Sunday, January 12, 2014

awake, asleep, gently

Once again, a toddler in the house.

Things pulled off low shelves. 
Always wanting up (the stairs, into arms, on chairs, on the table). 
Always wanting things put on (hats, socks, goggles), or taken off (hats, socks, goggles). 

The energy of a toddler astounds me, even with the fourth. 

She carries the kitten around like a purse.
She scribbles on whatever she finds, with deep concentration. 
She stamps her feet in frustration, tells us that she wants to brush her teeth by pointing at us then thumping her chest like Tarzan. 
She dances to Jungle Boogie and the Mexican Hat Dance, The Irish Washerwoman and Cha Cha Slide. 

She goes hard when she's awake and I swear I'm sprouting a new gray hair each day.

Then there are the nights. To bed, only to wake up. And repeat. I've never had a baby that wakes up this often. To say things seem a bit blurry by morning is putting it mildly, as I drag myself out of bed at six to get myself and two children ready for a day of school. The first week back at work after a two week break can be summed up in one word: grueling.

I have often wondered about the flaw in nature's design, that a mother (who is generally the busiest person in  most households) doesn't get the sleep she needs to sustain the energy levels required for all those things she does. My sister reminded me that nature's design is perfect, but that it's our messed-up society that makes it difficult. 

She's right, of course. If I were not working full time, didn't have a large house to maintain, and so many errands to run in a week, I'd nap during the day when my baby did. I'd go to bed with her instead of staying up late trying to squeeze a bit of "me time" out of the last hours. 

As it stands, we are taking steps to do some gentle sleep coaching

I remember us as first time parents, letting Jude cry it out (for way longer than my heart will allow me to admit now). I remember myself then, feeling terrorized, panicked, desperate, and exhausted. I was willing to take the hard road if it meant, ultimately, that we'd all get more sleep. We'd lock ourselves in the bathroom, fan on, deck of cards and bottle of wine at hand, to pass the torturous minutes of listening to him cry.

It's hard to admit that now. 

I forgive that mother I was, because I know her frustration and exhaustion, her sense of surrendering to what all the experts were telling her about babies needing to learn to settle themselves. 

It didn't take long to realise that it didn't feel good, for me or for him. 

One night I finally gave in to my instincts and ran up the stairs, to find that in his distress he'd scratched his cheek with his fingernail. I think there might be a tiny scar on his almost-nine-year-old face to remind me of that last time we tried the CIO method. (For the record, Jude and I cuddle every night now, read Harry Potter together, and he is a well-adjusted, closely attached, independent, lovely young man, in spite of my early blunders).

Violet kind of found her own way with the sleep thing, once she found her thumb. By 18 months she was out of a crib and into a bed with her big brother, and snuggled happily to sleep (often with her exhausted, pregnant mother drooling beside her after a day of teaching). Aside from giving speeches in her sleep, she's had no trouble.

I can't really remember much about Margot as a baby, as I was raising three children in diapers, had survived the trauma of open-heart surgery on my infant, and spent that first year or two in survival mode. Margot was bottle fed so I think my husband had more of a hand in the night shift then.

Enter the fourth baby.

Everything is just...more chilled out. I'm exhausted, yes. I miss having time to knit and read. I wish she slept through the night (or at least through some of it). I haven't had more than three hours' sleep at a time in 13 months. Yes, that's crazy making. Yes, I whine and bitch about it, often. I'm not always happy and zen about it all.

But we're working on it, gently. We still do all the things you're not supposed to do

We rock or nurse her to sleep. 
We go to her every time she stirs. 
Sometimes we can pat her to sleep, but mostly we pick her up and sway with her until she settles again. 

I've started going up to the attic to sleep through the first shift (my husband got up with her four times between 9 and midnight the other night), then come down to do the midnight-six shift (with her in my bed...another no-no!).

She stirs, curves towards me, I pull down my shirt, and she nurses until we're both asleep again. I love the warmth of her feet, the shape of her little bum stuck up in the air, the whisper of her breath, the downy softness of her hair, her scent, and the close connection between us as we dance the night away in our rhythm of snuggle, nurse, sigh, roll over, turn, and touch.

Sleep will come, gently.


  1. beautifully written/told, as always- Oh yes, I've been there, done exactly that. My poor first born son had to go through the 'let him cry it out' for a while, which never felt good to me either. So we quit that. I got the same advice with my girls- but ended up doing what you are doing. More natural, feels right, even though during the day you are exhausted beyond belief. I learned to repeat my mantra of that time :it is all a phase. Sending strength and light. They are worth it, aren't they.

  2. I'm SO envious when I hear about babies who are soothed back to sleep by mama or papa (or whoever loving person is there to sooth). Neither of my babies found me soothing, they found me HIGHLY interesting and EXTREMELY stimulating. My first slept on my chest for the first 4 weeks (at ALL times as she wouldn't have it any other way and I really didn't mind at all!). Then, all of a sudden that just didn't work anymore, so we didn't sleep for a few months. Then once she was about 3 months she got down right ridiculous - as soon as she stopped nursing she would wap me repeatedly in the face. Or scream. Endlessly. I was determined to follow her cues and unbelievably, her cues to me were - go away I can't sort this out with you here!! I was astounded. It was hard to listen to her sort it out, but thats what she needed to do. Same with my second once all the upheaval settled. Both are now AMAZING sleepers. I have always, always, always been envious of people who can rock their babies to sleep or curl up beside them and they go to sleep. Even on stormy nights, nightmare nights, sick nights, etc, it took until my oldest was 4 (!!) to be able to fall asleep next to me. After some comfort she'd get really hyper and crazy-loved up with me, then as a chubby little 2 year old she would gather her stuffies and say, "I need a go sleep now, Mama in my OWN bed!" And she'd march off alone! in the dark! I can feel how bone tired you are Stephanie - I feel for you!!! Your babes are lucky to have all those sweet cuddles with you :)


  3. love the last paragraph,and that is exactly what you have to do.No one can tell you to let them cry it out.We are mothers and nurturers and time WILL pass and all will be ok.No options except to love that sweet face.

  4. Hi Stephanie.
    I am jumping in here, as our third was not interested in sleeping at night. By 18 months we were desperate (sleep deprivation is actually a form of torture) and tried out a noise machine. It worked like a charm. Of course, if she woke up we went in to her but she never woke up again in the same way. I think, (benefit of enough sleep and hindsight) being the third she was used to night when there wasn't any, she freaked out.
    It will come.

  5. Mine slept. They had to because the lack of sleep made me physically ill. Grace to you and your sweet peanut.

  6. Couldn't have written it any better! We're at the exact same stage as you (although with #2 instead of #1). I'm tired, and I bitch and complain about it, but I'm much more patient this time. Some days I AM too tired, and think "something must be done!"...but then I realize that no matter what, I'm still going to go to her when she cries. And yes, that will happen 4 times between 9 and midnight here too. I know she's my last child, and these special moments breastfeeding while I'm still half asleep are so precious. I'm just not ready to give them up yet.....however, it would be great if they happened once or twice a night ;)

    1. oops, meant to write "instead of #4" for you!!

  7. A beautiful, insightful wise of regrets, surrender and love. We are all doing the best we can and have to remember that the overload of information available to us in our culture competes with our very wise intuition and instinctual nature. Above all, listen to YOUR gut and to YOUR baby and if you are honest and truthful with that, you will never be led astray. xo

  8. Oh Stephanie. I don't know what to say. First of all, those pictures are incredibly beautiful. Second, I wish I could help with your exhaustion. Third, this was such a thoughtful, sensitive and loving post. I don't know how you go without sleep AND work fulltime. When I went through this, I was part time so I knew that there were days when I COULD nap or just do nothing all day (other than nurse my baby and feed my other child!). I am always here to listen to your complaints and try to support you and encourage you. It is so tough but following your gut is always the right solution. xoxo

  9. My second didn't sleep well. In the pursuit of what is right for the family (and not just her) we tried lots of things, except cry it out. That was not for us. Seperate bassinet/crib/bed - sure we tried them all, seperate room, sure we tried that too, music, yep, darkened room, yep, share a room with her brother (really wished this one worked but was sssuuuchh a bad idea - for us), stay with her till she settles, yup for over a year. We also read the no-cry sleep solution which did help a bit. Since Christmas just now she goes to bed in her own room on her own and when she wakes up thirsty between 10-11pm I get her a drink and bring her into our bed. It's not ideal, but it maximizes sleep for all of us and is way down from the 8-9-10 times up per night when she was about a year old. She's two and a half now. I feel your pain, I remember falling asleep at my desk! I remember being afraid to go to bed b/c I'd just be up again soon and it is so much worse when I actually feel asleep and was woken after too short a time. All I can say, is do what works for you as a family, as best you can, which you are doing, and it does get better. My mom (granted from a different generation), would probably say - send her to Grandma's house! Oh dear. Wishing you endurance.

  10. It sounds like you are doing all of the right things to me... Here's to hoping she sleeps more!!

  11. I've had two non sleepers - the second one - my youngest is currently curled against my back, while his Sad sleeps in the next room. Tomorrow we will switch - it is what is working just now xx

  12. Dearest Stephanie, only you can know what's best for you and the sweet Norah. Time will pass and she will not need so much one day and until then she is so so so so so lucky to have you for her mama.

  13. Sleep will come :) We have a young baby, and for the first few months, she was waking regularly at night, but now she is sleeping through and it is wonderful, so proud of her :) I love your blog, your posts are inspiring! :) x


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