Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sleepless in Staten Island

Last week we took Jordana to the pedicatrician for her nine month well visit. I'm always a little apprehensive about these visits because I feel like I have a short amount of time to cram in all the questions that I've saved up for an entire month. I always go with a list but never seem to get through it and then I leave with even more questions. Part of that is because our doctor doesn't do a great job of explaining things (she forgets, or doesn't care, that I'm a first time mom) and part of that is because I'm bad with follow-up questions. I only think of them after I've left. Anyway, this month I went with what must be the number one parenting question of all time. The age-old inquiry: why doesn't my child sleep?

Jojo has never been a really great sleeper. Well, that's not entirely true. When she was a baby (as though she's a teenager now. I should say, when she was still newborn-ish) she slept through the night. And not the five hour stretch of sleep that doctors define as sleeping through the night. No, literally sleeping the entire night. It was pure bliss. Alex and I bragged about what a great sleeper she was. We felt like we beat the system somehow. That lasted about four months.  Then right around the end of October things changed.  She started waking up every hour. For a long time (thank God this stopped) she'd wake up only half an hour after I put her down. Now, five months later, she's on a "schedule" of waking up twice a night. Usually at 2:30 and 6:00 a.m. I guess it could be worse, but let's face it, having to wake up out of a deep sleep two times a night is two times too many.

I think a lot of moms believe there's some sort of shame or embarrassment or aspect of bad parenting attached to their babies' sleep habits. As though they've failed as parents because their kid wakes up at night. I've noticed that moms whose children sleep well will happily bring it up without prompting, while moms whose children don't sleep refuse to discuss it at all or, if asked, will give some vague answer like, "we have our nights." Since I fall into the latter category, this is a response that I'm very familiar with. I feel pretty confident about the choices Alex and I have made in raising Jojo thus far, but when it comes to sleep, boy are there days when I think I've blown it. The truth is, for whatever reason, I've been treating sleep as a milestone that Jojo has yet to meet. The same way sitting up, crawling, walking and first words are milestones, somehow sleep has become one too.

This brings to me my pediatrician. However reluctant I am to discuss Jojo's sleep with friends, I have no problem bringing it up to our doctor. I mean, that's kind of what she's there for. All the expert advice she has stored up from years of treating children. Which is why I was surprised, and a bit put off by her answer.  "Do you let her cry it out?" she asked. No, I responded, I would prefer not to have to do that.  "Well then, you have no right to complain." And that was it. No expert advice. No helpful tidbits. No alternative methods. No nothing. Just, "don't complain if you're not willing to let your kid cry herself to sleep."

The cry it out method is a pretty popular form of sleep training. It actually has a name, the Ferber Method, after Dr. Ferber and his sleep book. It's used as a verb too, as in, "Do you Ferberize your baby?" I can't go into the nitty gritty of the Ferber method because I never read the book. From what I understand, however, the method encourages babies to learn how to self soothe and fall asleep on their own by letting babies cry when they are put down for bedtime (or when they wake up in the middle of the night). Mom and Dad can periodically check up on them but never, this is key, pick them up.  It's all timed so, for example, baby is put in crib, baby cries, mommy lets baby cry for five minutes, then goes in  and consoles baby for a short time (without picking up) and then repeats (and repeats and repeats) until baby falls asleep. Eventually the five minutes turns to ten minutes, then fifteen, and so on until baby has learned to fall asleep on his own. This all seems pretty simple in practice but a. listening to your baby cry and actively choosing not to hold or rock her is incredibly hard b. when you're awoken in the middle of the night for the gazillionth time you want to do the easiest and quickest thing (ie. pick baby up) to get her back to sleep and c. this could take weeks to work. For me, there's also a d.--this seems insensitive. As a practical matter, I wouldn't ignore an adult crying out for me, so why would I ignore a baby?

The Ferber Method is what my pediatrician wants me to do and what I, pretty early on, decided not to do. There are a few reasons why. The big one is that when I had Jojo I knew zero about children. I wasn't exposed to many babies growing up (I don't have any nieces or nephews or other babies in my family) and anything I learned about children from babysitting in high school was long forgotten.  So when Jojo arrived I was your typical scared and clueless first time parent. And that scared, clueless feeling turned into outright panic any time she cried. In the first week I remember crying along with Jojo.  Looking back, I know a lot of that came from hormones but it was also that feeling of absolute helplessness because I didn't know why she was crying. But I did know that any time she cried was an opportunity for me to strengthen our bonds of communication. Babies cry to let us know something's bothering them because they cannot talk. When Jojo cried it was up to me to discover why and to (hopefully) stop it. As a result, I never let her cry it out. I always responded immediately to her, going down the checklist (hungry? tired? dirty diaper?) until I got it right. Every time I figured it out, my confidence grew and our bond deepened until we finally go to the point where we spoke the same language. Getting to that point took some time though. And it meant that any time she cried during the night, I'd pick her up and go down that checklist. To me, it didn't matter if it was day or night time. Jojo needed me just the same.

The other reason why I didn't Ferberize Jojo is because of her own temperament. She is simply a mommy's girl and I truly believe she was born that way. I remember the second night of her life, when we were still in the hospital, I called the nurses' station three times because I couldn't get her to fall asleep. I thought there was something wrong. Every time I put her in the bassinet, she cried. She would be sleeping comfortably in my arms but the minute she felt that bassinet touch her back, she'd wake up wailing. I simply couldn't put her down. The nurses took pity on me (or maybe they were just annoyed) and finally convinced me to allow them to take Jojo to the nursery so I could rest. I also clearly recall several panicked phone calls to my mother at weeks three and four because Jojo cried every time I put her down. She wasn't content unless she was being held. And not just any pair of arms would do. She only wanted me. 

That was sufficiently early on in her life that I can't chalk it up to the fact that she just got used to me carrying her. She was too young to have figured that out yet. It's more that some babies are content to lie quietly in their cribs or sit happily in their chairs and Jojo was not one of those babies.  It felt wrong to deny her what she needed (I say need and not want because I believe at infancy, a baby's needs and wants are one in the same) and I never felt that she was manipulating me or that I was spoiling her. In general, I do not buy into the theory that you can spoil an infant by holding her too much. I call that simply loving your baby.

Obviously something needs to change but I don't think the cry it out method is for me. Since my pediatrician was zero help, I decided to change a few things on my own. I'm having Alex take some night shifts so Jojo can get used to different ways of falling asleep.  I'm also giving her a little snack of yogurt before bed. It sounds weird but she loves yogurt and it's heavier than breastmilk so hopefully this will make her little belly nice and full and help her sleep a bit longer. I've also pushed her bed time back from 8:00 to 9:00 and I make sure in that last hour we cram in a ton of energy burning activity.

I'll let you know if this works. She cut her first tooth yesterday (yay!) so maybe part of her restless sleep has been teething. She also has some residual fluid in her ears from an ear infection.  But in thinking about Jojo and the advice the doctor gave us, I've changed my mind about how I'm going to approach our sleep issue. As I said, I believe Jojo's sleep pattern is mostly a reflection of her overall temperament versus something I've done. In accepting that, I accept that her lack of sleep is not a measure of my mothering. It's not my fault that she wakes up and this won't last forever. Also, last night as I lay in bed with Jojo cradled in my arms, I realized something else...

I want to cherish each moment, even the inconvenient ones, because one day, I'll miss the days when she wanted only me...

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