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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How we got from there to here

Annika's sleep habits have been the hardest part of the first year of her life. Other than sleep issues, Annika has been a super easy baby. She's a happy-go-lucky kiddo. She smiles all the time. She gives hugs and kisses. She's curious about the world around her. She loves to laugh.

But sleep has been an issue. For the most part of her first year, I have been pretty sleep deprived. Well, after the first four months anyway.

So here goes.

I am embarrassed to admit that during my pregnancy I didn't do much reading up on sleep habits of infants. I had no idea that infants can't just fall asleep on their own. And I had no idea that they wake up a lot. I mean, A LOT. You know that saying, "sleeping like a baby?" Whoever said that was a moron... or didn't have kids... I mean.

When we brought Annika home from the hospital, the first night I nursed her to sleep, put her in her crib and went to bed. She awoke around 2 a.m. And I sat up in the rocking chair nursing her until she went back to sleep. I remember moving to the couch staring at her for awhile while she slept. I was able to carry her around and she'd stay asleep. I thought this was how it would be.

Little did I know that newborns are very sleepy during the first week or so. It makes sense if you think about it. They've just had a major move. They went through some major trauma, essentially being evicted out of the womb.

But after a couple of weeks, all of a sudden, sleep doesn't come so easily. And I quickly learned that the easiest way to put her to sleep was to nurse her all the way down.

I never planned on co-sleeping. I'd heard all of the negative things about it.

“You'll never get them out of your bed if you co-sleep.”

“They won't learn how to sleep on their own.”

Yada yada yada.

I was going to have none of that.

Well, after waking up every night around 2 a.m. to nurse and then again around 6 a.m. again, to nurse. I realized one night that I could just take her to bed with me when she awoke at 2. I decided to ignore those stupid voices in my head that said she'd never want to leave my bed. Plus, I'd been reading Dr. Sears and he promotes the hell out of co-sleeping.

I decided Dr. Sears and myself were right. It would be easier to bring her to bed with me. So I did. And we were happy. I was getting plenty of sleep. I'd wake up easily when she woke me at 2ish. She'd nurse and I'd watch her dreamily and stroke her hair while she nursed; then when she was done, I might get up to go to the bathroom; then I'd go back to sleep for another nice four-hour chunk of sleep.

It wasn't long before I was skipping the crib altogether and just nursing her to sleep in my own bed. Often, I stayed in bed with her. I was tired, she wanted to nurse. It made life easier.

I wondered why people said newborns didn't sleep well. When people asked me how Annika was sleeping, or commented on how I must be tired. I'd say, “No, I'm not tired. I get plenty of sleep. It's not good quality sleep. But I get plenty of sleep.”

I realize now just how lucky I was in those first few months. Sometimes I wish I had realized it then. But how could I have?

When I told other parents how well Annika slept, they said, “Oh you are so lucky to have a good sleeper.” In some way I knew it. But I didn't really get it. I couldn't have. I had no idea that I was resting up for what were to be some of the hardest, most tiring days of my life. Nineteen and a half hours of back labor had been a cake walk compared to this.

At this point I was just about to write that it's probably a good thing I didn't know what I was in for. But then I revisited that thought. No. It is not a good thing I didn't know. It is a very bad thing I didn't know. If I had known. I think, I hope, that I would have prepared myself better for it. I would have asked for more help. I would have done more research. I would have been better prepared and maybe it would have gone more smoothly. Maybe it wouldn't have lasted so long. Maybe she would be sleeping better now and I wouldn't have to wean her from using me as a human pacifier.

But, as they say, kids don't come with manuals.

Becoming a parent is like getting an Ikea bed off of Craigslist with no directions and no picture of the final product. You've got all these crazy parts. Everything looks the same. All the holes fit together, so you're not really sure if you've got the right parts attached to each other and just when you think you've got it put together right, you look down at the floor and see this tiny little bolt and you figure, oh, it's no big deal, the thing is put together. It seems fine.

Then you go to sleep that night and in the middle of the night the bed comes crashing down around you. You are running through the house crying because your nipples are sore and you are tired of nursing, and your neck hurts and your back aches, and you are tired of getting woken up just as you drift off to sleep, so you are trying to get the bed some water thinking that might pacify it, or maybe you just want to go to the bathroom, meanwhile the bed is screaming from the other room as if its going to die and then this random thought floats through your mind that if only you'd found where that bolt went, maybe you would be sleeping happily in a safe and secure bed right now. But you have no idea where the bolt even is anymore and even if you knew where it was WHERE THE FUCK IS THE SCREW IT FITS ON?! I DON'T KNOW!

That paragraph is a horrifying metaphor of several nights I had around the six month to eight month mark of Annika's life. And maybe a few between eight and 10 months, although I don't think they were quite as dramatic the second time around. Maybe it was because it wasn't as bad. Or maybe it was because I was used to getting woken up for the seventeenth time to nurse for five minutes or an hour, or three seconds and then two minutes later, again for 20 minutes. And then 30 minutes later just as I was about to drift off again for the seventeenth time that night OH MY GOD SHE WANTS TO NURSE AGAIN I AM IN A LIVING HELL!

Ok, so, yeah, that basically describes the sixth month, most of the seventh month and some of the eighth month.

I didn't dream at all during that time and most of the time I felt like I was living under water. The world was right in front of me, but I was detached from most of it. I lost words mid-sentence. I couldn't quite see what was right in front of me because often it was blurry, or there were dark swirly waters and waves drifting in front of my face.

I think for the most part I had just gotten used to it and started sleeping through some of the night wakings because I know that during eight months to a year, Annika still woke up a lot. I mean, a lot. But it wasn't every night. We'd have a bad night or two, then she'd sleep ok for a night or two, or sometimes a week, then we'd have a bad night again. But these nights weren't so bad because I knew what to expect. I knew that if I got up, it would just get worse. So I'd lie there and stare and think.

I found ways to enjoy the time while Annika nursed and slept. I spent a lot of time staring at her dreamily and reminding myself that she would not be this little for very long. I cuddled with her. I stroked her hair and kissed her face. I kept the light on and read parenting books. Toyin bought me an iPod Touch for Mother's Day, which was one of the best presents he's ever bought me. And he gives good presents.

So, we got through it. Now we are in a new phase. I know she might backslide and I'm okay with that. The cool thing is I've realized that these days were a good thing because I've learned a lot. I am much cooler under pressure. And I've realized that the infant days are prep work for the future. I feel like we've prepared a good solid foundation.


  1. Been there. Done that. Survived. Although Jonas wakes up late in the morning and nurses alot still - 5 a.m. - we co-sleep to and love it. Any movement I make he wakes up which wasn't always the case.

    His latest thing is that when he's done nursing at bedtime, he bites me because he hasn't fallen asleep. I don't put him back on which he doesn't like but I caress him, sing and he finally falls asleep on me - in bed - after about 1/2 hour. Not to bad. You're right. There are some good nights and bad nights. We live for the good ones.

  2. I think I'll stick to being an uncle.(ted)


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