Broken Dreams: Dealing with Sleepless Nights
I stumbled into work last week bleary-eyed and so tired that I actually, literally ached. Despite the enormous iced coffee in my hand, I couldn’t stop yawning, and there was not enough white eye shadow or concealer in the world to make me look more awake.
“Rough night with the baby?” asked my co-workers sympathetically as I staggered into the break room to get yet another cup of coffee, and I had to shake my head. No. No, the baby was fine. The baby slept from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m., woke up, nursed and went back to sleep until 7:30. The baby is wonderful. The baby is perfect.
Ruby, on the other hand, was up until 10, even though bedtime starts at 8. She needed stories. And then a drink of water. And then the bathroom. And then she apparently needed to throw a tantrum about how I was a mean mother for denying her Oreos after she brushed her teeth. Then she needed to apologize. Then she needed to cuddle. Then she needed to ask a question about the origin of dinosaurs.
When I finally tiptoed out of her room, I had to start a load of laundry, fold some diapers and pack Ruby’s lunch for the following day, so it was around 11 when I finally got to sleep myself.
At 1, Ruby was up needing the bathroom—and I don‘t care how long I’ve been a mom, I will never get used to waking up to a tiny face an inch from mine and an urgent whisper of “I have to go potty.” At 3, she was up after a bad dream. And at 5, she was just … up.
“Mom, can I have a Toaster Strudel?” she asked after poking me hard in the shoulder.
I opened my eyes long enough to register that it was still dark outside (which is really about all I can register without my glasses on). “My God, Ruby, what time is it?” I mumbled.
“I’m afraid to tell you,” she said, not sounding the least bit afraid, “but it starts with a 5.”
This isn’t an anomaly. This isn’t a phase. She’s just a terrible sleeper. She will be 6 in December, and yet the line in her baby book that says “First slept through the night …” is still blank.
I spent a long time—hell, almost 6 years—blaming myself for this. Despite the fact that I tried everything, from swaddling to cry it out to tearful consultations with her pediatrician, she just would not sleep for a long stretch. I read Dr. Sears. I read Ferber. I read No Cry Sleep Solution. We tried a crib. We tried a toddler bed. We tried co-sleeping. We tried sleeping on the floor. We tried soothing baths. We tried bedtime rituals. We tried lullabies. We tried running her ragged during the day. We tried aromatherapy. We tried incentives. We tried disincentives. And nothing really helped.
Finally, we just accepted it. And honestly, probably the only thing I actually like about having to share custody of Ruby is that some nights, her sleeping isn’t my problem.
But now, even though Ruby is still up several times a night, I’ve stopped thinking it’s all my fault. Because Georgia, as I said, actually sleeps. So there you go! Proof that it’s not me. I can make babies that sleep! See!
But if one more person says condescendingly to me that it’s just because Georgia is my second baby and so she sleeps because I’m more relaxed or because I “spoil” her less, I might lose it. I don’t want to downplay the bad effects stress can have, but it isn’t the answer to everything. After my miscarriage, a well-meaning (I think?) co-worker told me, “Well, I hate to say it, but I really was worried that you were going to miscarry because you were so stressed.” Gahhh. I miscarried because I have a genetic mutation that makes my blood full of extra-clotty goodness when I’m pregnant. I didn’t need Valium to have a successful pregnancy; I needed blood thinner. And I have never, ever been more stressed in my life than during my pregnancy with Ruby, and yet here she is, safe and sound and demanding Toaster Strudels at 5 a.m.
While it’s true that I am more relaxed with Georgia, I am not doing anything different with her than I did with Ruby. If I put Baby Ruby down in that elusive state of “drowsy but awake,” she would instantly be “drowsy but awake, hysterical, furious and screaming until she vomited.” If I put Baby Georgia down that way, she stares at the ceiling fan, sucks on her binky, blows a few raspberries and goes to sleep. If she’s having a particularly restless night, she might work her hand free from her swaddling blanket and chew on it for awhile. But she sleeps. She actually sleeps. It’s amazing.
Ultimately, the true gift of second babies is not that they’re easier—although honestly, sometimes Georgia seems like such an easy baby that it feels almost like cheating—but that they make you realize how little of the whole process of parenting you actually control. That can be terrifying and humbling, but it’s also really liberating (emotionally liberating, I mean. It’s not really liberating in any other way to be holding someone’s hand while she pees at 3 a.m., no matter how much you love her).
So that’s where I am these days. Physically exhausted. Emotionally liberated. And always, always over-caffeinated.