Many of you have been helped by reading Denise’s previous posts on Cocooning (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) and today, she is sharing her experience now that they have finished cocooning with their daughter.
If we aren’t careful, parenting can be such a minefield of opinions and judgments. Adoptive parenting is certainly no exception. I have had much loving support in our decision to cocoon, but I have also had opposition. Some people seem to feel judged by my posts because they chose not to cocoon. Others had never heard of it and wish they had known of this option when their child first came home which has resulted in some feelings of regret.
If there is one thing I keep learning over and over again, it is that it is always dangerous to judge other people’s parenting choices. There are so many things I have done that I swore I would never do… or have not done that I was sure I would do!
I can honestly tell you that cocooning was incredibly hard. Much harder than I expected it to be. And I am an introvert by nature – so I can only assume it might be even that much harder on an extroverted mother. What made cocooning so hard was not so much the isolation from the world, but it was the insanity in our home coupled with the isolation from the world. At one point, I searched through blogs about cocooning and saw how many mothers started out with intentions to cocoon, but simply couldn’t keep it up. I considered quitting as well (many times) – but Giselle’s needs and temperament simply wouldn’t allow it.
I have heard that bringing a child home in the toddler years is one of the hardest/worst times to bring about this huge life change for them. They are not so young that they don’t notice the changes, and they are not so old as to understand any explanations given to them. All they know is, “that was my home, and these people took me away”. Of course each situation is unique, and each child is unique in how they perceive life and handle change.
Do I think cocooning is a must in every adoption situation? Not necessarily to the degree we did. But I do think it is important for families to know about this option and to seriously consider it for their family. I think it would be ideal for families to prepare for the possibility that their child will need this, but certainly not all children will need to cocoon to the extent that Giselle did.
I am so very thankful we were already prepared to do this – mentally and in our family’s scheduling. I can only imagine that Giselle’s healing would have taken much, much longer had we not cocooned. She was the type of child who needed this SO incredibly much, and now that we are 8 months into getting to know her, I am absolutely certain that we would have years and years of repercussions to deal with down the road had we not taken her into her new world very slowly.
How do I know this? When she first came home, she slept absolutely horribly. She cried and whined a good part of the night – she really was traumatized by her transport into this completely different world. If I had to make an outing for any reason (ie – the grocery store for some milk, or to the bank), she would sleep even worse that night. One sure trigger every single time was if another person would come up to her, look her in the eye and talk to her. Then I knew it was game over for sure – we weren’t sleeping for at least the next 3 nights.
This became even more evident at around 3-4 months home when she finally started sleeping a bit better. Any new stress during the day would result in a very restless, fitful sleep again. I was expecting to cocoon for 6 weeks. I counted down the days anxiously. At the end of 4 weeks we could manage a quick shopping trip without too much trauma. But she was nowhere near okay at 6 weeks. And so I dug my heals in for the 3 month mark. By 3 months home, we could do a quick visit at one or two close friends/family. They could come to our house for even shorter visits with minimal “damage”. But she would still get easily confused as to who the new “mother” was, and which one she should be listening to and going to for her needs.
At 4.5 months home, we had planned to go visit family for Christmas (an 8 hour road trip). But after a busy week, and a few Christmas parties, she fell apart and I knew there was no way we could make the trip. So we adjusted our plans (after grieving a little bit) to hunker down for a quiet Christmas at home.
At 7 months home, I finally saw a huge jump in her confidence about where she fit into our family, and that our family unit is consistent. It does not change. People might visit, but they will leave; our family unit doesn’t change. Family members might leave, but they always come back because our family unit doesn’t change. People can talk sweetly to her and maybe even pick her up and that’s okay, but she still knows to whom she belongs.
I saw this so evident in our trip to visit family at Easter. While at Christmas she still felt very insecure if someone spoke sweetly to her and got in her space… at Easter, family she had never met were doing those same things, but it didn’t seem to make her feel insecure about my relationship with her. That was a huge relief! I didn’t even realize how hyper-vigilant I had become about how people would talk to her, how close they were or how much eye contact they tried to make – because those things would always pull her away from me and confused her. On this trip, I would pull her aside a few times per day and make sure we played our little games to connect with each other. She was always willing to connect, and then would happily go off to play. In the past, when feeling unsure, she would always pull away from me and resist connection.
Our trip hasn’t been without payback. She has reverted back to some of her old tricks of screaming and tantruming instead of using her words. Of being rough with the other kids, defiant to me and some control battles. But they are manageable and still in a context of feeling connected with me.
In conclusion, cocooning was a lifesaver for our family. While it was incredibly hard, the rewards of it are beyond measure for Giselle, and the therefore. general peace of our family – because she is at peace. The gift that cocooning gives, is giving a baseline of “normal” for your child. Because at about 6 weeks home when she was adjusting and becoming more comfortable in our family, we could see her at her “normal”. Then when she was in a situation she found stressful, we could see her stress coming out in ways that weren’t her normal. Without that baseline, I don’t know how I would have known to read her cues.
The drawback to cocooning was my extreme loneliness on top of the fatigue and stress. That didn’t help our bonding as I was easily frustrated and upset. In hindsight, we should have had Darren take paternity leave for at least 1-3 months. I think it would have set us up for better ways of dealing with stressful situations at home that I just didn’t have the chance to implement on my own. I was literally trying to survive moment by moment. The challenge now is to unlearn some of my ways of dealing with Giselle and to work more on making our relationship more fun.
Thank you for so many of you who have encouraged, understood and supported our decision to allow Giselle to adjust to her new life at her own pace. Some days that understanding was what helped me to get through just one more day. And you all share in the rewards now – as she is, for the most part, a happy and confident little girl.
In her own words…
“Daddy, Mommy, Kylar, Amara and Giselle. Everybody my family! Giselle happy family!”
Denise and her husband are blessed to be the parents of one son by birth and two daughters by adoption (from the USA and Haiti). Denise is a regular contributor at Adoption Magazine and blogs at Pressing In.