Motherhood Monday: Sleeping Through The Night

May 25, 2015

Also titled:  "The Parental Holy Grail of Triumph and Mastery"

It is the subject of many opinions and much controversy.  
Sleeping-through-the-night: is it a genetic thing?  or is it all about environmental factors? (aka: nature vs nurture.  Super light stuff in this post.)  

If it is all nature, do we give up and just let them decide when they want to sleep longer stretches?  If it is all nurture, do we need to be hyper vigilant about every time we feed, rock and burp the baby on top of the list of 1000 other things there are to worry about as a fresh parent?  (the word 'fresh' is being used quite facetiously)

I would love to speak candidly about the journey I have had towards sleeping through the night.  Illness, teething, and other life-upsets play a part in the brief hiatuses we encounter from time to time... but overall, I can now confidently ask someone to come and hang out at my house after Reece or I puts Pipes to bed before going out and know that they will likely spend the evening on Instagram or watching Friends reruns.  << clearly the best criteria for a babysitter: they need to be old enough to remember when Friends wasn't just reruns.

 For me, there were so many tears shed over sleep, but not before there was some pretty epic bliss.    From the outset, she was amazing at snoozing.   Cocky first time mom that I was, this didn't surprise me.  I read Bringing Up Bebe and other sleep training books when I was pregnant... I was going to have a baby who slept through before the 'three month window' slammed in my face. P was getting 5 hour stretches, then 6, 7...even 9 or 10 at times.  The relief, the gratefulness (and if I'm honest, a lot of pride and accomplishment) that flooded through me during this time... it was real and it felt good.  I worked hard.  I put her down to sleep.  I 'paused' and waited when she fussed to see if she would settle herself instead of offering her food right away to shut her up.  I was mindful.  I was not careless Blah, Blah Blah.  All the right stuff to set myself up for a chest-puffed-out bragging sesh: my baby who sleeps through before three months.

Then, to my utter despair, we ran into a few problems.  Projectile vomiting, choking every single time she ate (my letdown was like a fire hose), and cries of pain were a new, unwelcome addition to my life.  Still maintaining my routine, she did... ok... despite all the setbacks and struggles.  As time lumbered on, I had to hold her a lot more to comfort her ease the reflux pain.  I went to doctors, lactation specialists, etc... there was lots of carting around my carseat-full-of-baby around getting help and making sure I was doing everything I could to keep her well fed and comfortable.  If you've ever had a reflux baby, you know that feeding makes the pain go away.  So this whole 'put them down awake' thing, you can't do it.  I tried.  Believe me, ask my husband.  I was a bit of a dictator over that period of time regarding sleep.

Gradually, I think that even though I stuck with all the points I learned during my research,  her ability to sleep was hindered by the pain she felt upon wake up and before actually falling asleep.  All that waking up, maybe it caused her to form new habits. Every night, every wake up, I blamed myself.  I thought there must be something I screwed up.  Because my perfect sleeper just stopped.  I obsessed over everything.  I made sleep journals; my tears of frustration freckled and warped them.  Why wasn't she sleeping?  What did I do?

 Then I read this study and it brought me a little peace.  Night time sleep appears to be largely genetic, while daytime sleep is more influenced by environment (aka, parenting and the like).  So how my baby would sleep was determined more or less at conception.  There are ways to maximize your situation, for sure.  That is where the routines and positive sleep habits come in handy... even if it does just maintain a daily, predictable rhythm to keep you as a parent on track.  Hard work does pay off... somewhat.  However, like many things in life, just because you work hard doesn't mean that you weren't already at an advantage.  Being mindful of our advantages, I believe, makes us more grateful and less naive. 

For instance:  my darling niece is a few months younger than Piper.  She sleeps like a darling rock.  You can enter the room, turn on the light, talk in a normal voice, have a little jam to some Justin Beiber, then turn off the light again.  She will continue to slumber like nothing strange occurred.  She never had this strict bedtime from what I could tell... her parents just sort of followed her cues and escorted her along to various social events and activities and she just does her thing.  Snoozing really, really well.  My mother describes both my brother and I as babies in precisely this way.  It became apparent at the family Christmas that these two cousins did not toe the same line.  My poor light-sleeping reflux baby started a good few hundred metres behind...  In the spirit of being grateful, however, I must say she didn't start at the very back of the pack.  For me, the sleeplessness felt impregnable and everlasting but I know there are ones who suffered far more miserable false starts that I.  

Maybe you're like me and ended up with the shorter end of the stick sleep genetics wise, but still swore and cried and spent hours of precious sleep time poring over books claiming to have answers.  To you I say, you aren't alone.  Fetal positions have been maintained, tears cried, pillows screamed into.  I'm just being real, here.  Sleep is bliss, but getting there can be a tough road.  We're not lazy.  We're not undisciplined.  We just gave birth to a genetically complex human being.  People need to stop pretending its like unboxing an apple watch.

End candid speech.

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