This week I came across the nine dumbest words to ever be strung together in the history of written language. Shockingly the source wasn’t the latest bout of verbal diarrhea from Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, nor was it anything to do with bacon causing cancer. Instead the offending ennead (crossword puzzles, for the win!) came from an article about babies and sleep making the social media rounds. Upon reading the offending nine words, my first reaction was to laugh, which I did heartily. But then the reality set in: Those nine words are toxic, and as funny as they are to me now, had I read them in the midst of my own sleep issues with Baby 1.0, they would have sent me into a tailspin of dread and despair. And what nine words could possibly have that kind of power?
“Every baby is capable of sleeping through the night.”
Yeah, those seemingly innocuous, itty-bitty little words pack a surprising punch in the I’m-So-Tired-I’m-Dying crowd. If you, like I once was, read them while looking for answers because you are desperate, deliriously tired, and at a loss for how to survive another sleepless night, they tell you there is a way. They say, “You can control this if you just do it right.” They lead you down a path lined with promises and patient testimony, where your hope quickly turns to hopelessness when your baby doesn’t respond.
To be fair, the author of the article means no harm, and her advice could make a difference for babies who fit the mold of potential good sleepers. She is far from alone in thinking all babies can be taught to sleep, as there is a whole market of books, websites and sleep services touting that very same message. Even our pediatrician assured us with the right routine, we too could get our baby to sleep through the night. But let me assure you, even if Jesus himself had shown up crib-side and commanded our little to sleep, she would have screamed in his face. And I know we aren’t alone.
Some babies, no matter what you do, or how many sleep books you read, or how much lavender you sprinkle around their perfectly dimmed, calm, temperature appropriate room- sometimes it just doesn’t matter. Sometimes all your little one needs to learn how to sleep through the night is time.
Now I know I’m not a pediatrician or a sleep expert, and I’m not suggesting we ignore everything they say. But I am a parent who went to them for help, and after following all the advice, reading the books, trying out every suggestion available and coming thiseffingclose to dying from sleep deprivation, all to no avail, I feel like a different missive needs to be offered. Give them time. Perhaps some will feel even more hopeless upon reading this, but ideally others will understand it’s intended meaning: You aren’t doing anything wrong. Your baby isn’t broken. You both will figure it out. Do what you need to do to survive.
The problem with the books and websites is they tend to oversimplify the issue. They have an if A then B type approach, where if you don’t get the results you were promised, you are left to wonder, who is to blame? Did you not try hard enough? Is there something wrong with your baby? If you go in to soothe them, are you causing harm or, to quote the article again, inflicting “sleep sabotage”?
But here’s the thing about babies, and hold onto your butts, because this is a real brain buster: Babies are tiny people. Yep, they look like aliens, and the books would make you think they are as programmable as a tamagotchi pet, but they aren’t, and even when science and medicine and Oprah tell you how they should act, they have the ability to put their adorable little thumb up to their tiny little nose and say “poo-poo” to you.
So how do you handle a kid that won’t sleep?
- First and foremost, burn your books. Unsubscribe from the websites. Get rid of Google. Stop telling your grandma the truth because Lord knows you’ve heard enough of her “solutions” (i.e. Whiskey).
- Find someone who knows what you are going through. Hardcore sleep deprivation is torture, literally. Getting close with someone who has been through it can provide support because instead of advice, they will give you tissues and coffee.
- Ask for help, and even more importantly, accept it. You are not yourself when you haven’t slept through the night for a fortnight (or twenty fortnights). Let people come over and do things for you, even if it’s uncomfortable.
- Cut yourself some slack. Your baby’s shitty sleep situation isn’t your fault, nor is it theirs. It just is, and it will get better eventually. I promise.
Now I know that some of you will read this and think, “Well I followed Dr. Sleep Good’s advice and little Timmy slept through the night the very next day!” and to you I say congratulations. Little Timmy was ready, and you could have read a Danielle Steele novel and still had the same outcome. But to those of you who are walking in our footsteps, let me just say, dude, I feel your pain. And it is pain. It’s burning eyes, achey-brained, nauseous, slurred speech, short tempered, emotionally unstable shitty, shitty pain. But you can do this. You will do this. Hang in there.