Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sleep is for the Weak

"People who say that they sleep like a baby usually don't have one."

Why is it that everyone else's kids seem to sleep better than mine? Wait, let me amend that, I should say everyone else's babies. My four year-old goes to bed just fine and generally sleeps through the night without an issue. Sure, he's always asking for an extra bedtime story, would prefer to skip naps entirely and would love for daddy to be in the room until he falls asleep, but still, he can do it. But it wasn't always this way...

When Jake was a baby, I read all of the books about sleep that I could get my hands on. I generally spent about 12 hours a day with him attached to my breast, so reading was one of the things I could do meanwhile. (Actually, I eventually became pretty good at doing lots of things while he was nursing; I would be at work, typing on the computer, answering phone calls, etc. with him attached to my boob. The joys of motherhood.) With every book about sleep that I read, I'd feel inspired, and think yes, this is finally what is going to work to help him (and me) get the sleep that we both need.

Jake slept in a bassinette for the first seven weeks of his life. Well, if you call a string of napping stretches lasting about an hour on average "sleep", that is. I distinctly remember it was seven weeks, because at that point is when I had the thought, It's been 49 days since I last got more than two hours of sleep in a row. It was killing me. I am not a person that functions well without at least seven and a half hours of nighttime sleep in a row. I get cranky, irritable, bitchy even. So, at seven weeks, I decided that instead of waking up every one to two hours to nurse him (which seemed to be absolutely the only way to get him back to sleep), I would just pull him into bed with me and he could nurse while I slept. And it worked, sort of. I mean, I don't really believe anyone that says that they can co-sleep and they sleep right through the baby's nighttime nursings. Really, you don't notice when someone attaches himself to your nipple and starts sucking? I definitely noticed. I still woke up each time he woke up, but at least I could stick him on my breast without much effort and doze off while he was still nursing. I really think co-sleeping with my first child saved my life and my marriage, because there was no way I could have continued to function on so little sleep.

"May sleep envelop you as a bed sheet floating gently down, tickling your skin and removing every worry. Reminding you to consider only this moment."

So then, fast-forward to when Jake was about 11 months old. Have I mentioned that he was still attached to my breast? So attached that he absolutely wouldn't take a bottle, or a sippy cup, or anything else? He was eating solids well by then, but still liked to nurse every few hours, and that meant that I could never be away for him for more than a few hours. And 99% of the time, that was okay, since my job was flexible enough that he could come to work with me. But going out to dinner and a movie with my husband? It meant the baby was going to cry like he was being tortured, while some poor soul was babysitting. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but I did feel guilty anytime I was away for more than a couple of hours.

So, it was around that time that we really started to push the bottle. It took awhile; we tried various nipples, bottles shaped like breasts, daddy giving the bottle when mommy wasn't around, etc. But what seemed to eventually work was giving him the bottle while holding him, bouncing gently on an exercise ball.

Oh, the exercise ball. I have so much resentment built up for that stupid ball. By then, that's what we were using to get Jake to sleep at night, for naps, everything. Before the exercise ball, I would either nurse him to sleep, or if that didn't work, Chris and I would take turns holding him, while quickly bending our knees and then straightening back up, "bouncing" up and down until he fell asleep. Man, it was a workout. So when I finally realized that I could sit on an exercise ball and bounce him to sleep with a lot less work, we switched to that.

Once Jake started taking a bottle, he totally refused the breast. And I was pretty okay with that. We made it almost a year of breastfeeding, and it was nice to finally feel like he wasn't entirely dependent upon me (and me alone). And of course, I thought this would be the miracle that would stop him from waking up all night long. I mean, if we weren't nursing anymore, there would be no need for him to sleep right next to me and wake up all night long to latch on, right?

Ha ha, that's me, the eternal optimist. Of course he continued to wake up all night long, except now I had no way to soothe him anymore! A bottle just doesn't work the same way. So it was time to transition our co-sleeping baby into his crib, in his own room, full-time for sleeping. As you can imagine, he didn't like it. You know what saved my life and our marriage this time? My husband. Hey, if I had to take care of the baby and nurse him every night for the first year of his life, it was his turn to be in charge for the second year.

"Sleep... Oh, how I loathe those little slices of death."

Somehow, Jake eventually learned to fall asleep without us bouncing on the exercise ball. Not before it slowly destroyed my back, as I fully attribute my herniated disc to that ball. Then with the transition to the "big boy" bed, it meant that Chris started falling asleep in bed next to Jake every night, waking up around the time that I was ready to go to bed, and eventually going back into Jake's bed sometime during the night when Jake would call out to him. They were back to co-sleeping, just this time in Jake's bed instead of ours. I'm not sure if Jake was two or three years old before that finally stopped being a regular occurrence.

So, you can imagine why it took us three and a half years before we were "ready" for a second child, since we didn't get the sleep issues solved before then. Besides, there are less opportunities for baby-making when you're not sharing a bed with your spouse.

My biggest worry about having a second child was the sleep deprivation. Could my marriage survive another round? But, I figured it had to be better the second time around. First, Jake had to be an anomaly; there's no way that a second child would have the same resistance to sleep that he did. And second, we knew what we were doing this time, so we should be able to do it better the second time around. Right? We would make sure that this one took a pacifier, and a bottle when needed. We would set up a consistent bedtime routine from the beginning and give him a lovey so that he would learn to comfort himself. He would sleep in the crib in his own room from fairly early on, and we wouldn't bring him into bed with us. We would put him down in his crib, drowsy but awake, so that he could learn to go to sleep without us. And we would never, ever pull out that damn exercise ball.

So, here we are, Brody is a year old, and we stuck to all of our plans for making him a great sleeper. And did it work? Hell no! Last night I completely lost count of how many times he woke up. And no, he doesn't use his lovey, suck on his pacifier, listen to the white noise machine and drift off back to sleep on his own. Someone needs to be there to pat his bottom, rock him or give him a bottle.

But the worst part isn't even the frequent night wakings. It's the hell of trying to get him to sleep lately. He fights it, with every bit of his energy, and the more exhausted he is, the harder he fights. We've tried moving his bedtime earlier, rocking him (while he squirms and yells), or putting him in his crib and staying with him until he finally falls asleep. And it's been taking 45 minutes to an hour to get him to sleep at night. I just don't know what to do anymore. Let him cry it out? I end up crying even more than he does. Not because I don't think it's fair to him (although in principle, I don't, but when you're desperate, you'll try anything), but because I get so frustrated, and then angry at him for not being able to go to sleep. And all I want to do is yell and scream, and I hate that I feel this way.

"The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep."

Maybe I just need to sleep on it.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, I can relate. After Madeleine was born I realized I would be a horrible prisoner of war - I'd sell anyone's soul for two uninterrupted hours of sleep! Know that this phase, too, will pass. We were lucky that Arden was a sleeper from the start. I think she slept through the night at 10 DAYS. Yep, DAYS. I remember waking up terrified that she was dead, breasts about to pop, that morning.

    I know you've done a lot of reading on sleep, but have you heard of the Ferber method?

    Sleep is probably the most underrated activity... and such a delicious thing when you can finally do it for a prolonged period. Hang in there - and sweet dreams!