A Hot Mess: Sleep Training and Un-training and Finding Our Way (Part I)

This is what happens when I haven’t blogged in ages but have about 10 half-written posts sitting in my drafts folder that deserve to be finished but I just can’t get properly inspired: I go back to square one.  And you get stream of consciousness.  May 21st til September 26th.  Summer, with a baby, spilled out, and not pretty.  Read on if you like mess.

We sleep-trained.  There, I said it.  It’s like a horrible secret that I have to admit to the world before it swallows me alive.  Actually, we sleep-trained and untrained and retrained and untrained and went on two vacations to make this all a lot more traumatic for everyone than necessary because I thought that sounded like a good idea.  Final result?  Gabe sleeps through the night on good nights.  (We’re currently going through the 9 month sleep regression, and he’s been waking up 1-3 times most nights for a few weeks now.  Joy.).  I still wake up at least once — regardless — spontaneously, breathless, boobs enlarging by the minute, to check the video monitor screen and my conscience.  I used to play Solitare or surf The Babywearing Swap to deprive myself of 30 minutes of sleep because that will make me a better person and compensate for the fact that I am human and tired and I made a hard choice to say “yes” to myself and “no” to my baby.

If you are reading this and are immediately appalled by my actions (of which you know zero details) and confident in your assessment that I am a terrible mother, please stop reading now.  It’s been a really hard summer on multiple levels, and honestly I do not have the energy to fight back or even defend myself.  I have many more questions than answers — not just about sleep or parenting but about life in general — and I do not claim to know what’s best for you or your child(ren).  I also don’t claim to know what’s best for me or my child!  I’m just winging it, man.  And if other mothers reading this tonight are anything like me, you know exactly what it’s like to torment yourself over every little detail of every single parenting decision you make.  I didn’t nurse him long enough before bed!  I over-dressed him!  (I under-dressed him!)  His diaper rash is surely yeast and his butt is going to turn into a decubitus ulcer!  He learned to pull up and I haven’t lowered the crib mattress — he’s going to learn to climb at 3AM tonight, fling himself out of his crib, fracture bilateral femurs, and be crippled for life because his mother is an imbecile!  (Side note: mothers who are also nurses imagine particularly disgusting/disastrous things).  My point is that I have tormented myself to a far greater degree with my own thoughts and tears than anyone else ever could with cutting words.  Please, mamas, sisters, just hold my hand and hear my stories.  Let me hold your hand and hear your stories.  Let’s differ and disagree but let’s be friends.  I need friends.  

So.  Starting at 4 months, getting Gabe to sleep became total Sucks-ville.  He would resist, and resist, and resist, and it took an hour or more of swaddled nursing/bouncing/pacifier to convince him to “sleep.”  I put sleep in quotation marks because it was a faux sleep, a pseudo-sleep giving false hope to weary parents: he would wake up every 30-45 minutes for about 3 hours before sleeping for any decent stretch of time (decent at this point was 2-3 hour stretches).  So every half hour or so during the first quarter/third of the night, there was more nursing, bouncing, pacifier-replacing.  And I straight-up dreaded bedtime, not only because this routine was fantastically annoying, but also because it made me feel completely incompetent (What am I doing wrong???).  I had a MILLION theories as to the stem of my incompetence and nightly tried something different — nothing worked.  It was the same struggle every night.

Fast forward a few hours to midnight or 2am or 4am.  Gabe wakes up HAPPY.  I’m sorry, child, but wtf?!?!  We nurse immediately, as always.  And he’s smiling back at me like he’s just won the baby lottery and has also become the newest Cullen therefore never requiring sleep again.  We bounce.  We pop the pacifier in.  I sing and sway and pray (not to God, but to little one: Please sleep, O sovereign baby!  I will worship you and you alone if you would just sleep, Omnipotent One!).  We would leave him in his bed to enjoy the apparent wonder that 3am is by himself, and he would happily but oh-so-loudly (in our one bedroom apartment) coo and sing and later fuss = cue heartbreak amid annoyance.  And after none of that worked, we would give up and have play time for an hour or two until he tired himself out (sometimes playtime was accompanied by a Harry Potter movie — if you think I care if my baby watches TV at 3am you would be mistaken).  I referred to these instances as “2AM Parties” and they drove me nuts.  My cousin described it well: “It just hurts my feelings.”  Baby, you’re hurting Mommy’s feelings.  Doesn’t your Mommy deserve some rest?

At Gabe’s 6 month check-up my pediatrician whom I adore suggested I make an appointment with “The Sleep Nurse” at St. Luke’s Hospital.  I’ve gotta say, I really admire her for the balanced counseling she offered us regarding baby sleep.  We talked openly about the pros and the cons of co-sleeping (which was especially refreshing in an office that is ALL NATURAL, all the time — which I love and endorse, but it does make me a little timid sometimes to express opinions against the very green grain).  She told us, in her opinion, that sometimes there’s just no way to teach a baby to sleep better that doesn’t involve *some* crying, and that it was OK.  That it wasn’t cruel if done in a reasonable way.  She suggested moving Gabe to his own room ASAP if we didn’t want to co-sleep, saying that it’s a much harder transition for everyone if you wait beyond 6 months.  And she didn’t tell us what to do, but she gave me a gift: freedom to make a choice (with the assurance from a crunchy professional that any choice would not indict me as a terrible mother).

Why did I need that anyway?  Assurance from “the crunchy circle?”  Because I make my own deodorant out of coconut oil and baking soda.  Because I had a homebirth.  And *exclusively* nursed for 6+ months.  And didn’t circumcise.  And use cloth diapers.  And baby-wear.  And co-slept off and on.  And if a mother who does all of those things lets her baby cry for more than 30 seconds, she is EVIL and out of the club!  I like being in the club.  I also hate being in the club.  I like the people in the club but I hate that there IS a club.  I also enjoy being difficult just because I can (during church I like to stand up when everyone else is sitting down and visa versa).  Anyways I feared (and fear) the wrath of the club members.

Of course I feared the implications of my choice as well.  Do some variant of sleep training?  My heart will break in half!  My baby will hate me forever!  (I still worry about this).  Continue Sleep Sucks-ville with the happy vampire child?  I will never get enough sleep again!  I will never have a break!

Well we went to see the famous sleep nurse.  She was hilarious and talked to us for two hours and gave us a VERY detailed, two-phase plan.  It was reasonable.  We liked it.  We felt good about it.  We thought Gabe was ready for it.  We did it (Gabe was 6.5 months old).  Guess what?  It was so much better and easier than I could have dreamed.  We put him down awake and went in to soothe him every 3 or 5 or 10 minutes depending on the severity of his crying.  We kissed him and rubbed him and talked to him.  We had LIMITS which thankfully we never approached.  The first evening was the worst and we wondered if we were bad parents.  The 2nd night was only minutes.  After a few days (which included lots of “cheater” car/stroller/Ergo naps), he was easily falling asleep at nap time and bedtime in his crib by himself and STAYING asleep for longer periods of time!

A week later we started Phase 2: Resolving Night Wakings.  I missed the first night because I was at a birth (lucky me).  Simon did all the visits to reassure Gabe.  We were prepped for a night from hell.  Instead?  Longest waking he had was 15 minutes!!  (30 seconds is hard, but when you’ve be warned it could be an hour or 90 minutes even, 15 minutes is a dream!).  Nights 2, 3, etc were similar or better (fewer wakings, less crying).  I felt reassured: my baby was ready for this.  He really isn’t hungry every 2 hours all night long; he’s just used to that because that’s what we’ve always done.  He slept through the night in a week.  When he would wake up, it would be only minutes and not very upset.  All in all, it was a breeze.  We had hard times, but no nights of hell.  I was kicking up my heels!

Then we went on vacation.



4 thoughts on “A Hot Mess: Sleep Training and Un-training and Finding Our Way (Part I)

  1. Halley, I always love reading your posts because I can identify so much. We just a few months behind you and dealing with sleep issues, too. And a lot of our parenting choices, I feel like both “sides” would stare and tell us what horrible parents we are. Thanks for being real and honest. And I’m looking forward to your next post… We’re getting somewhat desperate in the sleep department over here, too.

  2. Do not stress yourself about being judged! YOU are the mother, and YOU are the one (along with Simon) who needs to decide what is best not just for one member of the family, but for everyone. I’ve only been “appalled” at one parent in the last year, and that was when she told me that she had begun spanking her one year old across the legs with a switch when they disobeyed : / That seemed a bit too drastic for me! Other than that, I believe that everyone’s parenting can be different but find the right pattern for their own family.

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