As I rock my fourth-born in the glider, I am painfully aware that out of four babies in eight years, we’ve never gotten a sleeper.
A sleeper — from what I’ve heard — is a baby that sleeps a lot. Or at least a normal, acceptable, human amount. A baby that a parent doesn’t have to battle and triumph over in order to teach the baby to sleep.
When I first became a mom at age 28, the first shock was that my life wasn’t about me anymore. My husband and I had prayed for that first baby and I was glad to sacrifice myself to motherhood in most ways… even though my body physically and mentally yearned for the kind of sleep I had previously enjoyed in my pre-baby life.
A few years down the road, I can report that by now I have mostly adjusted to the 24-hour selflessness that’s required of a mom. In the last eight years of pregnancy and newborns I have missed out on many hours of sleep, many days horseback, and many prizes I never will receive for the masterpieces I never had the time to write. My regrets are few, though; I believe there has been no greater calling for me than to lay down my life for my children.
And yet. Blake Baby No. 4 is almost 8 months old, and I. Am officially. So. Tired.
He doesn’t sleep in his crib. He doesn’t sleep in our bed. He doesn’t lay down for naps. He hates, and I mean hates, his carseat — the octaves and volumes he achieves while strapped in would, I believe, drive a lesser person to push open the door and jump out at a high rate of speed.
Other than all that, Baby Muggins is a happy little guy. Truly. If he’s not buckled in, and if he’s not expected to sleep, he’s good to go. Beau and I comfort ourselves in saying he’s just another result of the Montana-Alabama genetic cross. We pretend that our children are experiments in the study of hybrid vigor, super-kids super-charged with good looks, wit, intelligence, and the ability to go days without food and sleep. (We tell ourselves all this to take the edge off of the whole no-sleep issue.)
Because he’s just like his siblings. When Asher, our first, was a baby, I sat and rocked him and read books and articles trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Why didn’t my baby sleep? Why did he wake up and cry every time I tried to lay him down in his crib? Why did he refuse to nap? I was desperate for answers.
An experienced older lady insisted we should just let the baby sleep in our bed, and we gave it a try even though in our previous life of parenting genius (you know, back before we actually had kids) we had strongly disapproved of co-sleeping. Though it was a relief for me not to have to stand up several times in the night to fetch the baby, lying in our queen-size with the baby and his arms and his legs did not necessarily mean we were sleeping soundly.
I was pretty sure there was nothing wrong with the baby health-wise because he seemed fine during awake hours. The only conclusion, then, was that I hadn’t solved the entire mothering equation. I was sure there was an answer I hadn’t found yet — possibly a trick no one was letting me in on. Secretly (okay, maybe not-so-secretly) I loathed parents who claimed their babies slept through the night at eight weeks and took four-hour naps and loved their carseats so much that cross-country road trips were pure joy for the whole family. For several months I felt terrible about myself. WHY WASN’T I SMART ENOUGH TO BEAT MY BABY AT THE SLEEPING GAME?
My no-nonsense aunt insisted it wouldn’t hurt that baby a bit to cry until he fell asleep. Her children, my cousins (now well-adjusted adults), had of course slept through the night as wee infants and napped through the afternoons until they were school-age. I had to agree with her that the sleep sounded wonderful, but making my baby cry it out seemed as counter-intuitive to me as sleeping standing up proved to be. To make matters worse, I had read in the course of all my research that a baby forced to cry himself to sleep may grow up to have confidence issues! The article said something akin to, “If forced to cry himself to sleep, the child will learn at a very young age that his voice doesn’t matter; that he can cry often and cry as loud as he wants, but no one will care enough to answer.” A second book explained that forcing a baby to cry himself to sleep is completely contradictory to the survival of the human race! The book said something akin to, “It is natural for the child to sleep with his parents. A prehistoric woman sleeping in a cave would never have put her baby in a second cave, all alone, to ‘cry it out’; the noise of the baby would most certainly have attracted predators looking for a late-night snack.”
(In case you hadn’t guessed it, both those statements have stayed with me throughout my child-rearing years.)
To my dismay, and despite months of research and experimentation, I never did solve the sleeping dilemma with our first baby. When he was 18 months old, in pure exhaustion, we finally moved our bed and his crib to opposite ends of the house. I sobbed in my bed on the west end as he screamed in his crib on the east end. This continued for three or four nights, and then — as so many people had assured me would happen — he just plain stopped crying. He just went to sleep in his crib as soon as we laid him down. After 18 months of hitting my head against the wall, it was like the proverbial fingers had snapped just like that, and no-sleep purgatory was behind us… at least with that one.
Repeat the story with the second Blake baby. Repeat the story with the third Blake baby. Again I say, none of our babies have been sleepers. The only difference between Baby No. 1 and his younger siblings is that the baby’s refusal to sleep is not so unbelievable to me as it used to be. And I don’t blame myself for it anymore. I’m too tired, you see, to develop a good case for my own guilt.
No. 4, our sweet little non-sleeping screamer Harold Muggins, now almost 8 months old, has not presented me with any issue I haven’t seen before.
But here’s what’s different this time: I’m 36 now, and I don’t have the stamina that I did when I was 28. I can’t thrive on five hours of interrupted sleep like I used to. I can’t catnap during the day as I rock the non-sleeping baby because I have a homeschooled first-grader, a homeschooled kindergartner, a needy 3-year-old, and a husband with a very demanding job… all of whom need my help.
Folks, I am close to the end of my reserves. And so I have been day-dreaming recently about moving the baby’s crib into a room where he could cry with less chance of waking me or his siblings. I have been reminding myself that it’ll only be three or four nights of crying for our last-born and then — ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom — our family will leave sleepless nights behind forever. At least in theory.
I hate it for li’l Muggins. After all these years, I still can hardly stand to hear my babies cry. I was more patient with his older siblings. I coddled and cuddled each of the three of them for between 15 and 18 months before I made ’em cry it out. Muggins is only (almost) 8 months. Is he too little to cry? Too little to be forced to sleep if he doesn’t want to?
He’s too cute to cry…
… or is he?
© Tami Blake