A Few (More) Notes About the Sleep Thing

I’d like to follow up last night’s somewhat schmaltzy post with a little info about the particulars of our sleeping situation with Zinashi, mostly as a help to those who are also dealing with this (you are not alone!) and who will deal with this same issue at some point. I’d like to say, first, that while it is heartbreaking, it is also terribly common among adopted children, particularly those of a similar age to our daughter. So when your child is fighting you (to the death, it will sometimes seem, or at least until you pass out from exhaustion while your child employs yet another method to glue her eyes open), know that there is someone else out there who is fighting the exact same battle–both to put their child to sleep and to stay awake themselves.

Because we had success establishing good sleep patterns in Ethiopia when this same issue occurred, and because what we are experiencing now is following much the same pattern, I have faith that we will eventually end up at the same destination, which is called Sleep Town, population three (humans, but if you count the cats, who are quite good at sleeping no matter what, we would say six). But the train we’re riding makes a lot of stops, and sometimes there are some well-meaning hobos that cause a bit of a ruckus, so I also accept that the only part of this that is predictable is that we will, eventually, all sleep without spending two hours getting one certain person’s eyes shut. Everything else is negotiable, and we have to go with the flow. Mostly this is because our daughter is really smart, and once she is on to one of our sleep-inducing tricks, she’ll figure out a way to resist it. It is often her arms that she uses to keep herself awake, and that it seems sometimes she has trouble controlling, so for a time swaddling worked marvelously. She’d be mad as a hornet for a few minutes, but then the security of the blanket wrapped snugly around her would calm her, and I could rock her to sleep. Well. Not anymore. Now we can swaddle as a consequence of trying to keep herself awake using her hands, but if I keep her tightly swaddled, she just gets even madder. In essence, she is using the tight swaddle to keep herself awake now. So smart! So cunning! So…utterly irritating! Now if she is using her hands to keep herself awake, I, um, threaten to swaddle her. Yes, that’s right, what once was comfort is now used as a weapon. An effective weapon! For today!

And beyond that, we rock her. I position her so that she can either look at my face or my shirt or the backs of her own eyelids, and I hold her close and rock rock rock rock rock and then rock some more. I know that some people choose to put their children in bed and wait for them to go to sleep, even if it takes hours, but that both didn’t really work for us and doesn’t feel right to me. Given that the reason she is keeping herself awake is that she feels afraid and insecure, I consider it our job as parents to nurture her into dreamland. So we rock and rock and rock, and she tries to sit up, or she grabs the string on my hoodie to try to keep herself awake by fiddling with that, and inwardly I get a little bit angry about it. She does witness my frustration from time to time, which I regret. But then I remind myself why she doesn’t want to sleep, and I take a deep breath, pull her closer, and tell her I love her. Tonight I rocked for forty-five minutes, with lots of little position adjustments and interruptions, and then spent another fifteen minutes soothing her further into sleep once I’d laid her in our bed. She’s gotten so good at this staying awake thing that she will now wake herself up with position changes. The good news is that these small wakings are soothed fairly easily (for now, at least) by rubbing her head and snuggling her against my chest. When she begins the REM sleep twitching, I know I can slowly pull away, leaving a pillow in my place.

You’ll notice above that I said “our bed,” and yes, I do mean ours. We all share it–Jarod and me, Zinashi, and the cats. Of all the things we’ve done to foster attachment and bonding, I’d rate this as #1. Sleep is such a tenuous time, and to be there for her from the moment she wakes, particularly when it is dark, has done much to soothe and allay her fears. That we get kicked in the kidneys is true, and that I get smacked across the face sometimes in a cartoonish fashion is also true (hilariously so). But we also see her smile the moment she wakes up and sees us in the morning, and we know the moment she needs us. To be right there for all of it is priceless. I know plenty of families who have put children in their own separate beds, in their own separate rooms, from day one, and some who have put their children to bed in a separate space in the master bedroom. If that works for your child, great. If it doesn’t, come on over to the co-sleeping side, my friends. You may have balked at it before, but I guarantee that the first time your child rolls over to you in her sleep, just to be nearer to you, your heart will sing its own sweet tune.

At nap time, we lay her down in her own bed in an attempt to help her become comfortable there while it is light and things seem less threatening, but we still rock her to sleep and lay down with her if need be, and I still try to be there when she wakes up. Our hope with this is that her bedroom will become a familiar and safe place for sleep, and when she is ready, it will seem natural to her to want to sleep there at night as well. But we won’t push that. In fact, I might cry a little when that day comes. What can I say? She’s a sweet surprise of a girl, and she also keeps the bed quite warm. If I’m lucky, she’ll choose to start sleeping in her own bed in the summertime, when we’re all hot anyway. If it’s any other season, we might just have to get another cat.


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