First, a word of thanks to those of you who offered me your support in letting go of some of the guilt. I appreciate it so very much, and it does help.
And now, a post that really isn't about loss at all, but about being a parent for me, right now. Around here lately I’ve been consumed by sleep, or my lack of it. I suppose one could really be more specific and point out that it is Fiona Clementine who is struggling with sleep, not me. I imagine that if left, alone, in a dark, silent hotel room, I would probably sleep for about 27 hours without waking once. But, in fact, I live in a small-ish, old house with thin walls and shutter-style doors. And so if one person does not sleep, we’re all around to bear witness to her struggles.
Struggle, schmuggle, I often think, when people speak of their babies’ sleep issues. Babies aren’t supposed to sleep well, they aren’t supposed to sleep for long, they aren’t supposed to sleep alone. By saying this I’m not implying that I disapprove of people who do put their babies to sleep alone, because I absolutely believe in every family choosing the sleep style that works best for them, and I withhold judgement. But you can’t deny the biological fact that babies aren’t supposed to sleep alone, and so there is an element of learning that has to take place around all of this. What I’m struggling with is the fact that my baby, while still a baby, is going to become a big sister. And my internal struggles with what I should do about sleep and Fiona are becoming further complicated by incoming molars and a 4:30 wake up time... yes, 4:30 AM. Almost every day. Wow.
This might not be so awful, you might think, because I am co-parenting so one might imagine we could tag team. Except that my dear husband leaves for work at 5:15 AM, so once I’ve tried to put her back to sleep, and rotisserie-nursed for 40 unsuccessful minutes, he’s gone and the house is empty and cold and it’s hours before real morning should arrive. And Fiona Clementine is tired, but fiercely determined to start her day, and I’m pregnant and eager to get back into bed. And I wish I had some way to get her to agree with me that sleeping until 6 is a good idea.
Fiona has always been, since the age of 10 months, my most independent sleeper. She slept tucked into my armpit comfortably until she was 9 months, and then spent a month trying to clue me into the fact that she was ready and wanting her own space. Now, she actually likes her bed, she likes the space of it, and she really doesn’t like to sleep with me anymore. Ever. Some people might imagine that this seamless, happy transition to her own bed would be in my favor, and I admit that with the coincidence of my positive pregnancy test and her decision to sleep alone, I would almost jump to agree. Except that when she’s having trouble sleeping, I don’t have the back up plan of pulling her into my bed and letting her snuggle in and nurse and snooze with me. Because she won’t snooze with me. She’ll nurse, and crawl around, and then get extraordinarily frustrated that I’m not getting up with her. This is possibly the only time I ever see Fiona Clementine exert her will: when she wants to get up in the "morning".
But still, at some point about a week into this struggle, the nursing and snuggling did start to seem kind of nice to her. So even though she wasn’t really sleeping, and even though she was waking up, and wanting to switch sides, and maybe chat a little about every 6 minutes, she decided she didn’t really want to get into her crib. And when nap time rolled around, she was putting up a mighty protest, which was leaving me sitting bewildered in the rocking chair, baby at my breast, wondering what had happened to my champion napper. It also left me bewildered at 4 PM with an absolutely exhausted baby who was ready to go to bed for the night.
It was then that some really wise words my cousin gave to me rang a bell in my head, and I combined them with some of my own, personal wisdom.
The wisdom I have always held so dearly to is simply that sleep is important, and that babies need a lot of it. I cringe when my babies (under 3) get less than 14 hours of every 24. At our house we strive for 12 solid hours at night (solid doesn’t mean no nursing, just good sleep!), and when they’re little, at least 2 hours during the day. Fiona was doing an average of 3 daytime hours before the teeth and the fussing, and suddenly it dawned on me that we had whittled her 15 hours of sleep down to about 12, with the decreased naps and early wake ups. To me, this is a recipe to catch a cold, in addition to being an obvious precursor to a crabby baby.
So this is my wisdom, knowing that sleep is a health issue, and keeps my children not only healthy, but happy. I'm proud to say that in almost seven years of active parenting and three children, we've only been to TWO doctor's visits (knock on wood!) that weren't well child-- and we've had TWO bouts of vomiting and a handful of colds. I have been so lucky-- and I really do think a lot of it has to do with how well rested they always are.
And then, back to Fiona, I thought of my cousin Briare’s wise words which were, sometimes not sleeping is just an issue of saying NO, and remembering who is in charge when it’s in your child’s best interest. If your child fussed for cookies and cake every time she got into her high chair, you wouldn’t give her them no matter how hard she cried, would you?
And so, sometimes, even when your baby says, I don’t feel like sleeping right now, and they are old enough to know their safe place in the world and to know you are always there for them, and to hear your voice saying, I know you don’t want to take your nap, but it’s important for your healthy body to have a rest right now... Then I think you do just lie them down in their little bed and let them be for a little while.
So I did it. I committed this for my little Fi, and I told myself that I had to just pick a routine and stick to it without fail so that she would know what I expected of her. Just like I give her healthy food to eat, and even though I know she loves ice cream I don’t give her ice cream when she throws her green beans on the floor.
So I sang the same lullaby I always sing her, and rocked her and nursed her and smooched her, but then despite her request of “no” I did put her in her crib. The first time she squawked and fussed for the whole “nap time”-- which was 45 minutes long. But that was it. The next time she squawked and fussed for a few minutes, and after that, she would still let me know on my way to her bed that she didn’t want to go down, but she didn’t fuss. She already knows that I am always consistent, so she learns fast. And so I’m on my way to reprogramming Fiona Clementine for her health and mine, and I’m glad I remembered that even though it is so hard to hear your baby unhappy, when it’s a matter of keeping them happy and healthy, sometimes it isn’t a real choice.
I am not a mother who supports the true “cry it out” method. But I also don’t support children who perpetually don’t get enough sleep. There are all sorts of evidence that support negative effects of sleep deprivation, and I do believe that there are certain elements of attachment parenting (a style of parenting that I mostly go along with) that are not conducive to a well rested child. I have seen so many children parented in this style who look so bleary eyed and are sick so much of the time because they can't sleep alone, and so they go to bed late and nap infrequently. I believe that it is fully possible to have a firmly attached child who feels safe enough to sleep alone at times. I suppose what I support is really good communication with your older baby, so that you can make your expectations of them crystal clear, so they know that you love them no matter what, and that you will be right there for them when they wake up.
That's my diatribe for today. It's part explanation of where I'm at, sleep deprived, looking for change, and part trying to justify to myself in writing that what I'm doing is good for my baby and for my family and for myself. Fiona's at 14 months of age and she's had no colds and 1 ear infection in her life, and I'd like to keep things going in that direction. I love her too much to see it any other way.
And also? I'd like to get some sleep myself, mostly between the hours of 4:30 and 6 AM. I am not opposed to getting up early with my kids. I think kids are, and should be, early birds. But 4:30? That's just not morning, no matter how you cut it.