Sleeping at night, part 50 million

I don’t really know what number post this is about Annika’s sleep habits and I really don’t feel like going back and counting them. Annika’s sleep has changed again. And as a new mom, this is the kind of story I needed to hear. So here goes:

Annika has been a horrible sleeper since about 6 months old. The first few months of her life she awoke twice a night, usually around 1 a.m. and then around 6 and then slept until about 9. It varied occasionally to 2 and 4 a.m. but for the most part it was great. Sometimes I got the feeling that other parents didn’t believe me when I told them that my newborn slept great. But mostly I heard, “Wow, you’re so lucky.” Little did I know that I’d hit a (really long) stage where I got woken up every hour, or even more often during rough patches.

But anyway, we’ve reached a new stage. Finally. From what I’ve heard from other moms and in my own experience somewhere around 18-20 months seems to be a benchmark in sleep changes for babies who are attached and co-sleeping.

Annika is no different. She is finally sleeping harder, more like a real person, without the fluttery light sleep stages that wake up her needing to be comforted back to sleep. She’s rolling over and cuddling up to a pillow, and when I get out of bed she’s continuing to sleep.

It is sheer heaven!

We started night weaning in December. It went really really well.

The first week.

Then she got a cold and I couldn’t say no to her when she asked to nurse in the middle of the night.

When she recovered she was more aggressive about wanting to nurse in the middle of the night. We had several nights, off and on, when she ran around the room screaming. Annika is very intense when she’s pissed. She’s also tenacious. She digs in and insists that she gets what she wants. It’s a characteristic I admire in her; something I hope will serve her well as an adult. As a toddler, however, it’s frustrating. My neighbors upstairs probably think I’m abusing her in the middle of the night.

I’ve had several nights where I’ve felt abusive. I’ve yelled at her. I’ve gotten up and left the room for a few minutes to calm myself down while she screamed.

I’ve beaten myself up over this night weaning crap over and over again. I didn’t ever plan to night wean. I’ve heard stories of attached moms who just kept nursing their kids at night until the kid started sleeping.

More power to them. Rock on mamas. I am not that strong.

My back hurts. My neck hurts. My nipples are irritated. I want to be able to get up to pee without a screaming toddler running into the bathroom and demanding to nurse. I want to sleep.

I’ve also wondered if her own sleep is suffering because she’s waking up just as much as I am. She’s not eating properly. I’ve watched her energy drain quickly and I wonder if she slept better and ate more, wouldn’t she feel better during the day as well?

But something snapped in her this week. It’s like she finally figured it out after being told over and over: “Nighttime is for sleeping. We can nurse in the morning.” It’s become my nighttime mantra.

Last night I put her to sleep without nursing. I’ve done it before, but only after an hour or longer of nursing and no end in sight.

Last night was different. After we read books, I turned the light off and nursed her while I sang a few songs. Then I told her we were going to try sleeping without nursing. She whined and I told her that we were just going to try it out.

To my utter and sheer surprise, she agreed and pushed her back into my chest and started whispering. “Cow, pig, sheep.” She was listing her animals that were sitting on the nightstand watching over her.

So we listed several things. Animals, Sesame Street characters, Mommy, Daddy, Baltar, Annika, ABCs, colors, numbers. Eventually she drifted off. Her body felt heavy against mine, like a hibernating bear. I don’t think I’ve ever felt her like that before. Her sleep has always been light and airy and just the whisper of noise or movement awoke her.

When Annika was an infant I used to ask moms all the time about sleeping habits. I wondered when they changed, if they just did, or if there was some magical secret.

Then last night as I lay in bed with my sleeping big girl who is no longer a baby (and it still trips me out that she is so big now) I realized the answer to my questions.

As parents it is our job to give our children the openness and security to explore the world. But when it comes to things that they need, it is our job also to guide them toward it in a loving and (sometimes firm) manner. There’s no rule set in stone about when or how it happens. It is our job as parents to get to know our children well enough that we can figure that out.

So, for any new parents out there. It does get better. When you are deep down in it, it really doesn’t help to hear that. But you will come through it, torn and tattered, lean and rock solid, ready for the tougher challenges that lie ahead.