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.