Let me tell you a tale of two children.
The first, now five, was a horrible sleeper. He hated to be alone and needed to be rocked, nursed, cuddled, and patted to fall asleep. The moment he was shifted to another location he would awake. He woke every 1-3 hours at night for 19 months, often taking hours to fall back to sleep. After that, he still cried himself to sleep most nights until he turned 4, when we started giving him melatonin at night. His average wake time before starting ADHD medication was 5:30AM, and he still often wakes that early.
The second, now 6 months old, is a great sleeper. He started sleeping in 5 hour stretches around the 6 week mark and regularly sleeps for 7-9 hours at a time. He often puts himself to sleep upon being laid down awake. Every once in awhile he has a difficult night or two where he doesn’t sleep well, but these night are the exception rather than the rule.
Both of these children are mine. While I have done a few things differently with the second baby, I haven’t really done anything that I think would make that big of a difference in their sleep habits.
Now, remember when I mentioned that Little Brother sometimes has a rough night or two?
Yeah. Well, the last two nights have been two of those nights. I was literally up for hours with him last night. The night before last, he woke up 3 times. And the two mornings before that I was up at 5:10AM and 4:45AM respectively with Ezra who awoke at those times, FOR THE DAY.
Whenever this happens, I have flashbacks to when Ezra was a baby and every night was like that. I think that sleep-deprivation PTSD might be a real thing. (I’d have to check the DSM, though.)
I look back on those days of managing a baby who wouldn’t sleep with a husband deployed and no family nearby, and I honestly don’t know how I survived. I’m not being dramatic when I say that. I really don’t know how I kept going.
Because now? When we have a night like last night, I have a VERY VERY hard time. When I’m up in the wee hours of the morning leaning over a crying baby in a crib listening to the same three songs from his lullaby light projector over and over and over and over and over (the same three songs I listened to over and over and over and over and over with his big brother 5 years ago), I start going to very dark places.
I get very angry and start asking God all sorts of Why? questions. Like, “What did I ever do to deserve this? Why do You hate me? Why did you make it so infants hate to sleep so much?”
In the light of day, I have the sense of mind to realize that infants are learning and growing at exponential rates, and that if I were going through what they had to go through, I would probably struggle with sleep too. But in the middle of the night, it’s a lot harder.
I have this hanging on the wall that says this:
“Babies are nature’s way of showing people what the world looks like at 2am.” ~Katherine Hepburn
I bought it when Ezra was a baby and now it hangs above Little Brother’s changing table, my o-dark-insanity companion.
You know what? I’ve seen 2AM. It’s dark and cold and lonely and exhausting. If I never see 2AM again I think it would be okay.
I’m being slightly sensational here. (Don’t worry, that’s just the sleep deprivation talking).
I just want you to know that I get it. I really really get it. I know what it’s like to have a baby that will ONLY sleep in your arms. And you love him so much and you are SO glad he’s yours, but you just for the love of sanity want to crawl into that nice warm bed next to your husband and rest. And I know that sometimes, that makes you feel guilty.
I know what it’s like to dread bedtime because you know how difficult your night is going to be.
I know what it’s like to fantasize about going to bed at 10PM and waking up at 7AM and being terrified that never in the next three years is that actually going to happen.
I know what it’s like to desperately want help, but yet be frustrated at all of the advice you get because of how condescending people are toward first-time moms. Or to be frustrated because you’ve tried everything they suggested, but it still didn’t work. Or to be told you need to read this book or that book – and you are wondering how you are even supposed to wrap your brain around reading an instructional book when you are so freaking sleep-deprived.
I wish I had the answers to make your baby sleep. But if I had them, I wouldn’t be sleep deprived.
I wish I knew why the induction into motherhood had to start with sleep deprivation. There’s nothing easy about it.
I wish I knew why other babies sleep and yours doesn’t. In my (possibly jaded) opinion and experience, if a baby is going to be a good sleeper, he’s gonna be a good sleeper. If he isn’t, he isn’t. And no method or advice or parenting style is going to change that.
So, tired mom whose baby won’t sleep, here’s what I CAN tell you:
You are SO not alone. See above.
You are a real-life superhero. I mean it. What you are doing every day and night for that precious baby takes superhuman strength and fortitude that I believe is only powered by God.
It’s okay to be frustrated, angry, and wish your baby slept more or better or differently. It doesn’t mean you love him less. It doesn’t mean you are a bad mom. It means you are a sleep-deprived human.
It’s okay to sleep train. I wish I had done it earlier.
It’s okay to nap. Even if it’s the middle of the day and it means you get nothing done. Motherhood is about survival and napping is a survival skill you need to develop.
It does get better. I can’t promise you when. Maybe 5 weeks from now, maybe 5 months, maybe 5 years. And I know you don’t feel like you can wait that long. But you can. One sleepless night at a time, you CAN and you WILL make it through this difficult stage of motherhood.
With lots of love from one sleep-deprived mother to another.