Monday, January 21, 2013

lullaby and goodnight

Like most women, I didn't sleep well during pregnancy. My nose was always stuffy. I couldn't get comfortable. And I had to pee every couple hours. This pregnancy pillow helped me a lot. I don't think it helped Andrew very much, but he was okay with it.



Fast forward to the end of my pregnancy...contractions started in the middle of the night, stealing precious hours of sleep. Harriet was born at 4:19 in the morning, so I obviously didn't sleep that night either. We had originally planned to keep Harriet with us continually during our time at the hospital, but we were exhausted and the nurses kindly took her for a couple hours here and there so we could rest. And so it began...

No one expects to get much sleep during the first few months of their child's life, and neither did we. Harriet slept in a cosleeper next to our bed which I loved because I heard her cries immediately and was able to nurse her in bed. It also allowed me to check on her several times an hour (you think I'm joking) to make sure she was breathing. Pregnancy had been scary but now that my child was here and I had fallen in love with her, I was terrified of losing her. Several times during those first six months, I walked around our house, praying a shield of protection against SIDS over this space. Between the anxiety, the frequent nursings, and those squeaky little grunts newborns make, we didn't sleep much. Again, that's pretty normal. But there were times in those first couple months when she'd go sixteen hours without sleeping at all. That's not so normal for a newborn.



I started wondering if we had a challenging sleeper on our hands when she was about four months old. It just seemed to take forever to get her down. And she woke so often. She would sleep if she was nursing or being held, but if she was set down somewhere, she had trouble. There were plenty of times when I would be nursing her and stand up, walk over to her cosleeper and lay her down without unlatching her. I would balance precariously with one knee on the bed and my elbows on the desk, allowing her to continue to nurse until I very slowly unlatched her and eased myself into bed. During one of these scenarios, she started to cry when I unlatched her, so I put my face right down by hers and shhhhhed to try to get her to fall back asleep. She latched onto my bottom lip. I was so desperate for sleep that I just froze, afraid that she'd wake if I pulled away. It hurt like crazy! She gave me a fat lip...and woke up an hour later.

We moved her into her own room when she was six months old. It's a lovely nursery, my favorite room in the house. I would love to sleep in there.






Andrew was a big proponent of moving her to her own room, but the night that we actually made the switch, I gingerly laid her in the crib and then brought him upstairs to see how tiny and precious she looked. "Take her out of there!" he said, "She's way too little! It's so sad and tomorrow is your birthday. Do it a different day!" But we stayed strong and left her room, leaving Murphy behind to watch over her. He stayed in the nursery with her at night for a couple months, her guardian brother dog. 



People often asked us if she was sleeping through the night yet. "She's working on it," we would say. We just assumed she'd eventually figure it out. But month after month went by with very little progress. Now she's thirteen months old and she still sleeps like a newborn.

We have tried white noise. We've tried white noise plus one fan. White noise plus two fans. No white noise. Just the fans. Complete darkness. A nightlight. We've tried her door open and closed. We've tried having her sleep in our bed. We've leaned a vibrating baby seat up against the crib. We've put a vibrating chair massager under her crib mattress. We've slept on her floor. We've patted her back, sang to her, bounced her, walked her, brought her into our bed. We've tried tylenol, teething rings and two kinds of teething ointment. We've turned the thermostat up and and we've turned it down. We've dressed her in different types of clothing. We've put a sippy cup, a blanket, and a stuffed animal in her crib. We've let grandparents try. We've changed up her diet. We've changed up my diet. We weaned her completely. We watch for her tired signs and try to put her down at the perfect moment. We've taken her to two pediatricians and a chiropractor. We've gotten two different prescriptions for acid reflux. We wear her out with playing and fresh air. We've kept multiple sleep logs and journals. And we let her cry it out.



Crying it out is a controversial topic. I won't go into that here, but I will say that our research (and our hearts) told us that it wasn't the right choice for our family. But when everything else had failed us and Andrew was working a long stretch of nights, I felt I had no choice. So for two or three weeks, I let her cry it out. I would go in at increasing intervals and check on her, lay her back down, pat her back a bit, and remind her that she was okay. But she would not be soothed, let alone soothe herself. During that period of time, only once did she actually cry herself to sleep.  I was sort of shocked when she stopped crying, so I went in to check on her. She was asleep standing up with her arms and head resting on the crib rail. She had vomited and pooped. This wasn't the first time she had puked or filled her diaper while crying it out, but it was the last. This technique works for lots of families, but it didn't work for us. We were done.



I posted on Facebook about Harriet's sleep a couple weeks ago, asking for prayer. That night, she slept eleven hours straight. The next night was great as well. Since then, we've had good nights here and there (waking only once or twice) with plenty of ugly nights in between (waking three to six times).

Harriet's naps have always been a struggle too. She usually gets two half-hour naps. Some days she only gets one. We always try for two naps, but they often fail completely. We used to drive her around during her naps sometimes but there were plenty of times when I'd drive for forty-five minutes before she'd doze off, and then I'd pull into a parking lot and she'd wake immediately. It's not uncommon for us to try to get her down for a nap for an hour, only to have her sleep less than ten minutes.



As you can probably tell, this has been quite a struggle for us. I have resisted blogging about it until now for two reasons. First, focusing on it makes me feel so discouraged. Second, I feel really sensitive about this topic. In some ways, I feel like a complete failure in this area. I feel like getting a baby to sleep should be a simple thing, but I can't do it. No matter how hard I try, I lose this battle. Everyone has ideas about what we're doing wrong. The vast majority of these ideas are shared lovingly and with compassion. Please keep them coming. I'm not asking that you stop trying to help us. But it's still tough to be so stumped. I feel like people (some people, not everyone) must blame me for Harriet's sleep issues. I hear the voices...

"If they had only..."
"They never should have..."
"If it were me..."

It's hard not to internalize it. It's hard to feel good about myself as a mom when my daughter is so exhausted that clipping her fingernails upsets her to the point of gagging. It's embarrassing to take Harriet to someone's house and have to leave prematurely so that we can drive her around during her nap.



I cannot imagine a life where you don't dread nighttime, where you put your baby to bed and then snuggle up on the couch with your husband to watch Downton Abbey and have a bowl of ice cream. When Harriet goes to bed, we don't do anything. We don't even flush the toilets for fear of waking her. We share about our days in whispered tones and then we go to bed...at 8:00 or 9:00 because we will be up again in just a few hours.

Like I've mentioned before, my anxiety has taken this issue and run with it. I often lie awake at night, just waiting for her to wake up. My heart beats so fast and with such force that falling asleep is totally out of the question. This lack of sleep has caused my hair to fall out, my skin to break out and my weight to yoyo. It has affected my ability to process information quickly, to make decisions and to think rationally. It has caused my emotions to run amuck. It has tricked Andrew and I into thinking that we are on opposing teams. It has caused me to question whether prayer really works.



Things could be worse. They could be much, much, much worse. This is a thorn in our side. It could be a dagger, but it's not. It's just a thorn. But we feel the thorn's prick all day long and it affects everything we do. I am not complaining. It sounds like I'm complaining, but I'm not. Last night, after Andrew had fought the good fight for fifty minutes, I took over. As I rhythmically patted her back and sang to her, I smiled and I felt at peace. God has given me this girl. I cannot imagine a better life than the one I have. And there are moments when wisdom overcomes exhaustion and I realize that Harriet's lack of sleep means I get more moments with her than a lot of parents get with their kids. It doesn't matter so much that those moments are at 4:00 in the morning. So I keep patting her back, shhing her gently, and singing...

I cast all my cares upon You. 
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet. 
And any time...I don't know...what to do...
I cast all my cares upon You. 

I really, really don't know what to do. Some days are really good. And other days, I feel like I'm unraveling. Harriet had an MRI last Monday. It was originally ordered because her head was growing too big too fast for the doctor's liking, but the sleep clinic said that they would also be very interested in the results. The imaging showed everything to be normal. We are so grateful for good results. We have a consult with a sleep specialist on February 1st. I will keep you updated. We have a great team already. Harriet's grandparents have been wonderful about coming over some mornings so that Andrew and I can sleep in. My mother-in-law answered my tearful phone call a couple weeks ago at 6:00 in the morning and came straight over. We are so glad that we'll now be adding doctors to our team.

Thanks to all of you who have joined our team by praying for us. We are so very grateful. I am no longer able to pray that Harriet will sleep, that she will have a good night, that this problem will be solved. I just can't bring myself to say those words. I am instead praying that God will allow us to retain our strength and uphold our joy no matter how long this struggle lasts.


18 comments:

  1. Oh Lordy, lady... surviving on such little sleep is HARD, both for you AND for Harriet. I admire you for making it this long without totally cracking.

    When we were having issues with Stella waking up every 45 minutes, I sent out a call for help and people had lots of great ideas. Maybe read through the comments here and see if anything resonates?
    http://mycheapversionoftherapy.com/tag/sleep/

    Also, troublesometots.com was the lifesaver for me - full of great, level-headed advice.

    Good luck... and good night!

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    1. Thanks so much Josey! I will definitely check out your blog and the troublesome tots website. What great resources. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing Emily. Your blog is so encouraging to me to see how you handle the struggles of being a mommy with such grace and honesty. Thank you :)

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    1. Thanks so much for reading my blog and for commenting, Crystal! I was trying to comment on your birth story from my phone the other day, but it wasn't working, so I will go and do that now! (-:

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  3. We had a fair share of sleeping struggles with Ian as well. So sorry to hear things have been so rough for you guys as I know how exhausting and discouraging it can be. Hoping that the appointment with the sleep specialist brings some answers and hopefully solutions for you guys. That's wonderful you at least have family close by to help, there have often been times that I wish we had that as it can be so isolating to be so far from any family and not have anyone to rely on during a difficult day/night. Hoping more restful days/nights away you all in the near future!

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    1. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for normalizing this for me. If there's one thing I've learned since writing this post, it's that I'm certainly not alone. Once again, the blogging community comes to the rescue! (-:

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  4. Oh gosh Em, I'm so glad you found my blog! I read this and I heard so much of what we went through in all that you were saying. Bean actually slept pretty well and slept through the night a bit and then hit about 4 months and that was the end of that. She would wake up at the slightest noise, hubby and I would rock her and as soon as we'd set her down, she'd wake up. We'd tiptoe around, speak in whispers, and the whole not flushing the toilet thing, oh we were so there.

    We were exhausted and we also felt like we must be missing something. But we were really focused on doing what felt right to us and what we really felt like was right for Bean. We heard lots of peoples opinions about what we were doing wrong (LOTS) and we stopped talking about it. We also didn't feel like cry it out was right for us, even though that's the path everyone wanted to send us down. We did feel like at times that Bean would never get to the point of being able to go to sleep on her own and stay asleep.

    But you know what?!? She does now! She got to the point where she just started giving us signs that she was ready for us to try some new things. We got to the point where we stopped rocking her to sleep but still stayed with her and sang to her while she went to sleep. We kept pulling back and at some point (I can't even remember when), it all clicked.

    Now, we have a short bedtime routine, we tuck her into bed, and eventually she goes to sleep on her own. It might take her awhile, but she does it and she's happy. Hubby and I have some time to ourselves. We can flush toilets, use the microwave, open loud bags of chips. All things that sound silly but that we avoided in the past. I don't know what will happen or how things will go for you, but I want you to know that it is possible! We couldn't see this ever happening but it did and we did it on Bean's timeline in a way that felt right to us. We didn't get a ton of support with that, but we did it our way and I'm so glad we did. Hang in there and you'll be in my thoughts for sure because I know how hard this is. And if you ever need to vent email me. I'm happy listen without any kind of judgment!

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    1. Oh my goodness, Ordinary Girl! Thank you for sharing this with me! It is so encouraging to know that someone has been right where we are and is now enjoying the "night life" I dream of! I've reread this comment several times already and I'm sure I'll return to it when I need more encouragement. (-:

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  5. I have thought a lot about what you wrote about parenting after infertility is...parenting. And it's HARD. I will be sure to pray for you as you come to mind. The song you posted at the end, "I Cast All My Cares Upon You," is one that we have recently taught to Isaac as he struggles with nighttime fears. Hang in there, mama...only God can get us through these challenges.
    xo

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, Bethany! And thanks for your prayers as well. I'll be praying for Isaac as he learns to rest in God's protection. (I was afraid of the dark til late elementary school so I can relate!) I hope that sweet song is as much of an encouragement to him as it is to me!

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  6. Well I don't have any ideas for you, but I do think you are very brave for all you have been through. I hope the doctors at the sleep center have some answers for you. I can imagine the lac of sleep has been affecting you guys just a little. :) You sound like you are doing all you can do. Prayers for some sleep tonight <3

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Risa! When I write posts like this, I always try to be very aware that some of the people reading it would kill for sleepless nights like the ones I've been having. Know that you are continually in my prayers.

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  7. Oh my. First of all, I want to tell you and your husband that my husband and I hear and understand every single word you have written. We have been there and it was the most frustrating, infuriating, helpless inducing time of our lives. Our son, who will be 3 in March, didn't sleep through the night (not even that ridiculous 3 hour stretch that is considered for newborns) until he was about 14 months. That's when he went down to waking up 2-3 times a night, down from 6-8 times.

    We also did it all. The cry it out was simply the most tragic thing ever. How could he cry for so long? 3 hours. 3 hours of constant crying. None of those books talk about that. The bed jiggling, swaddling, the pleading to just sleep. All acts of futility. Honestly, if one more person told me that 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc was the magic time when their child slept, I was going to explode. Our son didn't get it. He also didn't nap. It was simply a gross time.

    The sleep specialists were fabulous. So supportive and caring. As with your daughter, all our tests came back normal. Good to know, but frustrating to not have something obvious to fix. So we started him on melatonin. Not ideal, but for the love of all that's right and Holy, it was a last resort. I firmly believe that that is what helped him sleep longer, just enough to break the wretched 45 minute sleep cycles.

    He reliably started to sleep through the night at around 22-23 months, but to this day his naps can be touch and go. He will not sleep in the car and his idea of sleeping in is 5am. However, I thank the Lord every day that he's remotely sleeping.

    So, while I have no real advice to offer, I wanted you to know that you are not the only family who is going through this. It's a very isolating feeling to have your life revolve around the sleep habits of your child, especially when you look around and see sleeping babies and want to pull your hair out.

    Blessings to you.

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    1. Karolyn, your comment literally brought me to tears...in a good way. Thank you a million times over for sharing your story with me. Thanks for being so real about the fact that things are not perfect now but that they have improved greatly. I am so glad I wrote this post because the comments have allowed me to see that, like you said, I'm not alone. I have lately been going back and forth about the sleep specialists, wondering if we're just going to walk away without answers and feeling discouraged, but I'm so glad they helped you and I'm definitely going to keep the appointment. Even if all we get from them is some support and care, it will be worth it. Again, thank you.

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    2. You are more than welcome. Are you going to the specialists at Children's in St. Paul? That is where we went and our doctor was Dr. Garcia. Special man. It's true that we didn't walk away with real answers from them, official diagnosis was "intensely socially aware," the support was beyond anything I expected. I can recall talking to him on the phone for 45 minutes several times and sometimes all you need is someone to listen.

      Also, on a slightly lighter side note, just what is with these babies for whom we work so hard to achieve? My son came after 7 years of treatment and I see in your past posts you have also struggled. I try to think that it's simply the Lord saying, "Obviously you have patience out the wazoo, so here's just another way to practice it." *smile*

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    3. Yes, we'll be seeing Dr. Garcia. So glad you had a good experience with him. "Intensely social aware" sounds just like Harriet. I wonder if we'll end up with a similar diagnosis. And what you said about patience...I'm not sure I had any patience before this, but this sleep experience has sure helped me grow in that area. Thanks again for your encouragement.

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  8. I've just now discovered your blog. My husband and I struggled with our twin boys and their crazy sleep issues for THREE YEARS. We finally gave up and let them sleep in the bed with us when they turned 2.5. I held out that long because I was so afraid of SIDS and one of us rolling over on them! I haven't read "ahead", but I hope your little sweetie settled into longer stretches of sleep. Being a mom to little ones is so HARD, but doing it on 3-4 hours of broken sleep EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. is just torture.

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  9. Firstly id like to say how adorable your little girl is she melted my heart .
    As a grandmother for the first time my daughter crying and saying I cant get the baby to sleep through the night all my friends kids sleep he just wont . I smiled and said oh darling don't worry he will before he turns 18 then at 18 you wont be able to wake him . don't stress over it just enjoy every waking minute you can because before you know it he will be running off and having kids of his own . Your stories will be so much better then your friends stories when you become a grandmother . She smiled at me and said thanks. I then said if you need a rest and want to sleep ring me ill be there in a heart beat because im old and old people don't need as much sleep as young ppl . I had no magic wand or words like you she had tried everything . Our precious little bundle is now 20 mths and some nights he goes through some he wakes up to 6 times. She just has a routine that she sticks to and we say bed time is 7 pm and that is when it starts. He now goes off to sleep ok but you never know just when he might wake . U are nto aalone , you are not a bad mother in fact looking at the positive maybe you are such a good mummy she doesn't want to sleep and miss out on mummy and daddy time . Don't beat your self up just enjoy the smiles and the chatter and trust me by 18 she will sleep . god bless x x x

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