I'm not coming from a good place as I sit down to write this. I'm not my best self, or even close. I sat down to start writing this over a week ago, when I was about two weeks into a really tough sleep pattern, and thought I might be losing my mind. Then I took a week of maternity leave. Then Margie had a couple of nights of good sleep. I thought I'd delete this draft, and not subject the internet to one more blog post about babies who don't sleep well. I'm not unique, and it's tired material. (har har har) If you're sick of hearing me pitifully weep into the void about baby sleep, please feel free to ignore this blog post.
But then the last three days, we're back to awful sleep. And I barely feel human. I feel like a walking, mumbling, zombie of a person, stumbling around trying to make my brain feel like more than a lump of nothing inside my head. And I have to get these feelings out there, not because I have some sort of unique perspective, but because I need to not just have this cycling in my head. And maybe seeing this will make someone else feel less alone. At the very least, it's not just in my head. Maybe I'll look back on this and laugh someday.
The topic of baby sleep is fraught with controversy. There are more methods of "sleep training" than I care to count, and I can't keep track anyway. The most popular discussions boil down to some version of letting them "cry it out" (aka let them cry themselves to sleep) vs. not (aka getting up and soothing/nursing every time baby wakes up). It's not black and white, but it can seem that way. And it can feel that way. And it's completely overwhelming and I have no idea if it would be less so if I were a fully functioning, not sleep deprived zombie of a person, but that's who I am and that's how it feels.
Up until the last few weeks, I wasn't anti-cry-it-out, but I wasn't in any hurry to do sleep training either. Part of me wasn't sure it would work, part of me didn't really think it was necessary because waking up 2-3x/night was pretty manageable. I didn't want to fix what didn't feel broken, you know? But now I feel like I'm in a different world. After over two weeks of mostly-not-sleeping, we're starting to discuss Sleep Training. We have an appointment with a health educator from our hospital on Wednesday to talk about options. I have a feeling the conversation will go something like, "here are some options, do what you feel comfortable with," which is only mildly helpful, I think. But maybe talking it out with a person will end up being helpful. Maybe we can make some sort of plan.
For context, right now (at ~6.5 months old), a good night of sleep looks like: bed at 8pm, feed at 11:30pm, 1:30am, feed at 4:30am, awake at 7:30am for the day. Eating every three hours or so. Most nights look more like: bed at 8pm, awake a few times between 8-9pm, awake at 11, 1, 3, 5, 7. Occasionally, awake at 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. It's been every 1-2 hours for the last few weeks (with the exception of a couple good days). Sometimes she wakes to eat, sometimes to fart, sometimes just to fuss. Right now, I'm getting up to try to soothe her back to sleep by whatever means necessary. She's rejecting Will in the middle of the night, only seeming to want me, even if she doesn't want to nurse. Once upon a time, she'd have a first stretch of 4-5 hours, and then wake every 2-3 after that. That was fiiiiine. Do that again, Margie!
Last night at 2am, I tried to hold off - I waited in bed when I heard her wake up, to see if she'd soothe herself back to sleep. She wasn't even crying loudly, just whimpering to herself, and it had only been an hour since I'd last fed her. She sounded uncomfortable though; my instinct was that it was likely gas. After 20 minutes, I couldn't take it. It felt unfair to leave her alone in her room, uncomfortable, crying, so I got up and gave her gas drops (simethicone) and nursed her back to sleep. She slept for another hour, followed by two two-hour stretches with nursing in between. Those two hour stretches felt positively luxurious after the one-hour spells. Perspective, eh?
And I know we're lucky. She takes a pacifier (most of the time). She's nursing well, and breastfeeding is going great at this point. She's an otherwise healthy, happy baby. It could be much, much worse, and I know that. And I try to stay grateful for that. But I'm still wracked with guilt and exhaustion and indecision.
We've been advised by a few friends that I should leave for a few days, leave Will home with some bottles, and have him do the sleep training. They say it's easier for both mom and baby if mom is not there. This is one theory. And a part of me agrees. But part of me feels guilty, like I'd be abandoning my baby. I've literally never spent a night away from her. I worry my milk supply will lessen if I'm not feeding her during the night, since I don't feed her while I'm at work either. I worry that we'll lose some of this special connection if I'm breastfeeding less often. I worry that she's waking up to nurse and be comforted by me so often because she misses me, and that we won't be as bonded if I'm not doing that (I know, I know). But I also worry about my own health, and I know I need to sleep. Will says he's ok to do it, but I don't know if I feel ok doing it. I don't know if I feel ok not doing it. Last night I started a sort of meditative listmaking around 3am, where I started thinking of which friends live close by, have an extra bedroom, have no children, and would let me cry on their shoulders as I feel guilty about running away from my baby. I am not mentally capable of handling this right now. Which I guess is the point.
This morning as I left for work, I nearly cried looking at her little round face and touching her soft baby skin. I held back tears on the bus as a friend texted to tell me it was ok. I'm choking back sobs typing this right now. The physical pain of hearing my baby cry and choosing not to pick her up was not something I was prepared for. I didn't expect such agonizing guilt and feelings of helplessness, and I didn't realize I could be so obsessed with sleep - mine or someone else's. It's all I think about and all I talk about. It even takes over my giant running list of "emotional labor" type to-dos I'm always wrestling with. It's torture.
I'm still not sure what we'll decide to do. Sometimes I think sleep training sounds and will feel cruel both for me and for her. Sometimes I think it will teach her necessary independence and we'll all sleep better and be better for it. There is no overall right answer, and I don't even know if there's a right answer for our family. And what if we do it, and it doesn't even work?
So. Sleep. Does your baby do it? How? When? What did you do to help it? How did you decide? Let's talk about it.
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