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Sleeping through the night

When Hazel was born, she ate pretty often, like most babies do. Though, unlike most babies, she ate through an elaborate system of syringes, tubes, bottles and nipple shields. The process of getting through all that (and then washing all of it!) each time we fed her was so exhausting that, at 6 weeks, when she started sleeping through the night, it felt like a double blessing.

 

And when I say “sleep through the night”, I don’t mean the 5 consecutive hours that counts for a newborn. I mean, like, through. the. night. I’d put her to bed around 8, wake her up to nurse around 10 or 11 and then she slept until 7 or 8 in the morning. Heaven. It lasted until her 4 month birthday. Not nearly long enough.

 

Then, she got all busy and stuff and what with learning to roll, sit, walk and getting teeth, there was a lot of night waking. It’s such a tired topic (aha! see what I did there?) that I won’t revisit the exact schedule but let’s just say I was tired, the husband was tired, the dog was tired and it was hard for all of us.

 

I went to First Weeks, then Next Months. I read all the books. I went to two sleep seminars. I consulted with a sleep (and parenting – because it was less about Hazel’s sleep patterns and more about me dealing with them) coach. And I struggled, I really did. I worried that she was learning bad habits, that she would never figure out how to sleep more and that I would be tired and impatient and irritable forever. Because your brain doesn’t work right when you’re that tired and you can’t see past your own nose.

 

What I wish I had heard somewhere – anywhere* – during that hard time was that “bad” sleep by babies is not necessarily something that either you or your baby is doing wrong. It is, in fact, a normal, developmentally appropriate rhythm that all babies will eventually grow out of. How quickly they grow out of it and how long you can wait are different questions altogether but no one wakes up all night long their whole life.

 

And, of course, I can only see this now with the help of hindsight and better sleep, but exhaustion and night waking were, truly, just a season at our house. (A season of life, not just one yearly season.) Hazel is recently 14 months and she sleeps. Not straight through the night every night but pretty close. We both wake up feeling rested and she takes predictable naps. And I didn’t do anything to make it happen, she just grew into it like she grew into her 2T leggings. She sleeps in our bed, snuggled up next to me and I am happy she’s there.

 

I struggled with the idea of sleep training because it just felt wrong. Like, deep deep in my heart of hearts I couldn’t go through with it. And, I hadn’t really hit my proverbial wall yet. I want to be careful here because I am deeply committed to supporting parents through their journey – wherever it takes them. I do not want anyone to read this and feel even the tiniest tinge of regret because they did sleep train or do cry-it-out. That is the farthest thing from my intention. We all find our own way. We all make the best choices for our individual selves, babies and families.

 

Let me be very clear – I do not think that sleep training is inherently wrong. I think that parents need to fill their own glasses before they can pour anything out into their children and I was not working outside the home or caring for twins or any of the other myriad reasons a mother (or father) might put their foot down and say, “That’s it, baby. It’s time, whether you like it or not.” If you have hit your wall, by all means, get that kid to sleep.

 

And I was almost almost there myself. I doubted my choices so much, so often. Hazel slept in our bed and I even bought a crib that I used for a month when she was 9 months. I thought that maybe cosleeping was a bad decision, that she woke because she was in the bed. I worried about nursing at night – that it was a reason to wake so she was waking more often and that it would rot her teeth. But I got the most sleep when I rolled over, nursed her back down and went right back to sleep myself and over time, the number of times she did that every night became less and less. So I kept doing it and she kept sleeping.

 

I have to say something here, in this big, public forum, and hope some mom who is tired and searching will find it and be comforted, or make a choice that she wants to make and that feels right to her but that she is scared to commit to. Because I wish that I had found it when I was wavering: you don’t have to sleep train. It is not an eventuality. Crying it out doesn’t have to be the answer. (Again, if it was for you, cool. No judgement. Really. See: that stuff above about hitting your wall.)

 

My philosophy on parenting is very simple. It is this: I am here for you. If I am alive and physically able, I will be here for you, no matter what, forever. Even if I am pissed at you**, even if I don’t understand your need or it feels small or insignificant to me, even if – especially if – it’s the middle of the night***.

 

I am so so glad, over a year out, that I responded to my daughter through the night, every time, every night and that she grew into her sleep on her own. I feel so good knowing that I was there for her and, also, so very relieved that eventually she started to sleep because I don’t know how long I could have lasted. And I feel so incredibly settled, so confident in the notion that I will raise the next baby the same way. I know now that the tunnel ends and the sun is shining out there and so much of it is just a matter of waiting. So, wait I will, and fret I will not****.

*This was the closest thing I found. And it is lovely and worth reading.

**It WILL happen. It DID happen some of those nights, I’m not gonna lie. I mean, remember this?

***I am NOT about to do one of those, “I’m an attachment parent and that’s why my child has nice qualities. See? Because I nurse her all the damn time and wear her in a sling she’ll go sit with anyone, she’s so secure and confident because I’M a supreme parent!! I had a home birth and the lights were off when she came out so she’s mellow and cool”. You know why? Because kids are who they are and I truly believe all the kids will be fine, regardless of how they are parented at night or whether or not they are breastfed. You ask any parent of more than one child and they will tell you that their children are different: same parents, same parenting, different personalities in their kids. This is about my relationship to my own motherhood and my side of the equation, not the type of child I produced. She’s her own little person.

****I said it in my bio and I meant it, I am willing to talk to anyone, any time, about their lack of sleep, their nighttime plan, their weighing of options or their frustrated pleas for assistance. Not to boss you around, just to listen. Because sometimes just knowing someone is there and with you makes all the difference. You can get in touch with me if you want. Seriously.

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  1. Corinne says:

    I did what you did with my first child, at least until she was 1.5-2yo, but at 3.5yo she’s still not sleeping through the night consistently (though she’s finally improving with a sibling to keep her company). I did a little sleep training at 2.5yo to keep her in her own room all night. Unfortunately it gets harder to get them sleeping independently as they get older and when I was pregnant with a second I just couldn’t imagine all 4 of us in one bed for a couple more years! With my second I used a cosleeper or swing for ~6 months and then moved her into the crib in her sister’s room. While they both still wake me at night and going down the hall is harder than rolling over to nurse, the night wakings are finally dimishing and I see the road to long independent sleep coming much sooner than it did the first time. I haven’t done any formal sleep training with #2, but neither do I jump up and sprint to her room at every little peep. I like to live in the gray area. 😉

  2. anonymous says:

    Thank you for this comforting post. My 5 month old little girl has slept horribly for about two months now and my husband and i feel desperate most days. We both have depression and anxiety and being sleep deprived and dealing with a high strung infant seems really overwhelming. And one thing that really confounds me, that Id like to vent about, is how every parent seems to have this perfect bedtime routine for their baby, and they all seem to know about all these gadgets and gizmos, like the zippadee zip sleep sack, or “loveys” or the perfect white noise machine or newest sleep matt as seen on Shark Tank or whatever, that supposedly work wonders to get the baby to sleep. I feel like I missed some huge parenting train and I dont know how EVERYONE seems clued in and I got left out. I mean i put my baby to bed at a reasonable hour each night, make sure shes fed and taken care of and changed and loved, but these routines i hear about are so hard to come by for us. Some nights we are out late, or eat late, or lose track of time, or my husband is working and cant help me… Life just happens and i feel like a freak when i read like EVERY single blogger or forum poster or what have you is like, ” me and the hubby did our normal routine of 7pm bath, bottle, binky, two books, song, cuddle, then sweet kiss and the LO is asleep by 8!” I have tried to have routines but we are lucky if we have the fortitude to make dinner and eat together every night let alone these perfect baby rituals. Are we just pathetic, or what is the deal? Maybe it is just our depression issues but i am still mystified that every family, rich, poor, american, aussie, no matter, reports this intricate nightly scheduled set of steps that is faithfully implemented. Granted my inability to establish and maintain a routine with my baby is most likely either the cause or major contributing factor to her sleeplessness, but it seems so daunting right now, being chronically sleep deprived and in survival mode. Let alone doing these fancy sleep training methods that rip my heart out, watching my little girl crying in agony. I must have missed some major parenting memo because it seems that everyone under the sun knew about this stuff and i didnt. I will try again to find a routine that works for her, but I just needed to vent since you said you didnt mind that here. Thanks for listening.

    Signed, drunk with sleeplessness and wondering, as an educated, thoughtful woman, how i missed such an enormous boat

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