Zoya has had a rough past several weeks emotionally. Lots of adoptive parents say that right around a year home they notice changes in behavior like this. I'm not sure why around a year home or if its just a coincidence. Zoya has also been getting her last two bottom molars for over a month now!!! Ouch. These have by far been the hardest for her. Zoya has also gone through such a huge global developmental burst within the past month, which also sometimes causes some changes in behavior. She is MISS INDEPENDENT and there is no convincing her otherwise. She has had a big burst especially in speech and gross motor skills, but even more so in independence skills! Ha! Zoya has definitely learned to cry...I so remember when she didn't know how to cry and I worked so much with her to teach her when it was appropriate to cry. Now I'm kicking myself! Haha, not really, but you know. Like any other kid, Zoya now cries....when she's hurt, when she's sick, when she gets in trouble sometimes, when she is scared...you get the idea. The difference with Zoya is that she has NO IDEA how to self soothe and she CANNOT calm herself down when she gets upset. I guess it's a great thing that she seeks us out to comfort her and most of the time as long as she can be glued to us after she is upset, she is okay. I don't mean glued to us for ten minutes, I'm talking she often needs to be glued to us for hours after getting upset. I'm not sure why she goes through cycles with this, but I sort of think it's almost to check and see if we're still going to be there for her....and she checks sub-consciously by going through these cycles of clingy-ness. I have no idea if that's even close to whats happening but it's my best idea :)
We've always been very aware that Zoya needs us to keep somewhat of a structure for her....more than non-adopted children, especially during the first year home. Lots of people don't understand this, but I know our schedule and structure has been exactly what Zoya needs. Anyways, I struggle to understand the cause of Zoya's behaviors because she is so complex. I always say, "Is it Zoya's personality? Is it down syndrome related? Is it orphanage related? Is it two year old related?" I am a "fixer" and if something is broken I will figure out what I need to do to fix it. With Zoya, I've racked my brain asking myself all these questions, knowing that every other 2 year old goes through many of the same behaviors. But there is a difference in Zoya's emotional regulation...like I already said. We knew internationally adopted children often suffer from the neglect they faced in their lives prior to being adopted. I guess I just always thought Zoya was young enough that she wouldn't be phased by any of it. I'm learning that it will always be a part of her, even if she doesn't remember what happened to her....it has shaped who she is. I've struggled all along with guilt...this crazy guilt that I have nothing to do with...this guilt that MY DAUGHTER spent her first two years in a pretty bad place without ever learning the things most babies learn naturally....things like trust and self soothing. I feel horrible about it. I know I can't change it. At what point do I just let it go? Can I let go of it? I think I always have to keep it in the back of my mind to remind myself that Zoya has different needs than other kids who weren't adopted. Lots of books talk about "family age" which would be how long the child has been home...for Zoya that is about a year old then. They suggest treating your child emotionally and behaviorally as a child of that age instead of their real age. I forget that sometimes because Zoya is so much like a two year old.
I've been reading "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together" by Patty Cogen. Some things really struck me when I was reading this....especially where they talk about the "stress-shaped brain." Here is a little excerpt that describes Zoya's emotional responses pretty perfectly:
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a stressful situation, without getting stuck in stress-based reactivity and the fight-or-flight response. Resiliency is needed to manage or control strong feelings-hunger, fatigue, excitement, joy, anger, and grief. Resiliency includes behavioral and emotional self-control. It helps a child to calm down after a fall, to wait patiently when hungry or tired, and to handle separation.
Resiliency in the “child next door” is the result of the child having been well protected and well supported by a parent. Resiliency in a child adopted from overseas is that and more. Beyond providing support and care, parents of an internationally adopted child must teach the child’s brain to override its automatic stress responses. The child must learn how to use the most advanced, conscious part of his brain, where rational choice and the conscious ability to self-soothe reside. In short, parents must help create and activate the “brain supervisor”—the part of the brain that uses conscious choice and reason—which can soothe the overreactive, negative, fight-or-flight “workers.”
What we know about how the stress-shaped brain operates comes from many studies or neglected, abused, or traumatized children. This research has demonstrated that cortisol, a hormone that calms the stress response, is significantly lower in such children. Thus these children have difficulty calming or remaining calm under even minimally stressful conditions.
Basically, I think Zoya reacts to stressors the same as other children at first, but then is unable to calm herself because her "stress-shaped brain" is not producing the right amount of cortisol to help her calm down or soothe herself as typical children could.
Here is where it gets tricky...I don't want to overplay the "stress shaped brain" thing...I want to keep it in the back of my mind but not focus on it so much that it becomes an excuse. I think this is probably only a small piece of the puzzle with Zoya's emotional distress lately. Zoya is capable of overcoming so much...as she has already proven to us...but figuring out how to overcome this is proving to be quite tricky. It's already hard enough to balance love and discipline, then to throw this into the mix...things get about as clear as mud for me! It will likely be a part of who she is forever but I know I can help her learn, in time, to regulate her emotions a little bit differently.
And then I think to myself....am I doing anything right? You know how that goes! Parenting has been a lesson for me in losing a little of my pride (along with some of my confidence Ha!). Zoya is my life...my lovey girl who I wouldn't trade for the world. I just want to do everything I can to help her be the best she can be...and when you don't know what to do sometimes you end up feeling pretty awful. It's part of being a parent. For me parenting has been learning how fierce my love is for this precious girl, my daughter. It's been learning what it feels like to wear my heart on my sleeve, loving so deeply it hurts, and experiencing such a powerful connection with this little soul that she and I are now forever entwined as one...each of us needing the other to survive. It's been a crazy beautiful road so far, and the bumps are what remind us that sometimes we need to slow down and enjoy the ride a little more.
And of course if you made it to the end of this post you deserve some Zoya cuteness!!
(P.S. Mya is still throwing up blood and shouldn't be after being on the meds for a few days so she will have to have a scope done next week...the other possibilities are a really bad ulcer or something worse I'd rather not type. Praying it's an ulcer).