This morning at 5am I woke to hear Roman sobbing. I rolled out of bed, put on my slippers and robe, then stepped into his room. After he cleared the quick mom eval: no vomit, no blood, no poop, new clean diaper, not too hot, not too cold, fed, hydrated, eyes responding to light (that’s a new step added to my quick mom eval since adopting children who have hydrocephalus), I resigned myself to an early day with an inconsolable child.
Roman has been getting stronger and more interactive the past few weeks. This means he is learning how to crawl, starting to play with toys, will lift his arms up when he wants to be held, and can cry louder and longer than ever before.
He isn’t easily soothed, in fact I can’t tell if anything I do helps him at all, but I keep trying. After two hours of rocking, bouncing, swaying, bobbing, pacing, and humming with no change in the intensity of his sobs, I had a breakthrough thought. Perhaps this is grief.
Every time he has had these hours of sobbing I’ve tried to find a common thread, a trigger, so that we could hopefully avoid these sad times or at least prepare for them. They can happen at any time (though often in the wee hours of the night) go for any length, and stop as suddenly as they start.
If what we are seeing with Roman is grief, I need to start thinking about these episodes differently.
Grief can hit you at any time. For older children and adults there can certainly be links, both happy or sad, that pull grief to the forefront of the heart and mind. A scent, a song, a season, anything that reminds you of loss or couldhavebeens, can bring on a period of grieving. But what about babies?
First off I have to say it is heartbreaking to see a baby grieve. I’ve heard the trauma of infant adoption described as a “primal wound” and when I hold his sobbing little body, that is what I hear, a wounded little soul. Roman still rarely babbles, rarely looks at faces, rarely changes his affect, but during these times he will reach up to grab my face and stare into my eyes while his red-rimmed eyes stream with tears. Sometimes by the end of these episodes my face and neck are streaked and bleeding from the intensity of his grip.
With the new idea that this could be grief, I think there may be a pattern now, one that makes sense on a neurological level. Every time Roman has been through one of these days, it has been after a couple days of astonishing gains. When we came home and therapists assessed Roman’s developmental level, he was developmentally around 3 months old. Fast forward eight weeks and Roman is developmentally 9 months old. That’s 6 months of growth condensed into 56 days.
This past week Roman started really showing motivation to crawl towards toys, he has mastered a toy that will light up when he pushes it (HUGE step) and has even pulled himself up into a kneeling position before lifting his arms up when he wants to be held. With all the neurons firing and wiring in his brain, I’m sure his sense of self is having to wade through the effects of neglect. He most likely doesn’t have the awareness that this is grief, but your brain still goes through turmoil as it adjusts to a new level of self. Now with this idea of grief I can relax and let Roman go through this process without trying to “fix” it or avoid it.
He is growing, and along with that comes growing pains both emotional and physical. What he needs is a mom and a dad who are present, patient, and reassuring. On days when he is deep in grief, my priorities shift from household everything to simply being there as a pair of arms, and gentle face, a soothing voice. At the same time I have to balance caring for his siblings who all need mom too. This is what a typical day looks like when one of my kids needs me more than usual:
This morning it took 5 hours for Roman to work through his tears. Those were hard hours for the entire family. I know I am worn down and emotional by the end of these days; the girls all feel the weight of his cries as well. On days like today I go into grace mode – I tell myself early on that things are not going to get done today and that’s okay. I know I’m more likely to snap, yell, and shut kids down. I know the girls are more likely to bicker, sulk, and whine. I jotted down a few quick, fun, easy activities I could pull out and clean up throughout the day. I told myself that I could have a pity party after all the kids were in bed that night, but right now was not the time to be in a mood because that’s not going to help anyone. It was time once again to put on my mental suckitupbiggirlpants and make it through another day. On days like today I’m hyper aware of my reactions to my kids, that doesn’t mean I’m great with the kids, but overall I do actually tend to parent better during high intensity/ high stress days like today. Kids often go to bed about an hour earlier on days like today…
By the time the rest of the household was up at 7am, I was already a bundle of raw nerves. I used my speaking words to communicate with the kids. I will use these phrases all day with pauses between each one. I know what I’m going to say, so I don’t end up shouting.
“Roman and mommy are tired and sad today.”
“Please listen to mommy’s words the first time today.”
“Mommy will be doing fun things with you today.”
“Mommy will put you in a time out right away if you do not listen the first time.”
Breakfast was cereal and bananas, an option everyone likes with no prep work and minimal clean up requirements. I lit a nice smelling candle (vanilla bean and myrrh) to remind myself to take deep calming breaths. After breakfast we all continued with the morning routine with parents taking turns with the crying Roman. When everyone was dressed for the day I pulled out activity options for the older girls and allowed Kitty to watch Winnie the Pooh. (Desperate times call for desperate screen time measures.) I seized the opportunity to get dressed, wash my face, and brush my teeth while Daddy was still home. I intentionally put on something uber comfortable but not slobbish; it’s amazing how helpful it is to be put together when you face a day like today.
Daddy headed out to work, at least one child had a meltdown. After Winnie the Pooh and coloring I loaded up kids into the double stroller and marched out for a walk. One or more of the kids did NOT want to go on a walk but we went anyway, absolutely nothing is better than fresh air and sunshine on days like today. Roman relaxed and dozed off during the half hour we were outside. We returned home for snacks and more art time. There was an argument between sibs and direct defiance towards mom, so I followed through on the phrases, everyone (except Roman) had calm down time in their rooms. We started up again after everyone apologized to everyone else. How in the freakin world is it only 11am? Right, second snack of the day and Pixar shorts for the girls while mom runs a load of
biohazard laundry that cannot wait till tomorrow.
LUNCH! yes, halfway through the day!!! Grapes, pickles, leftover pasta somethingorother. Everyone wants mom to feed them. Great, let’s all play the regression game. Options are A) send everyone to bed without lunch (they’ve had breakfast and two snacks, they aren’t starving) or B) meet the needs that they are all expressing in this way. A is such a tempting option but fine, B wins. I feed every single bite to every single child and forget to make myself lunch. This is NOT something I would have done prior to adoption, but now all my kids need grace and this is one way to nurture.
Everyone goes down for quiet time, Roman finally falls asleep, mom writes a blog post. Right now the house has been calm and peaceful for 2 hours. I foresee the rest of the day being filled with watercolor paintings, another stroll, more snacks, bubble baths, poozer dinner, and probably a movie (desperate times remember) and then most likely an early bedtime because mom can only keep it together so long.