I must tell you that has someone who is pretty strict about establishing healthy sleep patterns and routines for my itty bitty babies, that I have seriously fallen off the schedule wagon when it comes to a certain toddler...
To warn you, this is a long post so if you're not interested in baby sleep training or a family member who reads everything I write despite if you actually find it interesting or not :), you might want to skip this post. I'm hoping that maybe there's someone out there who can be encouraged by our (lack of) sleep journey and know that there is an end in sight. And if I can say that when sleep has not even fully returned, well, just be encouraged! God is in the details, friend! Even the detail of providing much needed rest!
I discovered the Babywise books before AJ was born and LOVED the concept. To clarify I am not turning this into a Babywise debate kind of post. I know it is controversial. I know that there are people who hate it and think it's of the devil. I know there have since been other sleep training books and methods that have been written that are just as, if not more effective. I am just telling you that in 1999, when I was pregnant with my first child, that system is what I discovered, and my orderly, nursing (both in the breastfeeding sense and the profession sense), in much need of sleep brain, loved it, and that's what we did. I modified the concepts to best suite our family, and controversial or not, it worked. Feel free to air your complaints with it. I'm just saying it worked for us.
AJ slept all night starting around 8 weeks (and then we took her to London for Christmas at 12 weeks and jet lag totally blew that out of the water but she re-adjusted quickly when we returned). Maddie slept all night starting around 5-6 weeks, Naomi around 7 weeks and Anabelle around 6-7 weeks. All of them had the ability to be put in their crib and go to sleep on their own from around 6-7 weeks with very minimal crying. They all napped well and woke up from naps and in the morning happy. Except for Maddie (whose chubby little milk needs I could not keep up with), I nursed them all for a year. Even with breastfeeding, by the time they were a year old, they could sleep 11-12 hours at night and each got 4 nursings along with other scheduled meals during the day. I am not telling you this to toot my own horn. Maybe a little I'm giving a plug for Babywise since it helped us so much and it bugs me when I hear such negative things about it, but more than that, I'm telling you about my orderly scheduled self when it comes to babies so that you can see how far I've fallen over the past year as we've struggled with Anabelle's sleep!
I have definitely learned my lesson as far as being a wee bit judgy when it comes to what people will do to get their babies to sleep. I mean, until miss Anabelle, I never really had to do those things. Sleep came easy in our house, thank the Lord, because this house is home to a certain mom who desperately needs regular sleep to stay sane!
As I said, Anabelle started off as a super great sleeper. I think the good Lord knew I needed that with all the transition in our lives shortly after her birth. We moved to a new country, a new home, lots of changes taking place. I remember a few weeks after arriving back home, when we were all STILL jet-lagged, commenting that my 3 month old was steadily sleeping all night long while my 12 and 10 year olds kept us up all night. Not only did she sleep well at night, but when it was nap time, she would nap. Even if we were out and about...
This wonderful pattern continued through lots of traveling and a move across town. Then January and her first ear infection hit...
I'm not gonna lie. The next 4 months were immensely difficult. I can probably count on one hand the number of full nights sleep she and I got in that time period. We went from one antibiotic to another. One long continuous ear infection that WOULD NOT GO AWAY. Even during the days in between antibiotics when she seemed to be recovering, she still had fluid on her ears which kept her uncomfortable.
Thankfully, by the end of April, the ear infections went away and stayed away. We traveled a lot last summer and thankfully, she slept well and stayed well through all the traveling. Wasn't even too phased by jet lag (except for maybe one difficult night) when we went back and forth to America.
We returned to the Middle East, the girls started back to school, and the ear infections returned. Between September and the end of November, she was on 5 rounds of antibiotics and again, the fluid never left. She slept ok during all that, but sometime in there, we started giving her a milk cup in the middle of the night because she would take it and go right back to sleep.
By early December, we had an ENT referral and within days we were scheduled to have tubes put in.
I confess that in my head, getting tubes was going to solve all of our sleep problems. She was immediately going to be pain free and return to her wonderful pattern of sleeping 11-12 hours a night without interruption.
Several factors were in play here. First, she had developed some patterns of waking in the night and expecting certain things to happen before she went back to sleep. Those things included me or Jason going in, soothing her, giving her her lovey, getting a cup of milk, sometimes staying in the room if she was super fussy until she settled down. Also, the COLD has hit Amman. Sadly, Anabelle and Abbey's room is the coldest in the house, and despite the multiple layers that she sleeps in , I couldn't leave her to "cry it out" without knowing that she was adequately covered when she went back to sleep. Finally, between Jason and I getting up with her at different times during the night to get her back to sleep without necessarily knowing when the other had been up with her, we have been giving her up to 3-4 cups of milk at night! Not good patterns! And despite the fact that I KNOW these things are not good patterns, I did them anyway, because they all earned, AT THAT TIME, another few precious moments of sleep. So there you have it. (WOW! The application to real life here... The quick fixes are not necessarily the best answers to long term problems!)
Let me just tell you that I have been absolutely at the end of my strength. Completely frustrated that tubes were not the magic fix to our sleeping woes, and honestly not really sure if there was anything left that I could DO to fix the problem. And for someone who desperately needs sleep to function well, and who kinda sorta also likes to be in control, that was not a good place to be. Combine my frustration with the fact that I hadn't had a full night sleep in over 2 months- lethal combinaton!
Well, my sweet husband, recognizing my "end-of-my-rope-ness" treated me to an afternoon of "me time" at Starbucks. A much needed and desired treat! (despite the fact that even though they are still adverstising toffee nut lattee on every sign in their store, they no longer have it and if you know me well, you know I don't drink coffee unless it has enough cream, sugar and flavoring to not taste like coffee, and I also do not apparently deal well with disappointment so I am currently holding a grudge against Starbucks...) Disappointed taste buds aside, the "me time" was much needed.
And a funny thing happened...
I was reading various passages in the Bible, journaling thoughts mostly "start of the new year" kind of thoughts and just thoroughly enjoying my time. I don't always know how exactly I get to certain passages. Sometimes it's one passage referencing another, sometimes I remember something from a recent sermon. I don't really remember how I got here on this particular day but I know exactly what I had just prayed. I was praying for our family. Praying for God to give us focus in the midst of chaotic times. Praying for God to help us "re-calibrate" our family goals and visions to best fit the times we live in. Asking God what I need to change, focus more on, focus less on, you get the idea. In the midst of praying, I basically told God that in order to enable the things I was feeling convicted about changing, I desperately needed to fix the sleep deficiency currently plaguing our house.
So, anyway, the passage I read. Here it is....
"Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-- for he grants sleep to those he loves."
Psalm 127: 1-2
I now have to confess my first reaction after reading this. It was not one of relief to know that the God who loves me would grant me sleep. Oh no. I was ticked. Angry. Frustrated. WHY AM I NOT SLEEPING!?!?! etc. etc. etc. Thankfully, God can handle my emotion and has many times before. As I've prayed through this passage, he has gently reminded me that as the Controller of all things (Him NOT me), He wanted me to commit even my toddlers sleep into His hands and quit randomly hacking at the problem with bandaids that would not ultimately solve anything. In reading several commentaries on this passage and several different translations, He impressed on my heart again and again the concept that He desires to give sleep, rest, rejuvenation to His children.
Again, my frustration grew... If He DESIRES this, WHY oh WHY is He not GIVING it!!??
Well, the answer was quite simply actually. I hadn't asked.
Yeah, sometimes in the midst of praying for the really big things, I forget that God is in the details. And yeah, sleep is a pretty big thing, but I had not been giving it the prayer attention it needed.
So, let me tell you, I hit my knees!
God didn't answer this particular prayer by waving His magic God wand over Anabelle and causing her to sleep again each night. He did however, provide me with some much needed resources that are working. First, we have solved (ish) the "too cold" problem. We invested in a small electric heater that regulates itself and sits right beside Anabelles' crib thus warming her space and hopefully not shooting our electric bill through the roof. Second, we have solved the ear problem. Her tubes are working well and she has not been sick in a month! Yay! That leave only the problem of no longer being able to self soothe and too much milk at night...
In talking to a good friend who also happens to be an MD, she agreed that Anabelle has just developed the habit of waking at night. She knew that I was familiar with Babywise, but she suggested trying a book that describes what has become known as the Ferber method (named after the author).
In skimming through the chapters that I knew were relevant to our situation, I quickly discovered some tangible steps I could take to fixing our problem, and I was reminded of many things that I already know as a nurse. Things like nighttime milk disrupting sleep patterns by waking up a digestive system that has been trained to be at rest (and a long list of other problems with the amount of milk she was getting at night!). Things like Anabelle having re-adjusted her expectations to what would happen to get her back to sleep when she woke up at night (mine or Jason's presence). Where she used to briefly wake up and go right back to sleep on her own, she now expected, no demanded one of us to be there. This wonderful little book offers gradual charts on decreasing the amount of nighttime feedings (essentially what we were doing) and increasing the amount of time between parent intervention when she wakes up and cries at night. Please don't read that as "letting my baby scream for hours on end". We are not having to do that with this gradual method and it's working!
I'm keeping this little chart under my pillow so I can jot down at night when she's waking up and how long I let her fuss before I go in and soothe. We are down to one time waking up at night with only a few minutes of fussing.
Last night we made the big jump from giving her 1/4 cup of milk (down from a whole cup) when she woke up, to just giving her a cup of water. That didn't go so well and we had a night of increased fussiness, but she did eventually settle back down and then slept until almost 9! Hallelujah! I still don't feel like a new woman as I am still waking up several times a night as we sort this through, but I at least feel like a woman in control (or I should say like a woman serving a God who is in control) which is a much better place to be, than hopelessly wondering what in the world is ever going to make this better!
Believe me, there have been days throughout this process that I've wanted to throw up my arms in frustration...
But I am so thankful that we are moving in the right direction! I know that a rested Anabelle= a happy Anabelle and that' so important to me- to all of us!
I love this little lady so much despite the countless hours of sleep I've lost over the last year.
I am thankful for a God who cares about the details and who uses things like my toddlers sleep (or lack thereof) to remind me of His love.