My son doesn’t sleep well. He never has. He doesn’t sleep through the night, as per the textbooks, or sleep experts. He needs to nurse to fall asleep; he will co-sleep when he feels like it, but other night’s requests to be in his own bed, in his own space. He needs to have my shirt in his bed, snuggling up to it if he does sleep in his own bed. Some nights, he needs my husband or I to rub is back or stroke his hair before he finally gives into sleep. And, yes, he wakes up countless times during the night.
This is my life. This is my night time parenting life sans sleep training, sans the societal pressure to have him on a schedule, or allow him to cry it out.
I learned quickly as an attachment parent, that many think that my ideas about his ability to sleep on his own, with my guidance, on his own terms were not nearly as accepted as some of the books that you can find for sale at your local bookstore. I have had to be polite to friends and family as they roll their eyes, mock our belief that cry it out should never be a solution, no matter how sleep deprived you are. I’ve had to refuse advice from strangers, or well meaning relatives, who tell me what they heard a sleep expert for babies say on the latest talk show or even better, what worked for them, and their children turned out “fine”. I mean, at the end of the day, tired, or not, I know my child, and I know what I believe in.
This isn’t to say that there haven’t been those moments where I have cried desperately to my husband after spending four hours trying to get my son to bed, that there had to be SOMETHING we could do. It’s trying in so many human ways to be that patient, and know that tomorrow night, it may be the same. When my son was 10 months old, I bought The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I wish I could say it helped, and that my son miraculously went from multiple wakeup’s to none. It didn’t happen and mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to believe that this was the only thing that would now work. I knew that even if it did work, another regression of some sort would come along, and I’d be back at the same place.
What it did give me was some information, and a ton of reassurance. I learned about sleeping patterns, and habits. I learned that even when I thought my reserves were drained dry, there was still some oomph left in them, and I could keep walking this tired path of exhaustion.
Then something happened. One my son’s first birthday, he gave ME the best Birth Day present ever. He slept through the night. I awoke at 5am, realizing that my son wasn’t in our bed (he’d come into the bed after his first wakeup at night) my breasts full, used to the constant feeding. I raced out of bed, into his bedroom, and he was out cold, pretty much in the same position I’d left 8 hours prior. He had slept through the night!
We had some good months of sleep, then another regression hit, and like I mentioned before, we were back to the same place we were so many months ago. Sleep issues are cyclical, and just as we think we’re in the free and clear, nature deters us, and we have yet another parenting hurtle to jump over.
A while ago, I posted on a parenting forum I frequent, and in my desperation, begged for some solve all cures (this desperation generally hits after Night Number 8 of No Sleep, and I start to feel a little crazy…) 40 posts later, all of them telling me I was silly for objecting to sleep training, and crying it out, some even kicking me when I’m down, telling me if I don’t cry it out, then it’s my own fault. But then, someone posted to tell me that I wasn’t alone. Her daughter was 24 months, and she had yet to sleep more than 3 nights, fully. She had also never let her cry it out, and her daughter was still nursing to sleep. Her words were simply not to tell me what to do, but rather to tell me, “Hold on, you are doing marvellously, and your child is blessed to have you. Keep it up Mama. You are doing just fine and I get it.”
In those moments, late at night, when all I can think about is what I have to do the next day, as my son, refuses to sleep, I remember those words. I remember how my son has never been left alone at night, to just cry, while I have a full nights rest. I look down at those same big brown eyes that gazed up me so many nights ago, and sigh contentedly, sleep heavy on my eyes, and try to doze off while he finishes nursing.
Coffee is my friend. Being able to cancel plans at a moment’s notice is my saving grace at times, (I’m lucky to have understanding and empathetic friends), having a husband who ushers me off for a nap when I look like a zombie. I still nap with Matteo when I need that extra boost of energy. These are the things that get me through. I have no regrets about my night time parenting. I know this is exhausting for me, but I know it’s the best for him, and I know there will come a day when I look back on these nights with sadness and wish that my son would cry for me in the night.
So here’s to all the Mama’s and Father’s who practice night time parenting, and have gotten it down to an art. Here’s to all the Mama’s and Fathers, who gently rock their children to sleep for the second, fourth, or tenth time that night. Here’s to all of us, and let’s remember, we are going to miss this.
It’s all about perspective, right?
Danielle is lives in Alberta, Canada, with her 20 month old son, and her husband. When she’s not catching up on sleep, she can be found devouring any book she can get her hands on.