Our first month together

So far, it’s been an interesting ride into motherhood.

The first week was amazing – packed full of new memories and new things, and she behaved and slept well – a dream child. However a lot of that was fear. Most people have either a fight, flight or freeze response to fear, and when you are so little you can’t really fight or run, so you tend to freeze. Make yourself very small and very quiet and hope nobody notices you.

So I had an inkling that our first perfect week together might be a little bit of a honeymoon period, which indeed it was.

We’ve had lots of cuddles and giggles and playing, and over time she started to become a lot more chatty (she goes quiet around new people but when it’s just us at home she’s surprisingly noisy!). She’s not really saying many words yet, but lots of excited shouts and squeaks, muttering and noises!

The second week she was fine too, but she was growing more confident, saying “NO!” a bit more and that sort of thing. Testing boundaries but in a cheeky way!

Week 3 and 4 is when things started to get hard. She stopped sleeping through the night and got increasingly anxious in the night. I tried patting her on the back, giving her water, singing to her, sitting on the floor next to her cot, holding her hand, picking her up for cuddles, and lying down with her until she falls back asleep and then moving her back into her cot. All of those things worked at least once, and then basically stopped working.

I’ve been sleeping in the single bed in her room so I can be there to pat her back to sleep etc quickly, as my bedroom is up in the loft and too far away. However, eventually I realised that there comes a point when she won’t go back in the cot, wakes and screams, and even after sitting on the floor holding her hand for 45mins until she went to sleep at 3am, she woke up 10 mins after I went back to bed and started screaming again. The thing that worked was putting her in the bed with me, but two of us in a small single bed means I won’t get any sleep! And as there is only one of me, it’s critical that I get at least some sleep, otherwise I will have a serious sense of humour failure, and I need all the calm and patience I can muster!

We are now trying something new – I put her to sleep in her cot, and go to bed in her room in the single bed as normal, the first few times she wakes I can usually pat her back to sleep in the cot, but there’s a point around 1am or 2am when she needs a nappy change and wakes up properly and that’s when I change her nappy and take her upstairs into my big double bed. There’s a foam bumper on one end so she can’t roll out, and that way there’s enough room for both of us. Most nights she nestles in as close as she can to me, and often reaches out in the night to check I am there.

I did worry about setting up a bad habit of her sleeping in my bed, but all the advice out there at the moment seems to say that she is scared and trying to attach and bond to me, and co-sleeping is a good way to help her know that I am there and she is safe. It doesn’t always work, some nights we sleep well, some nights we don’t, and after 3 nights in a row of moving up to my big bed, one night she slept through the whole night in her cot anyway, so it’s possible once she feels safe and secure she will sleep through again and stop waking in the night. Who knows?

I myself am going to bed earlier and earlier in an attempt to adjust to less sleep at night (I am NOT fun when I am tired!) and as you may have read in my previous post, I am also trying to nap sometimes in the morning when she does, though that doesn’t always pan out.

It’s interesting how quickly my idea of a good sleep has been redefined! Last night for example I went to bed at 9pm and she didn’t wake until 1am so I had 4 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep – it’s astonishing how refreshed I felt even though we then didn’t sleep much for the rest of the night!

Aside from the sleep issues, week 3 and 4 is when she really started to freak out too. As I mentioned, the first two weeks were super chilled out and she was so well-behaved, but mostly out of fear. Now she is suddenly having some major meltdowns, and while some of it may be because she’s tired/hungry/normal toddler reasons, some of it is definitely also from the massive upheaval. I think after 3 weeks the enormity of what has happened is hitting her, and while she is too small to fully understand everything, she’s got a lot of big feelings going on. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be torn away from everything and everyone familiar to you, without understanding why or how long it is going to last. It must be impossibly confusing.

Poor girl – some days she is fine, other days she just wakes up anxious and upset and just screams all day, and nothing I do can fix it. I try to hold her or cuddle her, and sometimes she lets me, sometimes she doesn’t. It’s really hard to see her so sad and upset and inconsolable and not be able to fix it or explain what’s happening. She’s been looking at the pictures of the foster carers which seems to help her (weirdly it doesn’t make her upset, but it’s clear that she misses them). We are visiting the foster carer soon, and I am nervous about it – not sure if it will help her or make her more unsettled and anxious. My social worker says it may be good for her to see the foster carer in a neutral place, but know that she is still coming back to my house. However she might also be upset about coming back here instead of going back with them.

There was one day when she was just so distraught that I started to cry because I felt so bad for her that I couldn’t help her. She’s so little and small and upset that it’s heartbreaking. I know this phase will pass as she grows more settled and adjusts to her new normal, but it’s so hard to stand by and not be able to help – I feel so helpless and she’s so small it’s hard not to feel her pain and wish I could do anything to take it away. It also doesn’t help for me to cry, as all the books say that being calm and reassuring and comforting will help her to learn to regulate her emotions etc, so me blubbering will almost certainly make it worse, but it’s hard when you’re tired and wrung-out and your gorgeous baby girl is so devastatingly sad.

I am also at 4 weeks in starting to feel the cumulative tiredness and am conscious of the need for self-care. I’m all she has, so I need to be functioning at least reasonably well. One day when she was so upset the only thing that settled her was me picking her up and cuddling her – she wouldn’t let me sit down and cuddle her, so I just stood and held her for hours but subsequently strained my back quite badly. That night I was so sore I barely slept as my whole back was aching, and in the morning I could barely pick her up at all so we rode down the stairs on my bum with her on my knees pretending to be a train!

Put your own mask on first, before you help others, they say on a plane, and it’s true – I can’t be the best mum for her if I’m exhausted and aching and cranky and worn out. I’m lucky that I have so many good friends who are willing to offer support, but we are still so new to our relationship that I can’t yet leave her with anyone to have a nap or get my poor back massaged… But hopefully soon she will settle and get to know people so that will be more possible in future!

She met my mum this week, who came down to stay for a night, and I was amazed how quickly and easily she felt comfortable around her (she’s normally very shy and anxious around strangers!). However my friend (another adopter) pointed out that she will pick up on the fact that I am so comfortable around my mum, and will know that she’s a safe person. Watching my daughter have her very first cuddle with Grandma was so special and wonderful! I can’t wait for her to meet the rest of my family too!

In general we are having lots of fun, and smiles and giggles. I am testing out various toddler groups and figuring out which ones she likes and which ones she hates (or which ones I like/hate too!). We have so far found an excellent Monday group, and a lovely Thursday group. Tuesdays and Fridays we’ve tried a couple of things and are not sure if we like them or not – we may try some other groups or go back to some of the noisier/more boisterous ones when she is a bit more settled – at the moment we like the quiet little low-key groups that are nice and small!

I find myself trying hard to establish routines but also forgetting things – every morning without fail I will forget at least one thing – for example, if I remembered to give her her multivitamin, then I probably forgot to brush her teeth. Or if I remembered her teeth I probably forgot to put sunscreen on, etc. One morning I misread my watch and bustled us out the door so we wouldn’t miss Rhymetime at the library, only to get there and discover the library wasn’t even open yet, as it was an hour earlier than I thought it was!

One night a couple of weeks ago it was super hot, and I’m not sure if it was the heat, or the noise from the fan, or the fact that she had a rare afternoon nap, but she just would not go to sleep and was WIDE AWAKE at bedtime (unusual for her as she’s pretty easy to get to sleep in general). She wouldn’t stay in the cot so I thought was a GENIUS when I fetched my book and my phone and settled with her into my rocking chair. I figured I could read my book and even if it took hours for her to go to sleep it wouldn’t matter (at least until I had to pee…). However the book I was reading at the time was very funny, so at one point it made me laugh, and I was trying to laugh silently but wound up shaking with quiet laughter. She looked up and saw me, and started to giggle, and she has a VERY infectious giggle! Once she started giggling, she set me off and I got the giggles, and I thought there goes any chance of getting her to go to sleep! So we just sat there, two sweaty, hot giggling girls laughing at each other.

UPDATE: Since I started writing this post a week ago, we have now had our visit with the foster carer. I was really nervous it might upset her or set things back in terms of unsettling her, but actually I am so glad we went and I think it was just what she needed. We met them in a neutral cafe, at first she clung to me and was shy (and they were just itching to cuddle her!). But she soon remembered them and had big cuddles with them and lots of smiles. We had tea and they had brought a present so they played with her for about an hour. When she started to get tired and ready for her nap she reached for me for comfort and a cuddle (which was so reassuring for me!) so we said goodbye, and she was perfectly fine and very smiley all day after we got home. I was worried she might be confused or upset or wish she was going back with them, but instead I think it just reassured her that they still love her and think about her and haven’t forgotten her. So all in all it was a really good thing for her, and we have booked in another visit in about a month’s time.

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