Monday, March 03, 2008

White nights

Last night just as my worried thoughts were dissolving into more peaceful dreams, I heard that too-familiar first cry over the baby monitor.

I rolled over and blinked at the clock: 12:20 a.m. It has been taking me longer to fall asleep lately, and le Petit has some sixth sense that allows him to wake up just after I finally drift off. I groaned and cursed aloud, then squeezing my eyes shut, let him toss and whine for a few minutes. Sometimes he resettles himself. This time he didn't. I got out of bed, found my sweater, and went into his room where I scooped him up from his crib and sat down with him in the recliner.

To think that beat-up old leather recliner was almost thrown out in the Great Reorganization that preceded le Petit's arrival! I've spent hours in that chair, so grateful for the footstool and the arm rests that let me nap with him in my arms. Last night, however, I was wide awake and unhappy, and not about to doze off with a smile on my lips in some portrait of maternal bliss.

Le Petit fell asleep at the breast, but each time I gently pulled him away he squirmed awake. I eventually got frustrated and put him half-asleep in his crib where he promptly woke up and started to scream, while I ran off to my bedroom to bury my head in my pillows and scream myself.

My husband dutifully climbed out of bed and headed to le Petit's bedroom. We have a good cop/bad cop routine, where he takes over nighttime parenting when my patience has worn out. In my husband's arms, le Petit alternated all-out screaming with desperate sobbing. I admire my husband, because when le Petit knows that Mommy is somewhere in the house, all his cuddles and attention are rejected. I eventually took a deep breath and went back in to take over.

It took three attempts at nursing him down and almost two hours before le Petit was finally asleep for the night. In the middle of it all, my husband and I had the cry-it-out discussion. Again.

My husband, in his frustration, told me that le Petit simply needs to learn to fall asleep on his own without the breast, and if that means letting him cry, so be it. The trouble is, we know our son too well. His crying only escalates. Five minutes of crying would accomplish nothing, nor would ten, nor would thirty, if his protracted fits of fury in the car seat are any indication. He will not give up, and on a certain level, I bless him for it: this is a child who will make sure his needs are met.

My husband is not cold or uncaring when he suggests letting le Petit cry. This is the dad who takes middle of the night diaper duty, who has cooked every dinner for the last nine months, and who proudly carries his son around town whenever he can. He just wants so desperately to take care of all three of us that he's searching for a solution, and a solution simply doesn't exist at the moment.

I've read the books. I know the advice. But I simply can't put le Petit down awake right now. Left alone in his crib at bedtime, he cries inconsolably. I also can't prevent him from waking up at night and staying awake for hours sometimes.

It occurred to me last night that falling asleep is the single hardest thing le Petit has had to learn to do in his short life. I don't want to abandon him to just figure it out on his own, like throwing him in the pool and expecting him to discover how to swim. And I have to admit that he is learning pretty well. We have many good nights, often with only one quick wake up, and the occasional two- or three- hour party in the middle of the night and the bedtimes that stretch to an hour are probably just part of being almost eight months old. If I'm not there for him during this tough spot, what kind of precedent does that set for all the other difficult things he'll face growing up?

In the end, all I can do is set the stage with a solid bedtime routine, a calm presence, and plenty of love. Now when I'm sitting in the old recliner with le Petit curled up in my lap, I will remind myself that these moments of just being with him as he falls asleep will not last forever. Holding him in my arms, feeling his slight weight, listening to his breathing, I'll soon struggle to remember all these things and wish they hadn't passed by so quickly. Now I see how "this too shall pass" becomes "this was over before I had time to cherish it."

It won't be easy to remember all this at three a.m., but I promise le Petit and myself that I will do my best.


meera said...

thank you for your thoughtful post. i've found that it is rather difficult to let go of the idea that there is something i should be doing to 'fix' my daughter's sleep, especially when it seems as if everything i read is telling me otherwise. it is so nice to read a post like this, and know that someone else feels rather the same way - that perhaps the best 'solution' is simply love and patience.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Thank you! It helps to hear from another sensitive mom when so much of what you hear is "What, he's *still* not sleeping through the night?"

Perhaps it is because things have gotten so much better than they were at the beginning, but I'm convinced that time is the key. And I decided that being a sensitive parent was more important than "solving" the sleep problem... even if I thought it could be solved. I guess cry it out works for some kids, but I am certain it wouldn't work for le Petit and it would hurt me too much to try it.

I have been giving le Petit a lovey to snuggle with while nursing the last couple nights, then leaving it with him in bed. I'm not sure it makes a difference, but we'll see.