photo courtesy of grandma deb
When you’re pregnant and you run into anyone that you don’t see on a daily basis, they will undoubtedly ask “how are you feeling?” It’s standard practice and seemingly involuntary, as though seeing a woman with child sends a signal to the observer’s brain that there’s a decent chance she may not be feeling up to snuff and best to find out before delving into any other topic of conversation. It’s just the thing to do. When I was pregnant with Norah my answer 9 out of 10 times was good or great, just a little tired, and I meant it i.e. I wasn’t just politely sparing the asker my whines by brushing off the question with a generic fine. I did feel good 90% of the time. So that question was an easy one.
Now that Norah is here, there’s a new standard question, or rather a standard topic of inquiry with the question coming in many forms, but all seeking the same story – Are you sleeping? Is she sleeping? What’s the sleeping like? Do you get any sleep? Is she a good sleeper? How’s the sleeping? For this, the answer is not so simple for, as I often respond to this question, it comes and goes. That’s the short answer and really an easy way out if I just don’t have the time or energy to spew forth a detailed account of slumber in Elderland. And I imagine for most askers the short answer is sufficient as the question was posed more for the sake of polite conversation than an actual desire to know the whole story. However, since there might just be a few folks out there truly keen to dig into our daily dozing, we can expound…
In the beginning, there was co-sleeping. To be clear, I co-slept with Norah. Pete co-slept with the dogs. In the other room. To be clear again, this was my wish. Pete certainly wasn’t trying to skirt his daddy responsibilities, but it just didn’t make sense for both of us to get up every hour or two if all that was needed in those wee hours was to feed the hungry bear, and that was my duty. So I pushed Pete to go get his 8 hours and during the day all that rest was super conducive to him being the master of the kitchen and keeper of the house (which in turn helped keep my sanity). He made all our meals (and still does) and waited on me hand and foot while I holed up in Norah’s room, a slave to her every demand – feed me, change me, feed me, change me, FEED ME! And among all the changing and feeding there was sleep. Never for more than a couple hours and never on her own. Norah declined to sleep in her crib or anywhere else that didn’t somehow involve human contact. Scratch that. “Decline” would imply some level of politeness in her refusal. Norah screamed like a wild banshee the moment you put her down. This made for some very interesting (read: insane, miserable, exhausting, frustrating, bat-shit-crazy-driving) nights. The only thing that got me through those first few weeks was learning to nurse lying down. Norah would go right to sleep on the boob, which at the time seemed a life-saver (at least a sleep saver), but in hindsight was the red flag we should have heeded to at least try and head off some of our breastfeeding issues. But we won’t get into that again.
After about 3 weeks of the above, I was worn down and a wee bit depressed, and decided that sleeping alone every night was likely not helping matters, so Pete started sleeping with me and Norah in her room (there’s a queen size bed in there). This turned out to be quite the double edged sword for as I was on the ups being less lonely, we were now both sleep deprived. Pete without sleep is like me without food. It’s ugly. And so it went for about two weeks at which point we agreed we just weren’t made for ugly. Some people can handle ugly, some people even thrive on ugly. We’re much more suited for pretty here in Elderland. But sometimes, the path from ugly to pretty has to cross over a little bridge called uglier. Enter sleep training.
We had two priorities when it came to sleep training. The first was making sure we were on the same page. What a mess we’d have if we didn’t take the time to discuss our options and in the moment of bedtime one of us said let her cry and the other ran to pick her up. It was imperative that we devise a plan that we both agreed on well before kicking off a new night time number. It was also imperative that we have plans B, C and D laid out because when does plan A ever work with a baby? The second priority was establishing a routine. Of the copious amounts of sleep training literature I digested (shocking) the common bit across all methods was to be consistent. There’s no way to know what is going to work for you and your baby, but whatever you decide to try you better be ready to commit, for at least long enough to see if it works. And how long is that? BAHAHA. Answers to questions like that would make parenting easy.
We decided the answer was a week. If we did something for a week and got nowhere, it was time to do something new. We made our first commitment to a bedtime routine when Norah was about 6 weeks old. Bottle, pajamas, diaper change, story and crib. We’d put her down, leave only a night light on, and leave the room. She would then proceed to fuss and dance and by dance I mean move her arms and legs incessantly, breaking free of any blanket we’d swaddled her with. She never really cried, more like yelled sporadically, and eventually she’d put herself to sleep. The first night we tried it, she put herself to sleep in less than an hour and slept for 6. We thought we were super parents! Wrong. The ensuing nights ranged anywhere from 15 to 90 min, and on the 90 minute nights there was generally a break somehwhere in there for more food and/or diaper changing. That first bout of 6 hours was never repeated and often it was more like two. So she basically told us to take our consistency and shove it. But we soldiered on with this commitment and were grateful for the good nights, as few as they were.
At 7.5 weeks, Norah had her first appointment with her new pediatrician (first dude got kicked to the curb after one too many snafus, and he was a dude, which we decided wasn’t ideal for our baby girl). I had to work, so Pete went without me, but post-appointment he did a bang up job of relaying every little thing that our new (and AWESOME) ped. had to say. Perhaps the most interesting directive was that during the day, for naptime, we should start putting Norah on her tummy to sleep. WHAT?! But, but, but what about the Back to Sleep campaign, and SIDS, and every single website and book that says ALWAYS put baby to sleep on her back? Well, our ped. was super careful to point out that we should only do this during the day when we can keep an eye on her. So we did. And Norah loved it. She slept well, seemed more comfortable, was able to hold the pacifier better and fussed much less. And then a funny thing happened…after a couple days of tummy time naps, Norah suddenly didn’t seem too keen on putting herself to sleep at night. She fussed louder and longer and surely burned every calorie from her supper with all that dancing. A few straight nights of that rubbish and we came to the obvious conclusion that this little girl was through with back sleeping.
Deep breath, and we went all in. Not only did we put Norah down on her tummy, but we plugged up the baby monitor and headed to sleep in our own room, a full hall’s length away from her. Of course, by headed to sleep I mean headed to bed to stare anxiously at the monitor just waiting for the little red sound alerts to light up, and getting up every 15 min or so to creep down the hall and into her room and put my face uber close to the side of the crib so I could see if her little back was moving up and down with breath. Eventually I went to sleep and awoke promptly when Norah did about 3 hours after she went down. That was two weeks ago and she’s been tummy sleeping ever since.
I still get paranoid and I still check on her 80 times (or look at Pete with imploring eyes and say pretty please can you go see if Norah is okay?). And the sleep still comes and goes i.e. some nights she’s down for 3 hours and others she’s down for 6 before the first waking. But for the most part the trend has been upward. She’s down to only one middle of the night feeding and when we first put her down around 8 or 9 PM she’s usually asleep within 15 minutes. Everyday her neck muscles get stronger and she can fully lift her head from the tummy position, which greatly alleviates my stress over her sleeping. Soon enough she’ll be rolling over one way or the other and then it’s totally up to her how she sleeps (holy crap she will have free will!!). In the mean time we’ll keep our fingers crossed that things continue to move in the direction of more sleep and look forward with oodles of excitement to the next big step…eliminating the middle of the night feeding.