Sleep – the Currency of Compassion in Raising the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Child
Most ministry is a painless affair.
A typical ministry event might involve the expenditure of time or a bit of money, maybe a modicum of discomfort but in general, few believers actually sacrifice on behalf of their faith. Most seek to maintain their livelihood while still faithfully checking the ‘mission’ box. Standards of living, comfort, and security dictate levels of commitment.
Christ calls us to a different level of giving, to sacrifice everything up to and including our lives on behalf of His name. Following Christ is hard, not for the faint of heart, and He may just call us to give that which is most precious to us. For the last eight years, my wife afforded me a witness to a sacrifice such as this.
She doesn’t sleep.
After Jesus’ confrontation with the rich, young ruler, Peter makes the statement, “See, we have left everything and followed you,” speaking of himself and the other disciples. He then asks a most poignant question, “What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27)
What then will we have?
What’s in it for us? Me?
For those blessed saints laboring in the ripe fields of adoption and fostering, the answer is often heartache, frustration, pain, and that most American of grievances, inconvenience. For my wife, years of sleepless nights answered the question, “What then will we have?”
System kids suffer abnormally, oft afflicted from the womb by the sins of their mothers with illicit drug or alcohol use. Physical, mental, social, and behavioral abnormalities are prevalent in children victimized in this manner. Yet, I’d like to discuss a particularly relevant though widely under-studied aspect of prenatal drug and alcohol use…sleep.
A 2012 study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed that 85% of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) exhibited marked sleep disturbances. They concluded that subjective and objective measures demonstrate significant sleep problems in children with FASD. We didn’t need a study to inform us of this fact.
Our very first foster child, now my son, came to us at the age of two months. Born addicted to multiple drugs, he spent his first weeks of life in withdrawal arriving at our doorstep in the dead of night in the arms of a DCS caseworker. Right away, we noticed that this was not a normal little guy. He exhibited some very peculiar behavior and if you knew what to look for, his physical characteristics practically trumpeted prenatal drug and alcohol exposure.
But he didn’t sleep.
I mean, he didn’t sleep.
For starters, he had no schedule so Ami proceeded to get him on a regular timeline. She established a solid night-time routine. She showered him with love and adjusted and tweaked but still…he didn’t sleep.
He would doze for a few hours at a time and then just be awake and no one wants to lay awake in bed not sleeping and so he would want to be held. Ami soon discovered that he had intense emotional outbursts like nothing we’d ever seen – also a function of prenatal drug and alcohol abuse – and so he would scream, for hours. I mean, for hours. He literally would not stop screaming until he was picked up and held and often that would not quell his ire.
My exhausted wife, raising three girls in my absence, did what she could at night. She got through it. I was tucked safely away in Iraq at the time, ironically getting a solid night’s sleep just about every day.
Upon my return, we continued to work his schedule but he rarely slept more than two to three hours. I remember one particular night, holding him in my arms as he raged at the world, begging God to let him sleep while my dead-tired wife desperately sought a few minutes rest. Most nights though, it fell to my wife. As a stay-at-home mom, her schedule allowed a bit of flexibility as I had to report for duty with the Army each morning. Night after night she held him as he screamed, kissing his face, softly whispering in his ear, lovingly and tenderly caressing his little head.
“We bonded last night,” she’d wearily smile when I inquired the next morning.
This persisted for years. We tried the Ferber method. “Let him cry it out,” we read and were told. About 2 a.m., maybe three hours into the ordeal, the little guy’s screams pierced the still night with no sign of abating. My wife huddled in bed sobbing at his anguish. I sought refuge in the one place you couldn’t hear his screams, the hallway outside my daughters’ upstairs bedroom.
“Dad is that you?”
“Yes, go to sleep.”
At some point, his doctor ordered a sleep study where they confirmed what we already knew. His brain was aroused to a level of being awake over 80 times in a single night. The doctors offered sleep medication which we reluctantly refused due to the potential side-effects.
Around the age of 4, he began to sleep a bit more and gradually got better over the following years. He still has some unusual sleep patterns and will often wake between 3 and 4 in the morning and just be awake, ready to start the day. We never discovered a magic answer, a solution. We got through it. That’s what we did.
What then will we have? What’s in it for us?
For my wife, loving and adopting our son spelled years of fatigue, restless nights, and all that accompanies such chronic fatigue. And she would do it all over tomorrow with no hesitation. Choosing to love our son meant that she withheld nothing from sacrificing on his behalf, including something as simple yet vital as sleep.
Today, he is a thriving 8 year old boy, the product of the lavished love from a sacrificing mother.
The Lord has since brought us another little guy with, you guessed it, FASD and an accompanying sleep disorder. Thankfully his sleep issues do not yet seem as severe but when a friend tells us about putting their kids to bed at 7:30 and that they sleep until 7 the next morning I have to strongly resist the urge to start punching people in the face.
What then will we have? What would you sacrifice?
Would you sacrifice that which is most precious to you on behalf of another, on behalf of Jesus? Would you offer up your livelihood, your comfort, maybe even your security for the sake of the name? Jesus calls the believer to precisely this.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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