Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sleeping Like a Baby

Out of desperation, I'm starting to consider all the ways I could kill time in the middle of the night while Genevieve cries and I am rendered sleepless. I should explain here that, for the past few nights, we've begun a last-resort, desperation-induced effort to reduce Genevieve's middle-of-the-night nursings. In recent weeks, she's increased her night-wakings to newborn levels, and she refuses to go back to sleep without eating (even though she routinely puts herself to sleep at the beginning of the night, and at naps, after being laid down awake; she nurses at these times, but generally not all the way to sleep, and it's not a problem. Apparently it's only the staying asleep thing that confounds her). And I just can't nurse every two hours anymore; it's killing me. So we're trying to fix that. But it's really not working, and though Christopher can somehow sleep while the baby is crying furiously IN THE SAME ROOM JUST FEET FROM OUR BED--and I know he is sleeping because he is SNORING--, you might as well suggest to me that I teleport myself to the moon and go to sleep up there, so unlikely is such a thing in my reality.

Unfortunately there isn't anyplace else I can go in our house to sleep, either. The guest room is close enough to our room that Genevieve's screams are still perfectly audible in there; besides, that room is for some reason frigidly cold and therefore not sleep-conducive (oops! sorry, guests!). Downstairs, on the living room couch? Maybe, but the first floor is freezing at night unless the heat is turned up so high that the second floor becomes a sauna, baking Julia until she wakes up whimpering. I suppose I could drag a bunch of heavy blankets down there to stay warm enough, but various other annoyances also exist on the main level, including a noisy furnace, a harrassing cat, and quite possibly the errant nocturnal mouse. It's not exactly a relaxing place to catch some z's. Plus, you can hear Genevieve all the way downstairs, too. She's quite a screamer!

In the end, I've been sitting upstairs in the family room, right outside our bedroom door, writing and surfing the internet on the laptop while Genevieve howls for hours on end. Fun times, people! So: I can't help but think--since I'm awake anyway, how can I pass the torturous time? Our TV doesn't work, so that's out. (Damn!) The computer is only good for so long. Run away in the car on my own? Very, very tempting, believe me. There are hotels in this town, after all. In my most desperate minutes, like, oh, right now, the thought of a quiet hotel room and several uninterrupted hours of sleep (or cable TV!) can bring me to tears. But I'd have to bring the breast pump and set an alarm clock to get up and use it (we're not night-weaning completely yet, after all) and, well, that's a lot of trouble. Plus: expensive!

So here I am. Should I clean? Virtuous idea, and no doubt the house could use it, but yuck. Work on my long-held dream of producing a publication-worthy book? Um, I'm getting no sleep here; I doubt my brain is capable of stringing together enough coherent thoughts to write a knock-knock joke, let alone anything thought-provoking and creative. Maybe I could bake something; Lord knows I love me a good brownie. But I'm afraid that in my current sleep-deprived state I'd accidentally burn down the house.

For the first time, I can understand the appeal of those 24-hour fitness centers. I mean, before this, the thought of driving to the gym at 2 a.m. to work out was unfathomable. Now? Not so crazy. I mean, I'm awake anyway; why not use my time efficiently and accomplish something I find so challenging during my normal, hectic daylight hours? I don't belong to a gym, let alone a 24-hour one, but I am seriously considering laying out some exercise clothes before bed one of these nights and sneaking in a good workout during the midnight scream-fest. Or the 2 a.m. one. Or the 4 a.m. one. Heck, why sleep at all? I could train for a marathon if I only had a treadmill. Hop on my elliptical? It's a little noisy, but hey, Genevieve won't hear it over her squalling. Unless the clunking right pedal actually KEEPS her from falling back to sleep; that would be bad. I could always pop in my favorite exercise DVD, haul my free weights out of the downstairs closet and do some lunges and squats. Why not? My quads and glutes could use it.

Oy vey, people. This is pretty grim. It's awful having a baby who won't sleep. You keep thinking, maybe she'll do better, maybe this will be the night she sleeps as long as everyone else's babies sleep, but it doesn't happen and you end up dragging yourself through yet another day with your temper short and your eyelids heavy.

Tonight I had a realization. I've been reading (in some cases, re-reading) all those sleep books--you know the ones--with their various promises of sleep-restored utopia if you only follow their respective plans: never go to the baby, always go to the baby, go to the baby for awhile but then gradually intervene less and less until the baby learns to soothe herself back to sleep without you. And I've been thinking about all the people who have expressed to me, since Julia was a baby, their own fevered adulation for whichever sleep expert's advice they follow in their own families--how they've said things like, You just have to stick with it, you have to be tough, you didn't let her cry long enough, babies should be sleeping through the night by twelve weeks, it's your job to teach her to sleep through, you're obviously doing it wrong. (OK, no one actually said that last part, but believe me, the message came across regardless.) And I kept thinking about all the anecdotes, the little case descriptions, in each of the books, and how each one is a glowing success story, and every time I read one I'd think, Why doesn't it ever seem to work like that for me, for my babies? I don't understand why it's not working when everyone else says it works perfectly if you just follow these steps!

And that's when I realized: You don't hear about all the families for whom none of this is working. No book author is going to include in his or her sleep-training bible all the instances in which things didn't go according to plan, in which ultimately the baby DIDN'T stop crying after 20 minutes, or half an hour, or an hour. In which the family had to try again and again, over the course of days or weeks or months, a variety of desperate techniques, before the baby finally started sleeping better, due to who knows what, age or brain development or "training." There could be thousands of households out there just like mine, and probably are, wherein the infants are screaming their heads off every night, demanding to nurse every two hours, refusing to sleep even four hours at a stretch let alone a full night, wherein the parents are at their wits' end and have tried the crying it out, have tried the gradual extinction, have tried just giving in and nursing every time, and nothing's working well for them. You just don't read about those families in the sleep books.

And to the individuals who so zealously champion their favored sleep interventions, I have to respectfully point out that, by definition, if you're able to make one of those techniques work in an even remotely timely manner, you do not have a baby for whom sleep is particularly challenging. Therefore, you cannot know what works and does not work for me, with my sleep-challenged infants. You may think that you had it tough with your baby, and that it was oh-so-hard to get him or her to sleep, but you sucked it up and did it, and so can everyone else, but truly: if you had to let your baby cry for 45 minutes, or an hour, or even two, for a night or two or three, or even a week, and then it worked, well---no, you do not have a hard baby when it comes to sleep. I'm sure it felt hard at the time, but guess what? To me, that would seem like a relatively smooth effort. It wasn't three hours, was it, or five? It wasn't two weeks of this, or four. In other words, if you're lucky enough to report a sleep-training success, and happy enough with the results to try to convince others to follow the same technique, you've got a comparatively easy-sleeping baby. So your situation has nothing in common with mine.

In the end I suppose it's mainly all about slogging through. You try this, you try that, nothing works, you get more and more tired, blah blah blah, and then eventually I guess something does work, or works a little bit, and then a little more, and you take a hard line sometimes or not, you rock or nurse or not, and ultimately the babies sleep all night. After all, no one's getting up to nurse at college, are they? (They're doing other things, of course, but not nursing.) In the meantime, I'm open to suggestions for ways to pass this moonlit time. You'll find me on the elliptical, running and running to nowhere.


squab said...

Wow, that's really yucky. And you're right: every kid is different, and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. Heck, that's why there are so many different sleep books out there! Maybe you should invest in a good pair of earplugs. Hope it gets better soon.

Shan said...

Thanks, squabby! If nothing else, I have Sunday to look forward to! Can't wait to see you, Mr. Squab, and the Hatchling.

Donna said...

I was gonna list all the things I wish I could do in my spare time (Spare time? What's that??) - like needlepoint, sewing, cooking - but then I realized that even if I had spare time, I still wouldn't be doing those things.

If it were open, I'd consider doing my grocery shopping at 3am. When my son was an infant, I would do our grocery shopping on Friday or Saturday nights. It was very easy to do (no lines and fully stocked shelves) but I couldn't help but feel like I had no life because I was invariably standing behind (or in front of) twenty-somethings buying beer while I bought milk, vegetables and baby food.

Just think, since this is likely your last child, you can say this is the last time you'll be staying up all night with an infant! ha ha.

Hopefully these wakeful nights will pass soon.

Donna said...

Oh, and what's up with the snoring husbands lying just feet away from the crying baby? I feel ya there, Shan!

Christopher said...

In some cultures, snoring is a sign of virility and attractiveness. As is the ability to rest anywhere.

Heidi said...

I assume you've tried swaddling? That was our life-saving w/ Gabey. If you haven't, alas, it's probably a little late to start now... or not. After NOT swaddling from around 4-5 months on (because it was getting warmer and he was so wiggly and would squirm out of anything, no matter *how* tightly wrapped), we did have an instance when he was a full 12 months old--yes!--where we were out of town, staying overnight w/ family, and he had a FIT and finally Greg swaddled him w/ a big blanket, and he settled right down and went to sleep.

Anonymous said...

I like Heidi's swaddling idea. My friend uses a "Swaddle Me" ( Her son can wrangle himself out of anything can't wrangle himself out of this and it's the only thing she can use to swaddle him.

Shan said...

We actually just stopped swaddling Genevieve a few days ago because, in her fury, she'd kick herself out of the blanket and then stuff the whole thing onto her face. Not exactly safe! Plus, right now, I'm pretty sure the only thing that will appease her is the boob. Sorry to say. On the plus side, I love Donna's suggestion about getting the grocery shopping done! (Although, here in MN, unlike in HI, it is about 20 below at 3 a.m., so it's a lot harder to get yourself to go out of the house!)

Becky said...

Shannon...its Becky from Mac (I found your blog through our mutual chicago friends)... I could have written this post myself a few months back. Our daughter was the true champion of the night, outdoing all other babies we knew at the time. She is, now, a great there is hope! All that sleep training nonesense aside, I just kept telling myself that all genius babies have difficulty with sleep (a true fact!) and so our daughters must just be really EXTRA smart! That's what I told myself, anyway... :)

Shan said...

Becky! How wonderful to hear from you. And how wonderful to hear that someone else can understand! You'd think, since this is my 2nd baby, that I'd be used to all this craziness and chaos and sleep deprivation, but I guess each time it's its own version of insanity. I think your theory about genius babies MUST be true, however: Julia was a terrible sleeper too, and she can already spell her own name. :)