Monday, March 14, 2011

Waking up sad

When Dawit first came home and for approximately a year after, bonding with him was our top priority. Surprisingly, it was easy. He slept, woke, ate and pooped like a 7-month-old. He liked to be close to us, but he was curious and independent. He hit milestones just like we would have expected with a child who had been with us from birth. His health is extraordinary. In fact, he's had exactly 2 sinus infections in just under 2 years. He's never thrown up except the time he poked a pen down his throat. He's happy, silly, tough, loving and all boy. He's always got a bruise or a gash somewhere on his body because he's not afraid to try anything his big sister does.

We feel safe -- and fortunate -- in saying he's very attached.

But there's one thing. A mystery.

Sometimes, not always, he wakes from his nap very unhappy. He usually comes downstairs quietly, then gets upset. Sometimes he stands and cries; other times he just whines. Nothing can console him for at least 15 minutes. He doesn't want toys, food, drink, television, books, being held, being touched, or being looked at. He also doesn't want to be alone.

Over time, I've tried every possible combination of comfort with varying degrees of success. It's very hard to watch him suffer and do nothing. But I've learned that the less I do, the quicker he gets back to his usual toddler routine. Here's what I do:

I usually start  by asking if he wants milk or a snack as this is our post-nap routine. If he says no and begins to get upset, I sit on the floor near him, cross-legged so I have a ready lap if he wants it. I don't look at him or talk to him. I don't sing or entertain myself with any busy work as this also upsets him. I just sit quietly. It's hard to do. Especially when he continues to cry and sound frustrated. To an outsider, it might seem heartless not to attempt to comfort him, but I've learned what he doesn't want. Sometimes he'll come to me and sit, and we'll sit together as long as he likes. I always let him make the first move to stand up or talk. Other times, he'll snap out of it and start playing (especially if Caroline is around) or come to me and make a request. But in those moments I let him take the lead, work through it at his own pace.

We've speculated some about why waking up from naps triggers these emotions. We have theories, but we don't know with all certainty whether they relate to loss or are just disorientation that often comes after a nap. Mostly we just concentrate on helping him feel safe. As time goes on, we'll see how it goes. We will be aware of changes -- good or bad -- that signal new ways of processing his loss and maybe change our tack or hit the books for more professional advice. For now, we're basking in the joy this sweet little boy has brought to our family.

We know that on the adoption adjustment scale, ours went as easy as one could hope for, and we're infinitely thankful. But we won't take it for granted that adjusting and bonding and attaching and learning and loving is a lifetime process, and we'll do whatever it takes.


Two Little Birds said...

Complete lurker here! In fact, just clicked to your post for the first time today because I was drawn to your header. I have no experience from an adopted child, but I can offer up from the experience from my bio son. He is 5 and has done this since he was an infant. Sometimes he will get out of bed and come to me and sometimes he will stay in bed. He displays the same behaviors you mentioned. We have learned that this is in the realm of a "night terror". He will seem awake, but really he is scared/frustrated because he is disoriented from his 50/50 dream/awake stage. I have learned that by just talking to him calmly and singing a familiar song usually snaps him out of it after a 5-20 minutes. Anyhow, for all it is worth, just thought I would share! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey there, SJ also has what we call the "grumpies" when she wakes up in the am and also most naps! Most of the time I can hold her and sometimes I can't so she has to work it out for herself. But, you guys shouldn't worry about it being related to loss/adoption, thinking it is an age/personality thing!!!

Shadley said...

I totally get what you're saying about the 'mysteries' of bonding/attachment. We actually felt like we have a great time attaching but recently we have seen some regression. I am not sure if it's normal "two year old" behavior or if its just him reacting to me leaving him more, etc. He gets really clingy and gets scared of everything. right now he is scared of loud noises, a dinosaur on a onesie, and Rocket on Little Einsteins. ;) It's weird! For a while he was afraid of foam! I wish I could get into his head!

Aunt Al said...

I love the way you handle it and think it's just right. I can imagine what your theories are, but maybe it's just a personality/age thing as T says. Interestingly, I have always had a similar thing after waking from a nap, which is why I don't take naps ever. It makes me incredibly sad to wake up from a nap or to wake up anywhere outside my own bed. It's profoundly depressing to me, and I've never been able to figure out why.

Jules said...

Sounds like you know how to handle things. As I've often said, this shit is hard. What's just an age, what's grief, what's overwhelming loss?

Love to you and yours...