I’m going to start at the beginning for this one.
I knew that sleep would be a major challenge for me once we started a family. In fact, sleep (or potential lack thereof) was at the top of my list of concerns about becoming a parent. Dirty diapers? Not a problem. Temper tantrums? Bring it. Feeding concerns? I can handle it (Okay, I didn’t know breastfeeding would be so difficult, but we got over that). But oh boy, sleep. I already knew enough about myself to know that I do not do well when I don’t get enough sleep. Not well at all. But really, I had no idea.
Things went south in the last month of my pregnancy when I awoke on the hour to pee. I kid you not, every single hour. I’d look incredulously at the clock in the bathroom each time I went in. Luckily, most nights I’d just go right back to sleep. It was annoying, but I survived.
Then, (after 23 short hours of labor) he was born. We’d planned to co-sleep, and did so peacefully for the first few months. I was using a nipple shield to nurse, (don’t ask, just click) so he latched on easily one or two times each night and went right back to sleep contentedly. And so did I.
I missed the writing on the wall when a friend of mine asked about how the sleeping was going. “Great!” I said a little too enthusiastically, “He only wakes up twice to nurse and then goes right back to sleep.” “Really?” she asked, “You mean you don’t dread the nighttime? That is so awesome.” Ha. Hahahaha. No, I did not dread the nighttime with horrified and crippling anxiety. I was not fraught with sobs and driven to a near-suicidal psychosis. No, all that came much, much later.
It was all fabulous until he weaned off the shield at twelve weeks. By then his latch was good but tricky to execute, kind of like a gymnastics dismount in reverse: things had to be just so. Unfortunately, “just so,” did not equal “while lying in bed.” So every night at around midnight and four AM, I’d be woken by my baby who was sleeping next to me and get up to cross the room to the rocking chair where I proceeded to nurse him for 30-45 minutes. Then we’d carefully (as to not wake him) get back into bed together. God forbid the mattress squeal when I climbed in or it was back to the rocking chair for another endless 20 minutes.
When he was about ten months old I decided that he did not need to nurse at night anymore. He was down to one feeding, but was getting fussier about going back to sleep afterward, and was requiring prolonged bouncing on a large yoga ball to fall asleep at all. Needless to say he was pretty heavy at this point. I armed myself with facts from all the books that said normal babies don’t “need” calories at night at this point. So, I cut him off the boob at night cold turkey. I simultaneously made him stay in his crib to cry it out when he woke up at night.
Sounds harsh, I know, but I was tired of catching myself putting the canned goods in the refrigerator, forgetting important commitments at work and feeling bitter whenever I heard someone talk about their baby sleeping through the night. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I called it sleep coaching and I consoled/tortured myself by staying next to his crib while he cried. He screamed his head off and stood against the crib rails reaching for me. I avoided eye-contact, patted his back and murmured softly to him. I caved one time and tried to pop him on for a quick nurse, but by then he didn’t even want to. I guess this strengthened my resolve that I was doing the right thing and as a fun bonus I got to eventually witness him learning to self-soothe. Finally (after about three hours) he sat down, whimpered and fell asleep sitting up. Yes, my child is that stubborn. The next night was only one and a half hours of pure hell. And the night after that was only about an hour. The third night we moved his crib into his own room.
I showed it to him, pointing, I said, “That’s where your crib is going to be now. This is your room and you’re going to sleep in here all night long.” He just looked at me stoically. And then…he did it! He slept in there all night long.
I was sort of disgusted with myself that we hadn’t moved him into his own room sooner.