Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Missy's Sleep Saga

And a saga it is.

When I first became a parent, I naively thought that – if you were a proper, disciplined parent, ahem! – your kid would sleep when it was supposed to and, more importantly, when you wanted it to. That such a routine would happen overnight. At your will and bidding.

Oh, how karma works! Chuckle. Chuckle.

So of course I was blessed with one of the worst sleepers. Ever.

Missy fussed. Had to be held to sleep. Had to be held all.the.time. Nursed to sleep. Rocked to sleep. In defense of my daughter, the kid sure had the deck stacked against her. Reflux not properly brought under control by the proper medicine until she was 7 months old. (If you have a baby with reflux, demand Prevac1d. It is the only thing that works on infants). And then sleep apnea diagnosed and treated when she was 18 months old.

Through it all, she never learned to soothe herself. Never latched on to a thumb, a binky, a favorite blanket or other transitional object. Oh, though we tried! I did the evening routine with blankies and other assorted lovies for weeks on end.

One evening I succumbed to the realization that Missy’s journey into big girl sleep would be a looooong one. With maybe no end for Momma until she could read herself to sleep with a head lamp under the covers.

And then I began to relax about it. I had faith that it would come. If we were compassionate but consistent, I knew that one day she’d get there.

Oh, but it wasn’t all that pretty. There were some nights when I got frustrated. When she got frustrated. Where we both sobbed in the rocking chair as she tried to sleep and I tried to understand what I was doing so wrong.

But we moved gradually. Mastering each new transition over months at a time. She weaned from the Amby bed to the crib for naps. She weaned from co-sleeping at night to the sleeping by herself in the crib. Weaned from nursing to sleep to rocking to sleep. And then it stopped.

My dirty little secret was that, at 21 months, I still rocked Missy to sleep for her nap and bedtime. She still had not learned to soothe herself. So – if she awoke in the night, which still happened from time to time – she needed Momma or Daddy to pat her back to sleep. (Thankfully, we had earlier weaned her from being picked up and rocked during the night.)

Her pediatrician – the new one who specializes in sleep issues – counseled me that this was OK until she was about 2-1/2. And then he wanted us to get more aggressive about her soothing herself. His rationale is that as children understand more language and object permanence, they understand that Momma and Daddy also go to bed. Children begin to understand that parents aren’t just in the room and then not in the room. And pissed about it because they want “Mom-ma!”

So we planned on rocking until this summer. And then I got pregnant and so very sick.

Rocking in a dark room with nausea was out of the question. Unfortunately Cowboy’s job doesn’t allow him to be home consistently by bedtime. But as luck would have it, the pregnancy coincided with a rapid development in Missy’s language skills. So I went for it.

A little rocking, our nightly made-up prayer, some singing and then into the crib.

The first night, Missy wasn’t having any of it. As directed by our pediatrician, I comforted her briefly every 5 minutes, where I was met by demands to “Yock!” and “Pat!” followed by dramatic screeching and big crocodile tears when I left.

The beauty of it: I just didn’t care. I was so sick, I was completely dispassionate. Every five minutes, I would haul myself out of the guest room bed, which is closest to Missy’s room, go into her room and explain that it was time to sleep. I gave her a hug, handed her the baby doll du jour, laid her back down, gave a few “shhh’s” and left.

Then I collapsed on the guest room bed. There was no hand wringing or second-guessing. It was time. It was Missy’s first hard lesson as a big sister that the world no longer completely revolved around her.

Two months later and we’ve made it. We have a little crying on occasion, but more often than not, Missy chatters herself to sleep for night time and naps.

When she wakes in the night, which is rare, we only go to her if the crying gets out of control (again, rare) or if she directly calls for one of us (also, rare). Usually, she puts herself back to sleep.

Good Lord. It is a beautiful thing. I know it won’t last. There are new baby transitions, big girl bed transitions and potty training on the horizon.

But I’m gonna soak in all this liberating, hard-earned sleep while we have it.


L said...

Success! Congrats!

Severe nausea makes you really prioritized because it is so all-consuming. I had visions of playing educational games with S while listening to French music. Ha! I turn on PBS kids for 2 hours and zone out on the couch so I don't puke.

And I don't care, either.


Fiddle1 said...

Ms. P, I know you are in a much better place. Thank heavens! Someone told me (too late I might add) that the best thing to do with a baby and sleep is to pretend that the baby is your 6th child. Oh, how true! But I'm sure I wouldn't have listened to that advice until I reached the point that you did..not caring. numb to the cries. when we were doing the sleep lady shuffle and she was crying, I put my ipod in and actually FELL ASLEEP right next to her crib, I was so exhausted. That was the turning point b/c I woke up 4 hours later and she was asleep. She had finally figured out how to lay down and go to sleep with no assistance! Your new little girl will be so much easier simply b/c she is a second child and you will not be physically (or emotionally) able to respond to each cry. No one on this planet understands what you've been through with this better than me. And any time anyone asks me what's your favorite book, I respond with "good night sleep tight." Above all else. It ranks above the Bible in this house. I truly think now that Missy has it figured out there won't be any more major disturbances unless she's feeling unwell. With more and more time, she'll get to where she wants to be in her crib. Now when I ask Lizzy if she's ready for bed, she pushes away from me and leans toward the crib. It's bliss. For nap times, I can put her in there awake and stand for a few minutes and leave with her awake. She goes to sleep on her own. I'll never take it for granted. And when Missy is just as consistent in other beds in other homes, then you have it made! I swear, out of all the things about early motherhood that robbed me of my confidence and produced loads of anxiety, NOTHING made me more confident in my mothering abilities than figuring out (thanks to you) how to have faith in her that she could go to sleep on her own. It was the hardest thing we've ever endured (sounds dramatic, I know), but it was our biggest triumph as parents to overcome it. Congrats!!!

megan said...

you are a lucky woman. Auden is two and is still a horrible sleeper. our issue now is his transition to a big boy bed as he just climbs right out of his crib. sigh. xo

Coffeegrljp said...

Well Amen for the "upside" (?) of nausea! When I got pregnant with #2 we had almost the opposite problem. My husband started comforting our daughter at night (despite the fact that she'd been able to fall asleep on her own for several months) and she got accustomed to having the company. Once the nausea subsided we'd taken her to Japan for an extended stay and in a less familiar room and crib (true she'd stayed in them 6 months prior but still) and given the appearance of the 2nd round of molars and her newfound ability to climb out of this "new" crib we spent the next 3 months getting terrible sleep. Took us an hour to rock her and comfort her to sleep and then she'd be awake multiple times in the middle of the night. *Sigh* I was so grateful to have the help when I was so sick but wished it hadn't resulted in more disrupted sleep. Thankfully we're back on the wagon for a while but I too know that the new baby, new toddler bed and potty training are on the horizon. Oy. So glad to hear that things are momentarily going smoothly

nikole said...

I am so, so glad to read this. We have had a similar situation (reflux and food allergies) and I still nurse Thea to sleep for naps and at night - at 26 months. Except it isn't working anymore. We are all totally exhausted and getting ready to make some dramatic changes with sleep routines. This gives me hope! Thank you!