Thursday, February 17, 2011

A beautiful mess: Adoption 6 month review

6 months ago today Sammy was placed into my arms and into our family forever. What a ride it has been!

I heard someone say that you should not even try to evaluate how your adoption is going until you've been home for 6 months. And I must say that I agree 100%.

I hope that this blog inspires many, many people to consider and pursue adoption. I hope it also prepares adoptive families for some of the "rough patches" that you may encounter. Adoption is beautiful, but it is messy. It is a beautiful mess.

Okay, here comes so honesty...brace yourselves.

The first 3 months we were home felt like someone waking us up from a nice sleep by throwing ice cold water on us. Every. Single. Day. Andy and I were both sleep deprived, Andy was going through an extremely busy & stressful time with his job, and it felt like we were losing our minds. There was no break from Sammy. Let me explain...

Sammy would wake up early almost every morning, often by 6 AM. Once he was up, he was in my arms. If I was unable to hold him for a period of time, he would follow me around the house with his arms up either whining or crying. He literally needed to be held almost constantly. He would only nap for 30 minutes to an hour each afternoon. He was exhausted, but once he made it through one sleep cycle he would have just enough energy to jolt himself awake. For bedtime, one of us had to be in the room with him while he fell asleep. There was no more watching a TV show to unwind or having a good conversation about our day once the kids were asleep. It would often take Sammy an hour and a half or more to fall asleep. If we tried to leave the room he would immediately start screaming and even shaking at times. Sammy was absolutely petrified that we would abandon him. He had to see, hear, and touch us at all times. So he would fall asleep around 9:30 or 10, which is about the same time I try to go to sleep at night. There was no break. Even throughout the night there was no break because he would wake up 4-5 times a night. At first he would wake up screaming and scared. Then as time progressed, he would just stand up in his pack-n-play and want me to hug him. Sometimes he'd fall right back asleep. Sometimes he'd be up for an hour or more. Sometimes I had to hang halfway out of my bed to keep my hand on him. Sometimes he needed to come in bed with us.

While Sammy was very needy of affection, he didn't always want / know how to receive it. He bit me a few times while trying to hold him and rock him. He would have inconsolable crying spells where, if I tried to touch him, he would slap, kick, or spit on me. He bit Caedmon at least a dozen times. All of these physical manifestations were just him working out the grief, confusion, loss, anger, and frustration that he was feeling. We knew that in our heads. But honestly, it didn't make it a lot easier to deal with.

That was our first 3 months.

It felt like torture because we didn't know when it would end. We knew the transition period wouldn't last forever, but it certainly felt like forever when we were in the middle of it. People told us that this may last 6 months to a year.

I was REALLY struggling emotionally during this time. Almost like a postpartum depression (which, interestingly enough, our social worker said that post-adoption depression is not uncommon). My thoughts and emotions were all over the map. Andy and I were both thinking, "What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?"

I warned you that I was going to be honest, right?

Around the 3 month mark, we started seeing some major progress. Sammy was still sleeping in a pack-n-play in our room and continued to wake up most nights, but now only once. He would just need a hug and then he'd be back to sleep. This was a huge, pump-your-fist-in-the-air kind of victory! All of life is much easier to cope with when you are getting adequate sleep.

He was also much less "needy" during the daytime. He still needs to be held and loved on each day as any two year old does, but the need is not as motivated by a sense of fear that if I let him go I may never pick him back up.

We just had a huge breakthrough last week when we moved Sammy into Caedmon's room. We had purchased bunk beds for the boys long before we got Sammy home, knowing all along that the goal was that they would share a room. I had no idea how the transition out of our room would go. I envisioned (with an ulcer developing in my stomach) more screaming fits and sleepless nights. But no! Sammy is actually sleeping better in there than he did in our room! The first night we put him back there he woke up screaming one time because he didn't know where he was. But he went right back to sleep and has been fine ever since. Albeit, it is a little tricky to get the boys to fall asleep in the same room, but overall I am very pleased with our new sleeping arrangements!

When we first got home, it honestly still felt like we were a family of 3 and that we were taking care of a friend's child. I hated feeling like that. I wanted (and expected) the attachment and bond to be immediate, but we had to grow into it. The commitment was always there, but the feelings took time to develop. (Sometimes you gotta FAKE IT TILL YOU FEEL IT!)

Now, at the 6 month mark, I can hardly remember what life was like without Sammy as apart of our family. It absolutely feels right and natural that he is one of us. We are a family of 4. Sammy is a Wood and he feels like my son.

He is incredibly affectionate, frequently looking at me throughout the day, spreading his arms wide and saying, "Hug?" He is generous with his kisses and has a tender little heart. He is not the "snuggler" that Caedmon is and may never be. That may just not be his personality. But he does let us hold him and rock him without a fight.

Another area of progress: when he first got home he would not cry when he got physically hurt. I guess he had learned that it did no good to cry. But it's not health for a baby to learn not to cry just because no one will respond to it. So every time he got hurt I made sure to kiss it and hold him and tell him it's okay to cry. And now he does. He runs to me with his boo-boos and receives his Mommy's magic kisses.

Another thing...when I was in Ethiopia with Sammy, he would have nothing to do with books. When I tried to read to him he would scream and throw the book across the room. He had probably never had someone read to him. Now he loves books and we read them everyday...often on his own initiative.

We're still working on some areas...things that may have their root in adoption but are further enhanced by the fact that he is two years old. For example, he is overly independent. Not just in a 2 year old way, but in a I-had-to-fend-for-myself way. Also, when he gets really upset, he is still inconsolable. It only makes him more angry when I try to calm him down.

So, it's a journey and we'll be walking this road for a long time...I guess the rest of our lives to some extent. But the climb is no longer quite as steep or arduous and we can lift up our heads now to enjoy the beautiful view. The view of a precious Ethiopian child who grew, not in my belly, but in my heart. The view of my two sons hugging each other before bedtime. The view of a child who is daily stripping off fear, insecurity, and grief and instead putting on peace, hope, and abundant joy.

Not bone of my bone, but heart of my heart.


Trish said...

How precious. God will use it all in many lives I am sure!

Jared and Allison Sherburne said...

Oh. My. Word. This sounds EXACTLY what Jared and I have gone through with Tseganesh!!!! I am talking THE EXACT SAME!!!!!!! Even up until WE too had a major breakthrough by allowing her to sleep with one of her siblings a few weeks back to see how it would go, and she slept through the night with no crying, screaming, or tremors!!!!! Ok we need to talk more girl! I am right there with you on the post- adoption depression. I cried MANY times to God. WHy?!?! And felt HORRIBLE for putting our other children through what we were going through. Thank you for sharing, and let's stay in touch!

Allison Sherburne
Home with Birtukan and Tseganesh the same day you were :-)!!

Stacie said...

SO good to hear from you! I think of you and your two precious girls often. I enjoy "spying" on you through your FB updates. Thanks for your comment...glad you're also seeing some breakthroughs with Tseganesh!

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a journey you've been on! Glad things are better with you all. I enjoy reading your blog. I 'found' you by way of Ben and Shauna Pilgreen's blog. I'm Ben's 1st cousin. His Dad and my Mom are siblings. Praying that God will continue to bless you and your family in a wonderful way, Lisa

Beth said...

LOVED reading this post! I just came to your blog today for the first time, via Erin Lambert (Bell). I too went to good 'ole BCHS...a year or two younger than you though. My name is Beth Singleton (York). I especially love your honesty, as my husband and I have been called to adopt! I am getting ready to do a big post on our blog about how/when/where we got "the call" and all the details of what we think His plans are for us. I am also enjoying going back through some of your older posts and getting a feel for how this goes. Looking forward to keeping up with you and your precious family!

The Noy Maker said...

Great post Stacie! It's so awesome to see the Lord working in your family! Precious!

lindsey_clark said...

Hi Stacie! I'm Janelle Perdue's close friend from college and she sent me your blog. We are currently starting the process of adopting from Ethiopia. I just wanted to tell you I have bawled over, been super encouraged through, been comforted over and somehow even felt connected to you through reading your blog and all your openness and honesty. It has really helped me process a lot through this and I wanted to thank you for sharing the ups and downs of your adoption and for being so real. God has really used you in my life to be a blessing through your blog. I'm excited to continue reading about your journey as we too begin this journey!
Lindsey Clark :)

Stacie said...


I looked on your blog and I totally remember you! Great to hear from you. Many blessings as you begin your adoption journey! I know God has awesome things in store for you.

Stacie said...

Thank you, Lisa & Jessica, for your encouraging comments!

Stacie said...

I really appreciate your heartfelt comment. And I'm so thankful that my journey has helped you in some way. I know that God is going to do amazing things in your life as you pursue this adoption! Many blessings!!!