Saturday, October 8, 2016

On Not Sleeping and Keeping the Night Watch

 I heard once that babies could sleep through the night from a few months old, and before I had babies I thought that meant babies did sleep through the night from a few months old. I also was under the impression that once babies started sleeping obviously they kept sleeping, and that surely no preschooler/kindergartener/elementary school child would still have trouble waking up during the night.

Let us pause to laugh at my naivety.

Enter Juliana. That child did not sleep. It was a struggle to get her to sleep every single time. She popped awake at the slightest provocation (like if you breathed too hard). She woke up a ridiculous number of times a night and thought 3am was a great time for a party. She wouldn't nap unless we held her. For like, forever. She first slept through the night at a year old, and that was very short lived. Soon we once again up with her for an hour or two every night. Around 18 months she finally started sleeping consistently.

Adalyn was our sleeper. I remember setting her down, patting her gently for 30 seconds, and she was out. At two months old she was routinely sleeping 6-7 hours at a time. She had her regressions, but overall everything just came easier to her. Let the record show it's not just me; I really did have one good sleeper.

When Nadia was born I had pretty realistic expectations. I also felt pretty confident that I wouldn't have another sleeper as bad as Juliana. That just wouldn't be fair, and everyone knows that life is fair.

Nadia started out like your average newborn. Around 3 months she even had a brief spell of 5 hour stretches. Then that 4 month sleep regression hit and she never got over it. For most of the past 5 months, she has been waking up every 2 hours. Sometimes she'll sleep for 3 hours (not recently) often for 1 hour (recently), but there hasn't been any improvement.

It's not that we haven't tried. By 4.5 months, when the whole regression thing didn't seem to be going anywhere, I pulled out my No Cry Sleep Solution book and started going through the various ideas. Nadia kept getting sick, and that didn't help our progress, but I thought surely if we kept working at it we'd see results. We finally got in a full month of working hard on sleep...and it had only gotten worse. I have tried co-sleeping. I like the idea a lot, but practically it hasn't worked well for us right now. Nadia is restless; I sleep fitfully and wake up with a sore back.
I was barely functional and starting to lose the will to live, so at 7+ months we decided to try “cry it out.” I was adamantly, ethically opposed to CIO when Juliana was a baby. I have mellowed on most of my stances since then, but I still don't like leaving a baby to cry. I think there is a reason it feels so unnatural. But I felt like it was the right decision at the time, as what was going on obviously wasn't working.

I still nursed Nadia once a night, but the other times Kevin went in to her. I wasn't even expecting her to sleep through the night – I was just hoping to get to something more workable. But after more than two weeks, Nadia was still either waking up frequently or having a long crying spell. I thought the point of CIO was that they cry and then they start sleeping and stop crying every night. That wasn't happening. As soon as we quit, Nadia went back to waking up every two hours.

So I quit trying. I'm out of plans, and even if I had plans, I'd be too tired to implement them. Do you know how hard it is to be disciplined and think clearly at 3am when you've already been woken up 2-3 times? I have stopped expecting it to get better because it doesn't. I nurse Nadia back to sleep because that's the easiest, and not nursing her back to sleep was hard and took a long time and didn't actually help.

For now, I will be tired. Fortunately I have long since forgotten what it's like to get decent sleep so I don't quite know what I'm missing, except a fair number of brain cells. But in the tiredness I have a choice. I can either be bitter and frustrated and complain all the time (which I do sometimes), or I can accept it. I can recognize that I have survived the past five months and I'll probably continue to survive.

A friend recently brought up an idea from a book she was reading about viewing these night wakings as “calls to worship.” (If anyone else said something all spiritual like this, I would not take it well, but this friend is a mom to five little ones and has had her fair share of poor sleepers. She hasn't just been there; she is there – and that makes all the difference.) What if being up all night with your baby is actually a form of worship? A keeping of the night watch?

It certainly isn't a natural response. It's easily a drudgery to get through, bleery eyed and barely awake. It's easy to resent the sleeping household (the whole world is sleeping except me!), to resent those other people with the babies who sleep (where did they get them??). It's easy to long for this stage to be over and for Sleeping Through the Night to commence. It requires refocusing every single time. Every hour or two, all night long.

But when I stop complaining, I realize this is an invitation to communion. In the quiet of the night, this is a holy place. I may not have a lot of brain function, but I can consciously turn my heart toward God. I can choose to worship, to meditate, to offer a sacrifice of praise. In the midst of physical exhaustion, I can believe that I will find rest for my soul. There remains a rest that only he can give. If I choose to receive it -- There is grace for the night, joy in the morning, and strength for the day.

Related Posts
They say the church fathers gave us fixed-hour prayer, but now I know the church mothers marked sacred time long before these hours had names like lauds, sext, vespers, compline, matins, and the office of the night watch. Mamas have been keeping watch for as long as God has cooed and whimpered and shrieked through a baby’s tiny lungs every hour…every two hours…or, if you’re lucky, every three.
In those hazy hours before dawn, I think about the practices of caring for a baby. How simple, yet how laborious they can be. How feeding, diapering, and comforting a newborn fill every hour of every day...I’ve been thinking about how these simple acts can be spiritual practices.
But then here it is: hiding in plain sight, an altar. I’m standing sentry and holding vigil for her. It feels like I have become the answer because I have no answers and so I am free to simply show up both during the night for the baby and even as I am now during the day. It feels like a holy act to lift one crying and cold baby up out of her darkness and hold her to my body, to still the cries of at least one soul.

Meditations for the Night Watch
Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Be still and know that I am God.

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.
You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

You will find rest for your soul.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

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