Last Wednesday I mostly slept through the night. I woke up completely hung over from all that sleep, but not at all refreshed. Turns out, one night of sleep does not make up waking up at least twice a night for nearly twelve months and the occasional night of nearly no sleep at all. (Starting with the night I went into labor and only slept two hours.)
Based on my rough calculations, I’ve missed out on about 547.5 hours of sleep in the past year.
All that lost sleep has done amazing things for my personality.
Until recently, the only thing I was willing to do about Mary Virginia’s night waking was complain about it. The reason was simple: she kept getting sick. The only way I know how to interact with a sad, sick baby is to comfort and cuddle them and give them anything they want.
David was a terrible sleeper, but Mary Virginia is excessive. She was nursing about every three hours; more at night than during the day. But she was also dealing with ear infections and fevers and an upset stomach that comes with antibiotics. So where does that leave me? I’ll tell you where. In her room, nursing her at 11:30 p.m., 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
On three separate occasions in the past six months we’ve gotten her drop her wakings down to once a night. Every time we made that little bit of progress, she got another ear infection, went on antibiotics, and then the whole thing started over again.
Before Memorial Day weekend, I took Mary Virginia to the doctor to make sure her ears were clear. With a clean bill of health, we set off and our teething baby with already terrible sleeping habits made sure we really experienced every moment of that vacation.
Now that we’re home and back in our normal schedule and in our normal beds, we’ve enrolled Mary Virginia in a strict regimen of sleep training.
Before going to sleep, Tom and I make an action plan, because if we try to make decisions in the middle of the night the two of us start to behave in such a way that is only appropriate for reality TV reunion shows. This is what our plan looks like: when she cries, I stay in bed and Tom gets up. Mary Virginia loves her daddy, but not in the middle of the night. So he holds her, rocks her, sings to her, promises her a pony for her first birthday, and then he puts her back into bed. We let her cry up to five minutes, then we start the whole thing over again.
Here’s the thing that’s funny about being a parent. Every single parent who read the above paragraph formed an opinion. And if I was reading this on someone else’s website, I would have. Some of the people are thinking: Five minutes is NOTHING!And you aren’t supposed to pick her up! TOUGHEN UP YOU TWO!! And then there are other people who can’t believe we let our baby cry for even a moment. Other people are somewhere in the middle. We are. But here’s what we know 1) we know Mary Virginia doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night 2) we know that we’re very, very tired. 3) We’re willing to devote every moment between sunrise and sunset cuddling with Mary Virginia and reminding her that we love her very very much.
I haven’t been happy about doing this with EITHER child, but here’s the difference between sleep training with my first child and sleep training with my second: when we did this with David, I cried the whole time he was crying because I thought those five minutes would swallow both of us whole. I pulled my sheets over my head and prayed for the five minutes to pass so I could run into his room and apologize for abandoning him forever.
Now that we’re doing it with Mary Virginia, guess what I do during that five minutes. I fall asleep.
My part of the plan is to watch the clock and tell Tom when five minutes are up, and then he’ll supposed to go remind her that her parents are no more than 20 feet away and are looking forward to seeing her when the sun is up.
But Tom keeps waking me up because Mary Virginia is still crying and five minutes have surely passed.
Huh? What? YES! IT’S BEEN FIVE MINUTES! You’re up, Tom!
So, I guess, who knows how long she cries since I’m the time-keeper.
We’re still working at it, habits like these are hard to break. After all, she’s been doing this her whole life, and Mary Virginia has always had serious endurance in the middle of the night. Because when a computer guy and a creative girl have a baby, the result is a very focused insomniac who is hell-bent on being heard.
But I need to tell you about the first night; the first night was amazing. Mary Virginia woke up at her normal time and when Tom walked in instead of me, she looked up at him as if to say, “Well it’s about time you guys tried this,” and then went back to sleep until the morning.