Monday, November 29, 2010

Seven Minutes

I am yawning as I type this. After forty weeks of pregnancy and forty-two weeks of motherhood, I am really freakin' tired. But I'm not writing about what happened in those forty first weeks, or the following forty-two. It's because of seven little minutes that I'm writing. Seven of the best or possibly worst minutes of my life.

In many ways, motherhood has matured me. I don't really get worked up about stuff anymore. I am less anal about many things. I forgive imperfections and ask that people forgive mine, as I am a lot less inclined to get things done the way I used to. I slack and I am okay with it, as long as I don't slack for a second when it comes to my kid, my husband, or my job.

In one way, though, I have not improved. When I'm tired, I have no sense of humor and I simply cannot keep anything in perspective. When I'm tired, every task seems insurmountable and I truly believe that I am the only one who does anything around here or anywhere. I am the martyr that no one helps, the lone logical person amidst a sea of crazies. If I'm not picking fights with my poor husband, I am at the very least grumbly and grouchy enough that every five minutes he feels compelled to ask me "Are you sure you're okay?" and by the fifth time, I am cranky and snarling in my head while I say as sweetly as I can muster, "No, really, I'm just tired." Sometimes I just pass right out - in midsentence at times - wherever I happen to be: on the couch, on the bus, in the glider. When that happens, we all get off easy. Other times, Johnny is not so lucky. Other times, I'm like a spoiled toddler. I have meltdowns and I pick fights. I stomp my feet, throw things, lash out at my wholly innocent husband. I embarrass us both by acting like a brat at home, and worse, in public.

A couple of examples. Last week it got cold here, so I pulled out an old hat. I washed it and the shape got weird. Johnny hated it and told me so. I was cold, so I wore it anyway. I wore it out with friends, and when he reminded me again (in front of them) how stupid I looked in it, I snatched it off my head and threw it on the ground, telling him to pick it up and throw it out himself if he hated it so much. The week before that, I was aggravated over an unproductive day and an expensive dinner in a Chinese restaurant I didn't like. Johnny offered to treat me to Starbucks after our crappy meal and I spilled hot tea all over myself trying to add soymilk and then I spilled it again trying to fit it into the cupholder on the stroller. I got so fed up that I marched that tea over to the curb on 95th and Broadway and dumped it all in the street while my kid, my husband and a handful of passersby watched me. And the week before that...

Each time I do something stupid like this, I am embarrassed five minutes later, but I have to tell you that in the moment part of me feels so unbelievably wronged by the world that I am convinced it is my unequivocal right to melt down like that. It's absurd.

Anyway, I mention this because it's all coming to a head around here. Thora is not really a bad sleeper. Until recently she did great actually. The few times she was wakeful at night it was cute and she was smiley and we took videos and laughed about it all.

And I am not terribly sleep-deprived. But a little. It's because I'm a lazy and loving mama: I love co-sleeping. I love the smell of my baby. I love the feel of her cool skin against mine, her fingers curled up in mine, her breath on my face. I could watch her for hours as she dreams. I love her little sighs, her mouth moving, her cheeks flushed. I see a million expressions and emotions cross her face as she sleeps and I wonder what she's thinking. I imagine she dreams about nursing, about playing happily with her daddy, about chasing the cat and finally catching her, perhaps by the tail or the ear. But eventually my sleepy stupid bratty behavior started to make me think we needed to make a change. Plus it's nice for the parents to get their bedroom back. So when she was about seven months old, we'd started to transition her into her room, into her crib. But then she started teething, or she got a cold, or something or other happened that made her wakeful and us cranky, so back into the bed she came. I didn't mind. I loved having her back with me once again, to cuddle and stare at and breathe in. But what I did not and do not love about co-sleeping is that Thora seems to be just as aware of me next to her as I am of her next to me. If I so much as roll over, she wakes up, and when she wakes up, she wants to nurse. And though I love nursing, there are two things I definitely do not love. One, she bites. For weeks now, she bites like it's a game. No amount of Thora do not bite mes or One more and that's its or pushing her face into me so she has to let go will change this. She smiles up at me sweetly and innocently, watching my expression as she chomps down again. Late at night this is less of a problem, but late at night we nurse lying down on our sides, which is the other problem. She nestles in and drifts off. Eventually I fall asleep too, boobs exposed, on my side, with one arm crooked uncomfortably under my head and another around her. After a time I want to shift into a more comfortable position. But if I pull her off, she wakes up and we have to start all over again.

That is the part I can't handle. I love to sleep and I love to sleep in specific ways. I am a belly sleeper. Nine hours. My pillow just so. Fully dressed, often in layers. No socks. Heavy blanket, even in summer. Knowing that I melted down when I was overtired over an ugly hat or a full cup of tea, imagine now what I am like when I am woken up again and again and allowed to sleep only on my side with something tugging at my bare nipple and if I dare to move it starts all over again. It sucks. When I am in my own warm cozy bed and I can't move and the clock is telling me I have to wake up in three short hours and function as a professional for another ten, it makes me think crazy thoughts. I imagine I am a factory-farmed sow in a gestation crate. I imagine that I will never ever move or pee or sleep comfortably again, ever.

To be fair, I am quite sure that Thora does not stay latched on all night. And really, being woken up to nurse with a co-sleeping baby really ain't all that bad. You don't have to go into another room. You don't have to sing or read or rock back and forth. You don't have to get out of bed. You don't even have to really wake up.  But at the same time, knowing you have a tiny little body folded into your body means you can never really fall dead asleep, either. So all it takes is one or two or three wakes a night, night after night, to feel like you're nursing all night long even if you aren't. I feel like Sisyphus must have, or Tantalus. It is this perception of missing out on sleep, not the actual lack of sleep itself, that makes me feel like a lunatic.

As an aside, I have flat out refused to let my kid cry it out. I know it works for other people to leave their kid for fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour, whatever, until they fall asleep. I'm cool with that. For me personally, it is not an option. I can't honestly say that I follow one particular school of parenting, but I do have attachment parenting leanings. It's very important to me that my child and I have a healthy and secure attachment. That said, I also believe in providing loving structure and guidance. I can't claim to make the right parenting decisions all the time, but every decision I do make is made carefully and with a lot of deliberation, research and love. But definitely not irrational emotion. Especially about this issue. One time I read somewhere that letting a baby cry it out was letting it resort to its animalistic instincts, that the baby eventually gives up and passes out not because it figures out how to self-soothe, but because its instinct tells it that no one is coming to save it, so it considers itself abandoned, and shuts down to conserve its energy. This is extreme and perhaps a little ridiculous but the image of my little daughter assuming her mama has abandoned her has stayed with me, haunting me, keeping me going through all the 4 ams I have seen in the last ten months. I admit that this says more about my issues than Thora's.

That said, I am highly motivated to make some changes for a couple of reasons, the main one being that she is starting to talk. (She says "dada" and "cat.") "Mama" may or may not be right around the corner, but I know I will not have the resolve to deal with nighttime parenting of a tired and unhappy child calling me by name.

So what to do? A week ago, we moved her back into her room. Torn between wanting to feel like a normal human being and not wanting to scar our baby for life in the process, we decided to hold her figurative hand through it all and when she was asleep we'd leave her there. But the repetitive behavior continued. I'd sit in the glider and nurse her down while Johnny kept us company. She would fall asleep, or close. I would put her down. Instantly, she'd arch her back, awake. I'd pick her up and sit in the glider and nurse. She would get drowsy. And I'd put her down. And she would wake up. Or worse, she'd stay asleep long enough for me to back away slowly, planning my getaway. And as my hand reached the doorknob, I'd hear her stiffen and roll over. And we'd start all over again.

That was last week. This week in my exhaustion I decided we would sleep on her floor so when she woke up in her crib she would have us there with her. Go ahead and laugh. It's funny now. But in my mind this made perfect sense then. This was us teaching her to get reacquainted with her room, to become familiar with waking up there, falling asleep there, recognizing the sights, the smells, the sounds of her own room and have her mama and daddy with her there to ease her through the change. But when it's sneaking up on 4 am and you have done the glider-crib-glider-crib dance a half a dozen times and you are close to tears and you aren't sure if it's because you're just tired or if you're losing your mind from the repetition and the baby flat out refusing to sleep in the crib, you decide in desperation to put your baby on the floor with you and your husband. So there is no one in the crib and there is no one in mommy and daddy's bed. The entire family is all crammed together, camping out on a pink and brown play mat on a hard wood floor inches away from the empty crib. The only difference between this and the co-sleeping you've been doing all along is that while co-sleeping can sometimes be uncomfortable, this is downright painful. No mattress, no pillows. It's drafty. We're cranky. It's stupid.

Tonight I knew we could not do that again. And we got off to a terrible start. Once again, she fell asleep in my arms but was instantly awake when I put her down. The fear of another night like the last four sent me into panic mode right away. I sat back down in the glider with her in the dark and started looking up words like sleep training and Ferberize on my iPad. I was shocked at myself that I was even thinking these things. But before I got very far, she was asleep. I put her down and walked out of her room and breathed a sigh of relief. Before I could even exhale though, she was awake again. Normally I'd go right back in. But this time I didn't.

This time I decided to wait for a minute. Then two. I breathed. I paced, I whined, I questioned myself. I turned off the monitor. Johnny hugged me. I could still hear her crying and I knew it was a tired and confused cry, not one of pain or suffering. I paced some more. He poured me tea. And then, it stopped. I looked up at the clock. Seven minutes we'd waited. Seven long and horrible minutes, and then she was asleep. And she's still asleep.

I am not sure how I feel right now. That is the longest our baby has ever cried. Ever. (We are lucky, I know this.) And we lived through it and so did she. It's settling. I'm feeling some guilt. But she's asleep and has been for three hours now. Why am I not asleep too?

I am not naive enough to think that our sleep challenges are now resolved, that Thora is now going to sleep through the night forever and ever. I am fully aware that she will wake up at some point tonight and we may or may not have to go through this again once, twice, a dozen times tonight and every night. I am not sure I will be able to last another seven minutes. But I'm going to bed now.

And because I'm not going in there to take a picture of her that's relevant to this post, I'll leave you with a picture from Thanksgiving and a couple of recent videos:


  1. I love you Aimee!!! Sleep deprivation has definitely took a toll on me as well and I've had some meltdowns as well. It is hard to keep it together all the time when you don't get the rest you need.

    I have been thinking more and more about CIO too simply because I'm getting desperate. I hate the thought of it too, but right now Clementine wakes at least 8 times a night, sometimes 10 or more. It is exhausting.

    I hope you find something that works for you. Also, don't forget the mantra of motherhood: it gets better!

  2. I know that 7 minutes must have felt like a lifetime. I've let Anna go up to 10, she's always been a decent sleeper but at one point I just had to do it.

    And you know that thing that won't let you fall dead asleep with a baby in the bed? I still have that. If we're away and I'm sharing a bed with her, even if I think I've slept, I'll inevitably feel exhausted in the afternoon and realize that my brain would not totally shut down knowing she was next to me.


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