The first week at home was somehow magical and devastating at the same time.
The first night home, I was up. Even with the sleep deprivation of the two prior days, jetlag and the anxiety of the unknowns in our new life left me wired. So I did laundry and unpacked things while Sam slept in our bed with Josh for a couple of hours. However, Sam had slept most of the flights to Nashville and was still solidly on his Korean circadian rhythm. He woke up around 11pm, and I played with him downstairs until around 5am.
While the big kids and Josh woke up for the day, Sam went to bed as if it were night. I tried to sleep as well, but again the noise from my older children, light streaming through the windows and heightened anxiety from the big life change really hindered my ability to sleep, even though I wasn’t sure how I was even functioning at this point.
By the 4th day on little to no sleep and Sam on a 5am – 2pm sleep schedule no matter how hard we tried to move it around, I was at a breaking point. And so was Sam. He would fall asleep in 30 minute spurts throughout the day no matter where he was or what he was doing and in spite of any noise or activity going on around him. In ways this was helpful as I could cook dinner or do dishes or help the big kids while he was taking a catnap nearby. But ultimately, the lack of sleep was becoming a big, big problem for both of us.
We introduced Zarbee’s melatonin in a small dose to help reset his sleep schedule, and THANK GOD, it worked. By the end of the second week, we were tired but making major progress toward sleeping at night. During this time, we also gave up trying to co-sleep. We weren’t opposed to it, but the reality was, he spent much of the night hitting or kicking or headbutting me. I wasn’t sure if it was grief or his sleep schedule being turned around or what, but we moved to his room by the end of the first week and slept next to him on the floor. He still rolled all night and it wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it allowed one of us to sleep comfortably in our bed while the other was in the nursery. During the second week, we moved him to his crib and laid next to him on the floor so he could see us and hold our hand or pat our back.
Once he started getting solid stretches of sleep at night and the chaos of the holidays calmed down, our routine got a lot more structured and life got easier. Thankfully Sam thrives on routine, just like my older kids. He sleeps between 7 and 7:30pm every night, naps at 1pm, and eats meals at the same times each day.
Listen, first-time parents. Here’s something it took me a bit to figure out with my oldest kid but has now been true for all 3: when there is a behavior or an increase in clinginess and tantrums, LOOK AT SLEEP FIRST. Overtired children have a lot of the same “symptoms” of grief. When Sam is well-rested but cries his “grief” cry, I know we’re dealing with an external trigger. When Sam is overtired or overstimulated and cries his “grief” cry, I know the trigger is just being overwhelmed with exhaustion. And that’s a pretty easy fix — more sleep, more routine, less stimuli.
For us, the first 6 weeks of post-adoption life were among the hardest of our marriage. The transition to 3 kids was exponentially harder than going from one child to two. I have wondered if this is because our age gap is very close together. Jackson is 5.5, Elliott is 3, and Sam is 1.5. None are in full-time school. Perhaps it would be this challenging with three children close in age regardless of the circumstances. Three kids is a lot of kids. That’s what I have decided. There’s so many of them. I love them and wouldn’t change a thing, but there are days where I just say, “BOYS! There is only ONE mommy in this house and THREE tiny people who need something. GIVE ME A MINUTE HERE.”
However, I think the difference between parenting a newborn vs a toddler is also part of why this was particularly challenging. Newborns sleep, eat, poop, snuggle. When they cry, there’s a bit of the “well, babies cry so okay” attitude about it. It doesn’t feel personal. This is what babies do.
But with Sam, his crying had meaning. I just didn’t always know what it was, and he couldn’t communicate with me. The language barrier was harder than I expected it to be at 18 months of age. He had preferences, and I didn’t know them. He had expectations, but couldn’t share them. He had needs, and I just kept guessing until something worked. He had a whole personality that already existed completely outside of my influence and knowledge. We had to get to know each other, truly get to know each other, in a way that was much harder than with a newborn.
That said, we did turn the corner. In the last 2.5 months, Sam has started using a sippy cup, says “hi”, stopped throwing food all over the floor and got promoted from high chair to booster seat at the table, stopped screaming in the carseat, brings me his bowl when he’s hungry or his cup when he’s thirsty, holds his arms up to be held or tilts his chin up to be kissed, smiles and comes to me when I pick him up from the gym childcare, sleeps independently as long as one of us is m in the room until he drifts off. I know what things mean now, even without words. He has a routine that helps him know what is coming next in our day. He knows we have meals and snacks and baths and naps and playtime and snuggle time and outings together. He knows pajamas and a bottle means bed, and Daddy leaves in the morning but always comes back. He knows shaking a container of puffs at me will result in him getting to eat more puffs.
Now that we have familiarity, attachment is blossoming. Attachment is one of those things I think about every single day. I never thought about it with my biological kids; it was assumed. But now I think about it all the time. I check lists. I ask myself questions like, “Is he showing a preference to me? Is he appropriately clingy for his age? Is he wary of strangers? Does he come to me for comfort?” In the first 6 weeks, the signs of attachment were weak, inconsistent or non-existent. But now they are showing up all the time. We are definitely getting more settled and bonded.
People comment frequently about how well he’s doing and how happy he seems and how he has taken to us as parents. I would agree with all of this, but I would add it’s still so fragile. Trust takes time. We are earning it step by step, block by block. But it’s still early, and this will be a process. When it seems like we’re being overdramatic or protective or just plain weird, we’re simply nurturing this fledgling attachment we have worked so hard to have. We appreciate your understanding.
I have so much “advice” not shared here, so I’ll try to write that all down sometime. For now, it’s time to go wake up my little Sammy for breakfast.