Back from the Walking Dead- Tales from the Sleep Deprived

Every night is pretty much the same routine around here. It has been since we exited the fog of those newborn, sporadic sleep hours and entered into a more regimented pattern…somewhere around 6 months. Chuck gets a bath, a teeth brushing, a book, a boob and a good rock in the glider. I cherish this time because I know it’s limited. She’s almost two and half and I know my days of nursing her are nearing an end. It makes me sad, but it makes these moments even more cherished. But, I haven’t always found the joy in this…this routine. 

Chuck has never been a good sleeper. She has always woken many times through the night and except for short periods of growth spurts and intellectual developmental milestones keeping her up, it was usually just because she wanted a snuggle and some mama milk. I was happy to oblige. Usually. I swore I would never be a CIO parent…that’s “cry it out” for those of you just learning the lingo. To me, it was cruel and barbaric to expect this tiny human who relies on you for everything to just magically be able to understand that you aren’t coming when he cries (the only means he has to get your attention) because you believe he needs to learn to “self soothe.” It made me angry, truth be told. I wanted this baby more than anything and dang if I wasn’t going to be everything it needed me to be at all times. I didn’t believe the world should revolve around your child, but I did believe that a certain grace should be extended during the infant stage. Afterall, babies don’t have the mental capacity to tell themselves, “you’re only alone for 8 hours. In the dark. Hungry. With poop on your butt. Suck it up bra. You got this.” No. Babies need mamas and papas to reassure them and nurture them and snuggle them at 2:35 am if that’s what they are requesting. 

Enter zombie phase. 
I remember one particular morning when Chuck was about three months old. She hadn’t slept AT ALL the night before and I had been up with her. Bless Hfoe’s heart, he had to work that day and I am sure his eyelids were like lead on his drive to work. Anyway, I remember making breakfast with C in my baby Bjorn (before I knew the “dangers” of non-ergonomic carriers. For shame!) and she wouldn’t stop crying. She had colic and though she had been fed and changed and cuddled and rocked and worn and shhs’d….NOTHING WORKED! I literally felt like I was going to have a mental breakdown as I stood there looking down at this itsy face with a huge voice that was powerful enough to shake my core. I never once thought about shaking her, thank the LORD, but I did think about how much I wanted to run away. I loved her more than anything else on the planet. But love wasn’t enough. I couldn’t help her and there was no one to help me. She needed sleep. It was that simple. Babies need lots and lots of sleep and neither of us were getting ANY. So, I took a huge, gut busting breath and laid her in her crib, swaddled and full-bellied, whispered in her ear that I loved her and walked away. I closed the door on my poor, screaming baby and I cried the fattest tears of my life listening to her, by herself, for thirty minutes of agony. And it was agony. I don’t believe any mother who has ever let their child cry enjoyed a second of it. It physically hurt me. But then, it was quiet. And she slept. And slept. And slept for the longest nap she had taken to that point. I’d love to say I did too, but I was too busy watching the monitor for movement and listening to it on full volume to make sure I could distinguish her breaths. It was like she needed me to release her to herself, to her own devices to get to dreamland because what I was doing wasn’t working. When she woke, I was still exhausted, but she was like a different kid! My little baby actually seemed rested and it did my heart good.
This wasn’t the beginning of some turning point. In fact, we had at least another year of awful nights and horrible naps because I felt so guilty about the time I let her cry. I just couldn’t do it. I read book after book, tried method after method and nothing, NOTHING worked! I even had a benevolent friend who had paid a sleep consultant for help with her son and she relayed all the info she learned to me. Even the expert advice didn’t work on our non-sleeper. 
When Chuckles was about 22 months old, I hit a wall. Do you know what almost two years of minimal sleep does to a persons mental state? I would argue it rivals water torture. Seriously! Those of you who have experienced it can attest! So, around the 22 month mark I just couldn’t take it anymore. She was in a toddler bed (one of the many things suggested to us to help her sleep better) and she would just get up and cry under her door until we would go in to rock her. I wasn’t breast feeding her overnight anymore thinking that would curb the wake ups. It didn’t. In all my desperate glory, I told Hfoe, tonight was the night. Tonight, when she gets out of her bed, she gets one chance to go back and stay in her bed. If she gets up again, she sleeps in the pack and play and if she cries, she cries. And boy, DID she! It was not pretty. Of course she ended up in the pack and play and of course she screamed. And we laid there listening to it. The horror of it. Surely the neighbors would hear or some mom around the corner would pick it up on her monitor and call CPS to find the child abuser on the block. It was horrendous. And then…she slept. And the next night, she ended up in “the baby bed” again. Screamed, a little less this time. And slept. Night three she stayed in her bed and cried. And slept. By the end of the week the crying ceased, the wake ups ceased and she slept. We all SLEPT! 

Someday, I’m sure she will accuse me of being creepy because of all the sleeping pictures I have of her!

Don’t get me wrong, this has not been a fix-all, never-go-back kind of struggle. We repeat this routine every few months because the kiddo wants snuggles. I get it. I want snuggles too and if she COULD sleep in bed with us, she would have since day one. But she can’t. Because she doesn’t sleep well, between her constant tossing and talking in her sleep, something about being with mama and papa makes her restless. So, dispite my own desire to bed-share, it’s not what’s best for her. But, regardless of how many times we must repeat this THING, it works for us. She isn’t abused or mistreated or emotionally stunted or mentally insecure. In fact, if you ask anyone who knows her, she is probably one of the sassiest, most well-adjusted two year olds you may ever have the pleasure of meeting! 

I guess my take-away from this as I sit here rocking and cuddling my silently nursing, snoozing kiddo is that, Mom, you need to do what your gut is telling you to do. I still feel guilty about and wouldn’t recommend letting your newborn cry it out, but if you need to let your toddler cry, they will survive. If you want to bed-share, do it. If your mama instinct says to get up every time your baby cries, for crying out loud, do that!! I did! Only you and your husband can be the judge of what is healthy for your family. But I warn you, you need sleep, too, you are absolutely not being the best you can be for her if you are a zombie. I know. I have been the walking dead and I am finally back from the grave. It’s pretty wonderful. 

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