My Obsession With My Kids' Sleep Routines Drove Me To The Brink
In our nursery closet, you can find any number of baby care items. There is a baby bathtub, an old breast pump, a Bumbo, and tubs of newborn clothes I've held onto... just in case. There are also swaddles. There are so many swaddles. There is a swaddle with wings and velcro, a SleepSack that zips, a soft and stretchy swaddle that ties at the bottom, a magic Sleepsuit, stacks of swaddle blankets, and a sack that makes my child look like a flying squirrel. They are the leftovers of long-ago days and months and years when my obsession with my kids' sleep routines was all I could think about.
This collection is one I've carefully built over the course of three babies and years of sleepless nights. I’m not exaggerating when I say years, either. There was my first daughter, who didn’t sleep from day one. I'd been given a sleep training book and that first week of motherhood I read it from cover to cover as I rocked her to sleep. In my naivety as a new mom, I believed that everything was as black and white as that book made it sound. I made so many plans to for nap time and bedtime. I was sure I could control how well she slept, but the truth is trying to get my baby to sleep turned me into an obsessive monster.
Within a few weeks of her birth, it was clear my daughter had other plans than to sleep. She really broke us into the whole parenting gig. Since we decided we felt uncomfortable with letting her cry for long stretches of time, we walked circles in our living room floor with that baby. We swaddled her, bounced her, and shushed her for hours every night. Until she was 20 months old, when I was eight months pregnant and couldn’t rock her anymore, I would rock her to sleep.
I remember becoming so frustrated because the way my baby slept was something that was completely out of my control. I'd sigh and cry and stomp around the house in the middle of the night because this tiny human being wouldn’t do what I wanted. She wouldn’t sleep, no matter how hard I tried.
When my second baby arrived, she slept better, but only slightly. We got room-darkening shades and tried to remember all of the lessons we'd learned the first time around. I breastfed her every two to three hours for the first 12 months of her life before she finally slept through the night right before her first birthday.
Every night before bed, I found myself counting the hours, trying to figure out how much sleep I might get that night. If she woke every three hours, would I get four hours in before my alarm sounded?
All of those swaddles now sitting in the closet are proof of just how fixated on sleeping I became when my first child was an infant. I was so tired but I was so sure I'd find the secret to getting a little more sleep at night. I remember becoming so frustrated because the way my baby slept was something that was completely out of my control. I'd sigh and cry and stomp around the house in the middle of the night because this tiny human being wouldn’t do what I wanted. She wouldn’t sleep, no matter how hard I tried.
It turned me into an obsessive monster. All I could think about was when I could sleep and would my baby sleep and how would I possibly go to work the next day if she didn’t. Every night before bed, I found myself counting the hours, trying to figure out how much sleep I might get that night. If she woke every three hours, would I get four hours in before my alarm sounded?
Now, here I am with another baby who doesn’t sleep. Except this time, things are different. With my third, I've completely given up on the hope of getting sleep. Instead, he sleeps in bed with me and I let him breastfeed as often as he wants. I don’t keep track of the hours he sleeps or how often he feeds. I don’t try to look for solutions for a wakeful nights. We just kind of get by. Honestly, I think I’m a happier mom because of it. Sure, I am completely exhausted, but I am not expending so much energy trying to fix I problem I can’t control. For the sake of my well being, I had to stop trying to make my kids sleep.