In the trenches

We’ve started sleep training.

For the past several weeks, P and I have been reading books, talking to friends about their experiences, and watching Dominic to track his sleeping habits, good and bad.  We’ve been blessed with a pretty good sleeper overall — he only wakes up once in the middle of the night to eat, usually around midnight, and then wakes up around 5am to start his day.  (Not so great, but tolerable.)  Now that I’m home and no longer working several days a week, his naps have returned to a normal rhythm of 8-9am, 11am-1pm, and 3ish until about 3:30.

So why address his sleep at all?  Well…some days are a dream.  No problems getting him to sleep for naps — just some rocking and singing and putting him down partly awake in his crib. On these times, he’ll stretch a bit, then lay his arms by his sides to be swaddled, and off to sleep he goes.  (Which is just the sweetest thing and makes me feel like super-Mom.)  Other times, that rocking and singing can last half an hour or more, trying to contain and soothe a struggling, fussy baby, with still no success at the end of it all.  Even when calm, he has a way of being maddeningly wide awake, staring at his ceiling fan or his shelf of stuffed animals, after I’ve felt my back (and my patience) give out.  I’ve continued to nurse him to sleep at night, which hasn’t caused any problems so far for frequent night wakings, but the entire process takes an hour and a half — an hour of slow, sleepy nursing followed by a half hour of mommy sitting in the dark holding upright a sleeping baby before he can be put down in his crib.  (Oh, reflux. You’re like a fourth member of our family.)  It’s not uncommon for P and I to finally get our dinner at 9pm, just before we dump the dishes in the sink and fall into bed.

So we waited until I’d been home from work for over a week and Dominic’s anxiety and fussiness had dropped dramatically.  I was still stalling, though, for fear of the awful Hours Of Crying to come — “I like rocking him to sleep!  I don’t mind if it takes a while — I’ve got the knack of it.  You just have to cycle through this sort of complicated dance while bouncing him.  Oh — and let him fall asleep with his fingers in your mouth.  That’s very important.”  Yesterday morning, though, my blood sugar had crashed, I was exhausted, my patience was flickering dangerously, and my lower lip was getting reeeaaaalllly tired.  Finally, there didn’t seem to be anything else to do but put him down and walk away.  “Here we go…” I thought.

It.

Was.

Awful.

Never in his little life has that baby cried so long and so hard.  P and I had decided to use the Ferber method, which is a kind of modified Cry-It-Out: you put the baby down and, once they start to cry, go in to check on them/reassure them on a schedule of increasingly longer intervals.  You stay just for a minute or two to pat their head, replace a pacifier, and go out again.  It doesn’t do much to alleviate the crying — it usually gets more intense when you come and go without picking them up, as they expect — but it at least reassures the parent that you’re not abandoning the baby.  After about the third day, you’re basically not going in much at all, and the kid has the new routine pretty well figured out.  That’s about when you’re supposed to see dramatic improvement in sleeping behavior.

But not the first day.  Definitely not the first day.  By the end of the allotted nap time (none of which had been spent napping), it wasn’t clear who was crying more, baby or Mommy.  I was mildly traumatized, and told P when he came home that we’d made a mistake, maybe it wasn’t too late to reverse course, back up to where we were, and keep on the old tack.  P wisely sidestepped the hysteria and suggested we keep to our old routine at night — “for now” — and keep going with the nap training.

As fate would have it, though, Dominic woke up in the middle of the night but didn’t really want to nurse — and definitely didn’t want to go back to sleep.  Which has literally never happened before.  I bounced and shushed and cajoled for a full half-hour without seeing so much as a droopy eyelid.  There’s an odd kind of clarity you get at 1:30am when your back is hurting and you feel dangerously close to biting those tiny fingers in your mouth in frustration.  Suddenly, I didn’t mind so much letting Baby cry a bit.

Just a bit.

Because we love him.

Daddy and I took turns going in to his room at the allotted intervals.  45 minutes later, he finally fell asleep.  It wasn’t fun, but not as traumatic as the first time.  His first nap of the day next morning — same thing.  45 minutes.  But lo and behold, naps two and three?  NOTHING.  Not a peep.  I laid him down wide awake, swaddled him, kissed him several times, smiled at him (he smiled back behind his pacifier), and walked out.  He slept for about an hour both times!  I’m not assuming that we’re in the clear — I’m sure we’ll have some crying still ahead of us.  But I think he’s starting to figure it out.

Meanwhile, I’m not doing anything else this week but focus on the training and spending as much good interactive time as possible with him while he’s awake, to emphasize that the connection and responsiveness he expects from us is still there.  We laugh and blow raspberries and cuddle and look at the snow.  He still seems very happy and cheerful, and I’ll let that be my gauge for how this is affecting him.

Because the one thing we can’t allow is for anything to put a damper on this:

I promise I didn't pose his hands like that.

I promise I didn’t pose his hands like that.

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