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!