The Sleep Log in My Eye

By Megan

Oh, how I have judged, people.

Nearly five years ago we had our first baby. Our Bean. Now Bean, like all newborns, came out thinking day was night and night was day and turned our world upside down by sleeping when we wanted her to eat, eating when we wanted her to sleep, and crying when we wanted her to lie peacefully in her bed and count sheep. But four months later, we’d come to a peaceable agreement and although she didn’t sleep all the way through the night until a full year afterwards, she did go to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every morning and take two lovely, blissful, dependable naps a day.

OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN, however, born at the same time and in the same healthy condition, didn’t settle into such a routine as easily. Or at all, in some cases. And although outwardly I represented empathy and kindness, I’ll admit that inwardly, I was ONE OF THOSE MOTHERS who clucked and chided away to myself about how sad it was that poor little baby was being ROBBED OF MUCH-NEEDED REST by his parents who wouldn’t do the right thing and DETERMINE a schedule and STICK WITH IT and EXPECT that young’un to go along peacefully. Afterall, that’s all it took for us. What was so hard?

Well.

As those of you who have been reading my personal blog for awhile know, the proverbial boom has been lowered upon my judgmental head with baby number two, our Peabody. He is ONE OF THOSE BABIES. At four months, we employed the exact same methods and schedule and expectations as we had with his big sister and instead of complying placidly and cooing his well-rested appreciation for our efforts, he pretty much exploded into a cloud of sleeplessness and misery.

At first I thought, well, he’s just going to take longer to get with the program. Then I thought, well, maybe he requires less sleep than Bean did. But as the months went by and things went from bad to worse in the Land of Nod, with our seven month old baby getting up way more often in the night than he had in the first few weeks after he was born and rarely taking a nap longer than 30 minutes, I finally figured out that some babies just can’t do what Bean did.

And I started consuming my own words at a rate theretofore only witnessed in the last 15 seconds of the county fair pie-eatin’ contest.

While I digested the bitter bile of my own judgment, I tried pretty much every trick in the book — no hundreds of books! — to help my boy sleep. Now instead of simply feeding a bottle, reading a book, tucking a drowsy baby into bed and walking out confident that he’ll nod off for the night or a two-hour nap (oh, the luxury!), we keep sleep logs, we put him to bed early, we try to interpret his sleepy signs, and we rush around to try to get him down before he’s over-tired after first making sure he’s had stimulation and light and enough to eat and fifteen minutes of soothing and so on and so on.

I’m so meticulous and sensitive (to the point of neurosis), making everything perfect for him and getting his environment just right that I swear if you opened up my head a sort of Weissbluthian Rubik’s Cube would fall out:  my brain, twisted and contorted and color-coded, fully categorized, labeled and sorted and arranged into what I hope (this time) will be the magic combination to finally break Peabody’s secret sleep-clode.

We’re fourteen months in and we’ve had ups and downs but by and large, I confess, I don’t really think we’ve found the right answers. He’ll sleep 11 hours at night, but they’re rarely the same hours and they never start or end at a time that works well for the rest of the household. Naps are mostly dismally short and unrestful and oh boy, you want to see neurosis at its worst, you stop on by my house while Peabody’s taking a nap. Seriously. Twitch-twitch. BUT DO IT QUIETLY.

So now I am feeling the pain of the mothers I used to blame. I know now that their baby’s sleeplessness (or at least sleep deficits) wasn’t a simple lack of parenting know-how. And further, that it likely consumed their thoughts, worried them to the point of distraction and pushed them and their families to the brink of sick exhaustion. Sleep issues in babies should probably not, in perfect circumstances, be such a strain on a family, because they do usually all work themselves out with the baby’s maturity, but I think that while a family is in the middle of this kind of battle, healthy perspective goes out the window to some degree, and life feels like it’s hanging precariously by a thread attached to that baby’s little wide-open eyelids.

The words I’ve spoken about babies who don’t/can’t/won’t sleep and their mothers and fathers whom I’ve unfairly labeled “unwilling” to do what needs to be done feel a-special-kind-of-hideous going back down my throat, but I’m grateful for the lesson I’m learning for the future  (it will apply in many circumstances as I raise my children among the children of my close friends and we all share and commiserate and laugh together) and I’m grateful for the REAL empathy that’ll be borne of this trial.

And in about two years, Lord willing, I’m going to have some fierce knowledge and understanding of babies and children and their sleep issues. So instead of nodding wanly and patting that tired Mom on the back as she worries and frets and struggles with her baby’s sleep, I’ll be able to share her pain AND give her some good, helpful advice and a heaping helping of been-there-done-that-and-that-and-that respect.

10 Responses to The Sleep Log in My Eye
  1. Karen
    October 5, 2009 | 8:27 am

    My first precious girl never slept. For the first 6 months if she slept 5 hours all day and night, I was lucky. I had all the advice and people telling me what I should do. They never seemed to understand it didn’t work. I remember one woman chiding me because at 6 months when she would lie down for a nap, I would not make a sound. Not a single sound. I was ruining her for good sleep. This well intentioned woman did not understand if I did not she would just not sleep!

    But our story has a happy ending. Now at 23 months old my precious little girl sleeps for 11 hours at night, goes down at that same time, and takes a 2-3 hour afternoon nap.

    My little man is a better, much better, sleeper than my daughter but I also couldn’t give two hoots what others say this time around. I go with his flow. He is 5 months old and won’t always want these cuddle.

    I am so glad you have the humility to admit your mistake. We all make those embarrassing mistakes at some point. As long as we are willing to fess up and admit to them, we learn and it is all good.

    My mistake is healthy food. I was convinced that as long as I only served my daughter healthy, nutritious food then that is what she would ate. I think she took that advice, shoved it between two frozen, processed waffles along with some pizza and ate it. It was very humbling to have such a crazy picky daughter that would simply go hungry rather than trying the fruit (any fruit!!) I would give her.

  2. Hannah
    October 5, 2009 | 3:48 pm

    All I have to say is GOOD FOR YOU for swallowing your medicine and letting it go to work!

  3. Julie
    October 5, 2009 | 3:52 pm

    I remember making my own judgements about parents whose kids were biters and hitters. I just could not imagine a child doing that without the parents being involved somehow, or not involved. Whatever. Ava was a biter and a slugger. I, too, ate my words. I don’t know what I was thinking. It didn’t last long, thank the Lord!! I try to just smile and not think while I am out and about now…..

  4. ShellyM
    October 6, 2009 | 10:02 am

    Oh, how I feel your pain. Eery how similar our stories are. I finally got sleep at 18 months with my second. Hoping the same for you!

  5. candace
    October 6, 2009 | 11:49 pm

    My son is almost 3 1/2 years old and still does not sleep through the night. He will go weeks and sleep through the night and then he will have a couple of nights where he is up 1-3 times. He goes to bed at 8pm everynight and we have a routine. He stop taking naps around 2 years and I was so sad. I knew that was coming b/c he was fighting naps. Every child is different i am told.

  6. Kelly
    October 7, 2009 | 6:33 pm

    Oh my stinkin’ word. How has this not garnered 250 comments already? It’s such a universal struggle.

    You know I’m right there with you when it comes to sleep issues. And yes, when your first is an easy sleeper, it sets one up for a humiliating fall.

    I keep telling myself that it will all work out OK in the end. (Right?)

  7. R
    October 9, 2009 | 1:40 am

    We are currently raising baby #4. Having several children is definitely an eye opener into just how different children can be. I am lucky this time that even though my 6 month old won’t sleep longer than 5 hours at a time at night, he does take a couple of naps during the day. My cousin’s son, however, refused to take any naps at all during the day almost from the time he was born. I didn’t think that was possible! Parenting is indeed a humbling experience.

  8. Carrie
    October 14, 2009 | 2:37 pm

    Oh, dear – this makes me nervous! 🙂 My little boy is 22 months, never slept through completely until he was weaned around a year old, and now sleeps 12 hrs at night, but has never been a good napper – an hour and a half is like a miracle. 🙂 But he loves being scheduled & I can’t imagine if he wasn’t able to sleep on a schedule – I’d be crazy! My cousin’s baby is about 6 mos old, and sleeps great night, but will NOT nap – poor thing (the mom and baby both, I mean). 🙂

  9. Karen
    October 14, 2009 | 4:12 pm

    Carrie, you just take a deep breath and remember that this too shall pass. It is only a season. I also try to look at it through my future self’s eyes. Someday, probably very soon, I will miss this sweet baby stage no matter how little he napped.

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