Friday, December 2, 2011

to the mamas.

an open letter to the mamas of the world:

i'm going to mention a few things here that are sure to get some google hits: 4 month sleep regression. 9 month sleep regression. my baby won't sleep in her crib. my baby wakes up more now. why won't my baby sleep?

if you got here that way, let me just say one thing: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. you feel very, very alone right now. you feel scared that something's wrong, that you're not doing the right thing by your baby. you have probably heard a lot about cry it out and self-soothing, about raising your baby to be an independent sleeper and about healthy sleep habits making a healthy child. you've probably heard something about "ferberizing" your child, as if a name could become a verb, and you don't know what to do because your suddenly good/so-so/crappy sleeper has now just taken a wicked turn for the worse. you're bleary eyed. you're confused. if you're like me, you may feel a bit claustrophobic every once in a while from the sheer weight of the need of your baby right now. 

let me repeat this and please hear me. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

you look around at the world, and you seem to see moms who have it all together. they smile about their babies, spouting little anecdotes about new skills: pulling up, bouncing, rolling over, cooing. there's talk of "mama" and "dada" and eating the heck out of a rubber giraffe.  there's solid foods talk and maybe even facebook photo albums of smiling happy babies who are covered in banana goo.

yeah. that's reality.

but nobody talks about the other reality--the reality where moms everywhere are stumbling down the hallways of america to find babies up on hands and knees or standing in cribs, crying for no apparent reason but desperate for mom to come in and save them. nobody posts pictures of mom's ratty hair and schlumpy pajamas in the morning after a night full of repeated wake-ups. nobody coos lovingly about the double-edged sword of mama attachment--that when they wake up, they want you there.

why don't they?

i think because we all thing we're doing it wrong. we all think this isn't normal. no matter how many sleep books we read or how many parents we talk to, we have been engrained with the idea that we're doing it wrong. that there's something to fix. that the way these babies are behaving is inappropriate.

i've only been doing this for a little while now, but i'm inclined to think those attitudes are wrong. 

babies are babies. they're not manipulating you. they have needs.  it may really, really suck that those needs include you being violently sucked from a REM cycle every 2 hours for two weeks while they work on a new skill, and the irony of waking up every few hours to check on them even when they DON'T cry out desperately for you isn't lost on you, but i don't think these things are wrong.

people will disagree with me. people will say that babies are meant to sleep 12 hours a night.  i would say, yes, they are.  but i am not sure that it's good--for us or for them--to expect them to do it consistently, continuously, and like a machine as little ones. 

do they need to learn to put themselves back to sleep? sure. has your baby ever slept a long stretch of time through the night? my guess is, if you're this frustrated, s/he has. 

guess what?

your baby knows how to put him or herself back to sleep. otherwise, you'd be hearing from him/ her every 45 minutes all night long.

check that one off of your mental guilt trip list and move on. that's not the problem.

the problem, if you're like me, is that THERE IS NO GOOD ANSWER.  there is no good answer and instead of supporting each other in the mayhem that can be nighttime parenting, we keep our struggles a secret and we don't talk about them at all for fear that we are seen as either bad parents or complaining parents. 

you are neither. you are human, doing the best you can in tremendously challenging circumstances.  you are not alone.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

knowing that, i hope, will help you feel like it's not you, failing your baby hugely in some way that you can't understand. it's not you.  it's the baby.  it's not that the baby's broken--it's that the baby's GROWING. mama, you're doing everything right.  you know why? because your baby is just growing like crazy and that little brain can't sit still long enough to let the body rest. too many things to see/do/explore/learn.

mama, you're growing a healthy kid.

you may not feel like it. you may feel like your kid is stuck in some sort of horrible rut wherein no act of Congress, no act of God, no act of anything can get that baby to sleep for more than 4 hours at a time (or, in my case, 2 hours at a time) in the crib.

at this point in the developmental circus, you may actually be right.

but listen.


what do you think you should do?

we don't talk about this. we don't talk about the instincts. we don't talk about how we know what to do. we don't talk about how the little voice in our head always whispers quietly what we should do, bringing peace to our homes and hearts as we listen. instead, we desperately google for answers. we desperately look for peace outside, in the words of an "expert" or in the experience of another mom.


you'll know what to do.

and when you don't--just do the best you can. do what seems like the best for everyone.  and pray.  pray hard. pray often. pray always.

not just for baby and sleep and all the things you desperately want (a shower more often than every 3 days, perhaps?), but for yourself. for strength. for grace. for gentleness with yourself.

if you love that baby enough to be this worried, this upset, this stressed out about sleep, you are loving and growing that baby well.  hang on.  HANG ON.

this too shall pass.

in the meantime, know that i, too, am just doing my best. i am sleeping with my baby to get her to rest. i am hugging her lots during the day and trying to pump her full of food and trying to get her to wear herself out with crawling and pushing and pulling up and doing all sorts of fun, energetic things. i'm trying to help her learn by taking her out in the world. 

i am trying.

that's all we can do, mamas. that's all we can do. 

hang on and hold tight.  pray hard and do your best. 

they'll be teenagers before you know it, and you'll never be able to wake them up.  and the irony will hit you even stronger then.  or the memory of this time will fade in favor of gummy, drooly smiles, first words, and first steps. 

hang on.  hold tight.


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