Week 38: Sleep, and Relinquishing Control
Before I start in on this actual post, I just want to give an explanation. It’s Tuesday! As promised, this is a Warm Milk post — a post about that sweet, sweet #momlife. That said, it took me a solid ten minutes of staring at a blank page on my screen to actually decide what to write about. I have a lot of thoughts about motherhood, and I’m not sure where to begin. Do I give a recommendation for the single book that turned sleep around in our house? Do I write about my favorite postpartum baskets, even though it’s been nearly nine months since I gave birth, and I’m dealing with new things like blossoming mobility and hours upon hours of whining? Our approach to solids? (Quips about lentils that have been through entire digestive systems AND multiple laundry cycles and have still held up? For your sake, I won’t continue.)
In the end, I decided to forego the more typical Commercial Mom Blog approach to these Tuesday posts and adopt a more reflective style. I’ll recommend stuff as it comes up (don’t worry, I’ll get to that sleep book!), but I’ll also use each week to dwell on issues I’m currently dealing with with Ambrose. Because, you know. #authentic*.
So without any further ado, here we go! Diving into Week 38 of Ambrose’s life: in which sleep eludes my son, yet again.
I was smug about sleep, and then I had Ambrose. Before he arrived, I was prepared. I read through Bringing Up Bebe and made note of everything I needed to do to ensure my bitty son would be sleeping through the night at the tender age of six weeks. I wrote down suggested schedules by age in my bullet journal. I made sure to set up a red light in the nursery area of our apartment so that he wouldn’t get overstimulated during middle-of-the-night diaper changes.
And then I had Ambrose.
The first day after we arrived home from Salt Lake City, I remember being frantic (okay, crazy — sorry Grammy) because it seemed like Ambrose was sleeping too much. That, my friends, was the last time I ever had that problem. Because it turns out, babies don’t follow schedules, and you sure as heck can’t force them to sleep.
Part of the problem was our situation, or at least that’s what I told myself. Our apartment had floor-to-ceiling windows and no walls, aside from the bathrooms and closet. Great for baby-free life! Not so great for life with a newborn, especially after said newborn started going to bed at 7 p.m. and Mom and Dad wanted to keep the lights on in the house to, you know, be able to do stuff.
Another part of the problem — and I really do think this contributed — was the stupid pulse oximeter that beeped LOUDLY and OBNOXIOUSLY whenever Ambrose’s oxygen saturation levels dipped below 90%. Incidentally, this happened every time he entered deep sleep. Or pulled the cannula out of his nose. Which he got really good at. (Side note: just writing about this is bringing back so many memories. I am so beyond glad that that entire setup is gone.)
A final problem was me. I was trying to stick to the stupid schedules I’d copied down so religiously, so when he woke up an hour early from a nap I tried to keep him up until his next designated nap time, and he got crabby and over-tired.
Things finally started to improve when I discovered, somewhat on accident, The Natural Baby Sleep Solution. A summery, for anyone desperate: babies’ wake cycles are 90 minutes long. Look for sleepy cues (yawning, zoning, rubbing eyes, grumpiness) an hour and a half after the previous wake time. It will be so much easier to put them down. A second huge improvement happened after I started moving Ambrose’s bassinet to the bathroom (read: total darkness) for naps. And then…we hit the four-month sleep regression and all was lost.
Okay, I’m realizing now that if I hash out all of Ambrose’s sleep problems over the past almost-nine months this thing would turn into a novel. So here’s the fast-forward version: I let Ambrose cry it out t out of sheer desperation one night shortly before he turned 4 months, and it was the best thing I ever did. I resigned myself to sleep training after that, using the techniques in The Dream Sleeper. His corrected nights came just in time for a whole lotta travel — Ambrose spent the next three months sleeping in the DockATot in all manner of situations, from Alabama to the Bahamas to Canada to Georgia (the country!) to a week long cross-country move.
Finally, I told myself as soon as all that travel was over and his nursery was set up, finally the situation would be perfect for Ambrose to work on lengthening his naps and getting some good shut-eye at night.
You can imagine what happened: nothing, really. Not even after I hung garbage bags on the window of the nursery to block out every single speck of light, or went to set nap times instead of using wake times. In fact, once the Wonder Weeks‘ Leap 6 came around, we actually had to go through another round of sleep training because he was back to multiple wakeups per night, sometimes starting as early as twenty minutes (!) after I put him to sleep for the night. No bueno.
It’s been a tough road to acceptance, but recently I’ve decided that Ambrose’s sleep problems are actually just my problems with Ambrose’s sleep. Which, in the end, is something I need to get over.
The facts: Ambrose isn’t actually the worst sleeper out there, nor is he by any means sleep deprived. Since I cut out night feeds about a month ago (which was itself a mental game), he’s been sleeping pretty well through the night, minus the occasional wakeup where he’ll cry for a few minutes and go back to sleep. During the day, he takes two naps totaling somewhere around two hours. Most days he gets a sum total of thirteen to thirteen and a half hours of sleep. This is absolutely in the middle of the sleep range for his age bracket!
The problem is, I’m always chasing after something better when it comes to sleep — always comparing him my friends’ babies. Sure, he takes an hour and fifteen minute nap in the afternoon but shouldn’t he be sleeping two hours? Wasn’t that what I was promised would happen when he went down to two naps?
And it’s not just sleep, because of course it’s not just sleep. It’s so tempting to compare everything when it comes to Ambrose. He’s not pulling up. He’s not crawling. He says ma-ma-ma but not da-da-da. My friends’ babies are rolling at four months. What’s wrong with him?
But isn’t that just the essential question? Because I know the answer: absolutely nothing is wrong with my son. He’s a human baby, and human babies are, in fact, unique from one another, and also, unpredictable. If I had wanted a perfect robot baby I would have adopted a Baby Think-It-Over and programmed it on the easiest setting. (Aaaaand then, let’s be honest, probably would have let its battery wind down after the first week of sleepless nights.)
It’s not going to get easier, either, and so the best thing to do is to get over my own hangups and let Ambrose be Ambrose. Because once we move on from sleep and developmental milestones it will be everything else: colors, counting, the ability to draw a picture-perfect horse.
Teddy Roosevelt is apparently the guy who said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” (you never actually know who says this stuff these days) and it’s so true. I could just be miserable after every forty-minute nap, or I could celebrate the fact that I have a perfectly healthy little boy who army crawls all over the place, just learned how to wave, and who loves being carried around by his ankles. Choosing to let go of my hangups of Ambrose’s sleep is easier said than done, but I’m trying. And isn’t that what motherhood really is — trying our hardest and loving our kids no matter what?
P.S. This was originally supposed to be a post about our experience using the floor bed a la Maria Montessori, but clearly I went somewhere else with it. I’ll save the review for another week, but if you’re curious, my summative review is this: we’ve had our ups and downs (and ins and outs!), but overall I’m very happy with it. Come back later for the full review!
*Which is a term I really hate and also sort of don’t understand what people are going for when they use it, but in my mind it’s like — being honest about the struggles each day brings (and oh! are there struggles!). It’s easy to slap a cute picture of Ambrose’s cheesy grin on Instagram. It’s harder to talk about how I dread diaper changes because of the Alligator Death Roll, or how I lose my temper at Ambrose and then feel really bad and apologize and wonder if I’m turning into an abusive mother, or how my body is tired of picking him up twenty zillion times a day, and there’s this certain muscle in my back that has begun twinging funny.