|My favorite picture. Possibly ever.|
There are two things you should know before I tell you this story: the first is that I'm a lousy sleeper. I'm one of the lousiest, and I wear earplugs, these ones, or I would never sleep at all. This allows me to hear the baby when she's actually making significant noise from the other room, and not just fluttering her eyelashes, which I swear I'd hear. And the other thing you should know is that our bed is broken in a sort of complicated way, so I can only sleep with my head where my feet should be or I dream that I'm sleeping on a mountainside all night long--really, that happened.
But lately I haven't been sleeping much anyway. Not with earplugs, not with my head where my feet should be or anywhere else. Henrietta has been breaking records in the wake-up-at-night department. Gosh, it's been awful. She's teething, surely, but it's gotten worse and worse, and a few nights this last week she woke up 10-15 times (I lost count), at least once an hour but sometimes twice or thrice an hour, and then when she finally would sleep, I wouldn't be able to anymore, so I'd be up most of the night and then I'd walk around during the day pretty delirious, and fiending for a nap, and treating Sam terribly. My house is so dirty that I started to wonder if the baby wasn't sleeping because she contracted some rare non-sleeping disease from my carpet. My body was so exhausted that I was losing physical coordination; I was afraid to drive. And my brain was so tired that my mean voice was out with daggers.
One book I read on sleep said to ask yourself, before you begin sleep training, if your baby's night wakings were really ruining your life, or if they were manageable. Because two times a night? That's maybe not a big deal. But two times a night for months on end starts to make you insane. And remember? HP was going for 15. And she wasn't too hot or too cold, and I had gone down the list of every other thing that could be wrong. And we were giving her Tylenol and Ibuprofen to help with the teething pain. I spent half of my waking life (which was sup-par, admittedly) trying to figure out this sleep thing, and if it was something other than the fact that she was absolutely incapable of getting herself back to sleep without me, I would have figured it out. Trust me.
Ever since Henrietta was born, we've been talking about sleep-training. People ask you: is she sleeping through the night? And at some point it starts to feel like they're not groaning sympathetically with you anymore, they're wondering what's wrong with you that the answer is no. No and no. So I've been trying to read books (which is what I do when I don't know something), but those books are so formulaic and so guaranteed-to-work (!) and they basically said every single thing we were doing in relation to sleep was wrong, and the thought of changing everything and following a formula and keeping notes when I was already so sleep-deprived that the dishes made me cry? That really wasn't happening. So I talked to a lot of people and I prayed a lot, which are the other things I do when I don't know something. And I think I knew, I think I've known for awhile, that I just needed to let her cry and figure out how to get herself back to sleep. I've known this would be terrible experience.
And of course, because I'm me, I've been trying to work out whether I was that sort of person. I mean, was I even the cry-it-out kind of mom? I've talked about this before, how I can never just make decisions about what's best for my baby. I'm always putting all mothers (figurative mothers, not the real ones) in this binary system, and there are the good mothers who wake up and nurse their babies very sweetly every time they cry until they magically stop waking up in the night, and there are the other mothers who let their babies cry it out, and they are not very good mothers. Wait! Remember I really only mean figurative mothers! If you let your baby cry it out, I actually think you are brilliant and I'm jealous of you, because you get to actually sleep, and you are still a good mom because I know you are. You defy reality, but only because this binary doesn't exist in reality. It's baloney. Welcome to my world, which is full of baloney.
Sam and I tried letting her cry it out last Sunday night. I had fed her and rocked her, and she still wasn't settling down in any kind of permanent way. It was clear, maybe for the first time, that there was nothing I could do for her. I couldn't help her sleep, not really, and it was nearly ten at night, and so we just set her down and told her we loved her and tiptoed out. We sat in our office, trying to be cool, but listening to make sure she didn't launch herself over the side of her crib somehow. She screamed. She screamed loud and long and heartbreakingly until she was coughing and seemed like she could hardly breathe, and the minutes felt absurdly long. We went back in to tell her it was okay after three minutes, even though we had agreed to wait until five. And then we waited five more minutes, at which point I was sobbing, and Sam was saying, "I didn't understand. I didn't know it was going to be like this." We went in and I held her and rocked her until she slept, and I left her bedroom feeling like a sleep-training dropout. Sam and I prayed together out loud, taking turns, asking for help, begging for help. When I went downstairs I looked at my cat, who was sleeping soundly, and thought that at least our cats sleep through the night (and day) without help. We've got that going for us. We're not total failures.
Yesterday I called my sister, which is another thing I do when I don't know something. And I was asking her what I was supposed to do about Henrietta not falling asleep in the car anymore and screaming the whole way everywhere we went. And she answered that question, and then sort of volunteered, "Let me make a case for letting her cry it out at night." And she did. And somehow this solved all of my identity issues, and helped me really believe that helping Henrietta sleep on her own was a big giant gift to her, and I could give it, and it would be okay.
I entered last night's bed time ready for it. We did our bedtime routine, and then I fed her, and she was still awake when I set her down. She fell asleep on her own without too much fuss, and then she woke up at one, which wasn't too bad, considering the other nights we've had this week. I went in and picked her up before I thought very clearly, and she thrashed and wiggled and wailed in my arms, wanting milk, which I wasn't going to give her. She pooped, which she never does at night, and I swear it was in protest: pay attention to me; give me what I want. I changed her diaper very calmly, and told her she was going to go back to sleep now, and it was going to be okay. I lay her down in her crib and told her I loved her, and left.
I lay down in bed, my feet by my bedside table, and watched the clock, and the minutes weren't as long. Sam snored next to me, but it was suddenly clear it was all my job anyway, that it had always been, and it needed to be. My heart was pounding and her cries were painful to listen to, but I felt like I was being sort of carried above them, floating just above my bed. I had prayed countless times that when it was time to let her cry it out I'd be able to do it, and He was answering, helping me through every second of it, making it clear I was doing the right thing, that I was helping her, even if it didn't sound that way.
I felt like I was being swept back to a memory of when Henrietta was about a month old and I was taking her to church for the first time. I was bustling around the house trying to get everything together and I had strapped her into her carseat so I could have my hands free, and she was screaming. I thought she was probably tired, and I knew she'd fall asleep in the car, but I didn't know what to do in the meantime. It was the first time since she'd been born that running to her and fixing whatever was wrong was not possible; it was not the best thing for her or for me. I don't know how to explain what a terrifying revelation that was for me: immediately doing everything to fix what was wrong would not always be possible; it would not always be the best way to do my job as mother. I love new-mom self, I really love her for being so astonished and sad about that. And last night, I felt like that again. I remembered how as soon as I stepped out the door into the sunlight she fell asleep and everything was fine, and it made me feel like this cry-it-out thing would resolve itself.
And it was. She cried for half an hour. I went in twice to tell her everything was as it should be, and I felt like a warrior mother, steeled against her tears, doing the best thing for all of us. She screamed and then she cried and then she whimpered and eventually she stopped altogether and she slept, and I wanted to run through my house laughing and hollering and kissing the cats on the lips. But instead I put my earplugs back in and went to sleep, and slept, with a few brief exceptions, until morning. When I could tell the sun was coming up, and I thought I was maybe hearing her, I pulled up the edge of my earplug to check, and realized I was hearing songbirds. Songbirds, not my screaming baby. I looked over at Sam's legs beside me. I'd gone to bed the night before sort of irritated with him. Not in any meaningful way, but just an I'm-so-exhausted way, but now he was so beautiful in the morning light. He was sleeping on his stomach, and his toes were tucked between the mattress and the bottom of the bed, and his calves were somehow the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. They were so long and so lovely that if I wasn't worried it would wake him, I would have run my hands very slowly from his ankles to his knees.