Go the F*** to Sleep

When Simon was born a single friend gave us a hilarious book, read here by Samuel L. Jackson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3UwbpUKCTo

People told us about the “grace period” of having a newborn, when they sleep so much. God must have made them do this so the mom can recover from childbirth and visitors. Then after three weeks of almost constant sleeping, Simon decided he’d rather not sleep at night. I could barely keep him awake long enough to eat during the day, but at night he wouldn’t sleep until the wee hours, or sometimes until morning.

Although the sleep deprivation was bothering me, the lack of control was even harder to take. Several times I had to cancel my morning plans because I was just too tired from being up all night. I felt unreliable and pathetic, but I didn’t really have a choice. Because most nights, Simon would just cry until it was time to feed him again. Then he’d look around the room, wide-eyed, seeming to take in every detail. I gained a new understanding of the expression “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

Simon during his "night's not for sleep" phase.

We tried the “cry it out” method but even when he finally nodded off, exhausted, he’d start up again after a twenty-minute catnap. We tried the “shush-pat” method but after a long process of getting him to sleep, again he’d only sleep twenty minutes or so. I was determined not to get him dependent on props to sleep—the vacuum, the car, the swing, sleeping only in our arms, etc. But even when we held him, he’d often keep crying or just look around.

Perhaps even worse than feeling out of control was my frustration that I was trying to “do the right thing” by teaching him to sleep in his crib, not nursing him to sleep, trying to keep him up during the day, and avoiding sleep props. And still he wasn’t conforming to the plan. I read and re-read the same chapters on sleep problems and followed the suggestions precisely but the nighttime problem was only getting worse.

Sleepy head during the day.

I asked my older, wiser mom friends for advice. “There’s nothing you can do,” they concluded after I said what I had tried. “Babies aren’t machines you can program.” They said to keep up the daytime routine and wait it out. “He won’t do this forever,” they all comforted, and I believed them, but I couldn’t conceive of how he would stop if I didn’t do something to solve the problem.

“Since you’re doing everything you can and nothing’s working,” one friend said, “I bet God’s allowing it to do something with you.”

This was so true, and strangely comforting. I was stressed out about the sleep training, about what to do, how to fix the problem, and how to regain control of my schedule. Yet I was also so grateful for Simon, to have him here so healthy and cute. He even started smiling at me in the midst of this crazy time. I knew God was opening up new capacities to love in me, and I also wanted God to change me, to teach me to be less uptight and controlling and worried.

“When he’s up at night, just relax and enjoy the moment,” she said, and recounted similar times with her firstborn. I was so grateful for this advice and it got me through the next week or two. And then Simon flipped a switch, in the most dramatic way.

Usually when you roll over in the middle of the night and look at the alarm clock, you hope it says it’s only 1 am, right? You hope for lots more hours of sleep before you have to get up. But I started anxiously awaiting 6 or 7 am when Simon would finally fall asleep and I could take a nap.

Then one day, he just kept not sleeping. It started at 12:30am but when morning came he just kept crying or looking around. And I started crying too. He took a couple catnaps but for fifteen hours he didn’t sleep more than three. Around 11am I broke down and took him for a car ride. He was quiet, sleeping I presumed, but when we got home he started up again. Around 1:30pm I did what I should’ve done much sooner and called my best friend. She ordered me to drop him off at her place, where she was hanging out with two other mom friends, so I could take a nap. I obeyed.

When I returned a little before 3pm Simon had just fallen asleep in my friend’s arms. He slept a lot that evening, pulled a similar stunt for the following twelve hours, and after that he started sleeping at night again. Not sleeping through the night, but waking only twice a night was totally manageable at that point. The body surprisingly well to the demands of a newborn. I’m still stuck on waking at 5am; Simon is much better at sleeping through the night than me!

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