For the last couple months, I have craved a more consistent sleep routine with E. Co-sleeping served us well for nearly half a year, but she got to the point where I could no longer escape from bed after putting her down in the evening. This caused her bedtime to creep back later and later as she would reawaken when I would try to get out of bed without her. I dreaded nighttime because it meant hours of repeated attempts and usually ended with me so tired I would just give up and go to sleep with her, leaving zero adult time in the evenings and taking away valuable sleep from her routine.
I knew as soon as we had our new place, I would have to start new systems, but I really dreaded the crib and crying it out. Friends had shared both the horrors of dealing with screaming (and vomiting) babies for several hours on end as well as the amazing leaps in sleep duration. It would be our last resort. Instead, I read up on the Montessori bed, and as I already shared, it was magic for naps, but not for bedtime.
Then a friend recommended The No Cry Sleep Solution. While I am still waiting for our copy to arrive, I was able to glean enough from descriptions on the internet to get the point that repeated action is the key. For the past couple days, I have kept our day and sleep routine exactly the same. We wake-up, eat breakfast, nap, have lunch, take a long walk (getting outside is also supposed to help), nap, go through our dinner rituals, get cleaned up, and start the bedtime steps as soon as she shows the slightest sign of being tired, (even if that means 7PM!). We use the same vocabulary, pull out her comforting blankets and toys, and then lie her down to nurse over and over with the same words until she goes to sleep.
I had heard recommendations of repetition in the past, but I had always felt like my attempts were enough. I would give up after a half hour or so, and allow her to come hang out with the grownups until she seemed tired enough to start the process again. Last night, I did not give up. For two hours, I repeated the steps, over and over, putting her little squirmy body back into her bed until finally, at 10PM she was asleep in her own space and I was able to go downstairs and sit in front of the fireplace with my husband.
I realize it is still a little early to declare sweet victory, but for us, it felt like it. She slept three whole hours in her own bed AT NIGHT. This earned her an entire extra hour of sleep and did not require me to stay in bed with her like usual. From what I have read, if I continue this unrelenting repetition, the amount of time spent getting her to sleep should decrease, and I can already tell from the consistency of her naps over the last week we have made some real progress in getting her to sleep in her own space.
What I did not expect, however, is how difficult it would be for us. Both my husband and I debated carrying her into our room when it was time for us to go to sleep last night. We could not wrap our minds around the idea of not sleeping with her after so many months of falling asleep with her between us. Still, we resisted the urge in hopes it would buy her more sleep than usual. For an entire hour, I lay awake in bed, unable to drift away without the warmth of her little body next to me.
When she awoke screaming around 1AM, we both jumped out of bed, relieved and eager to have our little beast back with us. I guess we will eventually have to work on encouraging her to stay sleeping in her own bed when she awakens, but for now, it is exciting to think I may have my evenings back to myself, even if I find myself missing her next to me when it is time to go to sleep.
Parenting is funny. We want so much for ourselves and our children, but often we are the ones dependent on old habits. I would never take back co-sleeping and the special bond it has created or the extra sleep it bought us in those first crazy months, but I also recognize it is time to do a little letting go for her good and mine. I just have to remind myself the benefits are worth the twinges of pain.
Maybe every month seems crazy and I just forget, but month nine seemed extra challenging. Two very sharp top teeth appeared. Two high fevers. One cold. Fourteen nights of very little sleep. Yes, I counted.
Silver lining, month nine ended with a new house. In fact, I type right now as E sleeps in her new Montessori bed, my out-of-the-box approach at getting her to sleep on her own. She refuses to be set down in a crib. Who can blame her, I don’t like to sleep by myself, either.
But, I can’t spend all my time asleep with her, so I did my homework and came across the Montessori bed. It works like this, a mattress on the floor with baby-safe bedding in a baby-safe (as much as that is possible) room. According to Montessori teachings, it gives babies the space to develop on their own terms. Honestly, though, that isn’t what sold me. If anything, I was a little skeptical a baby would sleep with so much freedom.
However, it was worth a shot because it was the only method for her to have her own space and for me to still be able to lie down next to her when needed. I nurse or sing to her with a little back rub, and she (usually) goes to sleep. So far, it works for a couple hours at a time and I no longer have to fear her tumbling out of our bed if she awakens without me.
As she gets bigger and I get antsier for time to myself, I completely get why parents choose to let babies cry it out. Still, I am hopeful for a gentler approach. Next stop, should there be one, is back to the crib and (a little) crying. My fingers are crossed we are headed in a good direction with this set-up. I also have to remind myself to treasure these moments of closeness as they last.
Patience, patience, patience.
Month nine has been a hard month, but a good month too. Our little adventure back home with the big family included many joyous moments. There are definitely things to be missed about communal living, just as there are things to be celebrated about our own space. Life is always filled with trade-offs. I am grateful for both experiences.
As we begin month ten, I am hopeful we will find a good rhythm on our own, E will sleep more independently, and I will make a serious dent in the book I am writing. Oddly, I feel like I will be able to write more living on our own because her naps are less interrupted and I have more space to bring in daytime caregivers. Then again, maybe being the mom of a baby makes it hard to write in any setting, but I am hopeful.
E. is napping in our bed. My fingers move quickly because I never know how long I have until she awakens. Some days I get hours, others minutes. The result is an inability to focus. Do I work on my novel? Do I blog? Do I catch up on sleep?
Undoubtedly, her eyes will open when I have settled into a rhythm on my own. I have learned to save everything we can do together, like eating and cleaning, for when she is awake. Generally, I cannot bring myself to nap. Time alone is worth the occasional deprivation.
This is possibly the hardest lesson of early parenthood. Everything cannot be done. Must prioritize. As much as I love yoga, it has become a once-a-week activity. Today my husband watched E. while I went to class. Tears streamed down my face as I lay in Savasana, thoughts of growing old and E. caring for me instead of the other way around. Life, cyclical and gone in a blink.
Back home, I cuddled her to sleep in our bed, lingering an extra twenty minutes, minutes I could have had to myself but were too sweet to give up. Choosing to sleep in the same space has been on my mind a lot lately. As with anything, not everyone gets it.
Sometimes I question our choice, too, on hard nights, when she cannot sleep and I am stuck beside her for hours to keep her calm. Then I remember like everything before, this will pass. The alternative would require “sleep training,” and I am just not willing to let her scream for long. Some babies go down with less of a fight and E. is called Little Beast for good reason.
Most importantly, when it works, co-sleeping is a beautiful part of our life. Moments together, close, savoring now. We don’t worry she will be in our bed forever. We know the time will come when either we will encourage her into her own space, or she will say “Peace, y’all.” Seeing as how she demands to feed herself already, I have a feeling she will be asking for a “big girl bed” sooner than we expect.
A recent parenting piece in the Washington Post struck a chord. Sometimes the path of less stress is better for everyone. Maybe we could teach E. to sleep on her own with a few nights of intense “training,” but for what? So I would have to get up to comfort her instead of just rolling over? So we could sleep without her in our bed? The truth, co-sleeping is just as much for us as it is for her. We crave the connection, too, her sweet little body curled between us.
When it consistently stops working we will find a solution. Until then, I am happy to watch her nap all snuggled in our bed while I sit in my big, brown chair and steal some minutes for myself to write. Nothing lasts forever. Part of me wishes it would. I cannot help but think back to all the nights I lay awake in bed, pregnant, talking to her in my belly as she twirled about. I already loved her intensely then.
The night we stop sleeping next to E. will be a bittersweet one.
Earlier this week as I lay in bed in a futile attempt to get Eloise down for a nap, I felt her first tooth. The sharp little edge poked my finger and sure enough, a tiny glint of white sparkled on her gums. After nights of restless sleep and uncharacteristic fussing, I suddenly had proof of her hard work. I called my husband, my mom, texted my dad and my mother-in-law.
I had no idea a tooth could be so exciting.
Month six has been a wild month. She is starting to move across the living room, crawling, scooting, rolling at a turtle’s pace. I turn around and then magically she is somewhere else, as if all that slow stuff in front of Mom is just a ruse. Our decision to co-sleep is either the best idea because she is suddenly awake ten times a night and I don’t have to move from bed, or the not-so-best idea because now she is awake ten times a night. Who knows.
I blame the teeth.
Besides the tooth and the movement, my other favorite change this month is how she is warming up to other people. She stretches her body away from me to be held by visitors, her whole body wiggling with excitement. I love watching her bond with others, especially her daddy. Da, da, da, da, da just so happens to be her newest sounds. Oh yes, and food, I also love watching her eat, contemplating each new taste with a puzzled but self-satisfied expression.
Month six is like a whole new little person has joined us, awake, thinking, growling, particular. The other months we could sense her personality, but now the shy smiles and sideways glances, the feisty kicks and excited squeals, the determined focus on that one toy she just can’t reach, each show us wider glimpses of the little girl she will become. People keep telling us we’re just getting to the fun stuff. I can definitely see what they mean.
I admit it. Before Eloise was born, I wondered what stay-at-home moms did all day. I never thought they sat around and ate bonbons while watching day-time tv, but I was curious what filled their hours. As it turns out, a lot of time is spent doing what I expected, households chores and baby care, but when I get creative there is also time for me in there too.
Years ago, I remember watching the Real Housewives of New York and thinking “me time” sounded pretty selfish. I did not get why those moms were so eager to get away from their kids to do something for themselves. In the real world with a real baby though, “me time” makes more sense. I crave more mental stimulation than I get from my household duties, even if I also love said household duties and don’t want to give them up.
By nature, I am already more of a WAHM (work-at-home mom) than a SAHM (stay-at-home mom), as I am sure is the case of many mamas. It’s part of that need for external stimulation. Moms who don’t work at home must find some other outlet to keep sane, (like a hobby?). Between writing, my dream of bringing yoga into local public schools, and an entrepreneurial desire to set-up a booth for woven wraps at the farmer’s market, my brain is on fire with part-time work possibilities. The trick, however, is finding focus while living on the schedule of a five-month old.
My projects have a stop-and-go feel as I work in small chunks before something more pressing (awake baby!) comes up. Some days, feeding and getting the baby to sleep is all that gets accomplished around here, which can be hard to accept after so many years of go, go, go. However, I have to remember this is enough. When I allow myself to sink into the slower pace, I feel blessed to have the freedom to absorb the little moments with my girl while also pursuing my non-mommy passions, even if only for fifteen minutes at a time.
I thought I would share what a typical day looks like for me. I don’t claim entertainment value, just a real peak at what my life looks like right now, at home with a baby, the mundane and the beautiful. Yes, I still get antsy and wake up some mornings wondering if I would be happier going to work, but as long as I remember to be in the moment with Eloise (while also taking control of the free moments for myself), being at home feels like the right choice for now.
8:15 AM: Our morning has officially started. Eloise has been pounding on my back for at least fifteen minutes. I turn her toward her sleeping dad and slip out of bed, careful to construct a pillow fort on my side before I leave. Co-sleeping is such a personal decision. For us, it buys extra hours of sleep and is a treasured part of our bonding as a family. There is no getting out of bed in the middle of the night. There is virtually no crying in the middle of the night. Just peaceful nursing and cuddles…
8:20 AM: I sneak off to steal a shower and a peak at my email. I can hear Eloise cooing to her dad while I hurry to finish getting ready for the day. She lets out some warning squawks, it is time for dad to get to work and me to take over. He graciously changes her diaper before the trade-off. We move to the kitchen where I put her in her activity bouncer. She plays happily while I make breakfast and clean as much of the kitchen as I can before she squawks.
8:55 AM: Squawking commences, the kitchen is still messy. I move her to her blanket on the floor and eat my breakfast while sitting next to her. The dogs want to jump me for my piece of toast with avocado and egg. She watches me chew hungrily. It is time to feed her.
9:10 AM: We settle into our nursing chair. I grab my Kindle and get comfy. She is too distracted to focus for more than five minutes, we move down to the floor and get dressed for the day. I attempt to braid my wet hair while she sits in the Bumbo and chews on a washcloth.
9:30 AM I put her back on the floor with her toys while I gather her diaper bag, my favorite baby carriers, and her carseat. I am pushing myself to be brave and go to a mommy babywearing meet-up at the park. I check again to see who is going. No one I know. I ask a friend if she wants to go. No. I start to talk myself out of it but then remember I already put make-up on and took a shower. A special occasion. Now I have to go.
9:40 AM I collect Eloise and she is hungry again. This time she eats and I am going to be late to the park. No backing out. Must. Be. Brave. I change her diaper even though it really does not need to be changed. Damn we use a lot of diapers.
10:15 AM We finally are ready to go. I am always late these days. The car ride is smooth, no crying. I love daytime. I pass a new yoga studio and make a mental note to check it out when I get home. I resist the urge to google it on my phone at a stoplight. I remind myself I am a mom and need to act like one.
10:45 AM I park and fumble to get Eloise into my woven wrap. I am not good at wrapping out of the car. It takes a couple minutes to spot the other moms with wrapped babies. I approach, smile awkwardly, say hello. Thank God they are friendly. I learn some tips, meet a couple moms, marvel at how openly they nurse. Eloise wants to join. I feed her under majestic oak trees. I should get outside more often.
12:15 PM Eloise is getting restless. I have used up my social courage. She missed her first nap. We leave. We get home and my husband is home for lunch. He helps me lug all the stuff in from the car and takes over diaper duty again, score.
12:50 PM I make myself a bowl of cereal with bananas, hopeful if I move fast enough I can still get her down for a nap. Again, I eat sitting on the floor while she plays with her activity gym. She has rolled three feet off the blanket and the dogs watch her, suspicious of her new ability to move.
1:15 PM She doesn’t want a nap even though she has missed her morning one. We go back to the kitchen, I put her in her jumper while I finish cleaning the kitchen and make lunch for my husband while I also snack on everything in sight. Nursing is eating me alive.
1:40 PM She has had enough of the bouncer. We move back to the floor and play for a bit. She coos at her doggies. I attempt to entertain her with toys. She gets bored, so I carry her while I straighten up the living room.
2:15 PM We try jumping on the nap train again. This time I fall asleep while she nurses. When I wake up she has drifted to sleep too. I build another pillow fort and sneak out of bed.
2:55 PM Now it is my time. I pull out the computer and try to submit documents to Covered California since we no longer get insurance through my old job. The site is down for emergency maintenance. Great, that’s reassuring. I grab another snack. I open my blog page and stare at the empty screen. Time to write but Eloise wakes up crying. I go in and nurse her back to sleep.
5:05 PM I have been writing for a half hour before she awakens again. I’m sure this time she is up for good, but she nurses back to sleep as I get sucked into social media on my phone. After I am sure she is out and I have spent a good ten minutes staring at her tiny features, I creep back to my computer and start typing again.
6:00 PM This time she is awake, awake. I text her grandma and throw her in a carrier so I can finish straightening up the house. Grandma arrives and takes the baby. I get dinner going. It is nice to cook without also entertaining Eloise. I listen to her play with Grandma and smile.
7:00 PM I eat dinner as Eloise gets fussy. It’s just about my turn again. I take back over and vacuum the house with Eloise in the carrier. Normally I wouldn’t be so on top of every chore but our house is listed and I never know when we are going to have a showing. That and Eloise is soothed by the sound of the vacuum.
8:00 PM My husband gets home from the gym and we take the dogs for a quick walk. It is time to get Eloise ready for bed. I wash her face, change her clothes, and her dad reads her a book. I lie in bed with her and let her nurse while I read on the Kindle. She looks likes she just about ready to drift off when her eyes bolt open and she wants to touch the glowing screen. Great. Another hour later without the Kindle I have her asleep and sneak out of bed, half awake myself.
10:30 PM I meet my husband on the couch. We watch tv, aware of the ticking clock and those little blue eyes that will be wide awake in the morning no matter what time we go to sleep. She inevitably calls me back to bed a half hour later. I never finished my blog post. Maybe tomorrow (or the next day, as it turns out).