Monday, November 3, 2008

Stage 2 - Grieving

I think we left off at having Mateo home about a week. Stage 1 was the honeymoon stage. He was a happy, easy child, then something switched. He became very irritable. He was cranky all the time and started crying a lot. When he would cry I would hold him close to me to comfort him and he hated it! He would literally push me away, wiggle away, and anything he could do to get away from me. But I had to hold him. I had to force him to receive comfort from me so he could start to bond instead of continuing to shut-down. He resisted and fought this. And what's even sadder is that when he was grieving (and I knew that's what he was doing just by looking at his face) he would roll his head back and cry with his eyes closed. Every few minutes he would open them, look at me, then close them and start crying again. You could just tell he was wishing me away. It was awful and it made me feel awful. What kind of horrible person I must be for taking him away from the only person he loved (his first foster mom). Having read many attachment and adoption books, I knew that I had to keep up the fight for his trust and dependence. So even though it felt like torture, I continued to force him to sit on my lap, facing towards me, to rock to sleep or calm down. Most of the time he fought and fought until he did fall asleep. Most of the time I was crying with him. It broke my heart to see my baby in such turmoil. And as a new adoptive parent, all you want is a normal mother-child bond with your baby, but when your child doesn't want that, it's the worse feeling you could have.

So everyday, over and over, Mateo would cry on my lap until he fell asleep. Then we figured out that this was happening about the same time every morning and afternoon. Up to this point we had been following the schedule written by his former foster mom that said he took only one nap at 1pm. Well, it started to become obvious that he needed two naps, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Once we switched this around, it got a little better. Then came the rages. There was the crying and whining with the eyes closed when he was tired or overwhelmed, but also there were long drawn-out rages that lasted hours. Most of the time they would start quickly, die down a bit, then pick back up when something little happened to trigger it. And it would go on and on like this all day. I'll tell you what a rage looks like for a toddler. Screaming, writhing around on the floor, wriggling in my arms, kicking, stiffening his body, screaming louder, and completely unable to be comforted. This was exhausting.

At this point we were full swing into an attachment based routine, which does help, and is vital for any adoption but especially a toddler. I put him in the maya wrap and we went for walks every morning and every afternoon. I also held him in the wrap around the house while I cooked or cleaned and sometimes for no reason at all. I hand fed him with lots of eye contact. We did massage and skin to skin contact with lotions that were calming. We played lots of peek-a-boo games and tickling. We didn't allow friends or family to hold him or feed him. We kept him in the house as much as we could. As I said, I even quit my job so he didn't have to go to daycare. We did everything we could to promote attachment, short of co-sleeping because of several reasons (my husband is an extremely light sleeper and Mateo had breathing problems that made him snore very loudly. It's just not something we could manage, although it is great for attachment.). So we did everything we were supposed to but still the rages were happening on a daily basis.

Mateo was also very unpredictable. I never knew what would trigger him into a giant rage or what would make him laugh and smile. He was also very confusing when we did happen to go out somewhere to play. Sometimes he would cling to me in fear of the new environment and other times he would go up to complete strangers and want to play with them. And most of the time the strangers he liked were men. This made me very self-conscious. Usually it was just Mateo and I that would go out to the park or mall play area because my husband worked during the day and we needed something to do. And Mateo doesn't look anything like me. When he seemed to like strange men more than his own mother, I thought that people would start thinking I kidnapped him. He would pick a specific person that he decided he liked, and he would crawl to that person (always a man) and touch him or put his arms up to be held, then I would go and say something funny and pull Mateo back and distract him. But Mateo would just keep going back over and over and over until we left cause I was embarrassed. I kept thinking to myself, why do you like that person instead of me? I'm your mom! I'm the one who's playing with you and vying for your love every day!

I've got to stop for a minute and recognize the important people in this process. My family, who threw us a baby shower and were very generous to make sure we had everything we could need for him. They were also understanding of our desire not to play "pass the baby" and kept their distance without being offended. My mom especially had read up on attachment issues and how important it is to establish certain boundaries in the beginning and soon had become an attachment advocate educating anyone who would listen and praying for him to become a normal happy little boy. My best friend Devan talked on the phone with me pretty much everyday while I vented and asked millions of questions and worried endlessly and doubted my abilities. Without these people in my life I don't think I could have gotten through all of this, at least not with my sanity in tact (mostly). And my husband was awesome. Not just in bonding and being a daddy to Mateo but also in understanding and supporting me. We found out just how great of a team we really are.

After months of this, I started to think we would never have a normal bond. But he was making progress bit by bit. His rages were getting shorter. For a long time, when I held him on my hip, he would rotate his torso so that his upper body and arms would be facing out and away from me. And he was always very tense, like he couldn't relax in my arms. This started to get a little better, he could relax more. But I just wanted the process to be over! It's so hard to give and give and give and not get anything back, especially when you want it so bad. I just wanted my son to love me, like any parent does. I think it was around Christmas that Mateo started to give hugs and kisses spontaneously. And he also started allowing us to comfort him. Instead of pushing us away when he got hurt, he would nuzzle into our shoulder or chest just like a normal kid does. Can you believe it took that long for just a simple thing every other child does naturally? These are the little things most parents take for granted, but when Mateo first cuddled into my chest without being forced, it felt like I had won the lottery. It was amazing! Even now when he does it, it just feels so good, knowing how hard we worked for it.

There is so much I could say about all of this, but I want to pause to talk about his development at this point. He was delayed in all areas when he first came to us. I believe that this is because during one of the most important ages for development, he was feeling unstable and unsafe in his environment and therefore could not explore and grow like most kids. Between 9 months to a little over a year is when most kids start walking. They explore with standing and cruising along furniture, testing out their legs and abilities. When they feel confident and secure they begin to walk. Mateo could not do this. He didn't even want to try because he didn't feel confident or secure. This is natural for a child who's experienced a big trauma or change. But based on the note I read from the last pre-adopt family, they were pushing him to walk and learn sign language. Then note said, "he is lazy so you have to make him walk everywhere," meaning by holding his hands since he couldn't by himself yet. So when he came to us he had negative associations with walking. We didn't push it but once in a while we would stand him on his feet and hold his hands to see if he would take some steps. When we did this he would scream on the top of his lungs as if he were in pain. So we stopped pushing him to walk altogether and just let him do it in his own time. Well, that time wasn't until he was almost 18 months. But what a big accomplishment to watch! So all that time he was still crawling around, most kids were learning to run, jump, and climb. He's been behind in his gross motor skills and just recently has caught up substantially. Believe me, the first time he climbed a slide and went down by himself, we about had a party. It's these little things you have to celebrate as an adoptive parent (or parent of a special needs child for that matter).

His language was also delayed, and still is, significantly. We started him in Birth to Three as soon as we could to address this. But he wouldn't and couldn't improve until he felt safe. So that was our primary goal. I felt like there would be plenty of time to catch up on the little things, but feeling safe and loved is the biggest need we have as human beings.

So for several months we lived the grieving stage, which stretched on in some subtle ways, but was mainly over. Up next, the angry and vengeful stage! Stay tuned, this is where things really get fun! be continued...

pumpkin picking - one of our first outings
obviously it didn't go as well as expected

one of our first cuddling memories
this was Christmas Eve right after waking up from nap


JonesEthiopia said...

The "cuddle" picture brings tears to my eyes. Being a new mom is so hard, especially for us adoptive ones... You are such an amazing example of unconditional love and patience!

Rachel said...

What a sweet picture! You should frame it, if you haven't already. I am really eating this story up. You should write a book.

Melodie Monberg said...

Thank you. I found your blog from a comment on Baby Baker. I love your honesty and help. We are waiting for our baby. Your words are pocketed away in my soul for when I'll need a refresher course on our baby.

Thank you,

Adopting1Soon said...

"He is so lazy you have to..." WTF??? Thank GOD he is with you now. That recounting of your first few months is a heart breaker. Man, that must have been tough. But that picture at the end makes it all seem worth it. How is it nowadays? has he completely attached? Does he still have noticeable trauma?