We emerged from the fog of our baby’s four-ish months of near constant crying giddy and grateful. Thank God Hays was no longer suffering! For the first few days we were drunk on his beaming smiles and deep belly giggles which are nothing less than the purest form of joy and delight. Getting to the bottom of Hays’s intolerance of dairy and soy in my milk just happened to coincide with a big leap in his cognitive development. So, as we were drinking in his happiness, he was drinking in this big, bright, stimulating world that he suddenly realized he was a part of.
Hays’s months of upset had been incredibly trying but the one thing that had been working pretty well was his sleeping. Since the beginning, he had seemed to prefer sleeping in his own space and not with us. While I had always gotten up in the middle of the night to nurse him, recently that had decreased to once or twice per night. Amazingly, I had started to de-zombify! So it was much to my dismay that the enjoyment of our baby’s new-found gastrointestinal harmony was abruptly halted by sudden and quite frequent night waking.
Every night was worse than the last. First, he just started waking up more often, from two times to three or four. As I heaved myself out of bed and crossed the room through a haze of exhaustion the viscosity of sewer sludge, I would pore over the time data in my ill-functioning mind: 12:30, 2:15, 3:50, 5:20. I would hear him cry and think, “oh my God where is he?” having zero recollection in my sleep-deprived memory of laying him back down in his bed sometimes less than an hour earlier! The days and nights began to blend. The amount of time he would stay asleep between night wakings was shortening exponentially. His napping also shortened and became equally fitful. It suddenly seemed he was barely sleeping day or night. The final straw fell when he ceased to stay asleep even in the beginning of the night. After the first attempt at putting him down he would awaken 20 minutes later; the second time 10 minutes or so; and then barely a minute or two would pass after putting him down and he’d be awake and wailing.
A friend of my mother in law had passed along the book, The Baby Whisperer. Desperate for a solution to this sleepless madness, I began devouring that book, two other sleep books I already had on hand, and one that I’d ordered via my amazon app while nursing Hays back to sleep during one of our MANY night wakings. What jumped out at me right away was the notion of “teaching your baby to sleep.” Um, excuse me but I thought a baby was supposed to “sleep like a baby!” Apparently that is not the case. There are as many baby sleep teaching methods as the day (or night) is long. Moreover, there are even professional baby sleep trainers that come in-house to help a family get your baby to sleep through the night. Listen, I am a new mom who hasn’t been around too many babies. Never in a million years would I have guessed the rigmarole that, according to the four sources I had on hand and the overly informative interweb, is necessary to teach Hays to sleep. Through the crying months Hays’s bedtime routine had consisted of him crying his head off until he passed out. Putting Hays to sleep had entailed gingerly transferring him to his bed from whoever’s arms he passed out it after crying his eyes out. I felt blindsided by the realization that I now had to open a can of worms I didn’t even know existed. Why hadn’t I heard of all this? Why now? Things were just getting good!
No matter. I would just buckle down and figure this all out. I would find a method I liked and put it into action and nip this sleeplessness in the bud. I spent every spare minute reading. I even read when I should have been seizing a precious and rare opportunity to catch up on sleep.
Sinking into my research, I felt increasingly worried, fearful and uncertain. As I flooded my consciousness with expert opinions on baby sleep, I felt myself narrowing in limitation. It was as if the more I read, the more afraid I became that I would do irreparable harm to Hays by going about getting him to sleep in “the wrong way” (the fact that I was polarized in thinking there was a right and a wrong way was a sure sign that I was operating from ego). I became over-saturated with information and my bandwidth for processing it decreased. I was in fear and overwhelm not knowing how to go about choosing one of the methods I was reading about. I did not know how to move forward. I was literally losing sleep over losing sleep.
It is no secret that there are some strong opinions out there regarding things like letting a baby cry it out, the family bed, and all of the options in between. After my deep dive into baby sleep thought and technique, I surfaced armed with what I viewed as a more middle of the road method. I began keeping diligent logs of Hays’s naps and night wakings gathering my data for The No-Cry Sleep Solution, a book/method by Elizabeth Pantley. I was wearing around this little mini-blankey (which my cousin Lea kindly taught me is called a “lovey”) in my shirt trying to pump my scent into it. I readied Hays’s sleep space. Brett and I invented his bedtime routine. I had my mind on the prize. I now knew to put him down when drowsy but awake so he could learn to fall asleep on his own. I now knew that in the middle of the night, if I knew he wasn’t hungry, I would do the “pick-up put-down” technique until finally he dozed back off. I was rarin’ to go. So we began…
…and then we stopped. It didn’t take but a few days to abort The No-Cry Sleep Solution mission. Hays and I both were crying, no one was sleeping, and the lack of sleep problem was not solved. For the record, I do believe this method could one day work for us, but at this precise point in time I had not the reserve of energy for the stick-with-it-ness to achieve success. I had been getting up around seven times per night and I felt like I was attempting to single-handedly wage war on nature. Since having become more tuned in to what was going on around him, our sweet baby seemed hardwired to want to be near us. His preferences had changed. We had tried him in our bed in the beginning and he was not into it at all. But his newfound alertness couldn’t seem to stand sensing our presence yet being apart. I came to this conclusion when, on the final night of my brief foray into sleep teaching, Hays awoke crying for the third time and it wasn’t even midnight. I said to Brett, “I can’t do this. I cannot get up one more time.” I brought Hays into bed between us and he’s been sleeping happily there ever since. The sleep space I readied for him is now a nice place to store clothes and blankets, the sleep data logs are long gone, and I nurse him into a deep sleep every night. There you go. There is the messy recounting of our attempt at teaching our baby to sleep. Judge me if you will. Co-sleeping is not without other challenges. It’s certainly not the best sleep of my life but it is light years better than getting up seven times to answer my baby’s lonely wails.
As with the choice to breast or bottle feed, where a baby sleeps as well as any method used to help him do so are deeply personal choices. The books seem to all say that it is only with the insider perspective on one’s own baby and family situation that parents can discern what’s going to work for them. So, why am I concerned with outing our choice to have a family bed and our overall leanings toward attachment parenting? I believe it is ego seizing the opportunity to move in on a situation where I was lacking confidence and was weakened by fatigue.
When Hays’s sleep situation drastically worsened, I polarized in my response seeking the “right” way to handle the situation instead of gathering information and then trusting myself to try different approaches that my gut sensed might best suit our needs.
I narrowed in my exploration of different possible ways to address it as opposed to stretching to hold the complexity of varied and sometimes conflicting data and methods.
I oriented to the situation from fear rather than possibility, exploring the different sleep training methods as if I only had one chance and as if one false move would yield horrible, irreversible consequences.
Brett truly helped us hold the line here. He has a gift for holding and employing different perspectives or methods, doing “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.” I see now that at first I wasn’t able to maintain the spaciousness to explore and hold multiple perspectives related to Hays’s sleep teaching. In the end I dove headlong into The No-Cry Sleep Solution, having decided that was the ultimate answer, all or nothing, for better or for worse. I succumbed to the temptation to attach fully and devoutly to one method and try to impose that onto our unique situation in lieu of starting on the inside and working out- by feeling into what is in Hays’s and our family’s unique best interest and creating our own no-cry sleep solution. So far, in the one we made up no one is crying and everyone is sleeping (even if not always like a baby).
When attempting to force our baby into someone else’s sleep method failed I was humbled. This parenting gig has the tendency to do that to me over and over and I’m only five months in! In the end, I don’t get to know if we are making the very best EVER possible choices in regard to Hays’s sleep. All I can do is be vigilant for ego, stretch to see clearly, and act with trust from my inner compass. How much easier would it be if there were one clear, definitive right path whenever there are parenting choices to be made. I’m grateful for all of the expert opinions out there but I remember now how to inform and educate myself without giving away my power to the extent that I disregard my ability to sense into what is true and what is right for our baby and our family. I remember now not to compare myself to my perceptions of other parents’ mastery over baby sleep practices. I remember now that from a deeper time perspective Hays will only be a baby for a blink of an eye and if what we decide works best for his and our sleep also enables us to wake up in the morning to his sweet smile…well, that is a win-win if I have ever heard one. We are human. We forget.
The last thing I remember is to cultivate a neutral relationship to how i presume others will judge or react to my parenting choices Posting this publicly is a way to practice standing with humble confidence behind what i see at any given time is best for my baby and our family. Nothing is fixed. Everything is changing. My intention is to continually stretch to see clearly with the willingness to pivot on a dime. If I sense into a better way to handle something then I’ll just course correct. But maybe I’ll sleep on it first.