Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Good night.

It’s been awhile. I have only the excuse of a small person with a virgin immune system who licks and paws at the faces of other small people at daycare. We’ve all been sick. Many times over.

And to be honest, we weren’t sleeping all that well.

In many ways, I over-prepared for having a baby, which is what I tend to do when I’m anxious. This method seems always to net the same result: I relax when the actual thing that I’ve worried so much about happens. And I relaxed, in most ways, once Augie arrived and we found our way together. I had thought about many things: feedings, playtime, diapering, bathing. But I hadn’t spend much time thinking about his sleep, figuring, I suppose, that it would be catch-as-catch-can in the first months and then we’d somehow work it all out thereafter.

Well I guess it’s not totally true that I hadn’t thought about it, but beyond knowing about co-sleeping and knowing about Ferberizing and assuming that there was a lot in between, I hadn’t come to any conclusions about how it would play out in our house.

Here’s how it did: somewhere around three months, Augie and I discovered side-lying nursing and everything changed. Finally, I could nurse and rest simultaneously, and Augie could sip and sleep endlessly. We spent hot summer afternoon naps in this fashion and both of us seemed to thrive. He finally agreed to long naps and I no longer needed to support his quickly expanding body. This worked so well for naps, that we started beginning bedtime in the same way. After a bath, a lotion massage (oh the beloved lotion massage), and swaddling, Augie and I would cuddle and nurse in bed until he fell asleep at 6:30 or 7. I’d then creep out of bed and leave him in the center of the mattress—fortressed in by pillowed walls—until I was ready to go to sleep, at which point I’d delicately transfer him to his cradle, right next to the bed. And he’d keep sleeping, usually until 6 am. Josh and I were convinced that we’d organically stumbled upon a flawless sleeping regime. At 6, I’d bring him into bed for more napping and nursing and then we’d all rise around 8. It was perfect.

Then everything shifted, because everything shifts in those months.

Just when you start to breathe, you’re reminded to hold your breath once again. He started waking in the middle of the night, first once and then twice, and then every two hours. By August, it was like we were back in April. School was starting, I was headed back to work, and I had no idea how to get us back to sleeping through the night. It was then that I started bringing Augie into bed with me during his first wake-up at, say, midnight. He’d then sip and sleep for the rest of the night and I’d easily fall back asleep between the feedings, if not during them. It wasn’t great, sometimes I couldn’t really remember my students’ names, but at least Augie seemed rested and I was able to function decently.

We continued in this fashion, with small revisions, like moving his crib into the nursery and starting him off there, but we kept ending up with him in bed, at the breast, for most of the night. I started to worry that he’d be in my bed in high school and that I’d never be able to wean him (to be honest, that fear persists). At the same time, even in my bleary-eyed exhaustion, I was aware of savoring the middle-of-the-night feedings. I actually really loved having this sweaty little bug curled up next to me and part of me couldn’t bear the idea of pushing him off to that lonely old crib.

But then I got sick (again) and this time I couldn’t shake it, the laryngitis, the bronchitis, it all seemed firmly lodged in my chest. I was convinced that I couldn’t shake it because I hadn’t slept well in months and months. And then I went away for a night and Josh was up all night with a baby who couldn’t sleep without a breast in his mouth. I started to feel like an abject failure as a mother. I had so thoroughly trained my baby to need me at night that even his father couldn’t get him to sleep. This seemed to call for action.

I agreed to try a kind of modified cry-it-out, one in which Josh would comfort Augie in staggered intervals until he fell asleep. I continued to nurse him in bed after the bath, but then move him to his crib (in the nursery) while he was still awake. I consented to sixty minutes of crying in total. I knew that was all I’d be able to bear. If it went beyond that, I’d call the experiment off.

The first night, Augie cried for 24 minutes over three intervals. I cried for 12. I went downstairs, blared NPR, and put in earplugs. Josh stayed upstairs to monitor Augie. The second night there were 6 minutes of crying, the third 4 minutes. Last night was night 10 and there were 12 seconds of crying. Now Augie seems fine with the idea of putting himself to sleep in his crib. Like all things thus far in childrearing, the reality was much easier than my imagined scene of horror.

Cry-it-out hasn’t been a cure-all. Augie still wakes very early in the morning, around 4 am. But we decided that if he made it to 4, he could then come into bed and nurse. This seems like a reasonable compromise to me, and frankly, if I gave this up as well, I think I’d be the one losing out. We still need to make this change for nap times when he’s at home. That may prove more difficult, but I think we’re nearly ready to try.

So at nearly ten months, we’ve shifted once again and this time in a direction that feels sustainable. I think my little baby will sleep on his own before high school and I’m planning to get 8 straight hours before spring arrives.