutes at the most before I would convince myself that she was going to feel abandoned again and I would rush in there. I just couldn't do it to her. I know it's nutty, but I just couldn't. I let my boys cry it out to some extent and they were perfectly fine, but it felt different this time. I couldn't do it. We KNEW that it was time to cut the cord and stop coddling her at night, but I just couldn't feel good about doing it. We knew we had created a monster but we couldn't figure out how to fix it without traumatizing all of us.

And so it's been. A few months ago we managed to move her out of the trundle bed and into the regular twin bed in her room. She calls it her princess bed and she loves it. We still had to go sit with her while she fell asleep but in the past few months she has finally been sleeping through the night most nights. It's finally becoming rare that we have to go in there in the middle of the night.

But for two and a half years this has gone on. Getting babysitters at night has been impossible because no one can put her to bed except us. Going on vacation is a pain because finding a place where she will happily sleep is tricky. To put it bluntly, we're exhausted! I can't stress enough that we're totally aware that it's our own fault. "What should we do with this sleep mess we've created" has been a regular topic of conversation in our marriage, lol.

Occasionally we would talk to her about sleeping by herself. We would try to tuck her in and leave the room but it was always followed by hysterics. Not fussing, but full on panicked hysterics. Complete fall apart meltdowns that would only stop when we finally gave up and went back in there. Exhausted and out of ideas we just let it continue. Stellar parenting? No.

A few nights ago Shawn and I were discussing going on a vacation this summer. We're anxious to take a big vacation but Clarissa's sleep issues make going on vacation a little frustrating. That led into conversation #8,012 about what to do about Clarissa's sleep problems. It happened to be bedtime when we were having this conversation.

We finished the conversation with no solution as usual and Shawn went and tucked Clarissa into bed and said "well, I'm going to go talk to mommy now! Goodnight, I love you!" We've tried this before a hundred times. Hysterics ensue every time.

This time Clarissa happily said "Ok! Goodnight!". Shawn left the room and we both kind of chuckled and said "Yeah, we'll be back in there in two minutes.". We sat on our bed and waited...and waited...and we looked at each other like we couldn't comprehend this sudden change of events. We waited some more and finally a half hour had gone by. I peeked into Clarissa's bedroom and she was sound asleep!

We figured it had to be a fluke. Surely after all this time it couldn't be so easy, right? So the next day at nap time I tried the same thing. I tucked her into bed, kissed her, said goodnight and left the room. No crying, not fussing, she just laid there and talked to herself for a few minutes and went to sleep.

And just like that, the two and a half year saga of the sleep problems is over. No hysterics, no crying it out, no trauma, she has simply decided that she's a big girl now and she can sleep by herself. 

And it feels like a whole new world has just suddenly opened up, lol. It used to take us up to an hour to get that kid to go to bed at night. Now? Five minutes. You have no idea. We feel like we just won the lottery with all our free time in the evening, lol. We do a little happy dance every night when we leave the room and she isn't screaming for us to come back.We could actually go on a date now and have a babysitter put her to bed! We might even be able to leave her overnight with my mom one of these days! I love that child dearly but two and a half years has been a looong time to deal with sleep issues.

So there are happy parents at the White house these days. As I reflect back on this saga I ask myself what I could have done differently. Should I have put her in a crib from day one and just let her deal with it? I know some parents of older adoptive babies do that and it works out fine in the end. Should we have just let her cry it out a long time ago? Maybe that would have been an easier solution but honestly, I know that at the time I just couldn't do it. Dealing with the trauma of the adoption was harder than I thought it was going to be. I'm pretty sure that she has long forgotten the trauma of those first few days and weeks that she joined our family, but I haven't. As a result I think I tend to baby her more than I ought to. I'm working on it. Being the youngest and the only girl is already a surefire formula for a little spoiling, right? :) She knows she's loved, there's no doubt about that.

So there's the saga of sleep. I hate to point out my flaws as a parent, but there you have it. We let our daughter hold us hostage at bedtime for two and a half years because we were too chicken and soft hearted to let her cry it out and learn to put herself to sleep. There are worst mistakes you can make as a parent, right?!


Dustin, Darci, Britton, Benjamin, & Caden said...

Hooray! We get softer as parents with each child. We kicked our first two out of the bassinet in our bedroom and into their cribs before a month and we still have Caden in our room at night this time. It's good to be the youngest.

Jenn said...

Well, I am a firm believer that what works for your family is what works for your family and not every family is the same. I have eight children and my "baby" is definately more babied that any of them. I also did not let her cry at night like I did with the others and I'm not sorry in the least. I LOVE getting up with her in the middle of the night and sitting on the couch in the dark while she hugs me and falls asleep on my chest (she's 20 months). It rarely happens anymore, but I knew it would end sometime so I'm not sorry at all that I did it. You shouldn't be sorry either. You did what you felt was right for you and Clarissa, and it WORKED! Good for you!

Roberta said...

Hi Wendy,
I was one of the families that received a referral the same day that you did (Ryan and Clarissa were also born on the same day). I'm sorry I've lost touch, but I happened to check in on your blog and saw this post. Wendy, I could literally take what you've written and put it on my blog because it so closely mirrors my experience--do you still have the same e-mail address? I probably conversed with you through my hotmail address, but I'm using my google address to post this. I'd really like to reconnect because it sounds like we've had such a similar experience. Sincerely, Roberta L.

Wendy said...

Roberta, my e-mail address is still I would love to catch up!! :)