Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seventy Two Hours of Sleep Training

I'm putting this out on the Internet for two independent but very important purposes. First, it'll function as something of a journal - or hopefully a funny memoir we can share with Piglet in happier times. *wince* Second, it'll hopefully provide some support and encouragement to other parents thinking of sleep training but either not knowing where to begin or fearing that it'll make things worse or damage their children irrevocably. I can't speak authoritatively about the last point but I can share how it's changed our lives already...yes, I'm risking even jinxing our considerable progress at this point just to spread the good word!

We're using the Sleepeasy Solution. Prior to the mini-breakdown that precipitated a Sunday morning mad dash to Barnes & Noble to pick up the book, I was more or less firm that I wouldn't let the baby "cry it out" ("CIO") at least for a few months. The anti-CIO literature out there is so prevalent that even I, with an open skepticism for most attachment parenting theories, was really terrified that I was going to ruin the baby by letting her cry. But after worsening sleep and naps, to the point where she was waking maybe twenty times a night and napping 20 minutes at a time four times a day, IF that, and my pediatrician assured us that she was ready, I couldn't ignore it any longer.

Our first impulse was to hire a baby nurse that my friend Sarah had used. She had insisted way back when I was pregnant that I would need a baby nurse and I'd privately rolled my eyes at her silly extravagance. It's a baby, not quantum physics. Yeah...anyway, I wondered if perhaps we should try ourselves before outsourcing, not only because of the $$ ($175 per night!), but also because I had an uneasy feeling about getting someone else to do something I really should have the cojones to do myself, if I was going to do it at all. And so, we picked up the Sleepeasy book and I read it in one sitting.

It's been two nights and two days and I do have to say that while it isn't "easy" by any means, we are so lucky that it hasn't been too heinous. In the night she hasn't ever cried for more than 10 minutes at a time *knock wood* and both nights so far she has cried very little after, say, 9pm. Naps are harder because she cries at the beginning and the end of the nap, and also I'm alone and have to stay strong and talk myself up! There is no worse feeling than going in to get your baby when she's been crying and having to see her teary face break into a sweet, trusting smile as soon as she sees you. You feel like a special kind of monster, that's for sure. But I have to say that, even though it's early days yet, the improved sleep has improved her disposition considerably. She's not whining and complaining all the time, and seems to be able to focus much better. Definitely, some kids don't do well with this type of method. I've heard of kids screaming for hours on end and forcing themselves to throw up :/. So thank heavens for small mercies. I don't think I could have kept trucking through those types of circumstances.

Despite my sincere belief that this really is the best thing for her and the time is right, it's such a sensitive parenting issue and really one of the most difficult things I've had to go through yet. If you're thinking of it, but are yet feeling guilty for even contemplating it, and feeling yourself torn by the Searseque stuff you're reading about how it's "lazy parenting" and will cause your child to hate and distrust you, well, all I can say is that I understand! And I hope you find a solution that'll work for your family! Sleep deprivation is truly the suck.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Piglet's Adventures in Sleep Training

Once again, I begin with a warning...I must let everyone know that this is one that probably won't resonate unless you have very small children at home, or have had small children in the not-so-distant past, such that the memory of horrific nights is still raw and recent enough to cause a little shiver down your spine.

Every parent at some point or another whines about their baby's sleeping. It's so common that it's a punchline, really. People will rib you about "never sleeping again" when you're pregnant and you roll their eyes at their negativity. Why do they need to be so grim anyway? Gawsh! You'll just be so happy to have a little baby that a bit of sleep deprivation here and there will be hardly worth grousing about. And anyway, you're no stranger to sleepless nights. You've been known to participate in a bender or two in your wilder days. You may even be a very important doctor or lawyer or some other always-on-call person who's pulled more than a handful of all-nighters. So whatever. You know what you're in for.

Until that precious little thing arrives and hmmm. Sure doesn't sleep a lot for a baby, does she? Maybe a phase. Maybe colic. Maybe just gas. Maybe it's too hot. Too cold? Maybe we should buy a new mobile for the crib. Maybe a better crib? Maybe some blackout blinds. Maybe this cool $120 sleep sack from New Zealand? Sure is pretty! Maybe we swaddle? But she hates the swaddle. No, the swaddle's good for her. But shit, now she's busting out of it. Co-sleeping?Studies say it can cause SIDS! But wait, this other one says it prevents SIDS. Huh? Well, let's just give it a shot and not tell the pediatrician. Okay, it sort of works in that you're dozing through the feeds instead of getting up a million times a night, but now she wants to nurse every five minutes. WTF?

Aaaaaand then she's four months old and you haven't slept more than two hours at a time in eons and holy shit, you're going back to work in a few weeks. But what can you do about it? Letting them cry it out is evil...right? "Lazy parenting"?? And what on earth would Dr. Sears say? The attachment parenting crew would have your head.

But this is where we find ourselves. She's four months and one week old and while I fervently wish it had never ever had to come to this, she lies in her crib now screaming her fool head off. This will probably sound like your typical whiny parent hyperbole, but we were truly at the point where she was waking dozens of times in the night. For all my fears about "letting" her cry, she was certainly doing enough of it while being held close, nursed, bounced, rocked, swung...something had to give. I am not exaggerating when I say her poor sleeping was pretty much ruining motherhood for me. I could barely focus during the day and had zero physical or emotional energy to spend on entertaining her for the whole day (minus her four 30-minute naps, if she felt inclined to take them!)...and I hate to admit it but I was getting resentful. Not at her because, obviously, she's a small baby who doesn't know any better and can't help it. But I felt like I was failing miserably at helping her. 

I started to look into a baby nurse (I can't believe I was so sarcastic about people who hired baby nurses before Piglet arrive!!) but ultimately decided to try ourselves first. We're using The Sleepeasy Solution, which involves crying and periodic "check-ins."  Tonight's our first night and it's hard. Hearing your baby cry and not being able to go to them honestly is one of the worst things I have ever experienced. Ugh! But I'm determined to give this method a fair shake. It's worked for thousands of people and they can't all be evil sadists, can they? 

Horribly painful, but I hope to post a very positive update in a few days. *whimper* Wish us luck!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Till Children Do Us Part

The wonderful New York Times recently published an op-ed that appears to have really resonated, as it's been on their "most e-mailed" list for a few days now.  Here's the piece.  

I suppose that if you listen to the anecdotal evidence (also known as your friends and family's bitching and groaning about their kids), the idea that children can stress a marriage won't be news to you. But I'm actually a lot more interested by another point the article makes (although note, the whole thing is worth reading!): Parents today spend much more time with their children than they did 40 years ago. 

Now there's a counterintuitive idea. Aren't we the generation of the overworked, overwhelmed, over-stressed? We're all obsessed with money, getting ahead, or just keeping up, and our poor neglected families suffer for it? I love when empirical evidence comes along to shatter our cozy assumptions - especially when those assumptions involve re-casting the past in a warm but totally inaccurate light.

Almost every working mother you know will tell you that she's felt at least a tiny little twinge of guilt at the fact that her job keeps her away from her children for x number of hours a week. If she didn't feel that guilt on her own, trust me, she's been served heapings of it from every conceivable source. And a huge factor in all of this is this mythical creature we seem to have created out of thin air: the doting mother from gentler days, always home and available for the kids, always busily sewing Halloween costumes and casually baking up brownies for tomorrow's Boy Scouts meeting, always dreaming up family activities and diligently ensuring everyone had their clean socks and sundry for the week. Yeah, I didn't need a study to tell me that we dreamed most of this up. In reality, those moms were far too busy to be planning play dates and carefully micromanaging each child's homework, hovering away in the background. And when Fridays rolled around, you can bet mom and dad weren't settling down with the kiddies for family movie night. More likely, you'd be deposited at the home of your crazy cat lady neighbor Mrs. McLeod while they went out and got their drink on. 

No real deep thoughts here. I'm just cackling with the dark amusement of the (for-now...until the next study comes out, anyway!) vindicated.
A Simpler Life?

So, I've read the books...pondered hard on the theories...nodded sagely in agreement with all the polemics. "We" are overspent! Over-indebted! Over-scheduled! 

It all resonates, truly. 

And yet! When I try to take these thoughts and sort of assemble them in a way that would help me think critically upon my own life, I get - what? Uncomfortable? Squirmy? Defensive is probably the right word. Against no one but myself, of course, since it's not like anyone's ever accused me of living an overly superficial or materialistic life (to my face anyway! And husbands don't count!). It's probably a pretty common knee-jerk reaction, because it makes us uncomfortable when our petty rationalizations start to smell a little funky even to ourselves. "Well, when other people do or buy or borrow or revere those things, they're being superficial or materialistic...when I do it, it's because I really need those things! Or because I rarely treat myself! Or because I'm actually SAVING myself time and money in the long run. And my carbon footprint isn't that big anyway so I can afford to indulge a little here and there." Mmmm-hmm.

My awful hypocrisy is revealed pretty much on a weekly basis, when I go through my closets and cupboards and it seems like I throw out at least 30% of my stuff. Not that it makes a difference to how it all looks!? Everything's still stuffed to the very edge. *puzzled* That's probably a separate confession in the making on my general organization skills.

My first year sociology prof told us that it's a fallacy to think that we live in an "acquisitive" society. We may think we do, but if that were the case, we'd just have our stuff piled up everywhere. We're actually a society that likes to throw things out and is obsessed with new, better, revamped, improved. And that is absolutely me! Today I threw out every single one of my lipsticks. Why do I even have lipstick?? I never wear it! I also have at least eight different brands of moisturizer and body butter. Why? I never use them! And yet I recall having made special trips to the Body Shop and Aveda and Sephora because I just had to have them. Meep. We clear out bags and bags of things on a regular basis but I guess we're just making room for more, because we never lack for stuff! And at any given moment I could rhyme off pages of things that I want. 

Maybe I have a stuff-shaped other people have god-shaped holes? I could be onto something, right? Look out for my book!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Letter to Piglet, approaching four months

I'm sadly overdue for one of these, because precisely what I feared came to pass. We muddled along, as we do, and things were more or less the same, or so it seemed. Day in, day out, it seemed like a constant challenge to stay one step ahead of the fussies and keep you entertained until the end of another day...and then one day I looked at you and realized, oh wow. You're not the wee bairn I brought home in October! 

So forgive this little lapse, little Piglet, hopefully not the first of a long litany of complaints and perceived slights that you'll recite back to me one day. For this particular one, please know that you bear no small role of responsibility in my tardiness, because you've been a most taxing little thing for the last few weeks. Somehow you went from a needy, often cranky, but also passive and sometimes amenable little creature in the first few months of your life to this BEING! With personality! Or "vinegar," as I've been calling it. No longer will you rest comfortably on the couch while mama peruses the NY Times or makes the odd phone call. All of a sudden you needed to be entertained constantly, and this was a particularly hairy situation in the couple of weeks before you were able to really focus on and understand the concept of objects outside yourself.

Thankfully we've progressed to the point where you are very skillfully reaching out and grabbing things that catch your interest: toys that dangle temptingly above your face, an outstretched finger, sometimes a big fleshy handful of mama's face. Clipping your nails on a regular basis is a matter of grave importance because if I let them go even one day too long, the pain of your digging them into my nipples when you nurse is excruuuciating. You are still not particularly interested in letting me get any sleep, today's four hour "boob nap" notwithstanding. If you can pull off an hour's nap, I'm elated (hint: it doesn't happen very often). If you can sleep for two hours straight in the night, I'm astounded. If you can do that in your own crib, well, I haven't seen it anytime recently. But we'll get there. I have to cling to that hope!

Hard as it is to believe, we're coming to the end of the days of just you and me. I've got to get back to the office in a little over a month! I've loved having you as a little sidekick, and I think that as the weeks go by you'll just ingratiate yourself further ;). But it's time, Piglet...mama needs to get back to the office, rejoining the world of the living and the litigious. I hope you'll understand in the times when it feels kind of poopy that I'm busy or distracted or stressed that no matter what, you and your future siblings and your father will always be the center of my life and absolutely indispensable to my happiness. You may not have a mother who can sew you a Halloween costume or show up for every single swim practice or help chaperone field trips (and frankly, let's face it, you should be glad for that last one...pretty sure you would be mortified at that, if you're anything like me!). But it's important to me to live as full a life as I can handle, and that to me involves work and play as well as home and hearth. I would want no less for you. 

Thank you for the family, Miss Piglet.