It wasn’t until 4 months postpartum that I cried because I wasn’t sleeping. Everyone warned me about the sleep thing before I had a baby. “You better sleep now.” they’d say. I felt prepared – like I had some sort of idea what I was getting into. I had read The Fourth Trimester so I knew that the first three months would be a total free-for-all, but I had set myself up for disappointment expecting that by four months all the sleep kinks would be ironed out.
Each night following the four month mark I continued to believe, hope, and pray that the next night would be different. Tonight is the night we are going to sleep. I had to believe it, really believe it, so I could manifest it. This is probably how people who consistently play the lottery feel. This time I’ll win. Some days I felt fine. I mean, I was still working, writing, meeting, coaching, and designing – but the sleep thing was always simmering on the back burner. And then there were the days it would boil over and I would feel completely defeated. I would have a total break down once a month or so. Sleep, or rather the lack thereof, dominated my thoughts and my conversations. I was losing my sense of self to my obsession with sleep. I would turn to Google almost daily, searching for answers.
Okay, so here’s what we were doing: Fox was born at home, in my bed. He went straight from my womb to my boob. When I got up to shower after a few hours he moved from my chest to Jeremy’s. He spent his first night sleeping on Jeremy in our bed. And he pretty much stayed in our bed from then on. So we were co-sleeping, more specifically we were doing what is known as bed-sharing. Fox was exclusively breastfed on demand. (I only learned the words for how I was intuitively parenting from a hefty Dr. Sears book.) So what Google told me was that I needed to begin teaching my baby how to sleep. More specifically, Google told me exactly how many minutes and intervals in which I would need to let my baby cry in order for him to figure it out. Google also told me that letting my baby cry himself to sleep would essentially ruin his self esteem for life. I left my Google binges feeling even more confused and inadequate. I had no idea what to do.
Four months turned into six, and eight, and ten. Fox was still in my bed and he still was waking every hour or so. I had to unfriend really nice people from Facebook who like to talk about how much their babies sleep. Or even those who complained about being at their wits end because their baby wakes up twice a night. On a typical night I was up no less than 6 times with Fox. On particularly bad nights it would be as many as 10 or 12.
So here I am Googling, reading, talking, and taking advice on what to do to get some sleep. Here is an abbreviated list of what we tried:
– implementing a water-tight bed time routine
– lavender oil on the soles of our feet
– putting an amethyst crystal under Fox while he slept
– eating lots of carbs before bed
– drinking tart cherry juice
– drinking wine
– begging God for sleep
– meditating on the universe for sleep
– questioning the ethics of sleep spells
– not talking or thinking about it to see if the problem would go away
– I seriously considered quitting my career and making sleep my new job
– I seriously considered moving into a fancy hotel for a week
Each night I was convinced that there was some sort of magical combination of variables that would guarantee sleep. And each night nothing changed.
I love my baby with my whole heart. Most moms would die for their baby, and I would die for Fox. And I felt like that’s exactly what I was doing. I was dying a slow death. The turning point happened when I called my mom in tears – the hiccupy kind where you can’t quite catch your breath. “Well, honey I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to tell you. You kids slept like happy sloths on a sunny afternoon. Have you asked Google what to do?” I hung up the phone. I didn’t quite want to kill myself but I couldn’t help but fantasize about a meteor hitting the house.
For the next two hours I tried to come up with new solutions. I seriously considered becoming a certified witch and casting a sleep spell on my baby. I bought witchy books and researched spells, and then Googled the ethics of casting a spell on a baby. The biggest roadblock to this plan was that I couldn’t figure out how I would gather fresh water from a running stream and stay up until midnight to charge it in the light of a full moon in my sleep deprived state – a necessary step in becoming a true witch. So I text Jeremy: “Everything is bullshit.” It had become my mantra.
Okay, so here is the thing I haven’t told you yet. When I was pregnant I loved feeling Fox move. It was a pretty incredibly sensation, but also, it was reassurance that he was okay in there. I would wake up multiple times throughout the night to go pee and when I couldn’t feel Fox moving I would wake him up. Like … every hour or two. I was waking him up every two hours since before he was born because I was scared he would die – and now he was continuing the sleep pattern I had taught him in utero. So not only did I feel like I had made this attachment parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding bed and that I needed to lie in it – I felt like Fox’s sleep pattern and waking every two hours was a direct result of me waking him up every couple of hours while he was still in the womb. I amended my “everything is bullshit” mantra with “this is all my fault.”
As soon as I hung up with my mom I received an email from a creative acquaintance from a friend asking how to cope with not sleeping – she had a 4 month old who was up all night too. I told her that at best I felt that I had compromised my marriage and my career. At worst, I had completely ruined my life and might die. Dramatic, yes. But I had nothing good to say about not sleeping. I didn’t care that this would only be temporary and that I should cherish my baby when he is so itty bitty “because it won’t be forever”. I didn’t care that it makes biological sense for babies to be up all night. I couldn’t muster up an ounce of gratitude. But then I felt guilty for being ungrateful. I even stumbled across a beautifully designed quote on Pinterest saying your problem is someone else’s blessing and started crying. I would think about how awful I would feel if Fox died. I made a pact with God that I would never sleep again if it meant keeping Fox alive. This kind of backwards logic only made me feel more insane. I seriously began to believe that this no sleep thing was a bargain with God. I was simply making the ultimate sacrifice.
My mom called me a couple hours later – “Are you okay?” “What?! No. It’s been two hours. Everything is bullshit.” People tell me I’m independent, though often I feel like the very needy younger sibling. I love being taken care of but I suppose I have a hard time asking for help. So when my mom insisted on taking Fox and letting him sleep over for the night I was resistant. It felt like a huge imposition but she insisted that she is my mom and that if she can’t help who can? So Fox spent the night at Grandma’s house – he woke up a few times in the middle of the night and she would heat him a bottle and rock him back to sleep. The very next night he slept through the night for the first time ever. Everything was no longer bullshit anymore. It was real magic.
I’m tempted to stop the story here and say that Fox has been sleeping through the night every night since – which is pretty accurate. I mean, there was that one time when I snuck him back in bed at 2AM and stayed awake distracted by his breathing most of the night. And another time that I sat on the floor of his room and patted his back through the bars of his crib for a solid 30 minutes while he half-assed cried while half asleep. But other than a couple standout instances sleep hasn’t been much of an issue since (trust, I’m knocking on wood over here). It’s actually surreal after being SUCH an issue for a solid year. And even after Fox started sleeping I was still waking up every two hours. I would wake up so excited that Fox was still sleeping that I wound up giving myself insomnia. I would lay awake in my bed trying not to think or wonder about the baby too much – I was convinced that my thoughts might be loud enough to wake the baby. Finally, after a couple of months I finally settled into an 8 hour stretch of sleep.
When my still-sleep-deprived friends ask me for advice, through a fair amount of survivors guilt, I give them this:
• First, you’re doing a good job and your baby will sleep one day. It never gets old hearing this.
• Second, I had to let go a little. In hindsight, I realized I was irrationally terrified Fox would die if he slept more than a couple hours at a time. My mom didn’t let Fox cry it out that first time he spent the night at her house. He woke a couple of times and when she showed him I wasn’t around he simply went back to sleep. It was proof that we didn’t need each other as much as we both thought. I have a feeling being a mom is a lesson in letting go a little more every single day.
• Third, have a game plan before you go to bed. If you have a partner come up with a game plan together. Explicitly outline the rules and boundaries. Approach it like a scientific experiment – try changing only one variable at a time each week. Setting small compromises gave us all a little structure and a way to stay consistent.
• Finally, try making small but consistent efforts and start on the weekend. Just like working out or eating right getting your baby to sleep takes small but consistent effort over time. I recommend starting on the weekend when you’re not stressed about getting enough sleep to work.
People have started asking me if we plan on having more children. I don’t think I can ever go through the not sleeping thing ever again. I thought distance from our year of not sleeping might give me a new perspective but more than anything hindsight has made it clear how awful the ordeal really was. It’s not like labor where I can’t quite remember the pain.
All of that said, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.