Sleep. Or lack thereof.
Before our daughter was born everyone told us to get some sleep. It was “sleep now because you won’t until she moves out of the house” or “say goodbye to sleep.” I found the advice trite. Didn’t believe it. It was the generic “How about that weather” of parenting advice. I was wrong.
Babies don’t sleep like babies.
Whoever came up with that turn of phrase had a wicked sense of humor. Ask any new parent if their new baby sleeps like a baby and your response will come in the form of a fist to the mouth. Babies don’t sleep like babies and my daughter was no exception.
For the first few months of her existence our daughter didn’t sleep and neither did we. Actually, our daughter did sleep. During the day. At night she slept in 1 hour intervals, or 3 hour intervals, or not at all.
During these glorious first months of parenthood I had to work, to somehow function as a member of society. I was a zombie, still reeling from sleepless nights of trying to rock a wailing baby to sleep. I had the new parent undead shuffle. The bags under my eyes had bags under their eyes.
I needed sleep. My wife needed sleep. I assume the baby did as well. So we looked for advice. There’s an entire subsection of baby literature devoted to sleep. We explored it and tried the techniques.
The books fell into two camps the Cry It Out method or the Emotional Liberal Parents Who Don’t Want to Hurt their Babies’ Feelings. After about 6 months without sleep we finally tried to cry it out. The baby cried. She cried. And cried. And cried. And cried. And cried. And cried. And cried. No matter how many times I repeat the word “cried” it still doesn’t get across the intense stress of hearing your baby cry for hours on end. One night our daughter cried so intensely that she vomited. Guess we were in the other camp.
Another book talked about the 5 S’s; swaddling, swaying, shushing and two other ones that I can’t remember. White noise was one of the S’s but I don’t know the S. Sonic torture? Despite feeling like I was treating my daughter like a terrorist detainee blasting her with nonstop white noise seemed to help.
These books often say that in the first few months recreating the womb for your baby will help them get better sleep. We tried this. But I could never figure out what flavor of Jell-O most resembles amniotic fluid. Grape? Very berry?
Then one night it happened – that Holy Grail of Parenthood – our daughter slept through the night. That morning we awoke with a combined feeling of relief and dread. Like we’d won the lottery but also gone on vacation and forgotten to turn off the oven. So happy that we’d slept through the night, but also panicking that something had happened to our daughter. A quick run to her room revealed that she had indeed slept through the night.
That miraculous night also happened to be the first day my wife returned to work after 8 months of staying home with our daughter. Our daughter never slept through the night while I was at work. Perhaps she respected the higher earning potential of my wife’s job over my own and felt that my wife needed to be well-rested whereas I did not. Whatever the case, she now sleeps through the night. It’s wonderful. If only she didn’t wake up so early. I don’t know what’s so pressing that she has to be up at 5 am.