I want to write about something besides sleep again, but until I’m actually getting enough, this topic will remain forefront on my brain. So here goes, one more time.
I’ve been tired lately. And busy. And we have tackled a lot in the last six weeks. We went from all three of us sleeping in one bed, with Cedar waking every few hours and nursing back to sleep for his entire life, to-- in six weeks—Cedar now sleeping in his own bed, in his own room, and sometimes for a nine hour stretch without nursing or waking. It sounds like we should be celebrating, right? It's hard to, though, when most nights he is still waking a couple times and the new wake up call is often 5 a.m.-- resulting in an even more sleep-deprived child than before.
The back story (last post): we moved our king bed into the living room, creating a little nook for my husband and I, and giving the bedroom to Cedar. Now, even if we still have plenty of bad nights, it does still feel like a small miracle each morning I turn to my husband and ask, “Did he wake last night?” And he says, no. Even if nine hours is still is not enough for Cedar to be fully rested (he needs at least 10), it is still a major milestone. Here is how we did it.
The first couple weeks after moving the bed, I would rush in whenever Cedar woke and nurse him, eventually just giving up and going to sleep next to him because I couldn’t fall asleep apart from him myself. Not only did he seem to be waking more (and not less like we’d hoped) without our presence in the bed, but I also didn’t realize how much I would miss sleeping next to him, how strange it would feel to be so far away from him. Of course, this feeling was only compounded by the fact that my body felt tensed on alert, ears listening closely for to any noise coming from the adjacent room—regardless of the fact that my husband said he would listen for Cedar and wake me. Somehow, just knowing that I’d be on duty sooner or later, and wanting to be able to respond right away to my son in order to ease the transition and any potential anxiety he might feel about suddenly being made to sleep alone, made it near impossible for me to drift off easily in a separate bed. Co-sleeping for two years was too deeply ingrained.
So, for the first couple weeks of the new arrangement, I more or less slept with Cedar in his new bed. I didn’t consider this a failure (despite the fact that I thought it sounded this way to others when they would ask how it was going), for to my mind it was enough just to introduce him to the new furniture arrangement and the idea of his new bed, all his own. That part actually went over really well. Step one was accomplished.
At this point, I decided that I needed my husband to take over. We agreed that what really needed to happen now was to night wean. No more milk at night. I’d heard from many sources that once night weaned (or weaned altogether), their former terrible sleepers finally started sleeping through the night. So I convinced my husband to take over for a couple weeks (to start)—meaning to be the one to go in when Cedar woke, and he’d remind him that there was no more milk at night. I could then put in earplugs and fall asleep peacefully, knowing that—for the first time in over two years—I was no longer on night duty. Hallelujah!
As was to be expected, the first few nights were the worst. Lots of waking and complaining. Then we had one breakthrough night where Cedar slept for eight hours. Then 9.5 the next night. High five! I couldn’t help but proclaim my joy on Facebook. Of course, I knew better than to think that it would be smooth sailing from then on, and true to form, the last several weeks have been up and down—some bad nights, a few more nine hour nights, and most nights, something in between. On top of that, my body still seems to be trained to wake a couple times each night, and when I wake I have to pee. In short, sleep hasn’t really improved tremendously, but when you consider the fact that Cedar is now in his own bed and night weaned, and that we’ve had a fair number of before-unheard-of sleeping through the nights, then I realize that we’ve already come a long way.
We decided that “after the sun came up” would be our way of letting Cedar know when he would get milk. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), Cedar’s been waking around 4:45-5:00 every morning, and at that waking he’ll either stumble out to find me or Matthew will nudge me and I’ll go in. Then, Cedar will proceed to nurse or at least be attached to my boob for something like two hours! And since it’ll take him a long time to fall back asleep at that hour (if he does at all), I don’t dare move him off of me for fear I’ll ruin my chance of him—and me—getting in another hour or so of sleep. Because otherwise, like I said, nine hours sleep (and averaging six for me) is not enough.
And so, that brings me to the present, where we’re all doing okay, operating most nights on almost enough sleep, but not really—which over the course of a week creates quite a deficit. Matthew gets to crash hard for another two hours after Cedar wakes at five, so that helps to counter the couple times a night he might still have to get up. And I get the peace of mind, at very least, of knowing that when Cedar goes down around 7:30 or 8:00 each night, I’m off duty till the next morning. There is great joy in that.
Matthew was hoping that around now he could be relieved of exclusive night duty and we could start switching off nights. But I’ve convinced him to give it a little longer, with the hope that the longer the new sleep patterns can get ingrained, the easier it will be when we introduce yet another new variation on the norm. I did put Cedar down one night recently when Matthew came home late, and I was a bit wary of what would happen when I would have to put him down without nursing (something I’ve never done). But to my great relief, it went just fine; Cedar didn’t even ask for milk until about ten minutes in when a light suddenly went on and he remembered this missing ingredient in our ritual, but then he only gave me a few token whines when I reminded him that there wouldn’t be anymore until morning. I did sing to him still and rubbed his back for a bit, but mostly he just lay there himself, and was asleep in 15 minutes. Success.
Later that night though, when it was my turn to try out night duty, I couldn’t fall asleep again—the curse of my anxious listening body reigned. Rather than risk all-night insomnia, I woke and begged Matthew to go back on duty, and he agreed. The next day I asked if he could just keep being the default nighttime parent for now, and he could let me know if he needed a night off. I reminded him that at least he got that nice last two hour chunk in the morning, whereas I’d be hardly functioning if I had to wrestle with my own insomnia, go in if Cedar wakes, and wake up at five to boot.
He agreed, for now, and I thanked him profusely. He has been a great support throughout this process. It would be so much harder to make this transition without him.
If he’d protested, however, I might have reminded him that I’ve been on night duty for over two years, so surely he could stomach a couple weeks, or even months. “But we had no other choice then,” he protested once. “Yes, I’m not saying you’re at fault, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’ve been doing this for two years.” He was silent. I also told him about several couples I know of where the husbands took over at night once the baby was night weaned. I understand how it might be too much to ask if Cedar was still waking a ton and if it was increasingly hard for him to function at work, but if he was functioning okay, then surely he could handle a little more sleepiness. After all, it’s not like I don’t value my brain functioning well during the day as well. I suppose one could argue that my work is flexible enough that I have the luxury of deciding not to work on the days where I am brain dead, but this is increasingly not always the case.
Anyway, this argument is moot, because my husband has agreed to keep going like this for the time being. Our next hurdle to tackle is to try to get rid of Cedar’s 5:00 waking. We are thinking of getting one of those devices where some kind of light comes on or animal pops up at the time that you’ve decided it is okay for your child to call for you—even 6:00 would be so much better than 5:00. We’ll try to teach Cedar that he cannot get out of his bed until this magic moment. Although it sounds like a stretch, I know it’s worked for some parents and I also know that a mere couple months ago, the idea that he’d transition so smoothly to sleeping in his own bed for most of the night would have blown me away. Never mind that he’s not sleeping through the night every night yet still. We are on our own timeline. Other people’s norms do not apply.
And… the next step after that? Total weaning. Maybe by the end of summer? Or mid-fall? “Why are you waiting?” my husband asked. “Why not now?” Well, think of all the changes we’ve already introduced recently, I explained. I want to do this all gently, one thing at a time. Also, every week that passes, his diet expands. I’m still gauging each day just how much more dairy I can get away with giving him, thereby increasing his protein options exponentially. (Soy is not an option; meat is often rejected). I know he’d be “okay” without my milk nutritionally, but there are plenty of days still where he doesn’t get much more down than fruit, almond milk, and bread products, and on those days in particular, my milk source still feels like such a blessing.
The other hesitations? The fear that tantrums will increase, or be harder to calm down once full-blown. And? Of course, just losing our precious bonding ritual. All those chill moments of cuddling and winding down together. The end of an era, I suppose. And, yes, certainly I know this too: the beginning of a new one, filled with so much more freedom to get away. The ability to go on a week-long writing retreat, in theory anyway, if I could convince my husband and our parents to take over for that long—not an easy logistical feat.
We’ll get there when we get there. For now, we got plenty on our plates. Namely getting over this whole sleep saga hump, which can be likened to the metaphor where you’re climbing a mountain and think you’re nearing the top, only to then realize that there’s yet another big hill to climb, and so on and so on. For now, we just need to remember to celebrate that what we've already accomplished is huge, and we just need to keep taking it one goal at a time.