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Something Else They Don't Tell You

In general, Madeleine’s been a pretty great sleeper. Right at three months, she began sleeping through the night all on her own. (Don’t hate me – not my doing at all). I had read up on different sleep theories to be ready for the decision-making I was sure would come, and she just did it by herself. I looked around smugly, shrugged my shoulders, and went to sleep.


Then she hit four and a half months, and the sleeping through the night hit a snag. I felt bewildered until I turned to Brazelton’s Touchpoints to read up on her developmental stage; right there he said night wakings would be common for babies that had up until then slept through the night. We got through a rough couple of weeks before she found her sleep groove again.


A month or so later, she hit another snag. A couple weeks, and back to normal. A month or so later . . . stop me if this sounds familiar.

See, what no one explained to me was that babies who sleep through the night don’t do it all the time. I was prepared for the doctors’ laughable definition of sleeping through the night as a newborn: five hours. As if! I refused to tell anyone my daughter was sleeping through the night until she was out for a good eight hours or so.


I was even ready for her to stop sleeping through the night as she got older; Brazelton had said that babies who sleep through the night early on will begin night waking as they get older and more aware of her surroundings.


I just wasn’t ready for this to happen over and over and over.


No one tells you that sleep is a fluid thing for an infant; as soon as you get your baby into a nap schedule (which quickly becomes sacred), your child grows and the naps are anyone’s guess once again. A few weeks after your baby starts sleeping through the night, baby has his first cold/earache/immunization shots, which make him wake up several times. Before you know it, those long sleep nights are a thing of the past. I guess I had this vision in my head of a baby’s growth being plotted over a year as a smooth, steady diagonal line heading upwards. In reality, it’s more of a stair-step thing, with spurts and setbacks. I figured once Maddie slept through the night a few times, I could cross it off the list and go on to the next “thing” to conquer. Nope.


We made the decision to sleep-train our daughter at five months old. When she first began waking at 4 ½ months, we felt she was too young and agreed to tough it out for a few weeks. We hit a point where it felt like she was getting up at night out of habit and not real need or even want. We picked a weekend and Ferberized her.


This was not a decision made lightly, and not one based on rumors of how to do it I’d read on the internet; I got the book and read it cover to cover. Brian and I understood it would take more than one night, and that it would have to be reinforced after any life change such as travel or sickness.


The sleep training seemed to be successful; she went from waking three or four times a night back to sleeping for 10 hours, waking to eat, and sleeping another 2 before getting up for the day. I somehow thought that, barring the life changes thing, we’d be cruising through her babyhood with nice deep sleeps. How wrong can a girl be.


Every time Madeleine hits a developmental surge, she starts waking up a lot at night. And I never realize that’s what’s going on until it’s been going on quite a while. It always starts with an odd night-waking which quickly becomes a pattern. We struggle a week or so, gradually getting less and less sleep, until we decide to sleep-train her again. The sleep training helps a bit; she can comfort herself back to sleep quickly, but still wakes up several times a night which of course wakes us up. And then it sort of goes away on its own.


You’d think I’d recognize this happening a bit sooner now that I’ve been through it three or four times, but I don’t. One night, I’m thinking about my great daughter who sleeps through the night and probably will for the rest of her life; I can’t imagine her not sleeping through the night. The next thing I know, I’ve gone three weeks with getting up several times a night to comfort or check on her and I can’t ever remember a time when she did sleep through the night. I’m crying on the phone to a girlfriend who points out the pattern; my cries turn to sobs of relief and a renewed resolve to hold on. Maddie starts sleeping through the night again, and I quickly become smug mommy once more.


We’re in the midst of one such pattern right now. Maddie started waking about three weeks ago and hasn’t consistently stopped since then. Just last week Abby pointed out that Maddie hit a big developmental growth spurt at that time, crawling and pulling up to standing all at once. Then this morning I got one of those “Your Baby Is 41 Weeks Old” emails I still get, and right there it said, “Your baby may not be sleeping through the night any more.”


Why do I keep forgetting these things? Madeleine seems to know just how far to push me; right as I despair of ever getting several consecutive hours of sleep again, she flips that switch. And I forget. Again.


This time, I vow not to forget. I will not get mad at my daughter when she hits another growth spurt. I will remember that this, too, will pass, and she’s not irreversibly changing into an all-night party girl. I will remember that, in general, she is a great sleeper, though it seems hard to believe when she’s waking up and giving a friendly shout-out ever hour, on the hour. I will remember that it’s not my husband’s fault, even though I’m sure it somehow is at 3 a.m. Poor guy, he’s an easy target.


And I will not beat myself up when I forget. Which I will.


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