the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Healthy sleep habits, grumpy baby

If Jon and I decide to try and have another child there are so many things that I will do differently. At the top of that list is WILL NOT INTRODUCE GUMMY BEARS INTO THE DIET. For the last month we have heard nothing but Leta’s plaintive gummy bear song, a mournful yearning for her favorite food that we now deny her because she refuses to eat anything else. “Gubby bers?” she’ll ask while nodding her head furiously perhaps thinking that the rhythmic motion of her head will hypnotize me and bend me to her will. And when I say no, not until you eat something else, something containing actual nutritional content, she’ll ask again only this time emphasizing each syllable slowly in case I didn’t understand. “Guuuub-byyyy berrrrrs?” It always sounds like, “What part of gummy bears don’t you understand, Earthling?”

There is one thing, however, that I hope I get right the second time around as well as I did with Leta, and when I talk about this I’m going to be walking barefoot into an area littered with land mines. Leta sleeps 12 hours a night and takes a two hour nap every day. She has been sleeping this well since she was six months old. Occasionally she’ll have a bad nap or wake up early (see: tin foil solution) but for the most part her sleeping schedule has been a stabilizing constant in our lives. Whenever anyone accuses Leta of being grumpy because she’s tired I want to stand up for her and set them straight: do not give fatigue credit for her grumpiness, she is grumpy despite her well-restedness. That is determination.

It wasn’t easy getting her to sleep this well, and what we had to go through to get her to this point is one of the many factors that led me to check myself into a mental hospital. But what we did worked and it was the only thing that would work for her. I never discussed in detail the 15 days of hell that we had to endure to get Leta to sleep more than two hours at a time because at that period in her life I was in a very bad, very dark place and I knew that I would be judged if I talked about it. Since this seems to be the week to answer frequently asked questions I thought I would go ahead and talk about it especially since I now have distance from it and I am no longer emotional about it.

When I sat down to write this, however, I realized that I had forgotten some of the specifics of what we went through. That is part of the self-preservation of parenthood, the fuzziness of memory that makes it possible to move forward. So I went back into my email archives and found an email I had written to a another new mother while we were going through Leta’s sleep training. She had written asking for help in getting her six-month-old to sleep at night. This is an excerpt from that email:

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Getting Leta to sleep through the night was what sent me over the edge. I was coping somewhat before we decided to take away her pacifier, but after those two grueling weeks I lost it. My first piece of advice: be prepared for some trauma, on your part.

I have read and re-read all the sleep books. All of them. This book and this book are the ones I finally decided to use. At Leta’s four-month check-up her doctor asked me if she was still getting up twice a night, and I was like, OF COURSE she is, doesn’t every four-month-old get up twice a night? But in Leta’s case it was twice and sometimes three times and sometimes six or seven times because of that damn pacifier. Her pediatrician told me that she was old enough to go a whole 12 hours at night without feeding. I thought he was insane.

Leta could only fall asleep with the pacifier, and if she woke up and it wasn’t in her mouth she couldn’t go back to sleep, and then sometimes when I put it back into her mouth she was awake enough already that the only way she would go back to sleep was if I breastfed her. And it just got worse and worse and there were a couple weeks there when I was feeding her four and five times a night, and then she wouldn’t eat the next day. It was totally fucked up, and I knew I had to do something because I was going crazy.

So I finished reading the Ferber book, and I decided one Sunday afternoon that we were going to start that night. If I even thought about the pain that we were going to go through I knew I wouldn’t do it, so I turned to Jon and said THAT’S IT. No more pacifier. Except, it wasn’t just the pacifier. We took away her pacifier and we reduced the night feeding and we sleep trained her ALL AT THE SAME TIME. They were all the same problem essentially.

So we took away the pacifier and I gradually reduced the night feedings, letting her eat for only a couple minutes each side when she woke up in the night. Every single time we put her down for a nap or for bedtime she screamed. And screamed. And screamed. The books say that it should all be over with in a few days. But those books? They lie.

We decided that at night she had to sleep at least six hours before I would go in and feed her, and then the feeding would be really short. And then after that feeding she wouldn’t get another one for at least four hours. So she would wake up after two hours of being down at night and we let her scream. And she screamed and screamed and screamed and we didn’t go back in. And then she would scream two hours after that and I wouldn’t go back in because it had only been a total of four hours since her bedtime. That happened probably five days in a row, and then she eventually started sleeping eight and nine hours without waking up, and when she did wake up I would feed her for two minutes and put her right back down. The eight-nine hours slowly became 10-12 hours, and it was finally over.

The only way we could do it was to let her scream. We couldn’t go back in. We tried going back in several times to soothe her and it only made things worse. So much worse. So we set goals. First it was six hours, then it was eight hours, and then it was 10. It worked. I wasn’t going to cut out all night feedings for Leta until six months, but she started sleeping 12 hours in a row by herself. I think she figured out that she was only going to get two minutes of boob and it wasn’t worth it anyway.

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Can you see the land mines?

Here’s the thing: it worked for us. It might not work for someone else. I have always been of the opinion that you have to do what works for you in order to survive, that there is no one right way. This is how we survived, and now for twenty months we have had night after night of uninterrupted sleep.

How does your child sleep? What worked for you?

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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