Toddler adoption, sleep deprivation & Pottery Barn pimpin’


I could write for days about how toddler adoption is different from newborn adoption. The bonding and adjustment processes is night and day.  But for now, I’m keeping things narrow:


Back in the day (before Doodlebug came in to our lives) I pictured a nice Chinese orphanage worker putting a child in my arms. This kid would be oh-so-delighted with a strange, loud lady getting in up in his grill. Two year olds like to be mauled by total strangers who squeal “I’m your mommy”, right?

As we traveled further down the road to adoption, I networked online with other “China families”. I learned a lot about bringing a post-institutional child in to a family. I let go of the “happy meeting day” fantasy living in my head. That was hard.

Through all this networking and learning this strange word kept popping up:


This is not the same as being too tired to put your kid back to bed after the fourth time in one night he’s crawled in with you. Hey, dragons outside the bedroom window are not something to mess around with.

Cosleeping. It doesn’t even pass spell check. I had to add it to my custom dictionary to make the red squiggly underline go away in in Word. Yes, I am that person.

If you are a cosleeping family, no offense, k? Do your thing. Rock on. But when I heard all this cosleeping chatter in my pre-adoption quest for info, 2 words came to mind:

Hell and no.

An occasional nap with mom? Of course. Allowing a child in your bed post bad dream? Sure. I mean, you don’t want to mess with those dragons that hang out near a kid’s bedroom window; those guys are no joke. But sleeping as a family all night, every night? On purpose? No.

Enter Doodlebug, adopted at 26 months. We received quite a bit of social history prior to his adoption (this isn’t typical with international adoptions and we were very lucky to get a glimpse of his life before us). Amongst the growth reports and “favorite foods”, this phrase jumped out at me:

“He sleeps very well with his foster mother”.

I remember thinking “right, so he’ll have to get over that.” Bed is for sleep. My sleep. And for other stuff (wink nudge). Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Parents of toddlers everywhere are laughing  at my naivety.

I expected to whisk this happy child from China to my doorstep and show him his very own room. No way would he want to sleep with me once he saw my mad decorating skills.  Okay, make that the explosion of Pottery Barn that was his new room.

Things did not exactly go like I’d planned.

Our first night with Doodlebug in China:

3 hours after meeting Doodlebug. Screaming had stopped, stink eye had commenced. Very wary.


Look closely at this craptastic hunk of metal they called a crib…

Doodlebug did not dig this sleeping arrangement.  I don’t blame him. This shot was taken during the seventeen seconds that he slept like an angel without fussing.  I ended up having to pull this excuse for baby furniture flush against my side of the bed and pat Doodlebug’s back when he woke up during the night, which approximately every hour and a half.  Thankfully, they have coffee in China.  It wasn’t very good coffee but it was better than nothing.

Looking at all this from Doodlebug’s perspective, he was probably thinking “what the hell just happened to my life?” All things considered, his transition to our family went really smoothly, but REM sleep and I were about to break up.

For those not familiar with China adoptions, a new family spends about 12 days in China dragging their new child to various appointments while living out of hotels. We were trying to establish family relationships in an environment that in no way resembled our life at home. We had no idea what we were doing.

I barely remember our first 2 weeks home with Doodlebug. A jet lagged mom, a jet lagged 2-year old who has never slept alone, and a good night’s rest. Remember that song from Sesame Street:

“One of these things is not like the other…one of these things just doesn’t belong…”

That thing, people, is rest.  Snoozing.  Shut eye.  Whatever you want to call it, I wasn’t getting any.  A girl can only go so long with less than sixty minutes of consecutive sleep before the cray cray crazy sets in. This I know firsthand.

Doodlebug was as happy as a pig in slop if he was tucked in bed between Hubs and I. If I tried to put him in his own room, he wouldn’t sleep for more than an hour or so.  He was easy to put to sleep but he could not or would not stay asleep unless he was with us.  I kept saying “stay in here, honey.  It’s nice.  Look, matchy matchy Pottery Barn throw pillows”  He was not impressed.  I know…it was dumb to think a 2 year old would care about throw pillows.

People, there is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. I. was. losing. it.

Hubs went back to work as soon as we came home from China. I didn’t. Who was on duty for nighttime fun? Yep, this girl, although in reality, no one was getting any sleep at our house. Hubs ended up taking extra time off work so I could “rest”. This after a series of minor freakouts over dumb stuff, like being out of Diet Coke. Not my finest hours of parenting.

I overheard Hubs whispering to his boss on the phone about why he needed a few extra days off. I’m pretty sure I heard the words “looney bin” but he denies it so it could have been the delirium brought on by lack of sleep.

Oh, my friend hindsight. If we could have a do-over we’d have probably sucked it up and let Doodlebug sleep with us for a while. But we didn’t. We stuck to our “kid must sleep in own bed” guns.

We gradually got to 3 hour stretches of uninterrupted sleep. This morphed to 5 and 6 hours and then the occasional all-nighter in his own bed (and yes, I did and still do wake up once or twice a night now).

At almost 2 years home, Doodlebug averages 3 nights a week with us. His signature move is tiptoeing in our room and wedging himself between us. He manages to accomplish this without waking us, which is pretty impressive for a kid who is uber noisy during most of his waking moments.

When I wake up with 2 inches of mattress space and a little foot jammed in to my kidney, I have to decide whether to deal with the discomfort or wake up enough to drag Doodlebug back to his own bed. I usually stay put.

I laugh when I remember those pre-adoption “oh hell no, not in our bed” thoughts. While I would not call us a cosleeping family, Doodlebug’s presence in our bed is regular and not as much of an intrusion as I once imagined. I think I have permanent bags under my eyes from those first few weeks home of fighting him and I don’t think my sleep will ever be the same.

Doodlebug has experienced quite the roller coaster in his young life. He lost his birth family, his foster caregivers, his country and his language. He was thrust in to a new environment with new rules, new food, and new smells. Sometimes he needs the extra security of being close to his parents while he sleeps.

I wish we’d have been more open to his needs versus ours. I wish I’d have been more “let’s do what makes him feel safe” and less “back to your Pottery Barn pimped out velvet lounge right now, kid.”

If you’re a prospective adoptive parent and you’re expecting perfect round holes in parenting the internationally adopted child, stop right now. The square pegs life throws you will frustrate you to no end if you’re hell bent on making them fit. Sleep is just one example. It’s impossible not to have preset notions about adoption, but take some advice from this mommy: be flexible and be willing to let go of your preconceived ideas if/when they aren’t working for your family.

And if you aren’t a caffeine junkie, I totally recommend you take it up now.  You’re gonna need it.  Trust me.

Parting shot:  If you know someone who is in the process of adopting an “older” child, be kind to them.  Don’t assume sleep is a cinch just because the new addition isn’t a newborn.  Moral support, a casserole or a bit of adult conversation might be just what the new parents need.

At the very least, you might want to make sure they don’t run out of Diet Coke.






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  1. Shockingly, I know just what you are talking about with your child having slept with his foster mother. We were also of the “absolutely not” cosleeping in our bed. We did, however, do for Levi what we did for Veronica and slept in their rooms till they were ready to sleep on their own. Veronica’s room had space for a twin bed next to her crib. That wasn’t so bad. Levi’s room had space for a recliner. Not as comfy. I have spent many, many nights in a dazed stupor with my hand shoved into crib slats in order to get kids to sleep. I am going through the newborn phase right now. Adoption sleep is way harder.

  2. I think that all parents go through this, where we have an idea of how things should be and that isn’t how they always work out.

  3. Sleep deprivation can do crazy things to you. One of mine hated sleeped with a passion. I never thought I’d cosleep either, but we ended up doing it quite a bit. Mine are older now but two of mine still occasionally make their way into our room in the middle of the night. They’ve gotten to the point where they usually just stay on the floor and I’m too tired to make them go back(or I don’t even notice until morning).

  4. we coslept with our daughter because we got the most sleep that way and now, at 4, she still sneaks into our bed at least twice a week.

  5. Everything in life is adjustment…and I learned long ago that “never” didn’t belong in my vocabulary when it came to the kids. It just doesn’t work. So glad you have found your happy place with cosleeping and life has reached a level of normal. 🙂

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