There was a moment a long, long time ago, when my son was about 4-months-old, that I remember walking around drunk with baby love and proclaiming, “I think I’ll actually miss waking up with Oliver when he starts sleeping through the night.” Huh? What sane person says that? This is your first piece of proof that sleep deprivation screws with your head.
Our sleep troubles started simple enough, with Oliver waking up two or three times per night. We thought that was “fair” for a newborn. We’d heard so many horror stories of babies waking up every hour or even 30 minutes. “Those poor people!” Of course, as soon as those words popped out of our mouths things got worse, and all of a sudden we were “those poor people!”
We were resolved not to sleep-train. We didn’t want to, as some experts say, “scar our child for life.” He was a baby, so his only way of letting us know that he was wet or hungry was by waking up and crying. Obviously he needed something, and after being in my womb for 41 weeks, he was used to getting round-the-clock buffet service. How soon was I to pull that plug? He would just start sleeping on his own, right? RIGHT?
There were nights we were fooled into thinking, “This is it! He’s finally learning to self-sooth and sleep through the night!” But as soon as we’d say it out loud and got ready to release him from his swaddled shackles, rest assured, he’d begin his cries (demands) juuuust as we were about to fall asleep. Repeatedly through the night. Parent lesson learned: There’s a fine line between being proud and gloating. The latter will always bite you in the ass.
Night-weaning at 9 months -- which was prompted by a failed co-sleeping attempt where all my child wanted to do was nurse all night -- didn’t help the situation. If anything, it got worse. As time went on, his wakings became more erratic, and we became more sleep deprived.
We became fearful of sunsets that marked the insanity of the night ahead. So after much debate, tears (mostly from me), 2 a.m. “reasoning” with our baby, and 2 a.m. reading about not sleeping, we entered our first encounter with “never say never” -- believe me, you encounter many as a parent -- and we attempted Ferber-izing our child at 11-months-old by letting him cry for 3, 5 and 7-minute intervals.
Miraculously, by night three he was “sleeping through the night!” -- meaning he was sleeping from around 7:30 pm to 5:30 am. But because 5:30 is an ungodly hour for any human to be up for the day, I would bring him into bed, nurse, and squeeze in another hour or so of sleep. But then 5:30 became 5, and 5 became 4:30, and you get the drift. A few months went by, and we were back to not sleeping.
(Sidenote: Ever notice that it’s never a bumping bass or obnoxious neighbors that wake your child, but the sound of the slightest creek in the floor on your late night bathroom trip? Stop drinking water before bed.)
At 16 months, we threw all of our previous beliefs out the window (you genius parents who slept-trained your children at four months! Why was I such a fool?) and decided to do complete Cry-It-Out. “No more Mr. Nice Guy!” But really, it was more “I love you so much, please don’t hate me tomorrow” pleading before going to bed, followed by hours of torture.
And then he was “sleeping through the night!!” again... until at 2 years old, we hit another developmental stage/molar coming in/growth spurt. Whatever it was, we weren’t sleeping anymore (or maybe we’re always half asleep at this point?). We tried training for another few days, but now a few months out, we’re done. Mostly because we’re just too freaking tired. And also, toddlers are really loud.
If I’m scaring you, new mama, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to. I have plenty of friends who had luck sleeping-training their kids. I even have friends whose kids are just natural sleepers and have to be woken up after 9 a.m. (or even later)!
But for those of you who are not sleeping when your baby is 6, 9, 12, 18-months and so on, you’re not alone. All those people who said, “Don’t worry, your baby will be sleeping through the night soon enough” they have been lying to you! Or maybe they’ve blocked out their own sleep deprivation memories like childbirth because the pain is just too much.
Either way, know that when you’re cursing the night (and maybe even your child) because your exhaustion is just too much to handle, there’s another parent out there doing the same. There’s another parent stomping to the crib like a toddler, or nursing her baby for the ninth time. There’s yet another parent rocking her little one to sleep again, and another having her third cup of coffee to get through the night.
Me? I’m the mama pouting because her toddler just woke up wailing for no reason. But I’m also the mama letting out a big sigh of love because her toddler woke up at 4 a.m., said “love mama so much,” and fell back to sleep resting his face on my face. Sleep deprivation has its perks after all.