sleep, interrupted

we had a bad parenting moment hour in the middle of the night last night.   just a few weeks ago, we were patting ourselves smugly on our backs for doing such a good job at the parenting thing.  but then, we haven’t really had to face any tough parenting decisions.  we’ve kept josephine alive and happy, but we haven’t had to compromise on anything (when do we let her pierce her ears?) or deal with any parental biggies (do we let her hang out with friends we don’t think are a good influence?  is it ok for her to pee in the bushes?).  we’ve had it pretty easy so far.  the biggest debate has been about whether she should wear non-matching stripes (ned: pro, me: con).

so, last night.  i had a vague thought as i went to bed that i wouldn’t nurse her if she’d only slept for two hours since the last feed.  she’s been sleeping four hours, nursing, then waking up every two or so hours for the rest of the night and i’ve been nursing her each time she wakes up.  there have been a few nights when i’ve been able to get her to fall back to sleep pretty quickly without nursing her and it buys me another hour or two of sleep.  i have this (again, vague) notion that if i consistently don’t nurse her after only two hours of sleep, she’ll eventually just stop waking up after two hours.  i think that’s known as fuzzy math.

last night, she had slept for four hours, i had nursed her, and she had woken up again, like clockwork, two hours later.  i trudged over and comforted her, hoping that would do the trick and she would drift back to sleep.  but she didn’t.  i stayed by the side of her crib, stroking her head, holding her flailing hand and making a “shhhhhh”ing sound.  she wasn’t getting more upset, wasn’t full-on crying, but she wasn’t calming down, either.  she seemed to be yelling.  i would interpret her yells thusly: “hey!  i’m right here!  pick me up!  feed me!  it’s time!  hey!  you!  i see you standing right there! what the heck!?”  poor thing.  and then, after about 20 minutes, things deteriorated.  she really woke up and she started crying.  full-on crying: red scrunched-up face,  tears running down her face into her ears, huge sobs, the whole thing.  now she was saying, “you hate meeeee!  i hate yooooooou! why are you starving meeeeee?  i’m the most neglected baby on earrrrrth!”

what’s an exhausted mom to do?  i was stuck.  i had let her get too worked up and she wasn’t going to fall back to sleep without a lot more crying.  was that how i wanted her to fall asleep?  to feel?  if i nursed her, was i just teaching her that she will get what she wants if she cries hard enough, even at 4am?  but shouldn’t she get what she wants?  is she old enough to understand consequences?  waiting for food? cause and effect?   i lay down, defeated, next to ned and he said, “let’s just give it 10 minutes and see what happens.”  you know, just to throw another vague idea of what might work into the mix.  after five minutes, i was starting to cry, too, and i whispered loudly, “this is so stupid!”  although i think i might have used a curse word, too.  i picked up my poor, sobbing girl and, just to tie a big fat bow around the whole package of this parental fail, i put her next to me in bed and nursed her to sleep.

trying to figure out how to deal with infant sleep leads parents into a maze of conflicting advice and strident believers. there are countless theories about what works; as many theories as there are babies, probably.  how do we know which one is best for us?  for josephine?  do we even need a method?  a technique? maybe, if we trust that this little munchkin knows what she needs, we’ll end up where we should be.

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5 Responses to “sleep, interrupted”

  • erika Says:

    this is SO NOT A FAIL. she needed you and you responded. so what if it wasn’t ideal? you’re right that she’s gonna let you know what she needs when she needs it…don’t be too hard on yourself, mama.
    love you!!

  • Monica Says:

    I agree completely. It’s your baby and you get to decide how to parent her. There’s clearly no indisputable right answer about how to manage sleep, which means that no one gets to tell you how to do it or tell you you’re doing it wrong. At least as long asyoure not drugging her or conking her over the head or anything.

  • oma Says:

    thanks, you two. nursing her–giving her what she wanted in the first place–was the best thing. i just regret it took so long to get there. and monica? really? no conking on the head? it worked so well last night…

  • Meg Says:

    You’re so awesome, Oma. You’re right, along with everyone above — you guys will figure out what works for you. Each of my three needed completely different things in terms of sleep; I just didn’t always catch on right away. Some of them STILL need me in the night; but it’s okay. Ignore those people who tell you that their child slept through the night at two days old because they forced their children to cry themselves to sleep. Such people are the same folks who claim their child was potty trained at seven months. Those people are A) lying and B) treating parenting like a competitive sport … which it is sooooo not. You’re a wonderful mother.

  • Farah Says:

    The sleep and nursing at night thing is so hard. You’re NOT a failure. There are a lot of theories and advice out there, and it’s frustrating. Hang in there and do what feels right. That said, from my experience, things seem to change right when you think you’re feeling right about what you’re doing as a parent. It’s certainly a series of lessons about the limits to which we can control anything. A hard series of lessons. You’re doing a great job.