My daughter has always had trouble sleeping. As a baby, she never slept anywhere but on my breast–if I tried to unlatch her, no matter how deeply asleep she was, she would immediately wake up. And then cry for an hour or more, unable to get back to sleep. I learned pretty quickly that it was better to let her stay on.
The first time I ever got her to stay asleep somewhere other than me, she was six months old. I swaddled her and somehow managed to get a pacifier into her mouth before I put her in an electronic swing. She slept for about an hour. It was one of the most exciting moments of my parenting up till that point. But it never worked again.
A few months later, a friend lent me the No-Cry Sleep Solution. I started using the techniques in it, and by the time she turned a year old, I was able to nurse her to sleep in bed next to me, unlatch her, and carefully roll away without waking her. Sometimes she would still get a decent nap. Sometimes she wouldn’t.
But she never slept through the night. Never. She never even slept five hours straight.
It was a long road to finally get her to where she was getting the sleep that she needed it–not to mention letting us get the sleep we need. I have a guest post that’s going to be posted soon on the Natural Parents Network telling the full story, so I won’t write it all here now. Suffice it to say that it involved therapy and supplements as well as some behavioral tricks, and even with all that it was not easy. But when we finally got there, it was by a gentle path, with no crying or coercion involved. And it was amazing. It changed our lives.
For the past three years, every night involved hours of nursing, rocking, storytelling, and snuggling. We never knew if she was going to go to sleep by 9:00 pm or not until 11:00 or midnight. We never knew if she was going to sleep for three hours or for forty-five minutes. We never knew if when she woke again she was going to go back to sleep or just stay up all night until morning. The one thing we knew for sure was that we were all tired, and we didn’t see that changing anytime soon.
But for the past five months, every night we go through a brief, predictable bedtime routine that takes about fifteen minutes. It finishes before 8 pm (after the time change it was 7 pm!), and then we turn out her light and walk away. And we don’t see her again until morning. She falls asleep on her own, in her own room, and sleeps for twelve hours straight. Best of all, in the morning she’s happy. She comes into our room, cheerful and energetic, and jumps in bed with us to wake us up. She’s excited and eager to start the day. It’s beautiful.
Oh, and did I mention that we get free evenings when we get to act like adults? It’s no coincidence that I started this blog six months ago. It was the first time in three years that I had free time.
But in the past few weeks, our evenings have been getting progressively more difficult. Instead of falling asleep peacefully at the usual time, she’s been getting up and coming out of her room, asking for mama milk or another story or just insisting that she’s not sleepy. Sometimes these curtain calls last till 10 or later. And while I’d love to pretend that it would be okay to just move her bedtime earlier, that maybe she doesn’t need quite as much sleep as other kids, I know that’s not true. When she gets twelve hours of sleep, she’s happy. When she doesn’t, she’s irritable and tired. Even if I didn’t need the evening, she still needs the sleep.
So lately we’ve been helping more with bedtime again. A few nights ago, when my mom was babysitting, she rocked her in her arms until she was sleepy. Last night she and my husband fell asleep together in her bed while he was telling her stories. Tonight she came out and asked for mama milk, so I nursed her for a few minutes and then lay with her until she was asleep.
And even though we’ve been doing these things for years, it’s still hard to do them. It’s even harder to go back to doing them after thinking we were finally able to give them up. Every time I lie down in bed with her or let her add one piece to her bedtime routine, I hear a hundred voices in my head from all the books, articles, and forums I’ve read: Don’t go back. Be firm. Keep the routine consistent. She has to learn to sleep alone.
But then I remember that she has a lot of reasons to be stressed right now. She’s about to become a big sister. She has no idea what to expect, but she knows it’s going to be the biggest change she’s ever experienced in her life. It’s going to affect her relationship with me and with her daddy in ways she can’t anticipate, and she’s scared. She needs help. She needs comfort. She needs to know that we’re still here for her, that we will always be here for her, even after another member joins our family.
Maybe after the baby comes, she’ll go back to the easier bedtime. Maybe not. I can’t control or predict that. And I can’t worry about it before it happens. I’d like to freak out and say that I can’t keep doing this lengthy bedtime routine (even though it’s still much shorter than any bedtime routine we had for most of her life) when I have a newborn to take care of as well. I’d like to say that she just has to suck it up and figure it out now. But you know what? I can deal with it now. And I don’t know what I’ll be able to do after the baby comes. Maybe the baby will sleep whenever it’s tired, without needing much help from me; maybe I’ll be able to lay it down in bed and then go help Anastasia sleep. And if not, then we’ll have friends and family around to help, at least for the first few weeks. And we aren’t all going to crumple into dust if we don’t get enough sleep. The world isn’t going to end. We’ll survive.
And really, no matter what happens, it won’t last forever. No matter how much it feels like it will. I never thought I’d say this, but viewed through the past five months of sufficient sleep, even three years of miserable sleep deprivation doesn’t look like forever anymore. At the time, I thought I could do anything if I could just get one decent night of sleep. Now I’ve had five months’ worth. That should last me for a little while.