At home, Rosie is very easy to put to bed. A five-minute routine is all it takes for her to settle into a 10-11 hour sleep overnight. And, yet, when we are away from home, bedtime is an hour or more filled with screams, tears, extended lullabies, rocking and soothing touches. Sometimes, I wonder if this great difference in bedtime behavior is a result of Rosie’s experience of being adopted as an infant.
At about 9:00 each night, I sit in the velour glider in the corner of Rosie’s room, read her a book and sing “Baby Mine” before she happily curls up in her crib to go to sleep. Of course, she does need her binky and some background music but, still, it is a quick and easy process. And during the day, she has always been able to fall asleep pretty much anywhere in the house. And I mean anywhere:
Her highchair The floor
The Exersaucer A crowded Pack-n-Play
(By the way, I don’t leave her to fall asleep in uncomfortable places as often as it seems.)
But despite the fact that she so easily falls asleep at home, when we travel, putting her to sleep is a trying battle. The moment I lay her in a crib that is not her own, she screams at a decibel that can no doubt be heard four hotel rooms down. Now that she is able to, she will pull herself to standing and try to climb out of the crib as she grips the metal bar with white knuckles and tears pour down her bright red face.
I can’t understand this drastic change of behavior. I mimic our bedtime routine perfectly. I pack a book and her music maker (as we call it). I sing “Baby Mine” just as I do at home. But no matter what, the second any part of her touches that mattress, the screams begin. The last time we went away, I had to sing “Baby Mine” for 45 minutes straight while rubbing her back continuously for her to finally doze off.
Believe me, I’m not complaining. I know there are parents who deal with far worse sleeping habits than this on a nightly basis. I am just questioning the difference in behavior and the fact that I have one daughter to put to sleep at home and a completely different child to lay down at night when traveling.
When a child is not adopted, his sleeping habitats follow a pretty standard path:
WOMB → HOSPITAL BASSINET → BASSINET AT HOME.
Of course, months down the line, this baby would be moved to his crib if that is not done from the get-go.
For an adopted child like Rosie, the path is often different:
WOMB → HOSPITAL BASSINET → BASSINET AT HOTEL → BASSINET AT HOME
So, it seems that there is only one extra stop on Rosemarie’s path and, therefore, you could argue that there is no real difference that could possibly affect her sleeping habits. I would like to point, however, that for a child who is not adopted, after he emerges from his birthmother’s womb, he returns to her arms on a regular basis in the days, weeks, and months that follow. But like other adopted children, Rosemarie went from her birthmother’s womb to the arms of several nurses and then over 24 hours later to the arms that would be permanent in her life, mine.
That is where I see a difference in her experience. And sometimes I wonder if that day and a half in which she had no sense of permanence is the reason she acts so desperate and frightened when she needs to sleep somewhere other than home.
Is it possible that a change of sleeping habitat reminds her of those first 36 hours?
Is it possible that a new crib in a new place triggers a fear of things changing again?
I know some of you may be thinking that those questions I raised above are not nonsensical. I know it seems impossible that Rosie can even remember her first few days and, therefore, cannot possibly be affected by them emotionally. There are experts, however, who claim that babies do indeed remember their very first hours even if they don’t realize that they do. In Babies Remember Birth, David Chamberlain asserts that his title is true and that “[b]abies know more than they are supposed to know. Minutes after birth, a baby can pick out his mother’s face–which he has never seen–from a gallery of photos.”
Last November I attended the Adoptive Parents Committee’s annual Adoption Conference. During a workshop on raising adopted children, I heard the term “the primal wound,” which was coined by Nancy Verrier, a clinical psychologist. The three-word term is also the title of a book by Verrier and refers to the subconscious wound left on a baby who is separated from his biological mother after birth.
I ordered the book the following day. I have not read it yet. I have no idea if what it contains is brilliant or ridiculous, but if Verrier’s theory is true and if my daughter was “wounded” at the time of her birth, then perhaps there is a connection between her being adopted and the great difficulty she has sleeping in an unknown place.
I don’t know. I am not an adoptee or a psychologist, and I’ve only been a mother for a year, but I think I owe it to Rosie to at least pay attention.
So for now, when we are away from home, I will soothe her for as long as she needs at bedtime. I will rub her back and sing her a lullaby and make sure she can fall asleep knowing I am near and that I’m not going anywhere.
What do you think?
Adoptive mothers, do you have children who struggle to fall asleep when away from home?
Adoptees, do you believe the primal wound exists?