Sleep: The saga

Dear son,

This is how it all went down, in the sleep department.

From the onset, I was flabbergasted by what a good baby sleeper you were. You were basically doing your nights from about month one or so. Or maybe a little after that, can’t remember, but still, at least by month three. 11pm to 9am a lot of the times. I can’t remember if I already told you about how when we brought you home from the hospital, I was determined that you should not sleep in our bed since I had heard my whole life that children should not sleep in their parents’ bed, and how I spent the first three nights sleeping upright on the living room sofa till finally, shortly before the break of dawn on the third night, I realized in a sleep-deprived haze that I was never going to be a good mother if I didn’t get some sleep, and I brought you into bed and never looked back. That was before I learned about co-sleeping and family bed and attachment parenting and learned that there was an alternative to the strict authoritarian baby-raising ways that seemed to be the norm. I’m really glad I did this as I think it’s been a very positive experience.

So yeah, anyway, you were just a fabulous sleeper. I would listen with sympathy to the other mothers at baby group complaining about their babies waking up several times at night, but would have nothing to offer other than a sincerely compassionate ear. I thought I had just been doing something right, that it was the swaddling, but also that I had just lucked out.

Then, shortly before you turned five months old, it all went to hell in a handbasket.

Well ok, not nearly that dramatic. But on November 1st, 2009, you began waking up once or twice at night, and you’ve been doing so for the past four months.

I have to tell you for posterity’s sake that this coincided with your being moved from a Moses basket into a proper baby crib. As a matter of fact, from the very first night you slept in the crib, you started waking up. So you can’t tell me there isn’t somehow a connection, that the bassinet was enclosed and you felt warm and safe and the crib is big and airy. However, the only problem is temporarily moving you back into an enclosed bassinet didn’t make you stop waking up, so it’s probably developmental also.

All things considered, though I was eating my words about having such a great sleeping baby, it wasn’t horrible as even though you woke up once or twice, I would only have to nurse you and you would easily fall back asleep and then I would put you back in your bed and go back to sleep for a little bit. It wasn’t ideal, but livable. You weren’t even hungry, as some people suggested, it was just comfort nursing. Still, I kept wondering when you would go back to sleeping through.

I figured a bit of sleep training was in order, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I had Dr Weissbluth’s book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which many people had raved about, but I don’t know son, I mean, I have a university degree and everything but I don’t know what in the world is wrong with me, I found that book completely unreadable. I’ve been trying for nearly a year to decipher it, and to me it is all over the place. Anyway. Dr Weissbluth says that moving the bedtime earlier causes the baby to sleep through the night, an idea I find dubious but haven’t completely ruled out. We did try this, sometime in December, and what happened was you woke up at 11pm wide awake as I feared, and this was the first time we let you CIO. You cried for 42 minutes, ugh, it was just awful, and frankly, it didn’t do much good as you woke up again an hour and a half later, like clockwork, at your usual 2am. So that sort of dispelled my faith in crying it out, an idea I wasn’t hugely comfortable with to begin with.

As we had some traveling ahead of us, I figured there was no point in pursuing much of sleep training since it would all be ruined with jet lag anyway. I fostered some bad habits in California, not putting you back in your bed after you woke up, instead letting you sleep with me (yes I know what I said earlier about the co-sleeping thing, I realize many people continue on with this, but the thing is you were getting big, and kicky, and were starting to push me off the bed). Also, you seemed to wake up more often when you slept with me. Or more likely, I would hear you wake up more often and would immediately respond rather than wait and see what happened.

The result of all this, after our return to Paris and going through the jet lag recovery, was some sleep habits that were pretty unbearable. You would not sleep in your bed at all, you would cry when I put you down there, even when you went to bed, you would wake up literally ten minutes after going to sleep, I couldn’t sleep at all with you in bed as our bed is not big enough, and I was getting desperate.

I had picked up Dr Ferber at a little bookshop in Larchmont Village in Los Angeles, it was fifty percent off and I had joked that I would agree to just buy Ferber for fifty percent off. Dr Ferber had such a bad reputation in my mind, Ferberizing and all that. Last week in desperation, I went to the cafe downstairs for a couple of hours, and over tea I flipped through the book. Well. I got more in two hours than I have gotten in eleven months of trying to read Weissbluth. Ferber’s book is coherent, well-written and well-organized, he does suggest crying but not leaving baby to cry for hours on end by his or herself, frankly, all things that Weissbluth suggests too so Ferber has a very, very unfair reputation.

One thing that Ferber said that made a whole lot of sense, was that it is not a good idea to put the baby in the crib when he/she is already asleep. What happens is, the baby wakes up and is disoriented because s/he is not where s/he was when s/he fell asleep. This made a lot of sense as you have always fell asleep on your papa’s lap while he gives you a bottle, and then he puts you in the crib. So we figured we would have to try putting you in the crib while you were still awake, even if that meant letting you cry.

I really, really wasn’t keen to let you cry again, it was bad enough that one time, and even though everyone says it doesn’t harm the baby, blah blah blah, it still went (and goes) against everything I feel about good parenting. I believe that babies grow into confident adults if we respond to their cries. But I was really at my wits end there. I figured I was going to have to give crying a try.

The other thing that convinced me was something I deciphered from Weissbluth : that I wasn’t doing you an favors by continuing to let you have these interrupted sleep patterns. It was affecting your sleep as well as mine, and it wasn’t doing you any good if I was preventing you from learning to fall asleep on your own. Bon, ok, I’m sure Weissbluth compassionately puts that in his book to help desperate parents not feel guilty about letting their babies cry, but well , it worked on me.

I had planned on planning a weekend for it, and going up to visit the neighbors to warn them, but what happened was that night at 2am, I just couldn’t budge out of bed. So I let you cry.

You cried for an hour and seven minutes, son oh son, it was awful. I went to you every ten minutes to give you some reassurance, but still.  I hope I didn’t do any psychological damage to you. Your mama loves you and cares about you and will always be there for you.

You finally fell asleep and didn’t wake up again that night.

And the next morning, you had a fever and throat infection, what the French call an « angine ». Son ! I had made you ill with my neglect !

But what happened was, you slept through the night that night, and the one after. I figured it was the medication.

But son, you’ve been off the medication for a few days, and you’ve been sleeping through since last weekend. Well, let me rephrase : I haven’t had to get up in the middle of the night since last weekend. You might still be waking up, but I haven’t had to go get you. We’ve been putting you in bed awake and you cry for ten minutes or so and then go to sleep.

Last night it was weird, your papa put you in bed and you didn’t cry at all, and so he was worried and went in to check on you and you just kind of looked up at him like, ok, I’m in bed, and went to sleep. Son ??!! I heard you wake up in the middle of the night, but you put yourself back to sleep.

Oh and another thing: your naps seem to be coming together. I’ve put you down awake in your crib and you take two naps of 1.5 hours a day. It’s so hard to know if this is coincidental or developmental, like what started you waking up in the first place.

I’m not sure this is completely over, I mean, it’s only been a week, you are still taking antibiotics, maybe I’m jinxing it by writing this post. In which case I will write another post. But I hope this is it, for a while anyway. Oh, I hope I don’t have to do that awful crying thing again in the middle of the night. Son, don’t put me through that again !

Now, if we could just move your wakeup time from 7 :30am to 9am. Doesn’t 9am sound better than 7 :30am, son ?

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