Last month I wrote about a sweet moment I had with Cole, when I responded to his cries, and did not allow him to cry it out. I wish I could say that was our “happily ever after,” regarding sleep with Cole, but it wasn’t.
I suspected a few hours after Cole’s birth that he might be a high needs/fussy baby. Within a few days, I knew we had our own high needs baby. One of the characteristics Cole displayed, was I could not put him down without him instantly starting to cry. This of course, carried over to sleep time as well.
For the first six or so months of Cole’s life, he literally slept ON me. I would lie down, and he would instantly fall asleep on me. Any other method I tried to get him to go to sleep resulted in intense screaming.
Needless to say, this was exhausting. I never slept that well with him on me, but at least this allowed me to doze and snooze, and was the better alternative to being up all night with a screaming baby. As Cole continued to grow, his laying on me was not working anymore. I knew it was time to come up with a different sleeping arrangement.
Having Cole sleep in the bed with us didn’t work. The moment we moved, he woke up and started crying. We were also getting midnight visits from Ryan too (who was three at the time), and he would just jump in the bed, half asleep. Obviously, this wasn’t a safe situation, because Ryan could have jumped on Cole and hurt him.
We finally decided to move Cole’s crib into our room, and place it next to our bed. At least he could still hear me breathe and would know I was near him, even though he wasn’t sleeping on me. I figured this was going to take some adjustment, but I was determined out of sheer desperation, to get Cole to sleep in his crib.
The first night, after nursing Cole, I placed him in the crib. I sat on the edge of my bed and patted his back, while I softly whispered to him. He fussed for about a minute, and then went to sleep. As I tried to leave the room, he would notice that my hand was no longer on his back, and he’d start crying. As long as I sat on the edge of the bed, haunched over the crib, with my hand on his back, he was fine and would sleep. Even after an hour, when I thought he had to be asleep, as soon as I took my hand off his back, the screaming started. After a few nights of this, Cole finally got to the point where I could get him to sleep, take my hand off his back, and leave the room.
The only thing that was predictable with Cole was he was unpredictable. Some nights he loved the crib and would fall asleep instantly, and other nights sleeping just didn’t happen – for him or for me. I would not be honest if I didn’t say that some nights I was so incredibly frustrated with Cole. I could not understand why my baby would not sleep, even though I was doing everything I could think of for him.
The nights I sat up with him in the living room at 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am, crying because I was beyond sleep deprived, were countless. My husband, Joe, helped out a lot too, despite having to be up every morning at 6am, so he could go to work. I honestly don’t know how he managed to only get a few hours of sleep, and then go for ten plus hours a day at work, with no naps. At least I was able to take a nap during the day.
Shortly before Cole turned one, we were having a particularly bad night. Nothing was working to get Cole to sleep, and he had been crying for hours. I was so incredibly frustrated, exhausted, and the end of my rope. I wanted to make Cole stop crying, so I could go to sleep. That exhausted and drained part of me wondered what would happen if I just gave him a shake to see if he would stop crying. Instantly, I felt like the worse mother on the earth.
Thank goodness that was just a fleeing thought that did not manifest itself, but it scared me. That night I put Cole in his crib, where he was safe, sat on the floor in the room and let him cry. I think that was the hardest night ever for me a mother, because I was totally out of options and was completely and utterly burned out.
After 30 minutes, Cole finally fell asleep. It was hard to listen to him cry, but in the state we were in, it was the only thing left to do. As I sat on the floor in his room, I thought about how close I had been to ‘losing’ it with Cole, and realized he was safe in his crib, and this is what we needed to do to get through the night.
After that night, it was still hit or miss with getting Cole to sleep, but around 18 months, it was like a switch just went off in him where he finally turned the corner. Instead of a baby who never slept, and was constantly waking up, he was sleeping, and staying asleep.
Cole just turned two, and his sleep issues are gone. I nurse him for a few minutes before bed, and then place him in the crib, still awake. He smiles at me, pulls me in for a hug, rolls over and goes to sleep on his own. It is a rare night now if he wakes up, not the rule. I never thought we would get to this point.
I thought long and hard about how to write this post, because having your baby cry-it-out, isn’t generally accepted as AP parenting. However, I wanted to be honest, and relay a true experience. I have realized for me that it is OK to admit that I am not a perfect mother, nor will I ever be. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try, but sometimes I fall short of the ideals that I want to raise my children with. When that happens, I have learned that it serves no useful purpose to beat myself up and tell myself I’m a bad mother.
Being the parent of a high needs baby tests you in ways you never dreamed of. Most of the time you pass the tests successfully. But, sometimes as any parent – high needs baby or not – can tell you, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes in the moment you do the best you can, so you can get through the day or the night. Then all you can do is continue on, learning from the experience.
If everyone practiced all the AP ideals all the time perfectly, we wouldn’t have much to write or talk about, and be able to offer support to others. “Failing” at an AP ideal, doesn’t make us “bad” or non-AP parents – it makes us human parents.
When we don’t parent quite the way we want to at times, it is disheartening, but it also is a good learning experience, and it helps us grow. These experiences help us grow into the kind of parents we want to be.