Friday, August 17, 2012

More on Sleep, 11-Month Report

It's not that the only way I can get GI to sleep is by nursing him. He'll fall asleep in the car, or when being held by someone else, or occasionally even when being held by me and not hungry. But to transfer him to the bed, or to get him to sleep when I don't have any other option, I lay down with him in bed and let him nurse until he drifts off to sleep. Sometimes this is less peaceful than it sounds, with me having to wrestle him back to me and convince him that, more than anything else in the world, more than chasing the cats, more than looking out the window, more than pulling on the curtains, more than playing with his brothers, he wants to nurse and fall asleep. Other times, he makes it clear in no uncertain terms that he wants to nurse right now and suckles until his eyes slowly close and stay closed, his hands relax, his legs bend and settle into what I guess is a comfortable position for him, and his breathing slows and evens out. When this second scenario happens, which is the case fairly often, it is truly the most blissful, peaceful way to fall asleep.

When I think he's asleep, I'll gently unlatch him from my nipple by sliding my finger into the corner of his mouth until he lets go. Now that he has two top and two bottom teeth, it's dangerous to try to pull away. I wouldn't want my yelp of pain to undo all the hard work of getting him to sleep in the first place! If he's totally out, he'll relax further, close his mouth, and not even twitch as I slide away from him and leave the room. If he's not quite all the way asleep, he'll immediately start looking for the nipple again. First, he opens his mouth and nods his head as if he's got some kind of nipple-detecting sonar. If he senses nothing, he starts rocking forward and backward, getting a bit more frantic. If still the coveted boob does not reappear, he'll start whimpering and calling. Only after a few minutes of this sonar-ing and yelling does he escalate to crying. Typically, I haven't even rolled away yet, so as soon as he starts his search, I'll let him latch back on and continue to suckle. Usually it takes only another two or three minutes before he falls completely asleep and I can leave. If I let him escalate, it takes more time for him to re-settle.

I love that first bit of maneuvering, the gentle opening of the mouth, the quiet nodding of the head. I love it, because he just assumes that I'm still there, that he doesn't have to cry or look for me. He knows that nipple is around there somewhere, and all he has to do is open his mouth and it will reappear. To me, this shows the ultimate trust, that Mommy is there. When he needs me, I'll be there. When he asks for me, I'll respond. He doesn't have to worry. He doesn't have to wake all the way up. He doesn't have to despair. Mommy's here. When I need her, she'll come. If I'm not done, she'll let me finish.

There's a whole spectrum of opinions about how babies "should" sleep, whether we should let them nurse to sleep or become reliant upon our "help" to fall asleep. There are those who would tell you that picking up your three-week-old every time she makes a noise is going to mean that she'll never be able to sleep without you. There are others who would tell you that if your five-year-old still needs to sleep in your bed next to you and have you rub her back for her to fall asleep, you should do that. There are schools of thought that say by about five or six months of age, a baby shouldn't be eating at night and should be able to fall asleep on his own and stay asleep all night. There are others who would say that your child will sleep how he sleeps and you shouldn't try to "sleep train" or night wean, because eventually he'll sleep on his own, when he's ready.

In trying to show the extremes of the spectrum, I'm not saying either side is right or wrong. I believe, as I have stated before, that every child is different, and what works for some parents and babies/children won't work for others, either emotionally or physically. Some babies are sound sleepers who, without any "work" on the parents' part, simply start sleeping eight or nine hours in a row at three months and never look back (or so their parents say). There are other children who still, at three or four years old, have trouble staying asleep the whole night and need their parents to help them go back to sleep.

I do believe, wholly, that cultivating trust between parent and child is absolutely vital. I do believe that your child needs to know you're there, and that that attachment needs to happen as babies and toddlers. We know that children who are neglected early in life have trouble ever learning to trust, bond, and love. I'm not saying that letting your child cry it out or leaving him to sleep on his own at night is neglectful. A child who is loved and attended to while awake is hardly neglected. I also am not convinced one way or the other that letting a child cry himself to sleep for a few nights will cause long-term damage or mistrust or any other emotional or behavioral problems. I just don't know. Nobody does. You can't take the same child and raise him two different ways.

But when I put myself in the baby's place, it hurts me to the core. Imagine: One night, I wake up and nobody's there. Nobody comes when I call. I'm alone in a dark room, I'm hungry, I need comfort, and nobody comes. I cry, and nobody comes. I wail, and nobody comes. Where's Mommy, with her warmth and her special scent and her milk? Why am I trapped in this place all by myself? Eventually, I'll lay down and go back to sleep, having exhausted myself with crying. I'll wake up in the morning, and someone will come get me. Where were they a few hours ago? And then, tonight, will it happen again? Will I be ignored? After a few nights, I won't even bother to cry, because I'll know nobody will come, and my parents will congratulate themselves on successfully "sleep training" me. "Oh, he sleeps through the night now. A few nights of letting him cry, and now he doesn't wake up! It was worth it!" The thing is, it's not that I didn't wake up. It's that when I woke up, I knew no one would come, and I went back to sleep because I had no other choice.

Maybe it is worth it. I don't pass judgment. I know that some people really can't function without good, solid sleep, and they will be better mothers during the day if they get to sleep through the night. I understand that. I just can't bear the thought of my baby going through that feeling of abandonment, even if it means we'll all sleep at night. And let me tell you, right now, exhausted as I am, sleeping through the night would feel like winning the lottery. But there are gentler ways to help everyone get more sleep. Sure, it's a longer process, and more work in some ways, and a longer time with less sleep, but you're a parent at night just as much as during the day. I like to wait until my kids have enough language ability to understand, "It's time to sleep. Go to sleep now. No more nursies," or whatever. If I can explain that I'm still around but that nighttime is for sleeping, then I don't feel like they're on par with that six-month-old baby left alone in his crib. When they can understand that Mommy's still nearby but that everyone needs to sleep, then they can still maintain that trust in you.

My older two generally sleep through the night. SB has backslid a bit in the past couple of months, partly because he's three and a half, and that is a very tough age. The half-years are typically bad times for behavior and sleep, as they enter a period of brain development and a bit of internal confusion. When they come out of it, they are stabler, happier kids, but we need to be there to support them through the tough times, even though we, as parents, want to tear our hair out. But they do generally sleep through the night, and if it weren't for GI's poor nighttime sleep, I'd say that we would all be pretty well rested. I think that helps me get through these bad nights with GI, because I know, from experience, that it does get easier and it will get better. Eventually. I do have fantasies of putting all three boys to bed in their own room, in their own beds, saying goodnight, and being left alone the rest of the night. And I also have fantasies of going in their room when they're teenagers and having to wake them up. It will happen. One day.

I was looking back through my LiveJournal from when NJ was about 11 months, as GI is now. NJ was sleeping terribly at the time, waking often, being up for an hour or two in the middle of the night, having trouble getting to sleep in the evening, just as GI is doing now. Actually, GI isn't even as bad, since it's not too hard to get him to sleep once he's ready, and he has only had a couple nights of being up for no reason and playing. The reason I bring this up is twofold. One, it's really just the age. They're learning so much at this age, coming up on one year old, that their brains just don't want to settle down. They want to walk, they want to talk, they want to play, they want to interact, and they do not want to relax and go to sleep and maybe miss out on something fun or important. And, two, it seems to me to put to rest any argument that GI still wakes so often because I nurse him through the night and cosleep. You see, NJ didn't nurse - indeed, by 11 months he didn't even eat at night. He had a pacifier and a blankie. He slept in his own room in a crib. And he was having all the exact same sleep "problems" that GI is having, despite completely opposite sleeping arrangements. Interesting, no?

So, I love that GI will be secure in the knowledge that Mommy is there for him when he needs me. I love that GI knows he need only open his mouth to receive that which he needs more than anything - Mommy's best source of comfort. I love that he can communicate that need, and that I can understand his message, without even waking up. And I love that I can get him to sleep with so little battle (most of the time) just by laying down with him and sticking my nipple in his mouth. I'm not saying I love every minute of it. That would be dishonest. My ribs hurt, my neck hurts, I sleep horribly, and sometimes his latch is so bad at night that I cringe when he wants to nurse again. But, frankly, I can't imagine any other way to get him to go to sleep, or go back to sleep, that would be more restful than not even having to get out of bed to tend to him.

I think, in a few months, when GI is old enough to understand, I'll be able to move him out of my bed, possibly out of my room, and he'll sleep on his own. I may still have to nurse him at night - I continued to nurse SB two to three times a night until I weaned him completely - but in between I'll get to sleep more comfortably. Until then, I'll muddle through and enjoy the peaceful moments, the tiny hand resting on my side, the little foot against my thigh, the warm head nestled in the crook of my arm, and the absolute trust and unconditional love of a baby. There's nothing like it. Nothing.

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