Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

One of our adoption books sternly told us that it is not healthy for a recently adopted child to simply go to sleep, sleep through the night, and wake up in the morning. (Something about attachment and trust and blah, blah, blah...)  The first night we were home, both kids collapsed from exhaustion  fell sweetly asleep and slept through the night (mostly). Andrew and I cracked open some beer and said "Cheers! Thank You! Sleep! Amen!"

Here's the thing about "sleep training" I didn't realize before becoming a parent. You don't do it once. You do it over and over and over and over...

We are in phase 357 of our "sleep training" Lily. I think "sleep adjustment" is a more accurate term. Lily has been growing and adjusting, and we have been adjusting, continuously, since one year ago.

The other thing about sleep it that it is unique to each child. That's why all those sleep books sell so well. As soon as a new one is published it flies off the shelf. "Maybe this one will cure our sleep problems!"  The truth is that any one person's advice can only be partially helpful.  The best advice I've ever gotten is: Do what works and trust your instincts.  Here's the path we've been on with our sleeping/less child.

Phase 1: I'm a baby and I'll cry if I want milk.

When Lily first came home, at 15 months, she was still very much a baby. She had just learned to walk, she knew only a couple of words ("da da!"), and she drank formula by the gallon (it seemed).  She had been so tiny for so long and was still making up weight. At the care center in Ethiopia she'd been woken up to be fed during the night. When she came home she woke up once, sometimes twice a night for a bottle (well, a cup feeding... that's another post).   She ate quickly and fell right back to sleep. It was beautiful, if dangerous to try and heat formula while sleep walking.  Then we went to see Dr. Aronson ("The Orphan Doctor") who told us to stop feeding her formula, and certainly stop feeding her at night. @#$%!

Phase 2: I'm still a baby and I'll cry if I want milk!!!!!

So we started weaning her off her night feedings, and off formula all together. Sigh. This was no fun for anyone. I remember one night standing in her room holding her. She was screaming bloody murder, but I was so exhausted that I wasn't really awake.  In the dream I was having, she wasn't crying (or something- really this phase is all a big blur.) Andrew finally came in and woke me up, because clearly standing there in the dark with my eyes closed, holding a screaming child, was not working.

Somehow we managed the weaning to milk (slowing adding less and less formula and more whole milk to her cup.) Somehow we managed to get her to sleep through the night.  It took a long time.

Here's the thing about "sleep adjusting": You don't make your most rational decisions at 2AM.  And you certainly can't have a reasonable difference of opinion with your spouse at 2AM while your child screams.  There were a lot of hurt feelings and recriminations during this phase. Lots of "morning after" de-briefs and whispered "consultations." Fights. There was a lot of tearful fighting.

Phase 3: What do you mean, morning doesn't begin at 4:30AM!?

Once we'd convinced Lily that she didn't need milk during the night, she got really, really attached to her morning cup.  So she started moving her mornings earlier and earlier.  Til they weren't so much mornings as nights.  Once again we had negotiations about what time was okay for her to wake up, and who was going to get up with her. Sigh. Then there was a few weeks of one of us sleeping with her on the couch after her "morning bottle".  This was not fun for anyone. Then, miraculously, she did it. She fell asleep in our arms after some time in the rocking chair, slept through the night, and woke up in the morning (the real morning). Then:

Phase 4: Daylight @#$%ing Savings Time.

The less said about this, the better. All that hard work "sleep training", all those lovely long nights of peaceful slumber went out the window. Night wakings, hours long scream fests, 4:30 AM mornings. It sucked.

Phase 5: Mommy and Daddy aren't playing anymore.

By now Andrew and I had figured out our game plan. We no longer fought about sleep parenting in the middle of the night.  We had strategy sessions; we had a plan. We were a team. Lily had figured out that if she didn't fall asleep right away, she could get mommy's attention for hours.... So she started keeping herself awake, and it took us longer and longer to rock her to sleep.  You could see her fighting it- literally holding her eyes open. We realized it was time to get her to fall asleep on her own, in her crib. Sigh. This was not fun for anyone.

Phase 6: Whatever works.

Sometimes Lily fell asleep quietly in her crib without crying. Sometimes she screamed for an hour. Sometimes we took her out of the crib so Daniel could fall asleep, then tried again.  Sometimes she took  a long nap and couldn't get sleepy at night. Sometimes she wouldn't nap, and barely made it through dinner. But, we tried to stay consistent, and we tried to keep our cool.

Last weekend she moved into a toddler bed.  So we are in the next phase. Bedtime now takes a lot longer some nights. She often needs one of us to stay in the room with her to remind her to stay in the bed and deal with the innumerable distractions she now has... all those toys now within reach, all those hair ribbons to play with! She, like her brother,  can now get out of bed and gain our attention with the flimsiest of excuses.  We have reached the stage the book said was healthy. Our children are not so exhausted by their very existence in our family that they collapse into a deep sleep at night. Our children trust that we will be there to give them another glass of water, or kiss a (pretend) boo-boo, or relieve an anxiety that looms in the dark.

Sometimes I miss rocking my baby to sleep.  But I certainly don't miss the formula, or the night feedings, or the unholy 2AM screaming.  There are some benefits to all that hard work of growing up.

To all those parents and would-be parents out there, I wish you-  A Good Night's Sleep!

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