Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Tough Part

For a while, things were really getting worse rather than better. Phoebe had been a securely attached kid, and then we spiralled down in the month of October. Suddenly she was wrapping her arms around mylegs and wailing "Don't go work! Stay with me!" complete with bigtears down the cheeks. Once she even said, as I tried to leave the house, "I scared." Bedtimes turned into disaster, and Phoebe was rejecting any comfort from Mark if I was in the house. There were up to six awakings in the night where the peaceful child suddenly shrieked in fear until I woke her up by gently shaking her shoulders. Twice she verbalized to me the contents of her nightmares, "I don't like that fish" and "I don't like those people scare me"-- what goes through her little head in the middle of the night? One night I heldthe exhausted Phoebe in my arms as she fought sleep with closed eyes and her fingers in her mouth, protested "I don't want go sleep" every few minutes. When I finally got a blessed day off of work when I wasn't post-call, Phoebe couldn't even enjoy the time together. She instead spent the day whining and clinging and generally beingmiserable. By the time Mark came home, I was pretty much just as miserable as she was.

So back to the old ways-- I read a book, the Connected Child, which reminded me not to get frustrated, but to meet her with kindness and respect as I teach her what she needs to know. I activated my support squad of friends we traveled with in China, and they offered an outpouring of suggestions. We gave up on the Big Girl bedtime routine, and pulled Phoebe back into bed with us, where she hadn'tbeen since last Spring. The Ergo came back. There was an intense weekend of playing on the floor, looking into Phoebe's eyes, and going nowhere. I let the girls visit me at work, where they got to see pregnant bellies and weigh themselves. I let Phoebe sit on my lap for dinner, and snuggle as much as we could. Back to giving her whatever she needed to feel safe and secure.

What I couldn't figure out is this: How much of this should I attribute to Phoebe's personality, how much to typical toddlerhood, and how much to adoption? And second, is this a bump in the road, or a major turning point towards a longterm attachment issue? My pediatrician told me, essentially, that I'm reading too many books. He said that children's memories are short and that at this point all Phoebe can remember is our family, so I should forget about adoption as an issue. I felt like I was walking this tightrope, not wanting to over-diagnose my child, but at the same time, not wanting to miss something important.

She responded really well to our efforts, and in less than a week after we hit bottom, we had a bedtime without crying. Admittedly, that was because I was in bed with her as she fell asleep, but at least the nightmares disappeared and the fear factor started to resolve. Last week I said goodbye and Phoebe barely looked up from her puzzle to say "bye" while I kissed her forehead-- like old times, when parting was just part of the routine instead of a traumatic event.

By the time we got to our appointment with our international adoption specialist, I think we knew that we had just hit a bump in the road,and that Phoebe was going to pull through just fine. Phoebe hadn't been there in a full year. They gave her a full developmental assessment, which delighted Phoebe. She kept asking, "More games, please, can we do more?" My goodness, she's learned a lot in a year. Last year the challenge was to lift up a hankerchef to find a little toy hidden under it. This year I watched her thread little beads onto a shoelace and point to pairs of associated objects picked out of aline-up. Rather amazing. At one point the doctor said something that registered in my mind as "Do you know how lucky you are?" My eyes filled up with tears. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. She closed the two hour visit by saying, "I don't think she has an attachment disorder. Come back if you need us."

So now, we are in recovery mode. Phoebe went to bed for Mark with no tears last week while I was on-call, and last night let Mark put her to bed while I was in the house-- the first time in weeks. We have back-tracked in many of the areas where we had previously worked really hard for progress. While I'm happy we don't have tears or fearat bedtime this week, we are now laying in bed with Phoebe until she falls asleep, even if that takes an hour or two, and the rest of the night is a game of Musical Beds. Last night I made Phoebe follow the old rule of "You don't sit my lap at the dinner table until my plate is empty," which meant that we enjoyed our pasta while Phoebe howledat my side. While it didn't make for a very peaceful meal, it did feel good to be returning to firm rules. A few weeks ago, Phoebe reacted to that kind of rule with a real fear of rejection and abandoment. Now she is back to being a normal toddler again. The next step is to start "sleep training" again, just like we did last spring, with the slow movement of the parental chair further and further from her bed each day. We graduated from co-sleeping once, and now we'll have to graduate again.

What happened? At the international adoption clinic they seem to think it was just too much change-- moving, losing our old nanny,adding our au pair to the house, starting preschool, changing the season (Phoebe hated the new fall shoes, fall pajamas, fall jackets),and having mama boldly go away for a weekend with friends. "She was letting you know that she's vulnerable," they said. "It won't be the last time. But each time it will be a little shorter than the last." At this point, we are pretty happy with that.