Monday, June 18, 2012

Anniversary Blues??

In the past I've heard from a surprising number of adoptive parents that their children experience something akin to 'anniversary blues.'  By this I mean that a lot of parents find that their children experience some kind of (usually behavioural) setback around the anniversary of when they entered their new family's home.  I've never really paid much attention to this, to be honest, thinking that this must simply be coincidence.

Maybe it was coincidence...but maybe not.

I don't know if our 'Forever Family' anniversary was the issue, or if it was because we'd just returned from our lovely two-week vacation time and were adjusting back to life on planet Earth, or if it was because life has been just so busy for the past six weeks or so and the kids were a bit done in; but whatever the cause, last week (the week following our one-year anniversary at home) was rather horrid with the younger kids.  It might be another such week this week, I'm not sure...'cause yesterday evening wasn't pretty.

Both Seth and Lizzie were really challenging last week.

My good-natured (albeit stubborn and mischievous) daughter, who is rarely grumpy for more than 5-10 minutes at a time, was just plain grumpy - pretty much most of the week.  She reverted right back to her last year's tendency to plague the boys with endless patterns of annoying behaviour, which they would nicely ask her to stop, but which she refused to do.  She'd continue to annoy and annoy them, and they'd continue to ask and ask her to stop; I tried to give her a little space to respond, but if I didn't intervene in time, she would end up being slugged by one or both of the boys, who just couldn't take it any more (and I couldn't even really blame them - she was annoying).  Lizzie would then very righteously start to shriek and come running in my direction with her owie; and as soon as she was able to speak, she would tell me that the boys hadn't been kind to her.  It was a week of this kind of behaviour, as well as an overt refusal to listen at times.  Another thing we noticed was that Lizzie continued last week to recount little bits of her life in Ethiopia; she was scared at bed time because she didn't want to lose us and was speaking rather accusingly of her first father.  That was a first in the past year.  And she definitely made another interesting move last week.  All week, she seemed to have a need to be my baby again (she went through this last year soon after we brought her home) - she curled up to me as usual, but then started talking in baby talk, even saying things like "ga ma..."  She looked at babies we would encounter during the week and told me that that was what she wanted to be, and wanted me to rock her repeatedly while she nibbled on my skin and talked babytalk.  It was interesting.

Seth retreated last week into the kinds of tantrums that hearkened back to last summer and fall.  Thankfully they weren't anything close to seven hours in length this time 'round, but he had about seven 60- or 90- minute screaming sessions where the cry was like last year and just didn't seem to be terribly related to the ongoings of the day.  I was a little taken aback, and simultaneously more than a little relieved to realize how far we've come, given that these kinds of rage- and grief-filled screaming sessions used to last for so many consecutive hours every day.

Even yesterday, in the midst of having so much fun at our h/school retreat, Seth had a long meltdown in the afternoon over something that wouldn't normally even cause a ripple.  And in the evening again.  Yesterday evening I held him in my arms for 90 minutes while he cried and cried and cried.  The first bit seemed more rage-oriented, but the crying changed in the last  hour+ into that deep and intense sad/grief-kind of crying that broke my heart last year: when a sob would be so long and drawn out that it would descend into a gut-felt quaver and then end in a silence moment of anguish before the next sob started.  I've never heard that sorrowful cry from another child.  He was so sad and that moment of open-mouthed silence between cries seemed to be full of an anguish that was simply too deep for expression.  When I asked if some of it had to do with yesterday being Father's Day, he nodded.  Sigh - it can be so hard and complex for our little ones to understand this whole world of relinquishment and adoption.

Many people seem to like to tell me what a wonderful thing we're doing by bringing Seth and Lizzie into our home and family and heart.  It's one of my least favourite comments to receive because in order for that 'wonderful thing' to happen, it was necessary for my children to be ripped from everything they knew.  I cannot hear those kinds of comments without thinking about how truly heart-breaking adoption is for the children involved.  They have experienced so much loss and trauma in their tiny little lives that I don't know how they survive it.  Seth remembers it...and I'm increasingly realizing that Lizzie remembers far more than we had any idea about during our first eleven months home.  Seth knows what was and, though I believe he is happy and certainly thriving in his new life, how can he not know the pain that comes with the loss he has undergone.

I don't know what to make of this 'Forever Family' anniversary thing.  Would we have experienced the same kind of week last week had we not even mentioned our one year as a family?  I have no idea.  I know that the behaviours started two days before the actual anniversary, but I can't remember when specifically I told them about the anniversary that we would celebrate.

I am relieved that what's been happening is in no way as severe as last year's adjustment (I'm not sure I could go through that again...but of course I would if I had to), but it's been an interesting bump in the ongoing journey that we call adoption.


  1. In therapy anniversary reactions happen regardless of whether they're acknowledged or conscious or unconscious. In fact, it's often a relief for someone to recognize the anniversary as it helps them understand their 'symptoms'. Of course, that's my work with adults. There is something in our cells that remembers even if our conscious minds don't. Your darling children all had a dramatic life change. Has Matthew had any anniversary reaction? I would expect he would too.

  2. We had a positive home-to-Canada anniversary, but our court anniversary was when we saw "throw back" behaviours with our older son. It was fascinating to me because there wouldn't be any other cues for him (like fall bringing school nostalgia for me). I totally agree with you about people saying how wonderful it is what we've done... my heart always breaks in those moments for what the boys have been through. A