Monday, December 20, 2010

Winking and Blinking: Where's Nod?

I have two things I'd like to write about, one seasonal, one foundational.  I'm going to do the foundational one first.  I'd also like to say that this story, as it is, does have a happy ending.  Mostly.  It's not over yet, I guess.  I should also say that the events depicted below may be a little hazy.  Not sleeping will do that to your memory.

I am the mother of a child who has never slept well.  Ever.  I just want to get that out there.  The only time she slept well was when she was jaundiced.  That doesn't really count.  After that, I had to wake her every 2-3 hours to feed her to flush her system and make her not-yellow.  Oh, she wanted to sleep in those days - I remember many times when I would have to take off everything but her diaper to wake her up enough to eat.  Poor ickle munchkin.  She would semi-frequently sleep for about 5 hours overnight up until she was 3 months old or so.  Since then, it's been about 3 hours at a time, maximum, with a few lovely exceptions where she has gone 5 or (gasp!) 7 hours.

It's not just that she doesn't sleep for a long period of time.  She has, historically, been very tricky to get to sleep.  There has been a lot of swaddling, white noise, swinging, and nursing to sleep.  All 5 of Harvey Karp's S's, just to get her to sleep for a few hours.  Also, lots of crying.  Not me letting her cry - her crying in spite of everything.  I like to think that she at least knew one of us was with her, instead of her going through this neurological nightmare by herself.  I am pretty sure she wanted to go to sleep, but wasn't able to.  It's a skill, just like walking or doing math or not pooping in your pants.  (She can do one of those things fairly well, one of them not at all, and one of them when I catch her in time to have her do it over the toilet, but that's another post.  Hint: the last one isn't math.)

So what are our sleeping arrangements? There have been a few.  Newborn Bee slept in the bassinet of her portable crib next to the bed.  It took a Herculean effort for my still broken body to pick her up out of it, and she would often wake when laid back down after eating.  That was my first shock:  babies don't just magically go to and stay asleep.  We used the bassinet for... uh... I honestly don't remember.  Until we couldn't, probably.  Anyway, at some point I finally just started keeping her in bed with me and nursing her lying on my side.  Much happiness and sleeping for everyone!

When we got settled into the new apartment in DC, I thought, "I'm going to try to get her to sleep in her crib for naps and a few hours at night.  Maybe she'll sleep better!"  So after tubby time, it was jammies, nursing until almost asleep, walking around the nursery in the sling until asleep, then laying down and shushing off to sleep.  It worked pretty well - for 3 days.  She would go right to sleep minutes after I laid her down!  She slept for 3 hours!  (She hadn't been).  On day 3, however, as soon as we even approached the crib, she would start to wail.  She would only sleep for 45 minutes at a time.  I wasn't even trying to get her to sleep in her crib all night - just a few hours, and then I quite happily brought her into bed for the duration of the night.  I kept the experiment up for a few more days and then gave up because things were just getting worse and worse.

What happened after this is a total blur, which brings us to the present.  Here are how things currently stand:  we have the bed set up for safe, easy co-sleeping.  It is a queen bed.  We have it pushed up against the wall (and the crib bumper jammed in between it and the wall, although there really wasn't much space there), and it's not very high.  At this point she can dismount safely anyway.  She naps in there, on the wall side.  (My side).  I put her to sleep at night in there too.  She sleeps either betwixt me and the wall or me and the husband - either one works.  She goes to bed around 7:00.  It's tubby, jammies, story (sometimes), nursing until she loses interest (all of about 10 minutes), then sleep.  Under ideal conditions, the whole thing only takes around 30-40 minutes and involves hardly any crying.  It's some kind of magic - I lay her on her tummy and she rolls her head over and just goes to sleep.  If she wakes up before I am ready for bed, it takes a little back patting and she's right back to sleep in minutes.  Yes, she wakes up for boob a couple of times a night - but that probably only "robs" me of a grand total of 15 minutes of sleep.

So my sleep strategy is this:  a routine is good, but basically just roll with it and do whatever maximizes sleep and sanity for everyone.  Don't feel like a failure because your kid doesn't sleep long, or in a crib, or always cries no matter what you do (assuming there are no health problems).  Things will get better.  They'll get worse again, but then better.  It's not a linear progression, it's more of a roller coaster of good and bad, and usually just at the moment you think, "I MUST change something NOW!" things settle down. 

I do highly recommend getting a sidecar crib for tiny babies and regular in-bed cosleeping for bigger babies (say, once they can roll over and it feels safe to you).  Do your research and make your bed safe.  (Yes:  I am advocating not getting a big wooden crib that is expensive and may just turn into a giant laundry basket/storage bin, or getting moved to your in-laws' house in Virginia).

You should forget everything if there are teeth or developmental milestones happening.  The dirty little secret of sleep "training" is that teething, traveling, sickness, and developmental milestones frequently undo all that tough cry-it-out work and it has to be redone.  Not only that - it doesn't actually do much as far as waking up during the night goes.

I've offered no magic solutions, but maybe I've at least helped to erase this bizarre perception that babies should sleep like adults.  They aren't, they shouldn't, it's not in their best interest, and just try to slog through it until it ends.  Getting out of the house and commiserating with a fellow traveler are the things that help me most.  Sweet dreams!

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