Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sleep (and random thoughts on newborns)

I should be sleeping, but instead I'm writing about it.

Perhaps to compensate us for stealing so much of our own sleep, newborns make the most wonderful sounds in theirs. I didn't appreciate this the last time around. I was too exhausted, frustrated and desperate for my life to return to normal, but my brain still stored the sounds somewhere and now I can recall them with nostalgia anyway. La Petite's crib is next to our bed, wedged against the wall on my side so that I can lean over and scoop her up to nurse in the middle of the night. As I was falling asleep last night, I listened, reassured, to her squeaks and sighs. Newborns smack their lips as if they were dreaming of nursing, and from time to time they make a contented noise that sounds like they're simultaneously clearing their throat and purring. I should record it so that I can listen to it again, when I'm well-rested myself.

* * *

We were all convinced, from my second day at the hospital on, that la Petite was less "high needs" than her brother at the same age. She seemed to sleep better, she could be put down in her crib, and she could be soothed easily by both me and my husband. Now I wonder, however, if it is just that we're more competent this time around. When she wants to nurse three times in a row, I don't question it. When she only wants to fall asleep in my arms, I hold her, or find my baby carrier. When she wakes up four or more times at night (as she still does more nights than not), I'm unsurprised. When le Petit was born, I spent the first month desperately trying to impose a feeding schedule, to teach him self-soothe himself to sleep, or to make him fall asleep in places he didn't want to. I was bitter and exhausted, and I wondered when and if normalcy would ever return. Then I spent the second month admitting what a real newborn is like, and learning new strategies to make it work. This time that competency is already in place. I'm still waking up four or more times a night, but I sit up, pick up la Petite, lean into the mound of pillows at the head of my bed, put her to breast and close my eyes, unworried and usually very shortly asleep myself.

The broken nights are still getting to me, though. That's the other big difference, however: this time I know that it will get better soon enough.

* * *

La Petite has dark blue eyes, a thin fold line at the bridge of her nose, and a soft cap of scarce, downy hair. Her feet are delicate and proportionally tiny, and her fingers slender and surprisingly long. She looks wise when she's awake, peaceful when she's asleep, and I imagine that right now she could explain the meaning of life to me but will forget it all before she learns to talk. When she's upset, she turns red, scrunches up her eyes and nose and opens her toothless mouth as wide as she can -- but in that, she's simply like every other newborn.

(Why don't we ever think to take pictures of them crying? Are we afraid of documenting our own incompetence? Now that we've got two kids to try to simultaneously capture on film, there are a few unfortunate pictures where la Petite is noticably unhappy--or le Petit has his finger in his nose--duly documented for posterity.)

I once asked my dad if I was cute when I was born. He replied, "No, but you got cute fast." He meant well, but I was highly unsatisfied with this response. OK, I admit, I took it a bit too personally.

If my children ask, I'll tell them what I hold to be true. They weren't cute at birth. They were beautiful.

* * *

Before la Petite was born, if I tried to sleep in after le Petit and my husband were both awake, le Petit would run into our bedroom, climb onto our bed, clamber up next to me, jump on my back and yell into my ear, "Wake up!" He repeated himself loudly until I finally, reluctantly, got out of bed. He usually speaks to me in French, but for this important task he resorted to English.

Now that la Petite has arrived and is often sleeping in her crib or on my lap when le Petit wakes up, he makes a quieter entrance. He still climbs on the bed and jumps onto my back, but then he asks quietly, "Tu peux laisser [la Petite] dormir?" He wants to know, can I let her sleep without me or does she still need me? No matter how short the night seemed, I usually pull myself up and stumble off to a family breakfast, much less reluctantly than I did before.


Nadine said...

Children are definitely more relaxed when there is another child around, I noticed it with my own. Or maybe I was just more relaxed second time round?

Cloud said...

I decided that we had an easier time with Petunia than Pumpkin because she WAS an easier baby, but also because we were more experienced. We just worry about the sleep less, and I think that is key. I don't really think we can "fix" babies sleep as much as we think we can, but we can fix our approach to it! And being calmer about sleep makes the inevitable bad times easier to deal with.

Jac. said...

I am in awe that you enjoy the newborn sleep sounds. I really dislike them. DD has come home a much better sleeper than her brother was and I could be quite well rested at the moment BUT she makes so many noises in her sleep that I have a hard time staying asleep. I think I still suffer from PTSD from DS who woke every 45 minutes. Every time DD snuffles or squeaks my heart starts to race and I am convinced she is going to wake up.

DS has also modified his morning routine. Now, instead of tearing into our room yelling "Mr. Sun is up!" (he has a Good Nite Lite), he tiptoes in, climbs into bed with me and cuddles me. If DD is on me, he kisses and cuddles her too. It's really adorable. He has adjusted so much better than I thought he would.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Nadine - all I know is that the more relaxed I am, the more relaxed they seem to be, too. Unfortunately it works in the other direction, too, when I'm stressed...

@Cloud - so far, I'm sure that la Petite's sleep is more consolidated than le Petit's at her age (not that she's "sleeping through" by the traditional definition, but I'll get one 3, 4, or even 5-hour stretch on particularly good nights, which is heaven to me), she's MUCH easier to transfer from arms to bed, and she's way less sensitive to noises. I remember we didn't flush the toilet at night for months after le Petit was born. And -- although I keep expecting this to go away in some sleep regression -- she can *sometimes* (rarely, exceptionally) even go to sleep herself when she's put down super-drowsy with a very full tummy.

Otherwise, we're way less worried about what we know now to be normal. Putting her down asleep only to hear her cry five minutes later, eating with her in my lap nursing, dancing around the room with her in the Moby while I'm on the phone... all that seems normal to us now, when the first time around it drove us CRAZY, at least in the beginning.

@Jac - Le Petit woke up every 45 minutes in the beginning, too, and he did this wonderful wide awake from 2 to 5 am thing which should make me suffer from PTSD, but oddly doesn't. The noises also don't bug me because I can sleep through almost anything -- at least now that the anxiety-producing, insomnia-inducing post-partum hormonal crap is mostly over.

Le Petit loves to give me and la Petite hugs, too. He's adapting well, and wants to run and help when he hears her cry (often when we would rather let her fuss it out a bit, but anyway). The only manifestation of jealousy at the moment is that he often "cries" (as in, makes a really obnoxious loud noise) when she does, in an "I can be just as annoying as she is, watch" thing that makes me crazy. Anyway, I figure if that's the biggest issue he has at the moment, I'm lucky.