TBT: The Sleepless Wonder

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I know no more about how to get a child to sleep than I did a few years ago, but my compassion for parents/zombies has genuinely deepened.  Take heart, tired folks.  I'll keep the coffee brewing.  Enjoy this throwback from 2012 and know my prayers for rest are with you!

This week has been rough to say the least. Matilda is on her second bout of the stomach flu this week. The poor kid has been through the ringer. Not to mention, I've earned my fair share of badges in the categories of "clean up" and "disinfecting" over the course of the week. But, my other precious child has actually been the one keeping me up at night. Yes, this post isn't about Lysol, Listerine, and my Pursuit of Healthiness. Oh, no, this is going to be about my sweet Daphne, or as she's known around these parts: The Sleepless Wonder.
Was baby Daphne really this little?

What is it in my genes that has brought me these two precious bundles of joy that somehow have the will and wherewithal to keep themselves permanently awake. I say my genes, because, apparently my husband has always been a totally sound sleeper. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it is in his genes to magically rest undisturbed through just about anything...an earthquake, a nuclear missile, or say, even a screaming baby in the middle of the night. Whew. (Don't get me wrong, this dude is my ROCK...it's just the fact that he sleeps like one too makes me totally jealous!)

I have never been a good sleeper. My mom tells stories of being a zombie, nursing me as a baby night after night until one of us lost our minds and finally gave up the ghost and crashed. Even as a youngster I would hate going to bed, hate staying in bed, and insist that I just Was. Not. Tired. Which, as any reasonable adult comes to understand - is completely false. I'm pretty sure I spent most of my twenties trying to catch up on that lost sleep...but, it didn't matter. Now that I've finally found my desire to sleep - I'm once again thrown into a roller coaster of total snooze deprivation. Yes, yes...what goes around comes around and all that...hilarious, isn't it?

My babies just don't sleep. Matilda woke up every 2 hours for eight months straight. Even after I went back to work after the first three months, yep, she was up and at 'em like clockwork, and I would somehow drag myself into the office, being sure to keep extra toothpicks in my purse in order to keep my eyelids open at all times. It wasn't all terrible, I'll admit. I enjoyed our special bonding time in the middle of the night. I would gaze at her face, sweetly nursing back into dreamland, and try to memorize each little contour of her cheek in the dimness of the nightlight. I loved watching her little expressions - especially the jerky little smirks and smiles her lips would make while she drifted back to sleep, totally unaware of my staring at her. I genuinely missed those moments when she started sleeping through the night.

But, before that, you know what else I missed??? Sleep. I missed sleep. I missed not having to wake up in the dead of night with my heart racing as if a cannon had just gone off at the sound of my infant screaming like a banshee. I missed waking up feeling like I was ready for the day and not having to seriously concentrate to pick out matching socks. I missed drifting off to sleep peacefully instead of completely paranoid that the sound of my own heart beating would somehow awaken the beast from her delicate slumber in the crib down the hall. I missed choosing to have coffee in the morning instead of it being medically necessary for me to function or operate a piece of machinery (like a curling iron). Is it selfish to miss sleep? Is it unreasonable? It didn't even matter...I was too tired to care.

And, guess what? I'm dangerously close to approaching that level of sleep deprivation again. I think every parent or parent-to-be has pretty reasonable expectations about the first few weeks. They know it will be hard. They know they will be up in the middle of the night. But, God gives us that amazing amount of grace and compassion in our souls that are so incredibly in love with this new creation that we can't help but want to wake up again and again and care for this helpless little creature (who happens to be insanely adorable) and get to be the solution to all their problems...Yes! I can change you, sweet one! Yes! I can feed you, you cute little punker bottom. Yes! I can burp you, oh kissable little cheeky monkey butter bear blossom baby. (Well, the nicknames get a bit incomprehensible around 3 or 4 in the morning, see?)

So...what's to be done? How to get a baby to sleep through the night is such a mind-boggler for so many people, it's right up there in the "eternal question" category somewhere between "What is the meaning of life?" and "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?" There are books and books and books and now blogs and articles and whole websites dedicated to just how you can solve all your baby's sleep problems (in three easy payments/steps/nights, etc...)

I've read my fair share. Believe me, I'm no stranger to research. When I want to know something, I put my heart and soul into it and seek out every last drop of advice I can get my hands on. I'm certainly no expert, so I've taken the time to actually look at what the "experts" do have to say. From "Ferberize" to "Baby Wise", from the "Baby Whisperer" to the "Happiest Baby on the Block". Just google "get baby to sleep through the night" and you will be up to your eyeballs in "do's and don'ts". And...my conclusion? The experts know absolute crap about my kid.

The experts know crap? Yes. All of them. No matter how educated or renowned they may be, you can absolutely find an "expert" to support anything: Swaddling is good. Swaddling makes the baby feel constricted. Don't sleep with your baby. Co-sleeping helps the baby feel secure. Pick up the baby to keep them from feeling unloved. Never pick up the baby or they will always cry to get your attention. Never let the baby fall asleep on you. Never lay the baby down awake. Always lay the baby down while still awake. Let the baby cry to help learn soothing techniques. Letting the baby cry only confirms to them that you think they are unlovable. Give the baby a pacifier. Never let the baby sleep with the pacifier. A baby needs a trigger to give them routine. Don't assign a prop to a baby or they will become dependent on it. There is no difference in a baby's ability to sleep through the night, they have to learn it. Every baby will eventually sleep through the night if you allow them to find their own pattern.

Drowning yet? Exactly. It's overwhelming. And all of the above information is straight out of "expert" advice. Well, the only thing it taught me was that apparently I've been doing everything wrong, no matter what I've been doing! Sigh.

Have a baby? Or going to have a baby? Take a deep breath. It's going to be okay. Put down the baby book, make some coffee (decaf if you must), hug someone (I won't tell if it is your cat or favorite pillow) and pat yourself on the back. Why? Because, congratulations - YOU know your baby best! You are all the expert you need.

I've read and read and read. I've asked a zillion moms (including my own, since, well, you know - she raised me and lived to tell about it). I've listened and learned and have a LONG way to go (if that wasn't obvious). But, if I know one thing, it's that those experts are NOT around in the middle of the night to pat me on the back and hand me a cup of coffee and reassure me that even if I pop her paci back in her mouth it is most likely not going to turn her into the next president OR the next serial killer. Deep breath. I have to stop thinking if I swaddle her wrong, surely she'll be scarred for life. If I let her nurse to sleep that she will surely grow up to be a hippie or cultist or libertarian. If I let her cry it out she will need extra therapy sessions, or maybe become the next American Idol (here's hoping that set of pipes goes to some good use!) Nope - there are no guarantees that my child will or won't turn out the way I think is best - or worst. I love her. I will care for her. I will provide for her. I have hopes and dreams for her. And right now, I hope that she sleeps and dreams her way through more than two hours at a time!

The fact is, these "experts" never address the one thing we are really all wondering but don't want to ask: How can I survive this? One night at a time. That's the truth. Some nights you will have extreme compassion and be able to rock your baby to sleep and she will still wake up every 20 minutes. Other nights you will want to throw your baby through the window because, just when you thought you had it all together, your sweet little bundle of joy discovered your wit's end and is now clenching onto the last nerve you never knew you had - and biting your nipple at the same time. And still, you love her. You survive. You have ups and downs. You have a perfectly scheduled routine one week, and the next week you find yourself eating cereal out of the box at 2pm and discover you've put on yesterday's dirty yoga pants on backwards. Someone will question your methods. Someone will do it better than you. Someone's kid will magically sleep through the night at 2 weeks and tell you all about how easy it was and you will want to punch her in the face. But, you will survive. I will survive. And so will Daphne.

Tonight we are going to let Daphne cry it out. She will wail and my heart will break. She will scream and my breasts will ache with the need to feed her and my soul will be crushing with the utmost of guilt. (Can you tell I'm looking forward to this?) It totally sucks. I hate it. But, when I look at my red-ring-eyed baby and see how insanely overstimulated she is, I know it is best for her. Am I selfish? Am I abandoning her? Am I crazy? All this and more will be haunting my thoughts tonight. But, echoing between each cry, each gulp, each beat of my heart will be the resounding truth: I love her. Trust me, we've tried it all. The co-sleeping, the triggers, the only-go-in-every-ten-minutes-so-she-is-reassured, and the list goes on. This is the last resort and this is what it came to with Matilda as well - and, after 3 nights of utter horror - Matilda was sleeping a full 12 hours straight. Whew - so, here we go again.

I don't want anymore advice. I don't even want sympathy. I want a good hug and a high five and a strong, strong cup of coffee. And prayer. And sleep. Good night.

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