Sunday, February 9, 2014
To be a parent is to never sleep the same again
My sister has a new baby and one that isn't sleeping much. Imagine that. I know it is something all moms have gone through - sleepless nights. I have five children, so I can definitely confirm the idea that every child is different. And sleeping habits are also so different. And there are so many things you try to get that much needed rest. How many sitcoms have you seen where new parents have resorted to driving their kids around in a car because the motion puts them to sleep?
My first son was a pretty good sleeper once we got him to sleep, but it was getting him to sleep that often posed a problem. I was young and a new mom and just followed anything I read that was put out by an expert and believed that it was the way you should do it not realizing that there are so many variables and that some things just don't work on some babies. The expert opinion at that time was to put a baby to sleep in a separate room in a crib on his side and to put him down drowsy but not fully asleep.
I had no problem getting him to drift off in my arms, usually as I rocked him. Then he'd fall asleep. I'd put him in his crib on his side in between the contraption I'd bought at Babies are Us of two wedges that kept him from rolling onto his tummy or back. At that time they pushed side sleeping as they believed there was a significant risk of choking if babies were put to sleep on their back.
So, he slept pretty good stretches. If he did wake up, I'd tiptoe in and pop a pacifier in his mouth and he'd usually go right back to sleep. But, he still wouldn't go to sleep if I put him in the crib awake. I was listening to all the experts and figured I was doing something wrong. I tried the "letting him cry" method, which is complete torture. I'd let him cry a few minutes. I'd go in and try to calm him without picking him up. I did it not because I wanted to but because I thought I was supposed to. I wish I'd listened to my gut more often than doing what I read was recommended. It didn't last very long. I didn't want to let him cry. He was crying because he wanted his mother and I was right there and I was letting him cry when it didn't feel right to let him cry.
I soon returned to the nightly routine in the rocking chair. Where he'd fall asleep nursing or cuddling beside the glow of a nightlight and then I'd put him in his crib and we'd all go to sleep. When I finally decided to ignore the expert advice and follow my heart, we were all much better for it. It was a beautiful routine that I cherished of rocking my baby to sleep in my arms. Once in a while he'd wake at 2 a.m. and I would have to rock him back to sleep and I would tell myself that one day he'd be grown up and I'd be wishing I had a baby to rock and sing to in the middle of the night.
With my second one it was really difficult. After an emergency c-section, I woke to a quick peek at my baby who then went down to special care where he spent the next 5 days sleeping naked on his tummy with his eyes covered because his bilirubin levels were extremely high and he had extreme jaundice. At five days old, I finally got to hold him. He came home with us and less than 48 hours later we ended up bringing him back to the ER because he wasn't eating or responding. He was then in the pediatrics unit for several more days - same thing - under the lights, unable to be held.
Once he got home, he only was content falling asleep on my chest. I attributed it to being so starved of human contact in those first several days. As much as I loved snuggling with him, it just couldn't be sustained with him sleeping that way all the time. I was still recovering and I had another child to take care of. The only way to keep him sleeping once he was asleep was to gently transfer him onto his stomach, which I hated doing because I was so terrified of SIDS. But, when dozens of attempts to put him on his side (the recommended position at the time) didn't work, I finally had to resort to letting his sleep on his stomach as it was the only way he would sleep when he wasn't on top of me. Finally when he got to the point where he was lifting himself easily and pushing himself onto his side or back, I felt a little better and just gave in to it. But in those early weeks when he would only sleep on his stomach, I wasn't sleeping at all because of the constant worry for his safely.
My next three slept in a variety of ways. One in a crib without the side pushed up against our bed or in a bassinet next to the bed. Another slept best in a pack-n-play in our room. Another co-slept. But we learned that we had to do what we had to do. Sometimes they'd sleep in a car seat or a bouncy seat or a swing. Sometimes they'd sleep beside me on the floor. Or on my chest. Or even in my arms in a recliner. We'd try the most recommended sleeping methods first, but when they didn't work, we knew we had to move on to something else. When they'd get hooked on the swing, they'd sleep in the swing for a couple weeks. By the time I was on baby #3, I knew that each phase was temporary and tried to get through it. And I learned to do what felt right with that baby.
When I had a son who was content being put down in his room to drift off watching a mobile above his crib, I did that. When I had one that I knew wanted to be rocked in my arms until he was asleep, I did that. When I had my last one and knew he would be my last one and he wanted to be close and I wanted to be close to him, I brought him into bed with me. Whatever the arrangement was, it was usually a deep dark secret I didn't let others in on as the onslaught of criticism to letting a baby sleep on their stomach or in a bed with their mom or spoiling them by rocking them to sleep every night could be brutal. Bottom line, I did what I had to do for our household to get some rest and I did what felt was right when I knew my baby needed to be comforted. We all made it through it. Sleep (or lack of it) is for sure one part of parenthood you can't prepare for and it's yet another part of your life that will never ever be the same again.