I've talked about how needy my little girl is in comparison to the independent, maintenance free experience I had with my son in his infant months. Despite the lack of sleep, she is beautiful. She is happy. She is healthy. But me? I was hitting a breaking point.
For eight weeks - two whole months - I was averaging 4 1/2 hours of sleep per night. I did the math and it made me dizzy. She would wake up every 1 or 2 hours, desperate to nurse and I would quickly accommodate for two reasons: to get her back to bed so I could sleep and so she wouldn't cry and wake my son, leading to no one sleeping. Since she wasn't taking a bottle well, it would take me almost an hour to put her back down, only to have me shoot awake to her cries again an hour later.
Combine this with my return to work and I can honestly say I was feeling like I might be losing my mind. I would stare at coworkers I know very well and question whether I knew their names. That is the level of tired I was at. Mind-erasing exhaustion.
I threw out a couple of cries for help on Facebook and of course, my wonderful friends came forward with all kinds of suggestions. Books I should read. Methods I should try. Sympathy and empathy for our plight. None of it really lined up with one consistent method so I was left to pick and choose what the right course of action might be for us.
And that is the key point - what is right for US. We are over inundated with conflicting how-to advice and as moms, we are constantly pressured to do the right and perfect thing for our babies (i.e. breastfeeding, don't let them cry it out, attachment parenting, etc.). I'm the first person to drop everything for my kids, but how can you do that when your own health and sanity is compromised?
My husband and I came up with a plan.
- Step one: I'm done breastfeeding. Now that I'm back to work, I simply can't keep up with her appetite, even with pumping. Plus, she is showing some signs of allergies and if I'm being realistic, I don't have the time or energy to truly commit to an elimination diet. We had one last goodbye nursing session this last weekend where I stroked her hair and cuddled her body curved against mine. I shed a small tear but I also patted myself on the back for trying my best.
- Step two: She is sleeping in our bedroom, which is more removed from our son's room, and we are sleeping in the living room on air mattresses and the sofa. We are testing if she is crying for food or crying out of habit. Being out of the room allows us to sleep through initial cries to see if she will go back to sleep. If she cries while waiting for a bottle or if she cries when taking the bottle, our toddler won't spring awake at 3 a.m. We will deal with our own creaky backs and tossing and turning if it means we can get on a good schedule.
- Step three: Now that the bottle is in play, I'm able to tag my husband into the ring each night to go head to head with our little sleepy girl. That buys me a couple extra hours of sleep.
What strikes me out of this is that regardless of the fact that we are working quickly towards a sleep solution, I still get judgmental comments from those I've talked to about our new method, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding. The furrowed brows that appear when I say that I'm weaning are obvious and they are annoying. I'd nurse more if I could, but now that I'm not, my girl is thriving! And just as importantly, so am I. For each person that gives me a look of pity when saying, "Oh. I nursed my kids until they were at least one year old," I wish I had medals in my pocket that I could whip out and pin on them with a flourish. Apparently, they think they win the mommy race.
The point is that you won't find our crazy couch-sleeping method in a book. However, it is working for us and we will modify as we go to get us back into our rooms and our girl back into her crib. Nothing is static or rigid in parenting an infant. Everyone needs to be healthy and well. Do what works best for you and your family.