In the last two nights Josh and I have gone from Zombie status to now full-fledged-actual-human-being status! That's right...our baby is on the verge of fully sleeping through the night! I can't believe it. A week ago I was convinced that Matilda's strong-willed nature had reared it's so-ugly-it's-cute head and that she was just bound to be a challenge when it came to napping and bedtime. It had appeared she was just so spirited, so awake, so happy to be social that she just never ever wanted to sleep or dare miss out on anything - so she didn't. This child just never slept. From about 10 weeks of age (where we hit a peak of about a 5 hour stretch) her sleeping has only decreased. It got to the point where she was only taking maybe a couple 20 minute naps during the day and then waking at least every two hours at night - only to take anywhere from 10 min to a full hour or more to go back down again. Exhausting? Yes. But, somehow I had eased into enough to just get used to the routine. It didn't always make getting up in the morning for work easy - there were some days I would literally stumble out of bed and the very first thought in my head would be "I wonder if a person can die from sleep deprivation? How long would that take?"
Still, there were many nights that I would get up and try to soothe her, which usually ended in me nursing her back to sleep. I would be wide awake by then, and so I would just spend the time praying, gazing at her sweet face, thankful that I had this little moment to cherish even if it was 3am. Truly, it was a special time of bonding for us and I had been determined from the beginning to not take a moment for granted, and honestly I have to admit that I sometimes even looked forward to those moments after going to bed. I'm not saying I never complained about the lack of sleep - but I will say that her snoozing absence had left me more perplexed than irritated.
I checked the books, I turned to friends, I prayed and tried to follow my "maternal instinct". I was BabyWising one day and BabyWhispering the next. I would let her cry for 10 min and convince myself that surely she had thought I'd abandoned her forever and then sweep in and be the hero who rescued her with comfort and nursing. No wonder the child was confused! Matilda is such a happy baby too, that it was very deceiving that she was tired at all! She would smile and jump around and pull up on things and crawl after our kitties...and it would escalate from there! In the last few weeks she had gone from "busy" to "hyperactive"...and this is when it triggered in me that something was indeed, not right here. How could she be so active on so little sleep? It didn't add up! People had been telling me that with such a spirited baby - "You gotta wear her down. Go on walks, keep her up later, fill her up before bed..." all which led to less and less sleep. This was not working.
Then...the miracle book. A girlfriend told me about this magical book that changed it all, "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child". I'm not saying it is the be-all-end-all and that every parent should follow it. But, I just know that when I looked it up online and started reading the "free pages" on amazon that I had finally found the resource I was looking for. There were stories of babies EXACTLY like Matilda...zombie babies who were so sleep deprived their systems worked overtime to just rev them up even more! It emphasized the importance of sleep for sheer healthy development, and promoted that "sleep begets sleep" instead of the "keep her up later and wear her out" theory...have her sleep more and she will want to sleep more. I figured, Hey, what can I lose? More sleep? I'll give it a try, it made sense the way they explained it.
There are more steps to it than to just let her "cry it out"...but essentially, that's what it led to. Only, in this book, they call the practice "Extinction". Isn't that absolutely dreadful? Is there any word more heinous to describe their "sleep training"? Extinction. Yikes. This scared me right away.
I thought that I would have it all planned out - know exactly when to start this process and be prepared to leave the house ahead of time if necessary.
But, then, this Wednesday after reading the chapter on "Extinction" and putting her down early to bed (yes, early!)...we just jumped right in. She started crying and against every maternal (and even internal) instinct that I had...we let her keep crying. She had her paci. She had her giraffe (bedtime toy of choice). She had been changed and fed. She was fine...or so I kept telling myself.
I had Josh peek through the crack of her door to make sure she hadn't tangled herself up in the slats of her crib. Nope - she's okay - just totally peeved that we're not responding.
Then I did the only thing I knew to do in that moment. I said a prayer, poured a glass of wine, and turned up the volume of The Cosby Show rerun I was watching. My heart was pounding. I thought Dr. Huxtable was going to stop on the screen and turn to me and say "You crazy mother! Go get her! She's crying out for you!" But, alas, he did not and I was left huddled on the couch trying to concentrate on not running to her.
She was shrieking, she was screaming...she sounded like a wild jaguar on the hunt! This child hit pitches I didn't know existed! Even our cats were looking at us like "Do something!"
But, we didn't. For an hour and a half.
Then...silence. It was that kind of silence when you stop and realize "how long was this sound not going on?" and you think you still hear the phantom echoes of her cries even minutes after they've stopped. But, indeed, it was silent. Josh tip-toed down the hall and back only to report - yes, she was finally down. Success! But how long would it last?
Six hours later (already a new record!) it started up again. It was 2:30 in the morning and I had already been on edge all night just waiting for the piercing cries of my baby jaguar.
There was no wine to sip, there was no Cosby to distract me. I just laid in bed, sobbing for my baby. That's when it really hit me. I missed her! It wasn't just the crying that broke my heart - it was the grieving of our little moments together. She hadn't only needed me, I needed her too. I loved our special nighttime bond that was just ours. I loved snuggling her sleepy little jammied body and laying her back down (even if it was for the tenth time that night). Perhaps it wasn't her that had prolonged this rollercoaster routine up until now...perhaps it was me! I've heard many parents talk about their seeking out sleep as "selfish"..."I just couldn't take it anymore, maybe it is selfish, but I let our baby cry it out cause I had to sleep!" (And no, it isn't selfish). But here I was, "selfishly" keeping myself and my baby sleep deprived! There aren't many books on that!
All the times I had thought I was soothing her and comforting her and going in and rescuing her from wakefulness...I was just stimulating her more and more. It would keep her excited and restless and only lead to less and less sleep (and less and less development, and less and less focused energy for her little brain). I had created a monster!
When we woke up in the morning - and she was still asleep - I knew we were on a new road to freedom. Success! We had all survived the torturous night (maybe not all together unscathed, but truly no worse for the wear nevertheless). Yesterday was another success (a two-and-a-half hour nap!) and last night was the true testimony...she only awoke at three different times...but for 15, 5, and 10 minutes each...an amazing turnaround from the three-hour-cry-fest of the night prior.
I'm sure we'll have our ups and downs ahead of us. Schedules will get messed up, life will happen, and I might have to endure another screaming-jaguar-night in the future (Lord, I hope not). But it is the little successes and the lessons we learn from them that keeps parenthood both invigorating and challenging. I learned that true love can hurt - doing what's best for my child is way harder than doing what's easiest for her. And Matilda learned that sleep is a good thing - and a solo event - and that mommy and daddy are there for her...in the morning.