Ahh, Sleep: Part 1

Before I had a child I knew exactly the type of mama I would eventually be: sharply intuitive and therefore always abundantly and lovingly empathetic, plus, always generous with my patience and tolerant of baby’s every confusing need, even at 4 am, which (I had decided) is easy to do as long as I remember that my tiny, innocent baby needs me fundamentally (a fact that should be thrilling not daunting). And, of course, I would never ever ever sleep train, because 1) it’s mean, and 2) it’s unnecessary if you do everything right from the start. Now that I am a really good boy mom it has become evident that I do everything wrong and have done from the start. Plus, I have come to realize that I failed as a pre-mom to factor in chronic sleep deprivation and postpartum hormonal changes when planning my  tolerant and empathetic 4am reactions, sharp intuition be damned. Oops. It’s ok, my baby is still essentially perfect, except for the tiny (huge) matter of sleep.

Day one at home from the hospital, husband and I lovingly wrapped baby boy up in his swaddle and snuggled him down into the chief, #1, primo baby registry item, the Fisher Price Rock ‘N Play (magical for getting baby to sleep, said all my wise mom friends). We stared adoringly at our squishy little chunk of joy, then quickly remembered we should be sleeping. Husband kissed me and rolled over for his midnight nap, but when I turned off my bedside lamp and hoped to doze, I cried instead. Fat tears of panic fell from my eyes for such reasons as “I can’t see the baby,” and “what if he’s not breathing?!” It was at that moment that I did as any good boy mom ought: I turned on my light, I grabbed my pillow, and I laid my head as close to the RNP as I could get it without actually docking myself on top of my baby. And there I laid, partially awake but with eyes closed, waiting for baby to wake for some food. Two seconds later the baby stirred just the tiniest bit, and sleep mistake #1 was made: I snatched that boy up before he had the chance to even fuss, let alone try to self soothe. I patted baby’s belly and cooed into his cherub face, I told him he was perfect and reminded him he was safe, and I handed him to his papa bear, who immediately popped a bottle of fresh breastmilk into baby’s mouth. “Huzzah!” I thought. “If I provide mama comfort before baby even has a chance to become upset, he will feel so perfectly secure that he will never need to cry and he will sleep soundly always, because I am such a good mom!”

What has resulted instead is a babe who doesn’t even know that self soothing is a thing – at least 6 times a night. Oops.

One night, after about 3 weeks of newborness, Husband and I lovingly wrapped baby boy up in his swaddle and snuggled him down into his RNP, and when baby grunted and snored, as usual, Husband lovingly said, “I don’t like those noises he makes. It sounds like he’s having trouble breathing.” Then husband kissed me and rolled over for his midnight nap. I, however, was again gripped by irrational panic, and I smacked dear hubby on the butt, insisting he wake up and help me stare sleeplessly at the baby to ensure that breaths were being taken. That’s when we began to cosleep in shifts, and I began trolling the almighty internet for info on how to help the bubs sleep. During my first shift with the bubba, I laid baby down flat on his back and propped myself up with my elbow to stare at his beautiful face. My heart burst into a million love morsels watching baby yawn and toot, and I just about died of love when that sweet boy sighed and rolled onto his side, snuggling closer to mama. Those dreamy moments are some of my favorite when I think back to the newborn days. But, during that first night of bedsharing sleep mistake #2 was made: the moment baby began to squirm, but before he woke completely, I lovingly and gently eased my hand under his head and offered him a drink of his bottle. “Oh yea!” I thought. “According to the internet, dreamfeeds are where it’s at! Baby will totally sleep longer stretches now, and eventually I’ll get to sleep too. Booya. I am so good at this.”

What has resulted instead is a babe who expects a bottle in his face every time he so much as stirs in his sleep, which, again, is 6 times a night. Oops.

One night, when bubs was about 6 weeks old, and long after he had nixed the swaddle, I lovingly laid baby down for my shift and curled my body around his, and stared perplexedly as he began to scream bloody murder. I picked the boy up and offered a bottle, which made him even angrier. I patted baby’s back, hoping for a burp. I administered some gas drops to ease his tummy. I checked that baby had a fresh diaper. Nothing seemed to be wrong, even though bubba’s cries told me everything was clearly wrong. I didn’t know what to do, so I cried, and Husband consulted the almighty internet, which explained that the squish was experiencing his very first witching hour! No big deal, said the internet, babies grow out of the witching hour eventually, and in the meantime you can try walking baby around. Husband took the reigns (since I was blubbering) and walked, swayed, bounced that sweet boy into dreamland in about 10 minutes. “Amazing!” I thought. “Bubba is so low maintenance. All he wants are a few cuddles and love from his Ma and Pa. This phase is going to be adorable. We are the best parents and baby is such a good sleeper, once he’s asleep!”

What has resulted instead is a babe who must be rocked to sleep for every nap and bedtime, and who only likes to sleep cuddled up with mom or dad. Adorable, but oops.

And there have been about a million more sleep mistakes made.

OK, as a boy mom, I still rely a whole lot on my intuition, and of course I am loving and empathetic, and I’m working on my patience and learning hard lessons about my tolerance, and it really is thrilling to be mama to my amazing son, but oh my freaking gawd, I am so tired, and it’s time to sleep train. I’ve done some research – teaching baby to sleep is not mean or unnecessary! Teaching sleep habits is a kindness – in fact, it’s a necessity – because 1) at this point baby is just as sleep deprived as mom and dad, and 2) chronic sleep deprivation is a torture tactic(!!!) and I’d like to stop torturing my baby. Oh yes, sleep will be happening in this house very soon.

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The Hardest Day

From the moment my little chubster entered the world, I was deeply in love in a way that felt eternal and familiar. He slipped so seamlessly into my life that it was hard to remember a time before his existence, as though I instantly knew the little person in my arms as intimately as I know myself, as if my being recognized that this was the person that had been carefully slivered off of my own soul for cuddles and zerbers. Despite this undeniable joy, I recently found myself so unfathomably upset that I was faced with an uncomfortable notion: this boy mom life is freakin’ hard.

It was a Monday. It was mid-morning nap time, and we had just begun our usual routine of bouncing to sleep. Suddenly, my boy arched his back and pulled away from me with a screech so painful and urgent-sounding that my mom heart dropped straight into my butt. I ran through my mental checklist: he’s fed and burped, he has a fresh diaper, I’m holding him so he isn’t asking for comfort; he must be having tummy troubles. I laid bubba down and began furiously pedaling his legs, which provided no release from his belly and no relief from his screams, which were piercing. I unzipped his sleep sack and massaged his little tummy, which made him cry more. I felt his head for signs of fever, but he was cool. I racked my brain but came up with nothing, and I felt overwhelmingly insufficient as bubba cried. And then, all at once, I was raw with irritation.

I sighed my complete annoyance and picked up my child, and I began to bounce him with vigor and purpose. Bubba stiffened his back and pushed away from me so hard that he almost slipped from my arms. I tightened my grip and my resolve and bent my knees deeper as we bounced. Bubs screamed, his eyes closed tight, and kicked his legs and waved his arms. I growled, angry that baby was fighting sleep, and put him on the bed. I fastened my baby carrier wrap and snuggled bubs securely into its folds, and I began to bounce again as he writhed, and my jaw clenched and my brow furrowed. My puppy boy cried so hard that he made himself gag, so I hastily pulled him out of the wrap. I stood still and cradled my baby in my arms and registered the tears that wetted his sleep sack, and I felt both sympathy and hostility as he cried his little heart out.

It was then that big, hot tears of defeat fell from my eyes. I threw my head back and yelled my frustration to the heavens. I set my baby on my bed and felt my entire body tense up. I covered my face with both my hands and sobbed. I screamed out loud at my helpless three-month-old to “SHUT THE FUCK UP PLEASE!!!” and watched, mortified, as my sweet and innocent baby boy stopped crying and stared quizzically at his angry mama. My twisted face softened, and I sunk to the bed, tears rolling down my cheeks. Then my remarkable puppy boy smiled and cooed, no doubt thinking mom had been playing a game, and in that moment I was broken. Humbled by my baby’s love for me and confused by my own outburst, I curled my body around his and hugged him close. I felt humiliated and deeply horrified at my inability to cope with bubba’s crying, and as we laid cuddling, I sunk into a sort of numb self-loathing: I was the horrible mother I had always feared I would be. I cleared all loose blankets away from my baby boy, and I pulled my weary body off the bed, and, as bubba began to cry again, wanting mama to come back and cuddle, I walked away and stepped into the shower with a heavy heart and the thought that my baby was better off without me in that moment.

I wish I could say my shower made me feel better, or that bubs had fallen into a peaceful sleep by the time I returned to him, but neither result had occurred. Instead, baby cried as we bounced, and I soldiered on, sad, and with no other tricks to try. Baby did eventually fall asleep, and my numbness did eventually wear off enough to allow for some truthful self reflection. I googled postpartum depression, hoping for a simple solution to the day’s horrors, but discovered only that an afternoon of terrible feelings is insufficient evidence of a deeper problem. I sighed and scrolled through pictures of my cutie boy on my phone. Looking at his squishy little face made me smile, but it also made me cringe with self-hatred.

That night I faced the difficult and unflattering truth that I had yelled at my baby. When Husband came home I confessed my sins through snotty sobs, and he hugged me close and let me cry. He admitted that he sometimes gets frustrated with the baby too, and, in his infinite wisdom, he pointed out that it’s possible the baby sometimes gets equally frustrated with us. Hubs reminded me that we are all new to this family gig, and sometimes learning is hard. (Love that guy. He’s always providing such clarity.) I cried more tears than I knew I had, and then, when my eyes were swollen and my heart finally unburdened, I forgave myself.

The next morning puppy boy woke with a grin, as always, and I scooped him up and zerbered his belly and kissed his cheeks. It occurred to me as I stared at my drool boy that perhaps this boy mom thing would be a bit easier if I were to endeavor to show myself a glimmer of that simple and soulful love that I have had for my baby from the moment he was in my arms. I squeezed my boy tight and settled in to feed him his bottle, and as he slurped, I thanked him for his love and patience during the hardest day, and I promised to keep trying to learn how to be the really good boy mom that he deserves. Then I rested my forehead on his and he cooed and giggled and burped, and, once again, my heart flooded with immeasurable joy and deep, eternal love, and I knew already that it would be a better day.

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