I haven’t posted in awhile and I wish it was because I have been out living such a creative, abundant, passionate life. But it’s mostly because I’ve become obsessed with sleep – reading about sleep, keeping sleep logs, daydreaming about sleep – trying pretty much everything to do with sleep, except sleeping.
I’ve always been a great sleeper. I used to be able to sleep through anything, which is truly a gift people who’ve heard my husband snore will attest to. But ever since the last uncomfortable trimester of my pregnancy to the first night in the hospital when I realized I’d just given birth to my own personal around-the-clock-wakeup call to now five weary months later, I have become a sleep-deprived zombie, one of those walking dead among you but not really with you.
I reached my breaking point last weekend after increasingly frustrating nights during which Little Man’s stretches of sleep got shorter and shorter and his demanding guttural screams got louder and louder. The straw that broke mama’s back was a night that he awoke every hour all night and then every half hour between 3 and 6 am, being comforted by nothing but mama, and specifically that human pacifier portion of mama. Somehow I made it until 10 am, allowing my oblivious hubby to sleep in that Sunday morning. As soon as his crusty eyes cracked open, I shoved Little Man in his arms and said “I have to get out of here” and left, leaving him to wonder if I was ever coming back.
Clearly something had to give. So after some solitude and soul searching, I returned ready to try the method I had previously dreaded and thought inhumane – “cry it out”. I knew Little Man was capable of a long stretch without eating because he’d had a blissful three week period at around three months old when he only woke up once between nine pm and eight am, but stopped after we traveled and never got back on track. His pediatrician said he was ready for sleep training if we were. Other parents told us how they’d done it. We tried everything else – sticking religiously to a good nap schedule, introducing solids, and creating a consistent and soothing bedtime routine – and yet his night waking was just getting worse. It was time.
So that night we did it. I put him down drowsy but awake after our routine, and walked out telling myself that falling asleep was a skill he needed to learn, and I had been doing it for him by letting him fall asleep on the boob. I was his crutch, and he had to learn to sleep without me. Cold turkey. Cry it out, kid, ’cause I’m not coming back in. I’ll just be out organizing the garage and sobbing about my terrible failure as a mother, while your dad watches the video monitor and makes sure you’re not dying.
He cried for half an hour. And less the next night. Three nights later, he can fall asleep on his own with minimal fuss. A couple nights in a row he goes an eight hour stretch and then three or four more after one feeding. It’s beautiful. I can do this. I won’t fool myself into believing this is forever because if there’s anything I’ve learned in life and especially motherhood it’s that everything changes and flexibility is the key to coping, but I can’t tell you how good it feels to get a couple decent nights of sleep. I feel like I’m coming to life again.
I was convinced he would be a different baby after that first night, that he would look at me with a cold, detached, resentful glare showing me how I’d broken his spirit and he would never trust me or anyone else ever again. But he wakes up in the morning peaceful, gurgling and cooing at his mobile, and then beaming up at me with that crazy beautiful dimple-cheeked toothless grin, all forgotten. He’s happier, it turns out, when he’s well rested too.
I remember secretly scoffing at a mom I know who hired a sleep consultant, and another who still puts her kids in the car to get them to take a nap, and the one who lets her kids sleep in bed with her. And now I officially apologize for my judgment. Because now I know whatever it takes to keep from leaving your kid on the curb or tearing the hair out of the next mom who says “I’m sorry I just can’t relate. My baby slept through the night as soon as we got home from the hospital”, whatever it takes for you to maintain a shred of sanity is what is best for your kid, because a rested mom is a happy mom, and happy moms can be there for their babies.