I am someone who carries around a bucket full o’ irrational fears with me most days. This bucket ‘o fears is less about feeling anxious, and more about feeling prepared for the unexpected. What would I do, for example, if the wheel fell off the car when I was driving down the highway? How would I subdue an injured flamingo that had escaped the zoo? Where would I bring a bag of money that I suspected had been stolen from a bank without being accused of being the bank robber? (more…)
I’ve said it time and time again: Baby 1.0 is just not a sleeper. 19 months into it, and we’ve only had a handful of blissful nights where she has actually slept all the way through, and subsequently woke the next morning with enough energy to burn a hole through concrete. Finally, after being pushed to the absolute brink of sleep deprived madness, this weekend my husband and I decided to put our collective parenting foot down, and declared, once and for all: “Enough is enough, Child!”
Until this weekend she would wake, like clockwork, several times a night and cry (scream, wail, holler) until I came in and nursed her back down, which, out of habit and fear of her waking up more, I would do shortly after she started up. While I understood my participation via multiple nightly nursing sessions was contributing to the problem, until this weekend, I didn’t understand it was the whole problem.
In my mind, there were any number of things that factored into her wakefulness. Laying in bed at night, fighting the urge to go in and put her back to sleep with a warm milk nightcap, I would think about all the things that could be keeping her from sleeping, like for example:
1. The air. It’s touching her face. And her hands. Can’t sleep when there’s air, you know, touching your face or hands.
2. She has just discovered she is incapable of moving her ring toe independently of her other toes, and for reasons I will never know, is utterly devastated.
3. Her hair is growing.
4. She can’t find her belly button.
5. She is trying to figure out if she’d rather be stuck on an island with M.C. Escher or MC Hammer.
6. She just realized the important role the thumb plays on the human hand, and her mind is blown.
7. She doesn’t know what a fox says, and doesn’t understand why that video was an internet sensation because obviously a fox wouldn’t say any of those things.
8. She is a vampire, or a mostly bald nocturnal opossum with no tail, and very cute, human-like features.
Until this weekend, these things seemed more plausible than me being the source of the problem. I mean hello? I’m the mom! I’m not the problem! I’m the solution!
And speaking of solutions, we have tried them all. About a year ago we tried the Cry It Out method, which ended in vomit for her, and about 15 gray hairs and a stress ulcer for me. We tried every device, potion, book, website -anything- you name it, we’ve given it a go, all to no effect. Everything, that is, except the old “You Just Have To Figure It Out” method.
After another heinous night of interrupted sleep, my husband looked at me with weary eyes, and for the 100 bagillionth time, asked me in his unflappably gentle way, “what if we just turned the monitor off tonight?” and for the first time, I didn’t fight it.
We knew she was safe. We knew she was comfortable. We knew if she worked herself up enough, we’d hear her through the wall we share. We knew it was time.
That night, after much hemming and hawing, I placed the monitor next to our bed, turned it on, and then with great effort, turned the sound all the way down. For a few minutes I thought of all the horrible things that could happen with the sound off (alien abduction, spider infestation, Bermuda Triangle), and then mid-totally unrealistic worrythought, I fell asleep and slept the whole night. The. Whole. Night. And even better, when I woke up, my baby was alive, sleeping, clothed, and totally fine. Did she sleep the whole night? I honestly have no idea. But if she didn’t, she figured out a way to get herself back down, which is something we’ve been begging her to do (but not allowing her to do), for her whole life. The next night, we repeated the process, and again, we (all?) slept like champs.
Should I have done this months and months ago? Probably. But could I have done this months and months ago? I don’t know. I think as much as she needed to be ready to figure it out, I needed to be ready to let her try. Is this the end of our sleep problems? Probably not. But maybe, just maybe, by showing bravery and trust, we’ve unlocked a new tool to use in the battle against turning into sleep deprived zombie parents.
It had to happen. I knew at some point I’d break down and write about the “S” word, because the utter lack of it is a theme common to most (all?) new parents. It’s absence hovers over us, a constant grey cloud, reminding us of a time when things were much more simple, a time when it wasn’t so hard to obtain. For 16 months and 11 days I’ve waited patiently, obsessing over my desire for it. I’ve tried everything to bring it back into my life. I’ve read books, spent countless dollars on specialty clothing, purchased hours of tailor-made music designed to help set the mood. Recently I’ve taken to incorporating aromatherapy into the bedroom, out of sheer desperation to find something that works. Each night, I go through the same routine, hoping that this night, this one night, it will happen, because I need it. “Oh please, please little baby. Please just sleep.”
Truthfully, I’ve been on the fence about writing anything regarding sleep. When you are so sleep deprived it takes you 30 seconds to figure out which end of the shampoo bottle shampoo comes out of (true story), it is hard to put anything together that doesn’t just sound horribly whiny. Also, there are already people who have done it, and done it very well (for those of you who don’t already know the blog How To Survive A Sleep Thief, check out the post I’m referring to here; it is brilliantly funny, and perfectly sums up everything I wish I could say about living with a kid who doesn’t sleep, but can’t because it took me 30 seconds to figure out which end shampoo came out of).
So what made me do it? Well, for starters, I’m delusional. With tiredness. Because the last time I slept through the night was back when the words “North West” and “One Direction” referred to parts of a map, rather than a bagillionaire toddler, and a handful of post-pubescent weasel boys ruining music. And lately, little Baby 1.0 has decided that getting up 2-3 times in the night wasn’t enough, and has increased it back up to 5 times. 5. Times. A. Night. Little reminder, she is 16 months. Being plunged back into the thick of what is essentially newborn level of sleep deprivation, I am reminded of a few things:
1. Removing regular sleep from your routine changes who you are on a fundamental level. For example, I turn into a crazy asshole when I don’t sleep. Like, seriously, a totally crazy asshole. Case and point? This morning, after another absolutely brutal night, I spent no less than 12 minutes hunting down a fruit fly who landed innocently on my arm, and when I finally got it, I smashed it with a smile on my face, like some kind of insect serial killer. Did I have to invest 12 minutes of time in hunting down a solitary fruit fly? No. Did I have to smile when I killed it? Big time no. But No-Sleep-Emily is currently the captain of this ship, and she is a scary asshole.
2. When I don’t sleep, my mind turns into a garbage disposal of thoughts which A) immobilize me, preventing me from completing any kind of task, further perpetuating my garbage disposal tendencies, and B) keeps me from falling back asleep. Usually, somewhere around 3am after Baby 1.0 wakes up for the umpteenth time, my mind does this: I need to go to the store and get dinner food. We need to eat healthier. I need to buy more vegetables. I need to buy organic. Organic is too expensive. I need to get a job. I don’t want to have someone raise Baby 1.0. I need to socialize Baby 1.0 more. I NEED TO STOP THIS. I will count until I fall asleep. 1, 2, 3, 13, purple, I need to email every single person I know, urgently. I need to clean out my email inbox. I need to vacuum. I need to clean out the litter box. I need to order cat litter. I need to order cat food… AND IT GOES ON AND ON.
3. Being horribly, hideously, sleep deprived makes me feel like I have the worst hangover of my life, but nothing makes it go away. Well I can’t say nothing, because I have a sneaking suspicion a couple of vodka tonics would do the trick, but I haven’t entered that territory since my bachelorette party where I peed (basically) in the doorway of a Walgreen’s, while leaning up against a newspaper box. My head aches, my eyes burn, my muscles are weak, my stomach hurts. I can’t help but wonder if hardcore sleep deprivation is used against spies and terrorists to break their spirit. Let me just say, I would tell someone anything they wanted to know if that meant I could start sleeping through the night again. Update: just this morning there was a news story about how the CIA used sleep deprivation against suspected terrorists. I’m not condoning torture in any way, even though I am being tortured, and misery loves company.
4. I hate nighttime. The more sleep deprived I get, the more I dread going to bed. It’s one thing to bump along during the day, feeling crappy, but having things to distract you from the crappiness, and another to be forced out of bed for hours of the night trying, in vain, to convince another human to do something they have no interest in doing. It is frustrating on a level I still can’t wrap my head around, and more depressing than watching one of those science programs that always shows the baby deer being hunted by a wolf. Stop with that. We get it. Wolves eat baby deer.
5. Lastly, this has served as a reminder that this is hard. This is hard, man. Not always, but sometimes, and sometimes for long chunks of time. It is hard to be patient and kind when you feel like a rabid raccoon. It is hard to be empathetic and understanding when all you can think about is the burning behind your eyes, and the heaviness in your limbs. Forget being the perfect mom. When you are bone tired, it’s all you can do to remember to put on two shoes that maybe match. So the next time some little turd kid rips a toy out of my little dumpling’s hand, and their mom just stares blankly ahead, I will try to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’s just tired. I get that.