The politics of sleep

9 Feb

Sincere apologies for the radio silence for the last four months. After we concluded the Battle of the Boob, we moved onto the Battle of the Nap. We started to make some progress just as we hit a major five-month sleep regression and now we are in the midst of Teething Drama. All that to say, this mama is TIRED. The cumulative impact of more than seven months of frequently interrupted sleep has left me feeling like I am constantly wandering through a thick fog. While my days are punctuated with joy and social interactions with other kick-ass feminist parents, my thoughts are generally pretty bleary and I am definitely functioning on automatic.

For several months, Daphne wouldn’t nap for longer than 30 or 45 minutes. It was maddening, as it didn’t really give me any time to get anything done, or lie down myself. I generally consoled myself with the fact that she was a good sleeper at night. Until suddenly she wasn’t. I scoured the internet for advice on infant sleep. We weaned her off of her pacifier (with several major regressions). And even though I didn’t feel emotionally ready for it yet, we moved the baby to her own crib in her own room. Overall, it was the right decision. But it is more exhausting to traipse across the hall at 3 am than it is to lean over our bed to shush little Daphne back to sleep.

Like any other aspect of parenting, there are intense emotional and political battles being fought on the internet over infant sleep. It sounds a little ridiculous if you are not immersed in parenting culture, but the rhetoric being spewed back and forth between parents over whether or not sleep training constitutes child abuse is somewhat eye-opening. Generally speaking, the most passionate arguers fall into two camps: the Attachment Parents and the Sleep Trainers. The Attachment Parents advocate a gentle attitude toward infant sleep, promoting co-sleeping, all-night nursing and no specific goals around getting babies to sleep through the night. They believe that allowing a child to cry alone in their crib constitutes a form of child abuse and may damage the baby’s attachment to their parents and other people. The Sleep Trainers on the other hand, believe that it’s a parent’s responsibility to help a child sleep through the night and that a few nights of crying are worth it in the long run, because they help a child learn to soothe herself back to sleep.

I am somewhat in the middle on this one. I identify with many of the tents of Attachment Parenting, but am not following a lot of its edicts (we are no longer nursing, and Daphne sleeps alone in her own crib). I can’t bear to let our baby cry for more than a minute or two, and I also know that because of her reflux issues, prolonged crying often leads to vomiting, which is traumatizing for everyone involved. But I have friends who have done some sleep training with their babies and have had some major success. They are all attentive, compassionate parents with babies who are clearly well bonded to them. I trust that they are making the best decisions for their families.

And let’s be honest here. Sleep deprivation sucks. Right now, I am finding it to be the most difficult part of being a parent. Our baby is a delight and now that she is so communicative, it’s easy to figure out what she needs. But she still wakes several times a night. Sometimes we are able to shush her over the two-way baby monitor (don’t knock it till you try it), sometimes she just needs a belly pat and some gentle words. But at least 2-3 times a night, she needs to eat. This is perfectly normal for a baby her age. Yes, we all know someone with a baby who can go 12 hours without sustenance or human contact, but this is the exception rather than the rule. I want to help our baby sleep better, not deny her food when she is hungry.

So we’re muddling through and each night is a new adventure. I generally go to bed a couple hours earlier than Caitlyn, so I can be “off the clock” and get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. But Daphne was a much better sleeper at three months than she is now (again, totally normal), and I am starting to suffer the long-term impact of months of sleep deprivation. This makes me disinclined to go to the gym  — and then the lack of exercise then makes me even more exhausted. It’s a vicious circle. It also doesn’t help that we are in the midst of one of the snowiest, coldest winters on record.  It requires Herculean effort to walk more than three blocks lately and the work involved in even getting out the door with a baby and all of the gear she requires sometimes does me in.

I know that the days (and nights) may be long, but the years are short. And in the dark, in my sleepy haze, it gives me great joy to know that when our baby cries out in the night, she wants her moms. That Caitlyn and I are the two humans she trusts to soothe her back to sleep and reassure her that she’s safe. So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t notice the vomit traces on my jeans, fail to follow a simple conversation or forget to respond to your email. I’m tired. Happy beyond measure, but so very tired.

3 Responses to “The politics of sleep”

  1. cmkl February 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Oh this takes me back. Even the attachment parenting people say you should teach them how to get back to sleep on their own even I they are sleeping in your bed.

    The controversy is over “when”. Four months? Eight? A year? A lot of times parents do it because they have no choice. End of parental leave, exhaustion etc etc.

    Best of luck with whatever you decide. I think ultimately it matters more that the parents are ready. That and it has to feel like teaching, not just temporary deprivation.

    That’s what worked for us.


    • Queer Femme Mama February 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      D is actually pretty good at settling herself when she is not going through teething or reflux related issues. But both reared their ugly heads over the last few weeks. I am desperately waiting for this first tooth (or teeth) to poke through, in the hopes that we get a temporary reprieve. We were having a lot of luck with a simple tummy pat or a shush over the monitor, and at 6 months, she started to sleep long stretches again … till she stopped. I was getting good at forcing myself to count to 30, 60, or 90 when I heard her and often she settled herself. But teething cries are way different than sleepy cries. And the poor thing pukes up her whole stomach when she gets herself too upset.

  2. DD February 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    I feel for you. This is a tough patch and there are no simple answers. Try the best you can and honour your instincts. And don’t forget that it shall pass. My first baby was colicky and her sleeping patterns were unpredictable until she started to eat solid foods. Hang in there. xxx

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