E is out with Grandma and M is asleep in her swing. It’s hard to put her down but there’s more to get done these days than there was with her sister. I’m slowly accepting that second children spend a little more time on their own.
The attachment parenting voice in my head says I should hold her against me while I write, but the realist tells me to save the babywearing for when I need it, for when the dishes are piling up or I have to chase her sister. Besides, she’s peacefully asleep over there.
Everything has felt easier this time around, except for the division of attention. M receives a little less than her sister did, and E has to learn to share. A friend reminded me E got to be the only child for almost three years. M will always have to share me. Somehow this makes me feel better when one of the girls has to wait.
There’s definitely more waiting happening around here. Thankfully E’s always happy to see her sister, even if she isn’t always happy to see me. I don’t mind, I’d rather receive the blame for the changes. Still, I’ve shed a few tears, alone in my room, remembering how we slept snuggled against each other until just a few days before her sister arrived. It doesn’t help that she still calls for me in the dark, sometimes screaming, others crying. She wants me to sleep next to her, but I can’t.
Instead, I spend my nights doing the newborn shuffle. Nursing and diapers and little blocks of sleep. M is still working on the difference between night and day. Sometimes she doesn’t settle in for a good stretch of sleep until the wee hours of the morning. The sleep deprivation is finally catching me, the cumulative affect of just four broken hours of sleep a night. Forget napping when the baby naps. I have a big girl running around this house.
That’s the thing, though. To someone who has never had children, it all sounds so challenging. I know because I used to be that person and hear these stories and think, “Oh, God, how will I ever survive that?” But you do, and with a smile on your face, most of the time.
I’m falling more in love with M each day. It wasn’t the same ripped open, crazy, knock you over feeling I had with E, but I’m certain that’s because this time I’d already transformed into a mom. With M, it’s a deep, familiar love, like it’s been there all along and each day I get the joy of rediscovering it a little more. I’d worried I couldn’t possibly love someone as much as E, but now I know you can’t compare the love for your children. It’s different, but no more or less than the other.
One month in, I still can’t believe I’m going on this adventure again. I’m doing my best to fill them both with enough love and attention. I know it’s enough, it’s just an adjustment.
She screams as I press her tight against me. Memories of colic flooding back. Now she’s bigger and I know it will stop within minutes instead of hours. Still, night terrors bring all the same feelings back. Please. Make. It. Stop. Please.
Two years, today.
I’ve revisited each moment of anticipation for the past week. Going into the hospital to get checked. Sleeping every afternoon to build strength for the nightly contractions. Returning to the hospital again. An entire family anxious in the waiting room. And, finally, at 8:27 this morning, the moment when she was handed to me and everything changed.
Everything is Thomas the Train now, even the little boy undies she’d prefer to wear outside. Obligatory morning hugs for her “grumpy” dogs. “I missed you” breaking and healing my heart simultaneously. Embraces worthy of a luchador, making me a little sorry for those maybe not-so-grumpy dogs. Wash everything, hands and blankies, but never teeth. “Mine” for all things she wants and “yours” for all things she doesn’t. The sweetest sleeping face I’ve ever seen, legs that seem to reach for the far end of the bed, or more often her dad’s face.
My growing girl. My little love. Sometimes I still can’t believe you’re real.
Beginning with my fantasies of being able to press pause and take a nap during labor, my relationship with sleep transformed into something I desired without any real promise of attainment. I craved it. I daydreamed about it. I practically salivated over it.
After twenty months of co-sleeping and nursing on demand, I finally decided I’d reached my limit. I was fine continuing to share a bed as long as I could sleep without having to nurse every hour or two. While E had gone through stretches where she slept a few hours or more at a time without needing me, she was suddenly becoming more and more demanding again and my body couldn’t take it. Just as I always figured would happen eventually, I knew I was done.
Then, I hurt my shoulder and I was really done. Like there was no other option. I couldn’t lie on my side for hours upon hours. She was going to have to learn how to put herself back to sleep.
Now here’s the point in the story where I pause for a moment to tell you every baby and family is different. While we decided not to cry-it-out early on, I now have a new appreciation for the idea that maybe some moms need the separation earlier than others. Co-sleeping and night comforting was something that worked for us for a long time. I enjoyed the closeness. And, honestly, it was just easiest for me. We had shared a body, so it felt natural to share a bed. She was right there next to me, easy to put back to sleep. No need to climb out of bed in the middle of the night. You get the idea.
Even within the same family, moms report different techniques working for different kids. This worked for us. I’m not looking for approval or to suggest what we did was right. It was right for us until it wasn’t anymore. Of course, many people in our lives warned us it would be hard to get her out of our bed, but it was also hard for me to get out of our bed in those early months. To me, it has been worth the trade-off, even if it isn’t easy to transition her to her own space.
What we have done after two long months is get her to sleep for about 8 hours (on average) without needing anything from me. I still nurse her around 5 or 6AM and then she goes back to sleep for a few more hours. When you consider we were nursing hourly at some points in the last few months, this is a HUGE victory. However, it was hard-earned.
I’ve had a couple of moms recount their cry-it-out experiences as gentle fussing in the crib. This was never an option with E. For awhile she’d start her night in her own little Montessori bed on the floor, but as soon as you’d try to put her down in a crib she’d scream to the point of gagging. I’ve heard her gently fuss. This wasn’t it and we couldn’t take it for more than a few minutes. She would hyperventilate. She would freak out. It was too much for us so we didn’t push it.
Accordingly, I scoured the web for a “gentle” approach to night weaning. I knew putting her in a crib and walking away wasn’t an option for us, even if I’d tried it a couple times just to see what would happen, (and, as I described, could only take for a couple minutes!). So, I figured the first step was to get rid of nursing during the night and then worry about the bed-sharing afterward. Fortunately, my husband stumbled across this video and sent it to me:
Basically, the plan went as follows:
Pick a 6-7 hour window to withhold milk as the source of sleep
Nights 1-3 use any comforting you’d like to get her to sleep, nursing may be used to comfort but not put to sleep during the 6-7 hour window
Nights 4-6 no milk during the 6-7 hour window, any other comforting okay
Nights 7-9 no milk, no comforting
I knew it wouldn’t be easy to withhold her favorite source of nighttime comfort, but I had no other choice. It was time. And, it was terrible. She fought back, hard. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed, even though I was lying there next to her.
I tried everything. I sang songs, I ignored her. Nothing helped but time. While the plan in the video suggested 9 days, it really took us about 5 weeks with the first 2 being the most intense. Although the plan transitions to no comforting by night 7, it took us longer to get there as simply rolling over to “hold you” became her favorite trick.
Even now, I have to make sure I pack her full of as much food as possible during the day because she was clearly relying on night nursing for some of her caloric needs. Below are my journal entries from the first few nights to illustrate what a challenge it was:
Night One: Went to bed at 9, nursed but she fell asleep without nursing around 10, withheld nursing 5 or 6 times throughout the night, threw short fits then went back to sleep (still challenging), nursed once around 4 to relieve pressure, and again at daylight, slept in until 9:30+ and put herself back to sleep once after I got out of bed (heard her cry, but didn’t go to her)
Night Two: Ouch. We were off to an awesome start. I nursed her then used other methods to get her to sleep, (sing, cuddle, etc). She fell asleep after about 30 minutes without any fits around 10PM and slept soundly until 1AM when she woke up in a torrent. Nothing would get her back to sleep.
Unlike the fits the previous night, her screaming just kept escalating. A sippy cup helped calm her a little. Walking her around calmed her until my arms felt like they were going to fall off, (well, my right arm since I sprained my left shoulder and couldn’t put much weight on it).
Still, I kept refusing to nurse. I sang songs, tried to cuddle, until finally the screaming became too much. I asked her dad for help, (he was sleeping downstairs so he could face his workday). She just got angrier until the screaming became so intense that I felt like I was going to throw up.
At that point, I deferred back to the rules for the first three nights– nursing is okay to calm, just not to put to sleep. I calmed her with milk and then she went to sleep easily after I stopped nursing her. She slept without fits the rest of the night. I nursed her at 5AM since it was past the 7 hour milk-free mark (starting at 10PM). I just couldn’t handle another fit. She nursed again around 8AM and is still in bed now, (9AM).
Night three: Repeat of night 2 but took 2 hours to get her back to sleep around 2, minimal additional waking, just one monstrous fit around 2 and a refusal to go back to sleep. Getting harder to want to keep going.
We basically repeated this for weeks. Some nights were fine and then we’d start all the way over again. It sucked, but I was determined. And, little by little, it paid off. We started to sleep through the night here and there. It was the encouragement I needed to keep going through the hard nights.
As she began to soothe herself back to sleep more consistently, it was amazing to see the shift. She’d cry for just long enough for me to question whether I should intervene and then magically put herself back to sleep. It made me appreciate the concept of self-soothing in a whole new way.
Eventually, she stopped night waking pretty much altogether. Now she’ll wake maybe once or twice, and put herself back to sleep quickly, as long as I’ve fed her adequately throughout the day. The other magical improvement is naps. She used to wake up in the middle of her nap and want to nurse. Now she generally puts herself back to sleep during her naps as well.
Parenting is such a personal journey. What works and has worked for us is definitely not for everyone. But, this is exactly the kind of blog entry I wish I’d read a couple months ago. It would’ve helped to hear that these plans don’t always work in a week or two. Sometimes they take months. Sometimes they take a lot of (comforted) tears. Our sleep plan is a work in progress. She’s a night owl. She’s still in our bed. But, one step at a time. I’m just grateful to be sleeping on my own clock again.
I will remember the night we spent in the pediatric wing of our local hospital for the rest of my life. E was just 4 days old and her jaundice had reached the highest level her pediatrician had ever treated. Not the best thing to tell first-time parents.
Even though we were reassured everything would be alright, my heart was ripped open. Here I was a mess of post-partum hormones being told I wouldn’t be able to hold my newborn baby while she cried in the glow of an artificial blue light. The nurses must have thought I was crazy. My tears just wouldn’t stop.
As I tried to settle into my fold-out chair for the night, my body still cramping in post-delivery discomfort, the sound of an emergency chime kept ringing in the hallway. Children in much worse states than my little girl needed immediate help. Quick footsteps and rushed voices repeated throughout the night. The urgency was palpable.
At some point in the early hours of the morning, worried about E’s persistence in peeling off her protective eye wear, I stumbled into the hallway in search of tape. The corridor was empty. Determined to find what I needed, I headed for the nurse’s station, but open doors caught my eye.
One stuck with me. The sock-covered feet of a mother who lay beside a crib, the room decorated with all kinds of items from home. These people lived in the hospital. A long-time patient, something seriously wrong. Suddenly my night of not being able to hold my baby became trivial.
It’s hard to think about sick kids but they’ve been on my mind a lot this week. A friend is raising money for a volunteer-run organization that directly funds innovative pediatric cancer research. Her friend lost her six-year-old daughter to a brain tumor.
After watching the video below, I couldn’t get the girl out of my thoughts. Her smiling, happy face. Her dancing in the midst of such darkness. Her mom wishing for just a couple more normal days filled with simple time together around the house.
September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Four days left. If you’d like to donate to the organization my friend volunteers for, click here. I already did and am also giving 10 busy bags to our local hospital. If you’d like to send me with more bags to keep sick kids busy, click here.
And, if nothing else, take this post as a reminder to appreciate the people you care about. Laugh and play. Love and gratitude. Simple enough.
How to survive (and even enjoy!) toddler travel is a hot topic. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’ll admit I was pretty nervous about traveling with 16-month-old E this summer. Below is what worked best for us, (a big thank you to everyone who shared ideas!).
1. Don’t count on technology to do the trick. While downloaded television shows and apps saved us a couple times on the road, they were worthless on the airplane. Having a back-up plan was key.
2. Busy bags are amazing. They may be filled with simple-seeming items, but wrapped presents doled out strategically throughout our flights really helped to keep E occupied. Look for an entire post devoted to busy bags later this month.
3. Naps matter, but not always. I was paranoid lost sleep would make for terrible travel days, but I was wrong. She did fine on (much) abbreviated sleep. As long as I balanced it with chances to sleep on other days, she really hung in there and did an excellent job. We just made a point to give her as much time as she needed on non-travel days, especially when she started to show signs of exhaustion.
4. STICKERS. Back to the idea of a busy bag, stickers stopped a lot of fits. All I had to do was offer her one before she got too wound up. In fact, stickers might be the best thing ever.
5. Double check your luggage before you leave. Toddlers like to move things to obscure places, like leaving behind much-needed shoes under beds.
6. Thrift stores can be lifesavers when you need to replace lost items, (like those pesky missing shoes!). A lot of towns have really cute second hand shops devoted specifically to kids stuff, which can be fun to browse. They’re also great for picking up used toys for cheap entertainment in otherwise sparse rental homes and hotel rooms.
7. Bring a set of extra clothes everywhere you go. The potential for food, bodily fluid, and/or excrement messes is high! Plastic bags to store soiled items are definitely helpful. I made a point to organize everything in my diaper bag in different zip-lock bags. This allowed me to find what I needed quickly and prevented spills from ruining everything.
8. Umbrella strollers rock. I was tempted to use our baby carrier and ditch the stroller but a friend offered to let us borrow her super compact umbrella stroller. While the carrier was great for going through security without having to chase E around, it saved us a lot of back ache to also have a compact stroller to check at the gate. As a bonus, she enjoyed pushing it around the terminal while we waited for our flight. It also fit easily in the car with all of our luggage, which is great because our regular stroller would’ve been much too big. On a side note, I discovered hiking strollers can be rented for reasonable fees and are delivered straight to your hotel room, so lugging around an enormous stroller isn’t necessary if you’re tight on space.
9. Airlines might pleasantly surprise you. Hawaiian gave us an open seat for E even though we didn’t purchase one for her, (and I’ve heard many moms say the same thing). The extra space was great, especially since it was free. However, it also made me realize her own seat was nice but unnecessary. We shared a seat on the way home and we both did fine. While I understand the car seat safety concern, I also know E would be a screaming mess if I insisted on strapping her into her seat during a flight. I considered the risk of her getting hurt pretty low, although I know this is a hot topic in mom groups.
10. Accept things will be different than your pre-toddler days. I was able to fit in most of the activities I love, but for smaller chunks of time. Instead of being bummed I didn’t have hours to snorkel, read books or lie in the sun, I really made the most of the little stretches of time she gave me to relax. Same goes for restaurants, site seeing, etc. Roll with it while it works and move on when it doesn’t. The joy in seeing her explore her new surroundings helped to offset the lack of down time and regular naps gave us the opportunity to recharge while enjoying the view.
Over all, traveling with a toddler was much more enjoyable than I expected. Have tips I missed? Please share as I’m certain we’ll have many more adventures to come.