Sleep Depravation

This is how tired I was…I regularly forgot conversations (important work conversations even), never actually knew if I had eaten, what day it was, the last time I had a shower, and actually cried one night when my husband wanted to have sex – solely because I knew that would be less time I could sleep. This is why.

My son started rolling a little after three months old. Very slowly. He’d try, get stuck. Try again, make it to his tummy…get severely pissed off because he hates tummy time to this day. We’d roll him back and after a few he’d try again. And so it went. At the same time, according to all the baby blogs and articles I get emailed to me, his little brain was developing so fast that he couldn’t shut it off. This also meant he was transitioning from new born brain and sleep to baby brain and adult sleep – REM and such.

From what I understand, everyone wakes up multiple times in the night throughout our sleep cycles, but we’re so used to it that we don’t even notice and immediately go back to sleep. Babies need to learn this awesome trick. What this means is that because you go through a cycle 30 minutes after you fall asleep, if you don’t know how to go back to sleep, you’ll wake up. Damian did. 30 minutes. On the dot. EVERY. TIME. 

Back track a little more. At 18 weeks I got a little cocky. I wanted to just hold my son, nurse him to sleep (I still do), rock him, on and on. I thought I was starting sleep training. He was waking up every 4 hours or so. Sometimes he’d sleep a little more, but never less than 4 hours in the night. During the days…30 minutes. Period. Every two hours. Then he turned 6 months. I got a little cockier. I even made a Random Mom Thought (#29) about how I didn’t understand moms that “couldn’t let their baby cry”. I thought I was letting him cry it out. 

Then, out of no where, he stopped sleeping. He was waking every two hours at night. 30 minutes during every nap – all five of them, it would take at least an hour to get him back to sleep. Then he would wake at 8am and be wired. Mind you I was STILL waiting until 1am for my husband to come home, we’d talk an hour while he would wind down, and because my son would fall asleep nursing I was also pumping every other feeding because I produce enough milk to donate to multiple mothers – one with triplets – and STILL feed my son on demand. So if he didn’t finish eating, and I didn’t pump, I was engorged and in extreme pain to top it off. My average sleep was three to four hours a night. But not at the same time. 

After three solid weeks of just praying he would “grow out of it” I melted down. Completely. I lost it on EVERY ONE. I flipped out on my sister and how I don’t agree with her choices – she still hasn’t talked to me, went ballistic on my mom about how angry I was she still hadn’t met my son – 700 miles away be damned!, totally freaked out on my husband and threatened him about getting a day job, and cried. And cried. Aaaaaaaand cried. I begged people for help. I researched everywhere. I tried co-sleeping, I tried rocking, I tried warmer baby, cooler baby, nursing, not nursing, changing him, leaving him wet, teething tablets, lavender, gas medicine, baby massage, earlier bedtime, later bedtime, wearing him, leaving him alone…

I usually have quite a bit of reserve when I am irritated. I bite my tongue knowing it’s just in the moment I feel that way. But at this point, I didn’t have the brain capacity for it. I fell asleep standing making eggs once, until the butter popped and scalded my arm. I kept making the coffee stronger and stronger, and avoided Red Bulls ONLY because I am nursing. I was putting off work and clients, and constantly angry at everyone. I would pick fights with my husband because I wanted a break. If I was able to sleep in, I would tell my husband the morning routine and state his morning nap was at 10 (in my mind I could still remember that was 2 hours after 8am)…so when he would bring my melting down son to me at 9:10 I resented him, and would be pissed off the rest of the day. To make it worse, we had to lay off my nanny for a short time due to some invoicing conflicts with a major client, and while I was sorting it out she had to find another job. So I didn’t even have her help any more. 

Finally, I snapped. I called my friend with three littles, one only 6 months older than my son, sobbing. Her kids are amazing, right to bed (for the most part) at naps too, and almost never up before 7am. Plus they are wonderful people, so I trust her judgement completely. She said she had been biting her tongue for a while because it was my journey as a mom, and she didn’t want to over step. I told her “That’s stupid. I’m drowning. I’m dying. I need help. …..I’m sorry I’m rude. Please just tell me what to do.” I’ll never forget her words:

“You have to let him figure it out.”

I what? How?! Figure what out?! Everyone is telling me I have to TEACH him. But i don’t understand how! I’m not a teacher…

Segue here…I never believed in the cry-it-out method. I thought it was cruel and only for lazy moms. I truly thought it was their way of just not dealing with the baby. I felt that the baby cried because something was wrong, then you add in feelings of abandonment because you won’t help them. It touched a pretty raw nerve.

Then one day, while playing peek-a-boo, my son took the blanket off his OWN head. I was so excited! “Honey!!! He’s learning object permanence!” After getting the “huh?” look I explained: “It’s where he knows something is still there, even though he can’t see it. Like when I leave he room, he knows I’m in the house, just not in front of him.” ……and that thought, my friends, punched me in the face. 

Back to my mom guru friend. She told me I needed to let him cry. That I needed to teach him to self sooth. Until the blanket moment, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I don’t think anyone should until their own blanket moment. But I also never understood, until now, what “self sooth” actually meant.

My instructions were simple. Nurse him, hold him, sing, whatever you do before bed do it. But after you lay him down, you put the pacifier in his mouth (my baby is a MAJOR paci baby) and walk out. After ten minutes, you go in put your hand on his chest, let him calm down, then walk out. Do it again. Don’t talk, don’t pick him up, don’t nurse. Ten minutes. No more, no less the first night. Until he falls asleep. If he wakes up, you give him a bottle. You don’t nurse. He’s not hungry, he just wants you, but it’s hurting both of you. Then start again. 

By six months, every mom knows the different cries: hungry, hurt, needy, tired, wet, etc. The first night I did what I was told, and let him cry for ten minutes solid, he was never in pain, hungry, wet, or even needy. He was straight up raging pissed. He screamed so much he was literally going hoarse. I laid on my bed and listened. With a timer. I’d walk in, he’d grab my arm with a death grip, roll to his side, close his eyes and start to fall asleep. So I would remove my hand, kiss him again and walk out. Scream. I mean full on ear ringing, kicking, hyperventilating, scratchy voice, choking on his spit screaming. The second time, I handed him his pacifier – not put it in his mouth for him. After the third time, I laid back on my bed, and felt so defeated. I KNEW he was just mad, but I felt like I was an awful mom. Finally, he passed out. 

Later, I did the second step. I gave him a bottle. My son has had six bottles his whole life. Twice from daddy, twice from a sitter, and once from me when I had thrush….now once from me because I wouldn’t nurse. I am adamant about breast feeding until he’s 18 months, longer if I can, so the bottle felt like I had ripped a part of my heart out. 12am and my husband wasn’t home yet, so I called three moms leaving sobbing voicemails. No one was up. Who WOULD be?! It killed me. Not the screaming (I felt bad, but it was like a toddler throwing a tantrum you just wait), not the leaving him in his bed instead of picking him up (though that was pretty hard because my love language is touch)…but not nursing him?! O. My. Gawd. I cried the type of cry when you can’t breathe and you collapse into a puddle on the floor, and your face is in pain because of the tightness. 

But that night, he slept for 8 hours solid (granted it was 10:30 by this point). The following night wasn’t as bad…and he slept 10 hours! The third night, I bumped up his bedtime to help him not get too tired and make it easier to fall asleep. 11.5 hours solid. 

Now, his bath is at 7:30 – not 8:30. He’s asleep by 8, and doesn’t wake up until 7:30. He fusses, but finds the pacifier on his own. If he won’t settle, I still don’t talk, I leave his diaper (unless he pooped) and will rock him for a minute by his bed and lay him right back down. 

Object permanence. He needed to know I was still there, but needed to learn I can’t do everything for him. I still sleep with him for his morning nap, and still nurse him to sleep at night. But what I taught him was a little sliver of independence. THAT’S what cry-it-out means, and 11 hours of sleep means he’s a happier baby, I’m a happier mom, and we are both healthier in the long run.

Now… get longer naps…