When you announce you’re pregnant, people start throwing little tidbits of advice your way as though you actually want to hear it. After people starting freaking me out about all the negative aspects of having a baby (tearing, deflated breasts, colic) I had to look for more reasons to worry so I started browsing through parent chat groups, which is where I first learned about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is a legitimate concern amongst both moms and dads, and it quickly became my biggest fear — so much so, that I barely slept for the first year of my daughter's life.
If there was a way to measure my anxiety level as a new mom it would have been at a 10. I did not want her to sleep alone in her crib, which led to me watching her every chance I could.
The Mayo Clinic defines SIDS as the “unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old,” which often occurs when infants are sleeping in their cribs. The thought of placing my little girl to sleep in her crib and waking up to find her no longer breathing terrified me. Plus, I had recently read Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, by Ayelet Waldman and was in complete panic mode. The rules for safe sleep are — if you aren't familiar – fairly full-on. You aren't to let your baby sleep in the car seat (unless they fall asleep while driving), you aren't to let them sleep in the swing, or the Rock 'n' Play, or in your arms, lest they become dependent on being there. Your baby should sleep on their own on their back on a flat surface free of any other objects or bedding, in your room but on a separate sleep surface. These guidelines have reduced the risk of SIDS dramatically, but that didn't help my anxiety.
Basically, I just resolved to not sleep for a year until SIDS risk was lower.
Which is why I slept — more like lay half-awake — with my hand on my daughter’s chest the first year of her life. I considered getting a SIDS monitor, but after the pediatrician told me they are ineffective, I dropped the idea.
My husband and I took every measure to prevent SIDS. My daughter slept on her back on a not-too-soft bassinet pad and without a blanket in a bassinet an arm’s length away from my bed. We took all the precautions to ensure she was not overheated, which meant most of the time she slept in an infant-sized undershirt and diaper, wrapped in a sleep sack.
Even though we followed all the recommendations, so many fears kept me from falling asleep. Is that sweat on her head? Is she too hot? Is the bassinet pad too soft? What if it’s too hard and it hurts her back? OMG should she not be wrapped in a sleepsack? Wait, is she breathing? Maybe I should wake her up to make sure she’s OK.
If there was a way to measure my anxiety level as a new mom it would have been at a 10. I did not want her to sleep alone in her crib, which led to me watching her every chance I could. Working from home was difficult because I wanted her near me all the time but I had to focus on actual work. She’d spent a lot of time sleeping in the Baby Bjorn, in the stroller or in my arms, but then it was difficult to put her down because she wanted to be held.
I was emotional, cranky, overwhelmed and exhausted.
And when I finally did put her in the crib or the Pack 'n' Play, I did sneak into the room to make sure she was breathing. I’d eye her chest to make sure it was rising and falling. My hand would hover over her mouth and nose as I felt for the warmness of her breath. If that wasn’t enough to convince me that she was OK, sometimes I admittedly roused her just so she would flinch. Then I’d run away when she stirred so she would not wake up fully and need to be rocked back to sleep.
Minimal sleep meant not only was I always tired but I was not operating at full speed. In other words: I was emotional, cranky, overwhelmed and exhausted. Sometimes I’d get to the store and forget what it was I was there for; I’d pack a half-made lunch or step out of the house with two different shoes. Living life half awake was not the business. I was able to sneak naps here and there and sometimes I’d actually fall asleep with my hand on my daughter’s chest and wake up several hours later with my hand above my head and my daughter snoring in the bassinet. Other days I was operating on multiple same-day trips to Starbucks and pure adrenaline.
A sense of pure relief washed over me when my daughter turned one. Finally, finally, my daughter was no longer at risk for SIDS. It was a milestone for the entire family. My husband started to sleep train her and sometimes she would sleep in her own room in her crib away from me. Although we were out of the woods and escaped SIDS, those fears of waking up to find her no longer in her crib, or not breathing were more difficult to shake. I still snuck into her room at night to make sure she was OK and I kept the baby monitor right beside me in case she woke up. But mostly, I slept more than three consecutive hours at a time and I could actually relax.
Because this process worked so well for my first daughter, I implemented the same actions with my second daughter. That’s two years of not getting consistent sleep or hitting REM cycles. Two years of multiple stops to Starbucks in one day and feeling tired all the time. Would I do it again if I have a third baby? Totally. Only this time I’ll make sure to reload myStarbucks card so I’ll never be short of coffee.
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