If somebody had told me the screaming, crying, sleep-deprivation and absolute overwhelming-ness of new motherhood wouldn’t last forever, I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have believed them.
In fact, somebody did tell me, several somebodys. My delightfully practical mother remarked “How many teenagers do you see crying every time they get into a car?” Not many, I was forced to admit, but teenagers? That’s 13 years from now! And I’m struggling to get through today. I simply could not see how we could survive one more day of this. How could I wrap my mind around the truth that things wouldn’t always be like this; they already had been like this, for soooo long. Believe me, one month of sleep deprivation feels as though life is always going to be this way, and those memories of a restful night’s sleep waking with enough energy to do… anything, seem as though they are fantasy. That living, really living, is now just a memory… But it won’t always be like this.
At 14 months old the baby slept for 6-hours through for the very first time. And I can still recall waking and not feeling quite as exhausted, looking at the clock and realizing it. had. been. six hours! Literally, it took my mind that long to compute that I’d had six hours of uninterrupted sleep!
Nothing, absolutely nothing has ever made me feel so completely helpless as a baby that cries and cries and sleeps for 45 minutes, wakes up crying and all the books and people who claimed to be able to train a baby to sleep through the night did not help!
What they did do, when they didn’t work was make me feel even more helpless and like the worst kind of failure (BTW sleep-deprivation does not help with this). And every one of them claimed that their method would work if you just stuck with it!
Plus as a new mom you get all sorts of advice about why they won’t stop crying, why they cry in their sleep, wake-up frequently and wake-up crying. “Oh your baby’s gassy, that’s why he cries all the time. Don’t eat cabbage.”or “He must be lactose-intolerant. Cut out all dairy from your diet.” And on, and on. Well guess what? Cutting my diet down did nil, nada, and nothing to make my baby cry less or sleep better. All those sleep training methods (tried for weeks or months at a time BTW because they said “stick with it”), well they did nothing to help either of us sleep.
It took nearly 2 1/2 years before my baby slept through the night regularly. It was 4 years and more than a year of graduate school before I built my self confidence back. It was 5 years before I thought I ‘might’ be a good mother, and guess what? I am.
I am not perfect. Who even know what perfect motherhood would be? I am good enough. And I get better at it. I show my kids a capable, loving, playful and responsible Mama who makes mistakes, and learns from them. I give them love and the skills to be happy healthy adults.
What I have learned:
- Some babies just cry. It is beyond miserable while you’re living it, and it does pass.
- Take care of yourself first. If you need sleep, get help! I mean it. You cannot be good for your baby if you’re not taking care of yourself. Fill your life with supportive people, people who support you no matter what.
- When you feel like you’re all alone and can’t do it anymore, you are not alone. Reach out to someone. It is important to include other adults in your nurturing.
- You will sleep again.
Now that I’m on baby number two- Yes, that’s right. After more than three years of sleep deprivation, I had another baby. Astonishingly, this baby sleeps. I didn’t expect him to, ever. I went into this fully prepared to not sleep for about three years again, but he sleeps, regularly. He naps every morning at about 9am, again in the afternoon, and a short nap in the early evening. He only cries when he needs something, and he spends time with his eyes open calmly and quietly gazing at the world around him. It is a revelation.
And I look back on the mother I was in the weeks, months and years of my first baby, and I wish I could give her the surety that everything will be all-right. That my screaming, crying, fussy, sleepless baby would be fine. I would be fine. I would grow to not only feel the obligation of motherly love, but I would feel the joy of it too.
So, now that I’m on baby number two, I am collecting stories, ideas and reassurances for anyone who is living the sleep-deprivation of a newborn or not-so-newly-born baby.
For me, co-sleeping, bed-sharing, however you want to call it, sleeping with my baby allowed me to get the most sleep, then and now. And I had to fight for the right to sleep with my baby, despite the fact that women have been sleeping with their babies for thousands of years, the current standpoint of both ACOG and AAP when I birthed my first baby was that sleeping with your baby was dangerous, crib sleeping was safer, and that babies must sleep on their backs only. And any woman who would co-sleep, or allow their baby to sleep in a big bed (even one with bumpers), or sleep in any position other than on their back, well she was clearly endangering her child. What a terrifying situation to a new mother!
Well, a few years before babies were only to allowed to sleep on their side, in a side-lying position. So research supports different conclusions as new and more comprehensive studies are done. Right now, ACOG and AAP have just changed their recommendation.
It’s safer for babies to sleep on an adult, as long as the adult is not sitting up sleeping in a chair or couch and is not chemically impaired (drugs/alcohol). WOW.
There are several studies going back through the years when the recommendation to sleep side-lying or back-lying and the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Sadly, when infants sleep in an adult bed with their caregivers about 1-2 infants died each week. Terrifyingly, 81 infants died each week when sleeping in their own crib!
Here are two articles that go into more depth regarding co-seeping:
Co-sleeping saved me when it was taboo, and it’s saving me again only now it’s considered ‘safe’. What has changed for me is the fights about where the baby is sleeping, if the baby should be allowed to sleep with me, if it’s “safe”(aka the risk of SIDS), the guilt that people heaped upon me for doing something ‘outside the norm’.
Not every mum I know co-sleeps, they each find their own set of solutions and techniques for getting enough sleep. One delightful little family worked out feeding and sleeping so that Mom feeds last at night and first thing in the morning, about 10-11pm and around 5am, but Dad gets up for the middle of the night feeding and bottle feeds the baby milk that Mom umped the day before. Both parents work and need sufficient sleep. Mom sleeps from 10-11pm to 5am, and Dad sleeps from about 9-10pm to about 2am then again from about 2:30-3am to 7am. So Dad gets 8 hours in two sleep sessions, and Mom gets 6 or 7 hours all at once. This works for them, they both feel rested enough, they can both function throughout the day, baby gets all the feeding he needs, and Dad gets bonding time with baby.
The bottom-line take-away… What is right for you, your baby and your family may not look anything like you think it “should” look, and that’s okay. Who ever said you had to have eight hours of uninterrupted sleep anyway? Find what works and go with it.