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Sleep Problems

Q: Our newly adopted, 1-year-old daughter wakes often throughout the night, crying and wailing. If I rub her back or pick her up, she stops almost immediately. She will also go back to sleep after just a minute or two of crying, and she can put herself to sleep at bedtime with about five minutes of crying. We thought this was great until our social worker told us that, in order to bond well, we should respond to her every cry (even if they’re frequent) and rock her to sleep at night (which could take hours). What is the right thing to do to optimize her attachment at this time? And what is reasonable for parents to do?

— an AF reader

A:Your long-term goal is to read her a story, kiss her goodnight, and have her sleep all night. To get there, however, she needs to know that whenever she needs you, you’ll be there. Normally, newborns learn this during nighttime feedings. Since your daughter didn’t learn it as a newborn, she has to learn it now. Remember, too, that she probably has never slept alone, and that her whole world has just been turned upside down.

I suggest that you put a mattress on the floor next to her bed, and let her sleep on it with you or your husband. When she starts to sleep for longer periods, move her into her bed, while you remain on the mattress. As she continues to improve, gradually move yourself out of the room. Most kids will sleep through the night consistently within a few months, often sooner.

It’s a labor-intensive approach, but it seems to work. I believe it’s a good way to tackle both her short-term need—to feel secure with you—and your long-term goal of helping her sleep through the night.

—Sarah Springer, M.D.
International Adoption Health Services of Western PA, Pittsburgh

Explaining the Birthmother Relationship

Q: My husband and I have a friendly relationship with the birthmother of our 3-year-old daughter. We talk on the phone, exchange letters regularly, and visit a few times a year. How and when should we introduce the concept of “birthmother” to our daughter? Although we talk to her about adoption, she doesn’t seem very interested. My husband and I have a friendly relationship with our daughter's birthmother, but our daughter doesn't know how they are related. How do we introduce the concept of birthparents?

I also wonder if we should be pursuing this friendship, or allowing our daughter to decide for herself when she is old enough to do so.

— an AF reader

A: Your questions go to the heart of how to build an open adoption relationship. As you tell your daughter the story of how she joined your family and in whose body she grew, you can say, “And that woman was [name].” She’ll understand the relationship when she can comprehend reproduction and birth, at about age 4. Children show varying degrees of interest in their adoption. The fact that your daughter doesn’t ask questions doesn’t mean she’s not interested.

The relationship you are forging with the birthmother is your relationship, and it is independent of the relationship your daughter may decide to build. If she chooses to establish such a relationship, she will have yours to build on.

—Lois Melina
Author of
The Open Adoption Experience

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