A few nights after Phoebe arrived in our arms in China, we had our guide translate her papers from foster care. What we had already discovered by trial and error was confirmed: "If you try to lay her down in her crib to put her to bed, she'll cry. You have to hold her until she falls asleep."
Now, we had that same problem with Miranda at four months old, and our pediatrician said that falling asleep at the breast was trouble. He convinced us that a baby needs to know how to put herself to sleep, and "crying it out" is the way to do it. It took only a few painful nights, and then Miranda figured it out. Since then, we've tucked her in, kissed her goodnight, and walked out of the room.
Contrast that to Phoebe. Our routine, seven months into our life together, was to finish the bedtime rituals and then lay down with her in the master bed until she fell asleep. If it took more than 15 minutes, I generally gave up and put her in the Ergo while I puttered around downstairs, and then would transfer her to the crib after she fell asleep on my back. At the first nighttime awakening, we pulled her into the master bed again. For naps, our nanny used the Ergo 100% of the time, and then transferred to the crib. Phoebe hadn't once in her whole life little life put herself to sleep.
That was the routine as it usually worked-- "whatever it takes" and "it's only a phase, it won't last forever" were things we said. True, not very good sleep hygiene, but it worked. Except when it didn't. If we rose out of the master bed or transferred her out of the Ergo too quickly and misjudged just how deeply asleep we thought she was, she would awaken with a second wind. Goodbye evening time-- cooking tomorrow's dinner, finishing documentation from the day's office hours, and doing the laundry. Yes, fun to have extra playtime for this mom who works too much. But, oh, it made me crabby to have Phoebe up and chipper until 10:30 at night when I called it quits. A few days after the big girl beds arrived, this missed window routine happened twice, and that was about it. I had it. Something had to give.
You can't Ferberize an kid adopted as a toddler-- or at least I can't do it to Phoebe. One mom who adopted with us shared what she sees as the mistakes she made with her first adopted child (I'm so thankful!), and she feels like Ferberizing was one of the big ones. The last thing Phoebe needs is to cry it out alone in a dark room, wondering if she's arrived at the next great abandoment in her life.
So, we are trying "Good Night, Sleep Tight" by "The Sleep Lady," Kim West. It's a kinder and gentler way to Ferberize. We had to lay down some groundrules: Phoebe sleeps only in Phoebe's room. The bedtime rituals always happen, in order, no variation. Rules are rules, 100% of the time. Nap and bedtime happen on schedule, and nap ends after 2.25 hours. We moved Phoebe's big girl bed into our bedroom, tucked under the sloping attic ceiling a ways away from our bed. And we told Phoebe that we are teaching her to sleep.
We tuck her in, kiss her goodnight, and then stay present in the room, but ignore her until she goes to sleep, with nothing more than some "Shhhh" comforting sounds. The first night, I lay with her but not touching her. She talked and babbled and counted and bounced until she fell asleep. You can't believe how quickly she caught on. On night #4, Mark stood by the bedside rather than in it, and was out of the room with Phoebe's sound asleep in 10 minutes. Last night (#5) I sat at the foot of her bed and played with my iPhone while she drifted off, 15 minutes. We only had crying on one night. And the nanny-- she's done better than we have with naps. It takes her two minutes, no failures so far.
We'll keep moving further away, with the first big goal being to be able to sit on the master bed with the laptop until Phoebe falls asleep. Middle of the night awakenings are still there, and we've debated how to handle them. For now, we are still climbing into bed with her-- but not letting her into our bed. I think those awakenings will just disappear, eventually, maybe after she has learned how to put herself to sleep.
In addition to these major sleep changes, yesterday was another milestone. I brought the kids to the "Kid's Club" at the YMCA, where Miranda loves to stay while I run upstairs to the gym. There is a strict "no parents beyond this point" policy, so I wasn't at all sure how Phoebe would walk away from me to engage on the other side. She watched Miranda play from my arms for a while, and then asked to get down and play. I passed her over the wall and said goodbye. She said "Bye-bye" back and I slipped out with no tears. I checked on her every 5-10 minutes, and the sitters kept giving me thumbs-up through the glass windows. When I returned for good, she ran into my arms with smiles, and told me she had fun.
I've learned in these last few months that the rules of parenting an adopted child are different than that of biologic children. I've been much more cautious and slow with Phoebe, and I worry much more about her emotional wellbeing. When Phoebe headbutted me the other day and I sternly (perhaps too sternly) reprimanded her through the stars I was seeing, I watched her face transform from amusement to utter devastation, and I worried in that moment that she thought she was losing my approval and love forever. Someone asked me during these sleep discussions how long the attachment issues usually last with adopted kids, and I took a deep breath with the realization that no matter how smoothly things go, pieces of these issues will be with Phoebe forever.
Having said that, I think times are changing here. We are coming out of the early days of our adoption, and transitioning into more "normal" family dynamics. These days Phoebe is learning to trust that she is safe and loved even alone in her bed, and that her mama will of course return from the gym. Soon we'll be getting a babysitter for date night, and maybe we'll all be sleeping the night.
Monday, January 11, 2010
About two months ago Mark came downstairs after putting Miranda down and said, "I hope this wasn't a major tactical error, but Miranda said, 'Miranda want sleep in guest room,' so I let her." And that was the end of the crib for Miranda. Since then I've been logging on daily to Craig's List looking for the perfect matching set of wooden beds, and finally scored. Mark set out in a rented U-Haul to pick up the set, and I got to work disassembing the cribs. Phoebe got a bit upset at all the commotion, and kept asking "Happen?", which is Phoebe-speak for "What is going on?" By the time Mark came home, the nursery was gone-- the changing table, the old dresser, the twin cribs.
I underestimated how much work it is to set up a bedroom-- washing down two beds and two dressers, and then assembling them all. And who knew what all is involved in a bed-- the bed, the rails, the mattress, the mattress pad, the sheets, the skirt (which needed to be ironed), the pillows, the blankets, the comforters. Phew! It was midnight-- with Miranda sound asleep in the guest room for the last time-- when we finished.
In the morning, after quite a big build-up, the kids opened the door of the their bedroom like it was Christmas morning. They ooohh'd and ahh'd and giggled. Miranda was impressed with the "door" where the guardrail breaks, though she struggled to hoist her little self up through the opening and onto the bed. "My big girl bed!" she declared over and over. Phoebe just looked with her fingers in her mouth, thinking "Hey, does this mean I can't sleep with Mom and Dad anymore?" and eventually flat out declared "No" when asked if she liked her bed. But Miranda was tickled. And she slept a great night last night alone in her bedroom.
So, now, we are done with breast feeding, bottles, pacifiers, and cribs. I do believe the baby days are nearly over for this family. Tonight I sat in Miranda's bed with one girl on each side of me, reading one last book before turning out the lights. Then I tucked her in, pulled up the blanket, made sure the pillow was comfortable, and kissed her goodnight. My big girl!