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sleep

Saved By Google… Again

I honestly have no idea how people parented before the Internet. I still remember the first time Kid #1 ate her first big bite of play doh and I frantically Googled “WHAT DO I DO IF…” (Turns out play doh isn’t toxic so no worries.)

I rely on the Internet more than I care to admit when it comes to raising humans. It’s a great resource when I’m just not sure what to do or when I’m worrying about symptoms or milestones. But probably best of all, it reminds me that I’m not alone.

Parenting can be isolating. Keeping up outside relationships or an active social calendar feels almost impossible when you’re sleep deprived and covered in spit up, no matter how good your babysitter is. And for stay-at-home parents who don’t go to work around adults every day, the Internet can be a lifeline. I have yet to encounter a situation that someone else somewhere hasn’t already encountered. Sometimes it’s a complete stranger sharing an experience on a blog and sometimes it’s my friend across town that has her own littles and can’t meet up for coffee but can send me a Facebook message that says “I’ve totally been there”.

Anyway, I’m rambling. (It’s just so nice to be talking to grownups. LOL!) Here’s the point I’m getting to:

This week has been the week from hell.

(Now, let me preface this story by acknowledging that I know things could be worse. My kids are healthy (KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD). I’m healthy (AGAIN WITH THE WOOD). The toddler has been good, the six year old has been good. But parenting stress and nursing hormones and sleep deprivation don’t care about logic.)

So back to the story: the baby.

We were finally so so close to sleeping through the night. So close. It happened more than once in a row. So we decided it was time to move the bedtime routine upstairs, so that rather than falling asleep down in the living room with us like she had as a newborn, it was time for her to go to bed in her bed when the other littles did.

And suddenly sh#%* hit the fan.

She cried at bedtime and wouldn’t go to sleep. She stopped napping well. I would put her to sleep and as soon as I laid her down she would wake up, ruining any fleeting hope for naps. So I decided that it was time for her to learn to self-soothe so that she could put herself to sleep rather than depending entirely on me.

So I started trying to lay her down while she was still awake so that she could fall asleep on her own. The first attempt ended when everyone was crying and I officially gave up and loaded them in the car to drive aimlessly around town just so I could have a few minutes of peace and a coffee.

I finally got to where I could get her to fall asleep at nap time, but she would only stay asleep for maybe fifteen minutes and then wake up. The same pattern carried over to bedtime. I sometimes had to put her back to sleep three and four times before she stayed asleep, a process that could take two or more hours and involved me ignoring my other children at bedtime and usually me crying in the bathroom at least once.

And to top it all off, she started waking up in the middle of the night again.

So now our daytime naps had gone to hell, bedtime had gone to hell, and nighttime sleep had gone to hell. I was back down to averaging five hours a night, which was clearly not enough for me to be a good person.

Mostly, I felt like I was being tortured. Literally. Since every sleep episode was a battle, I felt like all day long I would get my hopes up, breathe a little sign of relief when she finally fell asleep, and then ten minutes later I stressed out all over again when she woke up without a good nap once again. And then when I finally went to bed at night, she would wake me up an hour into my sleep.

We are to the point in the game where I’m supposed to be getting more sleep, not less. She is supposed to be getting better at this, not significantly and suddenly worse.

And yet there we were.

I wish I could say I held it together better, but I feel like I’ve been through a war this week. And lost. I can feel it in my face. In the fact that I’ve been trying to work up the energy to shower for two days. In the fact that I was drastically improving my crummy pregnancy habit diet and yet this morning I had m & m’s for breakfast. I’ve cried more this week than in the last four months since she was born combined. I’m more convinced than ever that parenting is emotional warfare.

I almost always turn to Google in tough situations like this. But this week, I didn’t. Maybe I was to tired and beaten down to even conduct an Internet search. That feels really possible. But for whatever reason, I didn’t.

Luckily, my mom did.

Turns out, there is a thing called four month sleep regression. IT’S A REAL THING. How do you know it’s happening? Naps get drastically shorter, baby cries more, nighttime sleep gets interrupted, etc. SOUND FAMILIAR?

I seriously can’t even tell you the relief that I felt when I heard that this was a totally normal phase. I basically danced around singing, “My baby isn’t broken!” (Don’t judge, I wasn’t understating how detrimental this week has been to my mental health.I’m lucky to have any sanity left.)

So, my hope has been restored, as has my co-dependence with the Internet.

Hopefully the next things to be restored with be sleep and sanity.

 

 

 

Drowning

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We are in the six week trench.

I wrote the first draft of this post a week ago at two in the morning, but couldn’t bring myself to publish it.

Because it can be hard to say the brutal, scary, ugly truth. Because these are the deep dark ugly parts of parenting that we are supposed to keep hidden.

This is my third child. I should be better at this by now. I’m supposed to have it all together. I’m supposed to be “sleeping when the baby sleeps”. I’m supposed to be “practicing self care”.  I’m supposed to be “savoring every minute”. I’m supposed to have seen this part coming. I’m supposed to be cherishing the last baby.

But some days I feel like I’m drowning.

I keep thinking we’ve hit “rock bottom” in the newborn phase. Last weekend was so, so hard. I thought surely that was it. Things were going to start improving, even just a little at a time.

And for a day they did. And then they didn’t.

I’m holding on to the hope that this six week trench has been a common theme for me with my children (so if I’ve survived it before surely I can again, right?) The adrenaline of meeting this tiny human has worn off and exhaustion from WEEKS of sleep deprivation has set in.  We are maybe? almost? so close to seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in the coming weeks (hopefully knock on wood) but who can know for sure. Like running a marathon and thinking the finish line is around every turn but then it’s not. But surely it’s just around the next one….

On the worst nights, being woken up within an hour after crawling into bed feels like a legitimate form of torture. You may read that as an exaggeration but I mean it quite literally. I feel like I’m being tormented. Why is the grunting only at night? Why does she fall asleep easily during the day and fight it at night? Why can we go solidly 3 hours between bottles all day but after an hour at night we are starving?

It’s so hard and makes no sense at all. And I’m so tired. Torture.

The good news is, I can still hear the logical side of my brain telling me that that is not the case–that this is normal. That this too shall pass. That most likely this is all exaggerated because of sleep deprivation.

But as I put the pacifier back in for the billionth time, logic might as well be horse shit. And even if this is just the depths of sleep deprivation, it doesn’t change the fact that I want to scream. And cry. That I want to lose my shit on my husband who is upstairs sleeping peacefully even though he is the most patient and helpful man in the entire world. He would get up if I asked him to. But I’m down in this no-sleep pit and I am scared to drag him down with me because I need him to be on his game and when he doesn’t sleep, he isn’t on his game. So I make him sleep so that at least during the day I don’t have to be alone in this.

But it doesn’t make it easy.

I can feel myself reaching my limit. And then I feel ashamed to be that close to reaching my limit. I google Postpartum Depression and I tell myself it’s just a lack of sleep because it probably is.

And then I grab my computer and write, in between swaddling and reswaddling and holding the pacifier in and watching the clock with the sinking feeling that by the time she finally falls asleep it will be time for her to eat again.

And I write. I write even though I don’t want to admit how hard this is. I write even though I’m embarrassed at how poorly I’m handling it.

I write because every day from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. feels like drowning. And I’m tired of pretending. I need to say it out loud and acknowledge that this sucks. Sucks sucks sucks.

I just needed to say it. Because I’m too tired to keep carrying it around with me.

And because this is where I get to be real. There’s no greater relief than the moment when you’re drowning and someone finally sees you. (Except maybe being in bed. That trumps everything right now.)

So thanks for seeing me.

Note: I’m publishing this a week after writing it and things have improved. The nights seem to be going a little more smoothly and I finally caved and let my husband take a few nights so I could try to recover some critical sleep (a.k.a. sanity). I know this stage is normal for me at this part of the game, and I also know that before I know it it will pass and soon I will have forgotten how bad it was. 

Knowing that soon this will be a distant memory, I had the urge to delete this post. It’s so much more fun to write positive or inspiring posts–to find the beauty even in the hard parts of parenting.

But after dinner with two dear friends last week, I was reminded that sometimes the world needs a little more “real”. The kind of real where you don’t have to look for the silver lining–you can just let it be what it is. Even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard.

4 Ways I’m a “Mean” Mom at Bedtime

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My kids have had a consistent bedtime routine from the time they are two months old. As babies and toddlers it is pretty straightforward and gives them the security of a little predictability. Both of my children so far have thrived on this kind of schedule.

As they grow into more independent beings capable of communicating and reasoning, a certain amount of flexibility enters the bedtime arena. However, there are a few areas that are not open to compromise.

  1. Bedtime is non-negotiable.

I don’t care if it is summer and it is still light out. I don’t care if you’re “not tired”.

I’ve read the research and I’ve learned from my own experience. The later they stay up, the harder it is for them to fall asleep and the worse they sleep. If my oldest is in bed by 8, she sleeps peacefully. If she goes down between 8:30-9:15 we usually have at least two bad dreams and one bathroom break. After 9:15, forget it. She ends up screaming in her sleep every couple hours all night. The less they sleep, the less sleep I get, and the harder the days are. And the harder the next evening’s bedtime is.

No matter how intelligent and rational a child is, they cannot make good choices when they are over tired. It’s a vicious cycle. Obviously every now and then, if it is a special event and we have nothing going on the next day, we might break our own rule. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a bedtime meanie just because it is fun. It’s because it’s what our children need to actually have real fun. When they get to stay up late, often end-of-the-day exhaustion puts a damper on the “special occasion” anyway, and the price we pay the next day just isn’t worth it.

  1. Bedtime routine is non-negotiable.

If you wait until you have brushed your teeth and are tucked in bed to ask for a snack, you are not getting a snack.

This may sound mean, but I know my child is capable of understanding when the appropriate time to ask for something is. The first few times it happened, I caved and gave her a snack but I clearly communicated that it wouldn’t always work that way. I also know she is capable of using requests as a way to delay and postpone bedtime. Any parent who’s seen this routine in action knows how frustrating it can be. I don’t want the last few minutes of her day to be me being frustrated with her. So the rules are simple and clear. She knows if she wants a snack she has to ask before her teeth are brushed.

  1. Cuddles and conversation are not unlimited.

This may sound like the cruelest one of all, but trust me. I set boundaries because I love them. As a mom of all girls, I’m all too familiar with how many feelings girls have. Especially if they are tired. So bedtime is prime time for us to need a lot of emotional attention. We miss everyone who isn’t in bed with us at that moment. We miss pets that died when we were two. We miss relatives we’ve never even met. We miss our old car. We miss the birthday balloons that ran out of helium and withered six months ago. These are all real examples. I could not make this up.

So I cuddle her and I hug her and kiss her and tell her it will be all right. But there are some nights where the more snuggles I give her the more snuggles she needs. She will work herself up to a full blown crying mess unless I draw the line. There have been many evenings I’ve had to kiss her and hug her and walk out of the room to the sound of her whimpering because it’s the only way she will calm down and go to sleep. It sucks every time. I camp out outside her door to make sure she winds down and falls asleep. But I don’t know any other way. It doesn’t do any of us any good for her to stay up crying when I know that the waterfall of feelings is only happening because she’s exhausted and needs to sleep.

  1. Their sleep is for their benefit and for mine.

I’m always happy to explain to my child why bedtime is so important for her health and her brain and her ability to manage her feelings, etc. Our routine exists so that she gets what she needs and can be her best self. But I’m also not afraid to remind her that bedtime isn’t just about her. The few hours mommy gets in the evening to herself are necessary in order for me to be a good mommy during the day. She is old enough to understand that we don’t take things that don’t belong to us, and my me time in the evening is mine. She isn’t allowed to take what isn’t hers. Obviously if I know she needs me and I know that I can help, I will choose her. But if it’s one of those evenings where she just wants me to stand next to her bed all night so that she doesn’t have to miss me, then sorry, but no. Sacrificing my sanity, especially if it’s not actually benefitting her, is a waste of both our time.

 

Every parent has a different approach to bedtime and that is great. Because every parent knows their children best. Some kids can stay up late and they will sleep in and be fine. Some kids, if they stay up late, get up even earlier and turn into maniacal little animals who then refuse to nap or sleep for the next 72 hours. Lucky for me, that’s how our dice landed. So for us, loving our children and keeping our family sanity means being “mean” at bedtime. And I’m ok with that.

Irrational Mommy Moment: I DON’T CARE IF I RUIN MY GOOD SLEEPER

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My toddler has been a pretty good sleeper from the beginning. Honestly, I don’t think we ever “sleep trained” her in any way. She was fine if she fell asleep while you held her and then laid her down, and she was fine if you laid her down while she was still awake.

We stuck with the habit of laying her down when she was awake because I am of the general belief that it’s good for kids to be able to fall asleep on their own. So that’s just how it has been since she was little. For every nap and every bedtime, we would lay her down and she would fall asleep. Only occasionally would we have to go back in and lay her down again if she was particularly wound up, but it rarely took more than once.

People often commented on what a good sleeper she was and how amazing it was that I could just lay her down and she would go to sleep. And let me tell you, it is pretty great. Bedtimes are fairly simply when you can do a bath and a bottle and lay the baby down without much fuss. There were phases with my oldest where she wanted to be rocked to sleep or wanted me to lay by her bed until she fell asleep, and that can make for a long bedtime sometimes.

This week, the toddler has been teething and getting over a cold, and our sleep has suffered for it. She has a harder time winding down at bedtime and has needed to be snuggled and re-laid back down several times each evening. A couple of those times I’ve caved and just rocked her to sleep. She used to get squirmy to be put down at bedtime–she likes her routine. But this week she is extra snuggly and seems content to be on my lap for as long as I want to rock her.

The first few times it happened, the little warning light went off in my brain. “Do you really want to get her in the habit of being rocked to sleep every night right before the new baby arrives? How on earth are you going to get three kids to bed if one of them needs to be rocked and another is a newborn who won’t care about what time it is if she needs to eat?” It’s a valid point–as nice as it is to have the extra cuddles this week, it’s also nice to have the simple bedtime routine and it’s nice for her to be able to put herself to sleep, for her benefit and for mine.

But last night as I was cuddling her in the dark, watching her wad her blankie up and tuck it under her chin so that it cradled her face from ear to ear while she rubbed the satin edging and blinked sleepily, I realized something: in that moment, I didn’t give two f$%&@s about a convenient bedtime routine.

I love this crazy, irrational toddler stage–even with it’s challenges and temper tantrums born of frustration. She is so cute and tiny with such a big personality–I could stare at her in awe all day long (and I do). These sweet moments of watching her fall asleep…they are so heartbreakingly fleeting. Pretty soon she will be too big for my lap. And pretty soon she will have a new little sister she has to share my lap with.

Sanity is important. So is her sleep patterns. And with three kids, convenience is also pretty important.

But at the end of the day, snuggles trump all of these things.

So for now, I don’t care about habits. For now, I’m not worrying about what it will be like to add another human to the bedtime mix in a few weeks. For now, the only thing I’m focusing on is soaking in these precious moments.

 

“Sleep Training”

First of all, can we just take a minute to laugh hysterically at the phrase “sleep training”?  It’s a seriously ridiculous and misleading phrase. As if you could “train” a child to sleep. “Control-all-the-circumstances-you-can-and-pray-like-your-life-depends-on-it” maybe. But if that kid decides they are not sleeping, “training” is futile. 

That being said, I believe in sleep training. 

“But you just said….?” Listen. I know what I said, ok? I’m tired. And we are not here to talk about me. Try to focus. 

I have this book called Babywise. I got it before my oldest was born on recommendation from the woman who inspired me to want to be a mom myself. It was my bible. Even on my second child, I clung to that book like my life depended on it, reading it again and again in the weeks before she was born, pouring through it while I was rocking her back to sleep in the wee hours of the night. Two and a half months in and I still go digging for it, panicking if it’s not in the place swear I left it because my brain no longer functions at full capacity. I’m sure I subconsciously believe that if I read it enough it will just magically happen and that my baby will miraculously follow the exact expectations for each age level outlined in the book. 

I guess I should probably take a moment to tell you what the book is even about.

It’s about a lot of things, but the primary message is a suggested parenting approach: “the Babywise method”. The Babywise method is not necessarily child-led (feed them whenever they are hungry) nor is it schedule-based (don’t feed them unless it’s time even if they are hungry) but rather a balance between the two. It uses both the guidance of the clock and cues from the infant to determine baby’s schedule. 

The foundation of the schedule is this: feed, wake, sleep. And then the cycle repeats. This means that the baby sleeps, is fed when they wake up, and then has awake time before being put back to sleep. The reasons behind this are pretty solid. It may sound like we are talking only about feeding, and as parents we are often focused on how much nutrition baby is receiving. Which is good. But the hidden goal behind this strategy is to get baby to sleep well. To have long enough naps to complete the necessary rem cycle. Human growth hormone is released during sleep so for babies to grow and be healthy, sleep is beyond critical. 

Here’s the danger that the Babywise cycle tries to prevent: if baby nurses them self to sleep or is tired at a feeding, they don’t get a full feeding. Which means they are hungry again sooner, which cuts into their nap time. Then when it’s time to eat again, they haven’t had a full nap so they are tired. See the pattern? Before you know it, you have an overtired baby who is fussy and can’t settle down, causing even more sleep disturbance. Getting enough sleep leads to full feedings. Which leads to better sleep. They are connected. 

Sleep training starts with training the parents to understand the importance of sleep. To set up all the factors they can control in order to protect baby’s sleep. 

(And I’m over here like, “DON’T EVEN TALK TO ME ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT SLEEP IS RIGHT NOW.”)

Ahem. Anyway, my point is that “sleep training” starts way before you actually start “training” (Lol) the child.  

Ok. Fast forward to now (aka around two to four months of age). This is when “they” say that you can start “sleep training”. Except, as I mentioned, that phrase is filled with lies. If you focus on “sleep” as the measure of success here, you will probably give up. Maybe you will succeed, in which case woo hoo for you. But you might also fail miserably. 

Here’s the thing: you’re not actually training them to sleep. You are training them to self-soothe. Sleep is just a benefit that results from acquiring this skill. And again with the training… It’s not so much training as allowing them to learn to self soothe. Because you don’t really have to do anything other than give them the opportunity to learn this. Their own body will react and produce the necessary hormones to calm themselves down. 

Pretty neat, huh? And pretty important. Because if you don’t give them the space to learn to self-soothe, they won’t. Their little bodies won’t ever have to release that hormone. They won’t know how to. Can you imagine what a hard thing it would be to be a baby in this world and have to be learning all this stuff and taking in an overwhelming amount of information and not be able to chill yourself out when you get stressed? To be completely dependent on someone else to take care of your emotional needs, and not even have the ability to say what is wrong. All you can do is cry and hope they guess right?

Sounds shitty. It’s hard enough being a baby and a kid in this world. It’s our job to give them as many tools as we can to help them succeed. This is one of those tools: the ability to self-soothe. 

How do we do this? Let them self-soothe. Put them down when they are a little sleepy, but not upset. Give them some space to just be alone. (Supervised from a safe distance.) Come back to check in every few minutes. If they fuss a little, let them. Go back, reassure them, and then step out of the way again. 

Or maybe when you’re in the shower and they start to fuss, don’t do the naked-soaking-wet jump out to rush to comfort them. Talk reassuringly and finish your shower. Or if you’re cooking dinner and they start to fuss, talk reassuringly and let them be fussy while you finish your stuff.

Don’t rush to comfort them EVERY TIME they get a little fussy. Don’t teach them to be totally dependent on props like a pacifier either. It’s not going to hurt them to complain for a short period of time. They have to feel distress in order to learn to respond to distress. Period. They can’t learn it if they never have the chance. 

Now, because this is the Internet and I don’t know you, a few seemingly common sense disclaimers because I like children:

1. It’s not going to hurt your newborn to fuss for a little while, but they can’t really start learning to self soothe until around two months or later. If you need to finish your shower for your sanity, do it. But little babies need to be snuggled and loved and comforted so that when it’s time to learn to self soothe you have a trusting bond that will be the foundation for learning. Bond first, training second. 

2. No child should be left totally unsupervised. For any reason. There is a difference between giving your child space and neglecting them. Training means you are coaching from the sidelines, standing back to give them the space to practice. Not going to run your errands at Target and coming back hoping they got it figured out. 

3. I could have sworn I had more of these. Now I’m tired and this is becoming a long rant. Love and snuggle your baby and don’t abandon them. 

4. Oh and too much stress is not good.  Baby doesn’t need to get completely hysterical or distraught. 

AND I’m gonna stop you right there. This post is feeling more like a rant/know it all fest right now, which is not my goal. So LET IT BE KNOWN that I am in no way shape or form an expert in this. I am sharing what I have read and learned from others, a few shreds of common sense, and a teensy bit of my own experience. That’s it. 

My little one gets snuggled a lot. She prefers to be held to sleep some days, and will literally wake up from the deepest sleep if you set her down or even stop the car at a stop sign. This last weekend, it became pretty obvious that we were rapidly forming some bad habits. She wasn’t getting solid naps because I set her down, and she was waking up in the night, not because she was hungry but because she wanted us to comfort her back to sleep. Not cool. 

So today we started baby boot camp. I put her in her crib in her dark room for a nap. I laid her down before she was asleep. I checked back in every few minutes. AND SHE FELL ASLEEP. After a good uninterrupted nap, she ate well. So she napped better all day. In the evening I was rushing to get supper. She crabbed and fussed on the floor for a bit. I picked her up once, but I mostly reassured from a distance. 

And tonight, she slept ALL NIGHT. 

Tomorrow might be a totally different story. And I can’t promise that if you do this it will work so perfectly. It probably won’t. But for all the reasons listed above, it’s worth doing.