Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sleep Solution and Going Back to Work (Month 3)

My husband and I are sleeping soundly when I hear a wiggle and a grunt. My eyes pop open, and by the light off the plug-in on the wall I see my little Tuff-man straining to get his left hand out of the crazy jacket swaddle and to his face, he has spit out his pacifier again and he’s on his back (which he hates). I walk over to his cradle half asleep, pop back in his pacifier, resituate him kind of on his side and plop myself back in bed. I get my pillows perfectly positioned, and I hear the pacifier plop back onto the floor, so I get up and reinsert. It is 1:00 am, and I know this dance will happen again at least one more time before he eats at 4:00 am. I’m exhausted from waking up at every little squirm and inhalation and moan coming from baby, and I absolutely can’t imagine how I’ll feel if we are still doing this routine once I go back to work. It’s time shake the tree…

I praise the couples that can have their babies sleep with them in the same bed or even in the same room, and still be able to function throughout the day. I have never in my life craved sleep the way I have since I got pregnant, and having Tuff in the room with us was making it very hard to get even an hour’s rest at a time. No better time than now to introduce Tuff to his own room.

We started with Tracy Hogg’s book The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. I never follow anything to a “T”, not even recipes, but it’s nice to have an outline to reference when you don’t know what the hell you are doing. But the chapter in Tracy’s book referencing sleep habits and techniques was short, and I wanted more information (I told you, I get obsessed). So I found another book called The Sleep Lady’s Good Night Sleep Tight by Kim West. Again, I was drawn to the book because of her middle-ground gentle approach to sleep coaching and the fact that the book took us from newborn all the way through age 5. It goes through every sleep challenge you can think of from helping baby learn how to self soothe, separation anxiety, breaking bad sleep habits, teething, milestones (like sitting up and walking) which can cause a good sleeper to wake more often, and even how to transition older children who have been sleeping in mom and dad’s bed to their own room… and she explains how to do this while teaching your child independence and confidence, and not handling in a way which the child may interpret the change as punishment or with negative feelings.

Taking into consideration a few notes and cues from Tracy and Kim along with 20+ articles and a few personal blogs, we dove into the sleep coaching pool head first. I’m not sure if it was the preparation, the simple techniques from the books, our timing, or that Tuff is just such a laid back little nugget… but the transition was a piece of cheesecake. We started with naps in the crib for a couple days and then one night we just put him down in his bed after his bedtime routine. That was it! Tuff was falling asleep on his own, unswaddled, by 10.5 weeks old and sleeping from 9:30 pm to 5:15 am.

Now, I’m not saying we didn’t have a couple rough nights in there, but it was much easier than I imagined. In the process, we had to break some bad habits of our own that could have become a crutch later on and we armed ourselves with the tools to make the shift as easy as possible. Yes, I’m fully aware that babies have been putting themselves to sleep since the beginning of time and that babies sleep in other rooms all over the globe and they can do it without books or gadgets and BLAH, BLAH, BLAH… Well today, here in America, it’s a material world. It’s not like I endorse buying millions of toys and gadgets for my kid and suppress my motherly intuition, but I do indulge in a few items that have made our lives significantly easier.

1.       Sound machine: It’s nothing too fancy and we received it as a gift. It has both lullabies and relaxation noises (white noise, heartbeat, waves and rain). We turn it on during both naps and nighttime. I bought a Gentle Giraffe by Cloud B that actually velcros to his bed and has a timer on it (bonus, it can be used later as a lovey). It has been a total lifesaver when Tuff has been overtired. If we see that he is extra fussy and restless, we turn on the giraffe and within moments he begins to settle. It also helps drown out noise from the rest of the house, so we don’t have to tippy toe around.

2.      Baby monitor with video: I heard quite a few negative stories about the video monitor and several of my books advised against the use of one. But I didn’t want to go rushing into Tuff’s room to see what was going on every time a sound came through the speaker. I admit, the first couple of weeks I did check the monitor several times throughout the night to check on him (especially if I didn’t hear any noises for a while, weird right). But I would just push the view button to make sure he was still breathing and turn it right back off, no getting out of bed. Also, if we heard him squeak or grunt, we could just turn on the screen and watch to see if he would put himself back to sleep or if he needed our help. It’s been one of my favorite tools in helping become comfortable and confident as a mother and understanding his sleep patterns (plus sometimes you just want to look at your baby’s sweet face without being all up in his face).
3.       Books and Articles: It would be stupid not to take advantage of expert advice and these days it’s easier than ever to utilize because all the leading experts write books! You read the books and take from them what recommendations you need for your situation and what works best for you and your family. The pyramids were not built in one day, many mistakes were made in perfecting their craft and the greatest engineers of today would kill to know a handful of the Egyptians secrets. I know that’s extreme, I’m just saying it doesn’t hurt to get guidance from people with overwhelming experience in the subject you’re questioning.

If I would give any one thing the credit for making our experience so seamless, it would be consistency. Whatever changes or adjustments that I would make, my husband would mirror when it was his turn. If after a few nights something didn’t work, we would talk it out and make modifications where needed. It was collaboration between the both of us that made it work. Unless the outcome was a complete disaster, we would try to reinforce for 3 days. And these are little things… instead of patting him to sleep, just putting our hand on his back; putting him down while he is drowsy and still awake, instead of after he’s fallen asleep; we stopped forcing the pacifier, and let him soothe himself with his fingers; waking him up gently with soft voices and a soft lamp light, rather than turning on the big lights and scooping him out of bed before he’s had a chance to recognize his surroundings. Regardless of what we did or who agrees with our parenting style, it was what was comfortable and worked for both of us because we operated together as team and respected each other’s opinions. I honestly believe that whatever it is that you do, consistency is the key to making it work.

This was all in preparation for me to go back to work. And when the day finally came, it was effortless. We woke up about 5:30 am, I fed and changed the baby while my husband took his shower and then we swapped. He took the baby and went in the kitchen to make coffee while I showered and got ready for work. We decided that he would take Tuff to daycare in the mornings since it took longer for me to get ready, and I would pick him up in the afternoons. I got to work that morning, waiting for the anxiety to all-of-a-sudden slap me in the face and I would begin to cry and sob and call the daycare 100 times… but it never came. I was well rested and eager to get back to work so that I could get back on a schedule. I had taken Tuff to visit the daycare center several times in the middle of the day to see what his reaction to all the commotion would be, and he was very relaxed but curious when we visited. I knew the facility we chose was a perfect match for our entire family, so I wasn’t worried all day while at work (it probably helps a little that it is only 5 minutes from our office). I called at lunch time to check on him and was given nothing but compliments on how relaxed and laid back he was there. If he was happy, I didn’t see a reason to get worked up. His smiling face when he came home the first day from "school" the first day was just a confirmation that he was being well looked after...

What can I say, it was all starting to come together and it felt so good. I was back at work and our schedules just kind of all fell into place naturally. My mind would play games with me… It was like we were always this way, always a family, the 3 of us. Yet at the same time, it felt like yesterday that we were heading to the hospital. Not to mention, it was getting way more fun. Tuff wasn’t just eating and sleeping all day, he would smile and giggle and reach for things and make eye contact with us. He was starting to make “conversation” and try to communicate. He would hold his hands up in front of his face and study his little fingers for an hour at a time. He was paying more attention when either of us would say or do things around him. He was starting to respond to his name.

It has been so exciting, watching him grow and thrive and begin to learn things. We truly take too much for granted, and I’m so blessed I have the privilege of being Tuff’s mom! This whole blog sounds like we are helping teach our son to be confident and independent and happy, when in reality he has taught me so much more. He has taught me patience and how to breathe, he has taught me how to surrender and how to give selflessly, he has taught me appreciation and respect, and most of all how to truly and unconditionally love. Never have you loved until you see your own child’s face. I look at him slumber peacefully and I am overwhelmed from the inside out. My entire body tingles with a flash of panic and I feel tears come up from the deepest caverns within and they are filled with pride and love and devotion. I watch him discover and explore, and I wish that I could see the world through his eyes. There is not a day that goes by that I thank God for all that he has given us, including the dark and terrifying, for I would not be as prepared and ready for all the obstacles that I face each day without them. They make the good days better, the sunny days brighter. And it only gets better from here!