Monthly Archives: March 2013

Learning without training

Baby Love’s sleep seems to be FINALLY (*knock wood…knock all the wood*) turning a corner (*frantic knocking*). With our new nanny, E, she is more happy and relaxed and that is translating to better sleep.

I never sleep trained Baby Love. I tried a variation of cry-it-out once, and half-tried it a second time, and both times decided it was not for us. I am a big believer in the philosophy that babies’ wants ARE needs, which does not go well with CIO. Even if Baby Love just wanted the comfort of my presence or my boob in the middle of the night, to her that was a need. She had no life experience or tools in her tool box to draw on to deal with discomfort or fear or loneliness in other ways. How could I deny her the one thing she knew she could draw on to calm down, me, and leave her with nothing? It was just not my parenting style. Even if she didn’t “need” to eat in the night after 6 or 8 months, she “needed” my comfort. And that need was just as valid.

I nursed her to sleep for almost every bed time. Whenever she awoke in the night, I nursed her back to sleep.

Within this framework, I set her up to succeed.

I made sure she was rested so she wasn’t so over tired she couldn’t sleep.

I didn’t respond to every little sound, a classic reason I hear people give that babies still wake 4-6 times a night after 6 months like Baby Love did. I understood this idea in theory, but it was pretty clear if Baby Love was going to need me or not: when she needed me she woke up screaming. When she cried for me, I went to her, even if it was for the 8th time that night. I might have been exhausted, but I went, and quickly. No leaving her to cry for minutes on end to try to “teach” her to self-soothe by leaving her without soothing.

I helped her learn to put herself to sleep by giving her the opportunity to do so, but I’d still go back if she needed me and was crying. One day I left her to play in her crib at nap time, something she would often do for as much as an hour before crying for me to help her come fall asleep, and when I checked on her on the video monitor she had fallen asleep on her own. From that day on she fell asleep on her own at nap time regularly. This falling asleep on her own, however, in no way affected her nighttime awakenings. For Baby Love, falling asleep and falling BACK asleep are two very different things.

Then, finally, all on her own, Baby Love was ready to sleep more soundly. She very suddenly started waking up in the night, crying out once or twice or for 30 seconds, shifting to a new position, and going right back to sleep.

I was astounded.

By this point, at about 9.5 months old, I had resigned myself to the idea that we were in for the long haul and her sleep would likely be bad until she was around 2 years old, when children’s sleep habits are supposed to become more adult-like. I had tried all of the gentle methods to get her to sleep better, none of which made a difference, and that was as far as I was willing to take it. I had given up on the techniques weeks or months before and settled in to our apparent normal. I continued to set her up to succeed and nurture her so she knew she could count on me, but I refused to do any overt “training”.

And yet, she taught herself.

When she was ready, she did it.

Since this epiphany on her part a few weeks ago, her sleep has been improving markedly. Even though she has been the sickest she has ever been in her life with an icky head cold over the past week, she is sleeping better than she ever has. She only needs me twice a night much of the time. Any more, four wake-ups is a bad night, instead of a great one. I am getting more, continuous sleep. She is getting more, continuous sleep. It is a beautiful thing.

As her sleep has improved I better understand all of the sleep tips I received. I now don’t go to her as soon as she wakes, because even with an initial loud cry she’ll often put herself right back to sleep. In the past this wasn’t the case, and waiting 5 minutes just led to 5 minutes of continuous screaming (I tried it once for 3 days, not once did she “not really need me” or would I have been responding too fast). I can even understand cry-it-out at this stage, though I still wouldn’t choose it, because now she has the tools she would need to be able to put herself to sleep even when she doesn’t want to. Before this point in her life she did not have these tools, and leaving her to cry and cry would only have taught her that she was utterly alone and could not count on me. Now it might force her to access these skills. (Again, I’d rather let her learn to access them herself, but at least now I see that it could work even if it’s not my preferred path.)

Watching her develop on her own has been a great lesson to me:

I do know my child best.

I was given all of the sleep advice under the sun. I got judged left and right by parents with every age of child. I got told I was doing it wrong, I was coddling her, I was harming her, I just needed to try x and our sleep problems would disappear.

I listened to the advice and the judgement, and then continued to do what felt right for Baby Love.

Looking at where she was from birth to 9 months, and looking at where she is now at 10 months, it is night and day. That sleep advice would NOT have worked before now on her (which is probably why it didn’t). Now it could. Other babies may be ready for it at 6 months, or even 4 months, but mine wasn’t until 9.5.

Just like with every other development that our children go through, variation is normal. I would never strap her into a walker and force her to try to walk for hours a day so she would learn that on my schedule. Trying to force her to conform to sleep training techniques, even gentle ones, before she was ready for them would have been similarly pointless and detrimental.

I’m glad I decided to trust my baby and follow her lead. For us, it worked. Now not only am I sleeping better, I am trusting my mommy superpowers more. I know my child.

We will have sleep regressions. I know that. But we are progressing. And there is light at the end of the tunnel.

And if I do end up needing to do some gentle training down the line, I know, now, that she is ready for it.

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Speaking my (love) language

Call me a materialist, but my love language is receiving gifts. It’s not that I like having stuff, it’s that, to me, gifts express thought and caring and communicate love very clearly. I feel loved when I receive a considered, thoughtful gift, no matter the size.

This is very foreign to my hubby, whose love language is decidedly not gifting. Gifts were never a big deal in his family, and they just aren’t something he ever put that much thought or effort into. It’s not that he didn’t care about the people he was getting gifts for, it was that giving a gift didn’t have much of a deeper meaning attached to it for him.

Over almost ten years of being together and almost five years of marriage, my hubby has learned how important gifts are to me and  has learned to speak my love language.

Right now he’s away at work (on a Saturday, boo), but I am feeling very loved,

eating the expensive meat and cheese he bought me when he was doing the grocery shopping because he knows I love it but would never spend money on it,

staring at the beautiful roses he got me because he knew I’d appreciate their unique coloration,

remembering the delicious dinner he picked up for us from Pita Pit last night because the closest one is an hour away but his work took him close to it and he knows how addicted I am to it.

I don’t talk about my hubby much on here, but I am so grateful to have a man who cares about me enough to learn to show me in the ways that speak loudest to me.

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What a difference a nanny makes

When I began student teaching we hired a nanny to take care of Baby Love. I sifted through almost 30 applications to the position, phone interviewed close to a dozen applicants, and interviewed two in-person. We thought we had found the perfect person to take care of our sweet daughter while I was unable to.

We were wrong.

It soon became apparent that the nanny, Z, and us were on different pages. I would request she do something one way, I would learn later she did it a different way (after agreeing to do it mine). For example, she was a big believer in schedules. We keep Baby Love on a loose schedule, but she’s such a tough sleeper we stay flexible to meet her daily needs. We told Z to let Baby Love sleep in as long as she would and to just adjust naps a little later if she slept late. Sleeping in usually meant a bad night, and she needed the sleep so she didn’t get a sleep deficit and then have a harder time sleeping the next night, get a bigger deficit, etc. I learned after many weeks that Z had been waking Baby Love at exactly 8AM every morning if she wasn’t already awake, despite these instructions. I told her to not let Baby Love cry herself to sleep. She didn’t seem to mind if she screamed herself out (for short periods, if it got too long she’d go in there…I think). I just didn’t trust that my daughter was being taken care of the way I asked.

On top of that we had habits that annoyed each other. She brought her 14 month old with her (which we were fine with in theory), and he ended up being a whirlwind force who got into everything. We babyproofed, but the amount of stuff we had around annoyed her. I’d regularly come home to find something thrown out of the room she watched the kids in primarily…like my Roomba, which had charged in that room…or a single pair of shoes I forgot to move after taking them off the night before and she threw in front of a heater and ruined. I was annoyed by her uncleanliness. I have berry stains in my carpet from where her child threw berries and she didn’t pick them up or clean the stain. And so on.

Worst of all, Baby Love was stressed by the transition away from being with mom. She wasn’t eating very much at all. We almost completely lost her EC. Her sleep was backslid and flatlined at about the worst it had ever been. She’d cry and fuss at least once a day, and would fuss herself to sleep for every nap. She was unhappy.

After being with us for about a month (out of the 14 weeks she committed to) she told us she may have gotten another job for after her time with us ended, but that it started about 2 weeks before ours ended. She said since that job was permanent she’d do whatever she had to to get it, including leaving us early, despite previously committing repeatedly. Then she told me the date. It was actually 4.5 weeks before she was supposed to stop with us. She was leaving us with 1/3 of the job still to go.

I was upset. I had been trying to let the annoyances go, thinking that it was just part of having a nanny and I was being a control freak. Baby Love was stressed, but I thought it was just that Z was not-me, not that she was bad in any way. She was another person “living” in our house for much of the day, and we all had to adjust. I wasn’t sure how I could find someone else we could trust, since we had had to weed out so many people with what we could afford to pay. As much as Z annoyed me, we were at least settling into each other. I didn’t want to start the process over. Nevertheless, we began the search again.

Z told us she got the job on Friday.

That evening I put up a position.

Over the week several people applied, including E. I phone interviewed many. On the following Sunday we arranged to meet with E. And fell in love.

She was fantastic. A calm but competent presence. She had no formal experience, but we still trusted her to take care of our daughter. She was pregnant with her first child, who she had just learned was a girl, and doted on Baby Love.

We hired her an hour later. She started on Tuesday (since the hubby was home on Monday).

I came home that Tuesday and was amazed. Baby Love was so calmly happy to see me. With Z she had always been borderline frantic, borderline melting down, happy to see me in a “OH MY GOSH MOMMY HI PLEASE PICK ME UP HOW ARE YOU!?” kind of way. With E she was just…content. Happy. Peaceful. She beamed at me. It was the same kind of reaction the hubby gets when he comes home and Baby Love has been with me. A, “Oh, hi mom! I’m glad you’re here! Want to play with us?” kind of reaction.

I talked with E about the day. It went fabulously. Baby Love didn’t cry. At all. Zero fussing. Zero crying. She let E rock her to sleep in her arms on the first day she stayed with her! She peed on the potty for her. She ate a generous amount of bottle and solids. She was happy.

I was happy. E was nice and calm and assured but willing to do whatever I wanted. She felt like this was a wonderful job with a wonderful child, rather than something beneath her for not enough pay, and that attitude showed. I felt comfortable inquiring about things, requesting things, letting her know how we did things, and felt I’d be listened to rather than be an annoyance.

As time has gone on the change has been INCREDIBLE. Baby Love has never been as stressed as she was during her weeks with Z. Her nighttime sleep is steadily, sharply increasing as E stays with us. I cannot stress enough how amazing this is for this sleep-deprived mama! She still naps for E relatively easily, getting much longer and better naps on a flexible schedule. She eats an appropriate amount of bottles and solids. Her EC is back.

I had no idea how stressed we all were with Z until she was gone. E is like a breath of fresh air. I am so happy. SO happy.

You better believe E will be getting one well-thought-out baby gift from us!

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