Wednesday, October 13, 2010

For my cousin Ginny (and every other mother who hasn't slept in eons)

So my cousin requested I talk about sleep, which just happens to be the most frequently used word in this household and what my life revolves around. I used to feel shallow about this fact, and then I realized...that there simply isn't anything better than sleep when you're not getting it. It makes or breaks the entire day. There were many months there where I fantasized about it. Now it's better. Now it's more of a strong desire.

Samaya unfortunately has never shared her parents' enthusiasm for the shutting of one's eyes. Our midwives told us before they left that first day to expect her to sleep a lot for the next day or two--that she would be recovering from the work of birth. But all Sisay and I can remember is a constant passing back and forth of our perfect and gorgeous and sleepless child and a whole lot of rocking in the middle of the night. For the next year, things didn't change a whole lot. Every 4 months or so, she would generously give us a 4-5 hour stretch, but generally speaking it was more like every hour and a half with maybe a 3 hour stretch thrown in. Now most of you reading this will be thinking, 'Oh, that must have been rough,' but then there is the contingent exclaiming, 'Yes, she understands! Oh, the torture!' This is mostly for you.

I was proactive. I read all the sleep books. I knew where I stood on the Ferber vs. Dr. Sears philosophies. And to the dismay of my husband, I implemented new plans weekly. My first priority was to get her to fall asleep on her own at around six months. This would logically lead to being able to put herself back to sleep when she woke up in the night.(HA!) We still read a book and nursed, but I would make sure she stayed awake after that long enough to sing one prayer. Then we would lay down on her bed next to ours and she would do the rest. At the beginning this was a VERY long process of repeatedly laying her back down (with varying levels of protest) until she got the message or wore herself out. But I was consistent, and now putting her to sleep is always easy and usually only minutes long.

Then it was on to the night wakings. They didn't change! And if they didn't result in milk, they always resulted in tantrums. I told myself I'd give her a year and then close the all-night all-you-can-drink milk bar. And I meant it. At around 13 months, I warned Sisay and braced myself. I had already spent a lot of time pointing out the differences between day time and night time, the sun and the moon, light and dark so that she was more conscious of the daily rhythms. That first night when she woke up, I told her as soothingly as I could that there would be "milk in the morning, when the sun comes up." "Night time is for sleeping. In the morning we will wake up and have milk." Mostly, I pretended to sleep. She wasn't pleased, but at least I knew she understood and was old enough now to go all night without food. She could have water, chamomile tea, even a banana (which I kept right by the bed) if she wanted but usually she declined. Surprisingly, it only took her a few days of crying before it clicked. It wasn't sudden, but she was waking up less and screaming a lot less.

Now, at 16 months, she sleeps around 8 hours straight. If she wakes up, it's rare that she needs me. The only problem is that after such a nice long stretch, she's not tired enough to go back to sleep and she's too tired really to be up for the day. So she crawls over to me and tosses and turns from 4 to 6 am, to her credit genuinely trying to go back to sleep. And then we're up for real. By 7 she's grumpy.

So help me God this child WILL sleep 10 (or 12) hours before her baby sister arrives in February.

By the way, we're having another baby girl! And she will be an EXCELLENT sleeper!


  1. Ohhh, your pain is my pain. I wrote about it last month: Similar levels of frustration, except I curse a lot more. I am not as gracious as you.

  2. I UNDERSTAND! as the mother of a still night nursing cosleeping 2 year old, I'm just now at the "this has got to stop" stage. :) Wish me luck!