Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm not ready to sleep through the night

Am I the only American mother who's sad and bewildered when her baby starts sleeping a six-hour stretch?

Even a cursory glance at a popular parenting site like will show dozens of anxious questions and reassuring responses about parents seeking that holy grail of having their baby sttn (it's talked about so often, it has birthed its own abbreviation).

This was the wonderful advice I received in a recent BabyCenter email (personally, I cringe over 80% of what I read from BabyCenter, but for some reason I still love seeing one of those "Your Baby This Week" newsletters in my inbox). It was a sidebar about Ferberizing, described aptly this way: "You let him cry for increasing amounts of time each night before you go check on him, and even then you don't pick him up to soothe him. Eventually, he learns that crying doesn't help and he may as well go to sleep." This last statement breaks my heart but is intended, I gather, to be matter-of-fact and reassuring. After admitting that some parents criticize the Ferber method for being "overly harsh," a pediatrician and author, Jennifer Shu, is quoted giving this terrific counsel: "It's not for everybody. But I support parents trying it who are interested. If it doesn't work" -- and here I paused mentally and truly expected her to admit that this method should be abandoned in that case, but...wait for it -- "I recommend they stop for a few weeks and try again."

Even just last night, I was just scanning my college's alumni updates after submitting our own birth announcement six months slow, and I found parents who felt the need, in the scant space afforded a briefly worded announcement, to fit in a boast about an especially young baby who already calmly slumbered from dusk to dawn.

Even attachment parenting sites and practitioners, while acknowledging that this thinking about babies and sleep is flawed -- that human infants are intended to wake and feed often and not to sleep too deeply, that they are meant to sleep near a warm parent and an available breast -- still bemoan and commiserate over the lack of sleep their convictions demand.

So I feel like a freak. Because, yesterday I could no longer avoid noticing that, yes, my baby is now sleeping through the night -- well, a six-hour stretch, at any rate, which is a common definition. He might in fact sleep longer than that if my engorgement and perhaps some sense of the universe being off kilter didn't keep waking me up right around then, to prod him into eating. I finally admitted to myself that it was no longer a one-off thing and was instead becoming a nightly habit, and I announced as much to my sister-in-law. Her response was a joyful "Yea!"

And I shot her right down.

I am not happy that Mikko isn't waking up more often. It's ludicrous, but there it is.

It never bothers me when he wakes frequently, now that he's well past the newborn screaming-for-an-hour-every-time-he-awakes phase -- I can nurse lying down and we both fall right back to sleep. When he's not waking up and I'm peering at the clock trying to remember the last time he ate so I can calculate the hours passed and feeling my breasts to gauge how full they are, that wakes me up more than just nursing him back down.

I've been having frightening dreams of harm befalling Mikko that leave me too disturbed to go back to sleep, and my back hurts toward each morning, presumably from lying still too long in one place. It's as if my mind and body adapted over the span from those last few restless months of pregnancy through to the present to expect regular night wakings and now can't slide back into the deeper sleep patterns.

Plus, I really, really love my lactational amenorrhea.  Love it, I tell you. And I want to hold onto it for as long as I can. I don't need another baby anytime soon, honest. That whole ovulation thing can just take its sweet time getting back in gear. I know frequent breastfeeding over the entire 24 hours is generally necessary to keep my precious LAM, and I hear the clock ticking on it as Mikko sleeps longer stretches.

And then, of course, I think one more sorrow is the sense of time and babyhood slipping by. This is one more signpost on the road to fully weaning, to the time when this growing boy will no longer be my little nursling. I know we have a long road ahead of us still, but these six months have sped.

Maybe tonight he'll be restless and demand to feed every half an hour and fall asleep idly sucking on the breast, and I'll feel better that my little one is not really one of those sleeping-through-the-night graduates. Or maybe not.


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