I Dream of Sleep

I’m tired.  So. Farking. Tired.

Whoever came up with the phrase “sleep like a baby” never met my 4 youngest.

Our sleeping arrangements have Smunchie starting in her own bed in our room and we have a solid bed time routine that works well for going to bed.  It’s the staying asleep that’s challenging.  She would gladly sleep 2 hours in her own space and then join us in our bed for an all-you-can-eat-all-night-buffett at the breast.  That’s exactly what’s been happening.  For some reason I’ve never been able to sleep well with a baby attached to my breast.  I’ll doze but not really sleep and after a bit my back begins to ache painfully and I start getting that itchy, twitchy “oh-my-gosh-stop-touching-me!” panicky feeling.  But she hates being parted with the breast even when she’s obviously asleep and barely suckling.  The result is a tremendous lack of sleep.  Recently a new behavior has emerged with Smunchie in our bed, she becomes mad, will hit me, cry at the breast, bite, kick, sit up and fuss, latch and unlatch and push me.  We’ve tried giving her space (after checking her diaper) but as soon as the boob isn’t available she launches into a full on meltdown.  Eventually she’ll settle again at the breast after what seems like pure exhaustion.  Pure exhaustion for three of us.

Like most babies and toddlers, Smunchie has gone through different stages of sleep.  Like most parents, The Piano Man and I will think “this is it!” when we’re in a stretch of decent sleep and then “will I ever get to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time again?” when we’re not.  More often than not lately we’ve felt like the latter, stumbling through our days overtired and admittedly cranky.

Over the years and through our 5 children, we’ve had different sleep arrangements and different kinds of sleepers.  Which stands to reason since they are all different people with their own idosicrisies including how they sleep.  Though I never thought I’d have 5 children (HOLY CRAP I HAVE 5 CHILDREN!  I honestly thought I’d have just one so this still seems shocking to me.) I did imagine that people who had several children had figured out the magic exlisir that helped babies sleep.  Why else would they have more than 1 or 2?  Ah yes, my perspective was rather narrow.  But then I had Earth Baby and she was what the Baby Whisperer would call an “angel baby.”  Easy going, always happy, sleeps anywhere easily, and in general is the kind of baby that causes parents to think they are awesome and everyone else that ever complains about how hard parenting is, just aren’t as good.  I know this because that’s exactly what I thought.  She was the “best” baby (what a horrible way to think of people!  They’re the best because they sleep well and are always smiling?  Can you imagine if we applied those same standards to adults?) which meant I had to be the “best” mother.  When Earth Baby started sleeping 8 hour stretches at 6 weeks I just knew it was because of me.  I was awesome mom.

Oh my gosh, I was such an arrogant idiot.  Clueless.

The bubble of my own awesomeness was popped with baby number 2.  Posterior positioning, her labor was hard and I was not the cool calm laboring mother of peace that I was with Earth Baby.  Quite the opposite.  When she was born, her too short cord meant she could only be placed low on my abdomen while we waited for it to stop pulsating.  Strong and very alert, she pushed up, her eyes wide open meeting mine and peed right there on me.  We like to say she’s been pissing on me ever since.  From the get go things were rough, major issues breastfeeding led to her rejecting the breast, mutilated nipples and then we moved on to reflux, ductal thrush and eventually giving up breastfeeding at 4.5 months. (By the way, if you’re wondering, formula DID NOT HELP her reflux issues, just made it worse.  Nor did it help her sleep. Ever. At. All.  She and I cried a lot when she was a baby.)  The child never slept.  Even today, 10 years later, she functions on less sleep than just about anyone I know but now I don’t stress over it and she’s not keeping me awake.

Our sleep history through our 5 daughters is a progression.  From thinking we were all that and a bag of chips as parents to holding on for dear life, our own version of Day of the Living Dead.  A progression of baby in a crib in the other room to co-sleeping and bed sharing.  This progression grew out of education, survival, surrender and ultimately a change in our parenting philosophy.  A good portion of our night time parenting evolution is a result of the unique impact each individual child and their sleep needs.

Earth Baby- bassinet in our room, sleeping 6-8 hours by 6 weeks, crib in own room sleeping 10-12 hours by 4 months.  Thinking we were awesome parents and high-fiving ourselves.  Around a year and a half she started having a few issues sleeping and we tried a modified version of cry-it-out and almost immediately regretted it.  The one night we tried we were all crying an hour and a half after we had started, got her out of her crib at which point she nearly flung herself out of her daddy’s arms and onto the floor where she crawled under her crib and sobbed.  She refused to come out and she and I eventually fell asleep with me on the floor, my hand reaching out to her form huddled against the wall.  I know this isn’t everyone’s experience but it took us a very long to reestablish trust with her and we never tried any version of cry -it-out again and to this day I get an ache in my chest when I remember her hiding under her crib and refusing to look at her daddy and me.  We all did eventually recover once her 2 year old molars came in and now, at 12 years old she regulates her own bed time, likes sleep and sleeps pretty well pretty much anywhere still with only the occasional sleep disturbances.

I do feel our trial with cry-it-out deeply affected Earth Baby and though we recovered I believe it contributed to her on-going insecurities.  Forcing ourselves to ignore what we felt to “train” our daughter was a huge mistake for us.  We were doing the best we could and what many people told us we needed to do but we learned a valuable lesson: if it feels wrong for US, for our family, we shouldn’t do it.

The Storyteller- bassinet in our room then co-sleeper in our bed, sleeping 15-45 minutes at a time if we were lucky; crib in own room around 3 months trying Baby Whisperer method of patting = patting ALL. NIGHT. LONG.  No high-fives, no self congratulatory anything.  Just holding on for dear life and praying for 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  I had a rough run with postpartum depression and we made a decision that The Piano Man would handle most of her night wakes because my depression became much worse with lack of sleep.  With breastfeeding failing at 4.5 months we thought formula feeding would solve all our sleep problems.  It didn’t.  When she was almost 2 we started giving her toys within her reach and when she woke at night she often entertained herself after checking in with us.  At 10 years old she still doesn’t sleep through the night.  I recently learned that needing less sleep is a sign of a gifted child, which The Storyteller is and this knowledge has helped me be more patient with her struggles with sleep.

Lolie- cradle in our room for the first 4 months, sleeping 4 hour stretches- often in our bed; crib in own room sleeping 4-6 hours using Baby Whisperer method but ended up in our bed every morning for another 2 hours of sleep together.  We were just grateful she slept more than The Storyteller.  In her toddler stage she woke often but rarely for long, just to check in with us.

Squiggle Bug- in our room in her own bed until 18 months old.  First 4 months were 3-4 hours stretches at best (this is normal!) then, after a brief regression between 4-6 months where she was up nearly every hour, she slept a great 8 hours until 9 months when she almost stopped sleeping entirely.  To get any sleep at all she had to be right next to me until about 15 months when we read “The No Cry Sleep Solution” and applied what we liked and she started sleeping well in her own bed.  This is also when my fertility returned and I got pregnant with Smunchie.  After Smunchie was born she started waking 1-2 times a night to check in with The Piano Man and I with an occasional wakeful stretch of 2-3 hours.  At 3 years old now Squiggle Bug continues with this same pattern and shares a room with The Storyteller.

Smunchie- combination co-sleep in her own bed in our room and bed share.  A baby with cardio issues she was the sleepiest newborn I’ve ever seen.  She would sleep through the night from the get go if we had let her.  Once she did at 5 days old because we forgot to set the alarm.  By 3 months she was finally gaining weight and doing much better so we didn’t have to keep waking her at night and she slept great, 8-12 hour stretches.  But it stressed me out because I was used to worrying about her and had learned that babies that age still need to breastfeed during the night.  Around 5 months teething started her night wakings and continued until about 7 months when she started sleeping long stretches again.  Nine months saw another round of teeth, this time 4 at once and lots of wakings, too many to count but we were back to sleeping 7-8 hours by ten months.  The week after we celebrated a year of breastfeeding 8 teeth began pushing through and sleep became something I only experienced in moments of sleep deprived hallucinations.  Now at 18 months we haven’t slept more than 2 hours at a time other than the odd night or week.

The fatigue is really starting to get to The Piano Man and me.  We have decided that it’s time to make a few essential changes as being this tired is beginning to interfere with our parenting, our work and our marriage.  I’m going to be really honest here: I don’t like the kind of parent and partner I am when trying to function with this level of fatigue.  The struggle to remain committed to our values for our family with such ongoing exhaustion becomes an overwhelming burden and I regularly end the day feeling like I failed.  My creativity is sapped, my energy for fun activities is lacking, my patience is spent, and I fight to be present with my children through the fog of my physical weariness.  Part of me wants to say “well, she’ll be big before I know it and won’t need me at night any more” and while that’s true we’ve been telling ourselves that for years.  Our children need us to be well rested right now to be the kind of parents they deserve.  The Piano Man and I need to be well rested right now to be the kind of partners we deserve.  We all need us to be well rested right now to be the kind of family we all deserve.  It’s time to night wean.

I really like The No Cry Sleep Solution books by Elizabeth Pantley but need something a little more simple this time around.  Zombies have a hard time with multiple step processes and anything more complicated than drooling.  Some time ago I read Dr. Jay Gordon’s Sleep Patterns in the Family Bed and appreciated his honesty, his recognition of parents needing sleep and his simple strategy for helping them get it appealed to me.  Dr. Gordon’s method combines a lot of what we liked about the Whisperer method and The No Cry method but streamlines it a bit more and cut out what we didn’t like.  It resonated with our philosophy of parenting and in my sleepy, blurry eyed zombie state seemed like a doable possibility.  I emailed it to The Piano Man and asked him to read it because I know that we’re going to both need to be on the same page when we get started.

Tonight we begin.  I’m running on about 3.5 hours of sleep going into this which makes me painful aware not only how badly we need it to happen but also how difficult it is going to be.  Change is needed though and it’s already difficult with not getting enough sleep, we may as well go with difficult hoping for change.  We decided to blog through the experience, which may result in one word posts but we’re going to do our best.  Wish us luck!

Share

Comments

  1. Though I don’t have any words of advice, wanted to say I’m in the same boat. My baby girl is 18 months as well and still gets up 2 x a night to nurse. Sometimes 1x. Not to mention that I wake whenever she rolls or moves, etc (she still sleeps with us). I am not the parent I want to be due to being so tired all the time, but CIO is just not something I’m willing to do, so we seem to remain stuck at this point of how to get our bed back, and get baby girl to sleep through the night without using a technique that I do not agree with or want to use. I’ll be following your blog to see how well you do with the book you are reading. Hoping if it works well for you it will work for me!

  2. Thank you for sharing Dr. Gordon’s information with us, and for giving us insight into your thought process. I look forward to reading about your experience. I think we’re right where you are. 🙂

  3. I feel your pain! My third son was up *at least* every two hours to nurse (we co-slept). At two years, I had reached the end of my rope and had tried The No Cry Sleep Solution and Dr Gordon’s techniques but my son was VERY VERY stubborn. The only thing that ended up working (and it worked in ONE night) was for me to sleep in the guest bedroom and have him sleep with my husband. I told my husband not to let him cry and to bring him to me if he did but he never did! Chris had to get up and walk him a bit and rock him but overall, no tears and it worked. Yes, we had to sleep separate for awhile until our son started sleeping with his older brother on a mattress on the floor but it was well worth it! If I were anywhere in site, denying him milk was NOT going to work and he got just as worked up as if I had locked him in a room by himself! Hope this helps!

  4. Stacey K says:

    I’m reading this sitting in the dentist waiting room, trying not to cry. I am ready to night wean my 14 month old, I am not being the parent I want to be to all three of my girls during day shift because I am on night shift. She wakes often for boobas in the night, if she is in our bed she wakes more often & fidgets with me & I can’t sleep. I am running on empty. I have weaned my almost three year old last week because I am so touched out overnight that it made my skin crawl to feed her as well as the baby. I’ve read a lot about settling techniques & we did the CIO with my eldest & it failed miserably & I too see the effects it has had on our relationship 8 years later. I often think its crazy that a person this fatigued is allowed to be in charge of 3 children & a motor vehicle! I am out sourcing help (cleaner, mothers helper) because I can’t keep up with everything. I was crying to my husband yesterday that I have nothing left to give.

  5. Kourtney LaFavre says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! My husband and I did the same thing as Nicole and that worked for us too 🙂 If I wasn’t there to offer the breast, there wasn’t a problem after two nights. Hopefully you are somewhat rested soon!

  6. Oh my, I am right there with you with my son who is nearly 22 months. I keep hanging out in hopes that it will shift on it’s own. We moved back to Austrslia from the US 3 months ago and have shifted house for the 3rd and final time here in Oz. I am hoping that as we settle in, my son will feel more secure and be able to wean. I am worried because he is rattled when I occasionally launch in to a frustrated rant (calling out “please stop!! You have got to stop!!!”) in the midst of an all night nursing, nipple tweaking, grabbing, mole pinching fest. I feel so bad when I loose it. I feel like all my attempts to discourage night weaning lead to more, intensified nursing with hitting and kicking. It seems my best result is to lie quietly there in the night and hope for a good one. Not a particularly empowered feeling.

    Thanks so much for sharing your process, I will be reading.

  7. I’m wishing you the best of luck, Jessica! My first child was so completely dependent on me for sleep. She only napped when I held her. Even though we put her to bed in her own bed every single night of her infancy, she would wake up after 30 minutes and refuse to sleep (or stop crying) until she was nestled in bed with us, breast at the ready. I’m going to admit here, that we tried night-weaning several times and were not ever successful (until she weaned completely – something I did earlier than I would have except the night-nursing was wearing me down so much.) I am hoping you will be successful and well rested! For me, it didn’t work out the way I had planned but I did manage to put some boundries in place that helped me regain that feeling of sanity. And I totally relate to not feeling like a good parent when I am zombie-sleep-deprived.

  8. Christina says:

    I am going through the same thing– our 4th is 15 months old and some nights i am flipping like a fish all night long!…and some nights she might wake up 1 or 2 times…I’d love some advice on night weaning. She usually starts off in her crib in our room, then moves to our bed when she wakes.

  9. I am utterly impressed that you managed to write so coherently on 3.5 hours of sleep!
    I totally feel your pain too. When Charlotte was 14 months and still up every 2-3 hours to nurse, I reached my breaking point. Luckily, I stumbled upon Dr Jay at the same time, and we used a modified version of his approach. It was pretty painless, and it worked! Sure, there’s been some bumps in the road, but some high points too- 2 nights ago, Charlotte slept 10 hours straight! We’re now down to one overnight nursing session (early morning, totally manageable). And I now feel just regular tired, not zombie-mom tired 🙂

  10. My youngest was just like Smunchie! Co-sleeping and wanting to be latched onto my boob all night long! When I would dare to take my boob out of her mouth when she was sound asleep it would wake her up and she would scream/hit/tantrum. She was about 18 months as well. Now she is almost 2 1/2 years and sleeping through the night, waking at 6am to nurse. I think if she were not nursing anymore she would easily sleep til 7, if my older two wouldn’t wake her. But she likes to wake up early to nurse. 🙂 Here’s what I did to get through the night time tantrum/wanting to nurse all night long thing. I put up a pack and play at the foot of my bed. I let her nurse before bed all the while telling her that she is nursing for a little bit and then going into HER bed. (she had never slept apart from me until then) I told her she could have her “milk, milk” again in the morning. When she was really upset after being put in the pack n play I would bend over and let her nurse standing up. Nursing standing up isn’t nearly as comfortable or cozy for them, so she didn’t want to do it for endless hours. Eventually the pillow in her bed looked far more comfortable. I would also pull my boob a little bit further from her while she was latched on to make it less, and less comfortable for her to be latched on. For the first 6 months of this she would almost always wake up at 2:00 AM and I would stand over her pack n play and let her nurse. If she started to throw a fit because I wouldn’t take her out of her crib I told her that I was going back to bed until she calmed down. She would calm down either immediately or in a minute or two, realizing that she wanted a little “milk, milk” and the fit wasn’t going to help. Of course there were times where she was more persistant and I was more tired and I gave in and just brought her into my bed for the rest of the night. But that never worked out either because it would just remind me of WHY I didn’t want her in my bed. Neither of us got any sleep when we were both in bed together. So I would be more committed the following nights. When she was waking at 2AM, she would wake up again at 5AM and I would pull her into my bed to nurse the rest of the morning until waking up for the day. Now she sleeps through the night, until 6AM, and does not wake at 2AM. Good luck, it is never easy. But one of these days you will be enjoying a full nights rest, I am sure of it! 🙂

  11. Deirdre Sheridan says:

    No words of wisdom, just empathy. We thought we had the sleep thing down after 4 kids, we were flexible..good nights, bad nights with a bit of co-sleeping and some of my fondest memories are waking in the morning with all 6 of us in the bed as the night walkers had arrived one by one during the night. God i missed that and then 8yrs later, surprise!!! He never slept more than 20mins at a time unless he was in the car and rarely during daylight hours. For 2 1/2yrs he woke every 20mins all through the night. That jet-lagged, running on empty feeling was awful and yes I was not the best Mam/ partner and definitely started on the slippery slope of depression. Coping skills, an understanding partner and support got me through. I love the mornings again, he creeps in around 4ish and snuggles, when he wakes in the morning he kisses me,smiles and tells me that he loves me with all his heart. He has weaned in the last year and as he weaned he got snugglier, it has been difficult emotionally and physically but it has made me a better Mam and friend to others in the same boat. Every child is sent to teach us something……xxx hugs

  12. I’m right there with you! My second (Scrunchie) is 14 months. I’m 14 weeks pregnant and NEED to wean because of preterm labor history. We part time bed share and part time have him in his own bed. When he sets his mind to nursing, he will scream and claw for it for hours. I’m battling thyroid issues as well and am so exhausted that at random points during the day, I have to put the kids in bed so I can nap for a few minutes or I just can’t function. I’m looking forward to reading how it goes for you!

  13. I’m so happy I stumbled on this blog post!! I’m just glad I’m not alone. Sometimes I feel like such a failure because I’m tired and plainly put: BITCHY. I don’t want to be anyone’s food source, maid, booboo healer..etc. I want to sleep. I want 2 minutes to myself. I really appreciate your candor. All of us will get sleep soon. I hope.

  14. “At 10 years old she still doesn’t sleep through the night. I recently learned that needing less sleep is a sign of a gifted child [..]”

    I hope you’re right, ’cause that means Isabel is going to be a freakin’ genius :p

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this! All but 1 of my friends have babies like Earth Baby, but I’ve got one like Storyteller, so it feels pretty lonely in Zombieland. It helps immensely to know we’re not the only parents struggling so hard with sleep deprivation and depression. God bless you with 5 children to take care of!

  16. This is so so helpful to read – I won’t write much but I’m in the middle of doing a bad job ‘sleep training’ my third and trying to do better…

    I do want to second one response above about nursing standing up. I did this to wean my second from night nursing and it was great. A very good compromise bc they get a little of what they want but they’re so exhausted that they want to just lie down. I was pregnant when I finished night weaning so it was all the more ridiculously exhausting/ridiculous to be standing there (sideways!) at 3am beside the crib but it was better in the long run.

    Good luck Jessica and thanks for being so open!

  17. chelsea says:

    I havent slept thru the night in 18 months either! I sleep with him in his (our rom), my husband in another room (cant take a boober and a snorer!) He’ll go 5 hrs but I feel pretty good, luckily. Though, I have vowed NO more kids for us 🙂 Dont know how you have 5, good work mama! More for you?
    XO
    C