A friend over at another blog, Martha at Momsoap, wrote a post recently about how every mother is suffering from sleep deprivation. OMG – I couldn’t agree more. Before I had children, I was certainly familiar with the idea that babies got up at night to eat for the first few months of life. Um, yeah, nobody told me that was secret code for “your baby will get up at least every hour for at least the first year of life and then off and on throughout the night FOREVER.”
My first baby had colic. That is secret code for “your baby will cry so much and so loudly for so long that he won’t even seem like a baby.” The poor thing NEVER slept for the first six months of his life. By the time he did start sleeping, I had done so much rocking, shushing, soothing, etc. that the parameters in which he could go to sleep and stay asleep were very constraining to us all. During those months (and for about two years afterward), I was a zombie. Half the time, I had no idea what was going on around me. My memory deteriorated to the point I might as well have had Alzheimer’s. I was completely preoccupied with when, where and for how long I would sleep next.
It was a huge leap of faith and a testament to how much I adored my son that I would have even considered having another baby. By the time he was four, I was just beginning to feel slightly rested. I wanted my son to have a sibling but I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it all over again, much less while taking care of two children. Thankfully, my younger son was the best sleeper of my kids, so it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. However, there was always something disturbing my night’s sleep, even if only for a few minutes. There was bed wetting, nightmares, croup, hunger, thirst, monsters, sleep walking. Oh, the sleep walking. We had a spell that last for a month or so in which my older son got up and got ready for school at 3 am. By the time I got him settled back into bed, it was just about time to get up and ready for school. Fabulous.
Then came Ms. O. She’s always loved to sleep, but only in the ways that the docs warn against. In my arms. On her tummy. In our bed. You name it. If the doctors warn against it, we’ve had to do it to get her to sleep. For the first month, I slept with her in my arms in a recliner chair. When I say I slept, I lie. I held her in my arms on her back, so I would only be breaking one rule at a time. I occasionally dozed. If I laid her down while on her back, her startle reflex went CRAZY and she woke herself up immediately. After about a month, we moved into our bed, where I propped her on her side to help with the startle reflex. She slept for short stretches, maybe two hours, like this for months. When she went to bed, I went to bed. I could not get up, not even to pee, without waking her up.
At about four months, we discovered she could sleep without me for about an hour at a time, if she slept on her tummy. Keep in mind that when her brothers were born, putting babies down on their tummies was SOP. This was how we kept them from spitting up and aspirating it, thus leading to SIDS. The rules had changed and I wasn’t about to take a chance with my baby. So we invested like $200 on an Angelcare Monitor to alert us if she stopped breathing while sleeping on her tummy. This meant a move out of our bed and into a crib for a short period of time. She slept for about two hours at a time. When she woke, I had to rock her back to sleep and sneak her back into the crib. Not much of an improvement, but at least I could get up to pee if I needed to. Plus, I was sure all this hard work was going to pay off and she was going to sleep longer soon. (Did I mention that if I lifted her out of the crib without turning off the monitor, I had 20 seconds until it let out the most ear-piercing sound ever. Only happened about 100 times.) This up and down every two hours continued until she was a year old. I kid you not, we both spent more time in the rocking chair than we did in our beds. So back in our bed she came.
For us, co-sleeping seems to be the best fit. It has certainly increased the number of consecutive sleep hours O and I get each night. Plus, I feel good about having an “open door” policy when it comes to nighttime parenting. When I was a kid, it was a cardinal sin to bother my mother in the middle of the night. It was simply not allowed. Our sleeping arrangement has given me the opportunity to rest up as well as make sure my daughter doesn’t feel isolated at night. However, there are drawbacks to the Family Bed. Like anything, there are pros and cons. On the upside, I get to snuggle the cutest little girl in the world,and I am waked up every morning with soft kisses and giggles. However, I am often waked in the middle of the night by an elbow or foot (or both) to the face. What can ya’ do? I’ve tried it all. At this point, I’m resigned to the fact that sleep deprivation, in one form or another, is a lifelong plight of parenting. Now time for a nap.