Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We picked our strategy and we're sticking to it

Sleep is an interesting subject 'round these parts. Jack resides in a bedside co-sleeper -- a three-sided crib that's open to my edge of the bed. He goes to sleep in the co-sleeper, but at some point (usually around 3 or 4am), I bring him into bed. Occasionally he gets upset and I bring him in for the whole night.

I'm OK with getting up at night and I am OK with having my sleep disturbed by his presence in bed. I am exceptionally grumpy in the moment (poor Greg), but, come morning, I do all right. As long as I get 2-3 hours between nursing calls, I can function. Jack is so close to me -- whether he is in the co-sleeper, or whether he is in bed -- that I couldn't even tell you how frequently we get up together.

I love sleeping alongside Jack. This is something I never anticipated enjoying so much.

Why do I enjoy it? My goodness, anybody who has ever slept next to a baby needs no answer to this question. It is about the sweetest, most special time you can imagine. Jack and I curl up together. I feel him breath. I look down at his lovely face. He wakes up and smiles at me during the middle of the night, and I hold him securely, feeling how safe he is within my arms. He has his times -- spent kicking and punching me through the night -- but when he sleeps well, I sleep well, we sleep well, and it's wonderful. Greg and I don't send our dogs into their own rooms to sleep at night. Why would we send our baby away?

I started typing out a whole post about co-sleeping (it's a controversial subject), but that will have to wait for another day. Let me just make the point that Greg and I love having Jack close to us at night.

Our nighttime routine goes something like this: bath or shower with mom or dad starts at 6:30. PJs and a fresh diaper. A song, a soft chat, or some cuddle time with "Sleepy Puppy" (a musical stuffed animal). Plenty of nursing and gentle rocking, humming and singing. Once he starts to drift off, we put him down. It takes anywhere from 20-60 minutes.

This method has been more or less successful. We try to help him fall asleep on his own, and he will, eventually, but it can be tiresome. Sometimes, like the past week, it just doesn't work. I'll cut a long story short and say that things got very difficult for a few days. On Monday night there was much screaming and much comforting and much more screaming. It was very stressful for all of us.

Greg and I were at our whits end. We feel a lot of pressure to get him to sleep the "right" way, the Western way. "Never put him down asleep. He needs to be sleepy when he goes in his crib". "Don't let him nurse to sleep -- it'll be a crutch". "If he starts sleeping in your room he'll never leave". "If you answer every cry, he won't learn how to self soothe" (What the hell is self soothing, anyway?). "Lack of sleep causes ADHD". Blahblahblah. I say respond jokingly, as if I couldn't be disturbed by common wisdom -- but in actuality, there is quite a bit of guilt involved. Every parent is faced with this same decision: when do you stop answering your baby's cry?

Greg wanted to try to let him cry himself to sleep, to see if he could self-soothe.

Never again.

It was awful. We literally made it five minutes into his crying before picking him and hugging him tightly, promising that we'd never, ever let him get so upset again. He could nurse. He could come in bed. We would bounce him and cradle him and make sure that he never felt alone.

I never imagined I'd be one of these parents. I thought I'd be "tough". I thought I'd train my kid to sleep well and to sleep alone.

Well how wrong was I.

Because here's the thing. Jack is so very, very new to this world. A baby does not need to be independent: he needs comfort and love. It's not about spoiling or setting up bad habits or caving in. It's about helping him feel secure. And right now, this tiny, newly-social creature, needs to be around other people when he sleeps. He's four months old and doesn't have enough of a memory to even known that we will come back. He just wants to be near us. Fine by me.

So we made a decision. We will do whatever it takes to help Jack sleep, for however long we have to it. It's that simple.

We believe that it benefits his mental health, until he is of an age where he can understand that we have not abandoned him. We believe that it benefits his physical health, due to the decreased SIDS risk that comes with co-sleeping. We believe that it fits into his evolutionary design: babies were meant to sleep with their moms, and it is only in the Western world that cultural pressure causes people to put their babies to sleep alone. In other cultures, forcing a baby to sleep alone would be seen as cruel, at best.

And on top of all of this? Greg and I don't want to lose him. We only get to see our little baby for an hour or two every evening. Soothing Jack to sleep at night, and cuddling with him in the early hours of the morning -- this is the only time we get together as a family. Neither Greg or I will let it go. So when I think of it that way (that the time I spend rocking and nursing him to dreamland is my only time left to be his mother), I decide that I will rock him to sleep until he's 18 if I have to*.

Many people will tell me that I spoiling him, that I am making him dependent, that I am setting up poor sleep habits for his future life. I disagree. I am making sleep a happy, comforting time for Jack. I will continue to do so until it no longer makes sense -- maybe he gets to be too old, maybe we sacrifice sleep quality -- whatever it is, we will know that the situation no longer makes sense once it no longer makes sense. I will not go against every maternal instinct inside me in anticipation of some problem that may or may not present itself in the future. We will take each day as it comes.

And today? Jack slept for two full hours, in his crib, at daycare. Unreal. He's never done that before, even as a little baby -- flat surfaces would afford us an hour at best, and no more than 20 minutes most of the time. So Jack is making progress and we are proud of him. Tonight? It took less than 10 minutes of soothing before I placed him in his co-sleeper. I don't expect every night will be so calm, but I look forward to the ones that will.

*Not really, but it sounds good for effect, doesn't it?

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