If you’ve ever had a newborn, you’ve probably heard this piece of advice from a well-meaning person before: “Sleep while they sleep.” I must have heard it 50 times while I was pregnant with F, but even so, it never truly sunk in for me. I mean, I understood what I thought they meant: “You’ll need to nap when the baby naps because you’ll be so tired from nursing and tending to your newborn.” What I couldn’t imagine, however, was what they truly meant: “STRAP IN, BECAUSE YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER SLEEP DEPRIVATION HELL, AND YOU MAY NEVER BE THE SAME. Also: congratulations!”
Now I know that some parents totally luck out and have babies who sleep through the night by 6 weeks or 4 weeks or day two or whatever. Good for them. What we got was the opposite of that; what we got was a baby who slept only in 40 minute increments at night and napped for only 40 minutes at a time during the day. Leaning more Dr. Sears than Dr. Ferber meant I didn’t feel comfortable trying the whole “cry-it-out” method, so for a while, we just sucked it up and did whatever it took to get as much sleep as possible for the whole family. Sometimes that meant she napped in her (moving) swing. Sometimes it meant she napped while I cruised around San Diego in my car (the 5 to the 52 to the 125 to the 94 back to the 5). For about four months it meant that at night, she’d only sleep in longer stretches while snuggling with an actual human, so J and I took shifts on the couch and sleepwalked through our days. It was brutal, nothing could have prepared me for it, and by month 7, I really felt like I was going to lose my mind.
J had been out of town, on tour with his band, for weeks at a time. I’d gone back to work at Star 94.1 and was trying to juggle it all. I had driven F and I up to L.A. to stay with my mom one weekend and as I was freaking out/venting/crying to her one night, she asked me if I’d ever just tried letting F fuss herself to sleep. I hadn’t, so she gently suggested I give it a shot. Feeling so desperate, I reluctantly tried it that very night with F in her little pack and play, and I was shocked! After fussing – not even crying – for a few minutes, she zonked right out! I couldn’t believe it! It was a revelation. From that night on, she slept through the night!
Well, not exactly. She slept through the night, for ONE MONTH. And then: we were back to the same crazy-making sleep patterns which consisted of, basically, not sleeping much at all.
On the bright side, she did always fall right back to sleep quickly. But she continued to need a pat on the back or a reassuring whisper when she awoke until she was, oh… five years old? It’s true. Somewhere along the way, her stretches of sleep grew longer and we accepted that we had a daughter who just wasn’t the best sleeper, and that (sometimes) made it easier. We tried all kinds of sleep configurations: her in our bed, one of us in her room, her at the foot of our bed, one of us in her bed (the second night after she’d moved from a crib to a bed – it was a LONG night), and finally, her bed in our room. We tried it all and somehow we’ve made it through to the other side. She now, at five-and-a-half, sleeps in her own bed in her own room, all night long, and it is AWESOME. This past April, after spending the morning at a friend’s house (who sleeps in her own room too) and getting a pep talk by her friend’s mom about how COOL it is to sleep in her own room, F came home and announced to J and I that she was ready to move her bed into her own bedroom down the hall. We were surprised but played it cool and went along with it enthusiastically, all the while thinking, “We are in for a long night tonight.” In fact, it was something like magic. She slept the entire night in her bed in her room, and has been doing it, save for the rare wake-up, ever since. And it is AWESOME. Did I already mention that part? Because it is.
I don’t have any advice to offer, because one thing I’ve learned over the past five years is that every kid truly is so different, and I am certainly no expert. I am forever indebted to Magda Pecsenye and her blog, Ask Moxie – in particular, the sleep section – because I felt like I had a place to turn when I was at my wits’ end, a place with advice and people who could commiserate. Ask Moxie helped me stay sane, J and my mom and sister and friends helped tremendously too. But the bottom line is, we just had to get through it. Which brings to mind another thing people like to tell you about all of the challenges when you have a newborn: “This too shall pass.” So far, it’s ringing true for us. Even if the sleep-deprivation-hell phase took a solid 5 years to pass. It did, finally, and it is awesome. Knock on wood.