Sunday, January 23, 2011

One Week Later...

After last week, the question now is: why am I writing a post this week instead of sleeping?

When more than 200 people tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the first step to dealing with the exhaustion incurred when a child does not sleep is to find ways and moments for you, yourself, to sleep, that’s a fair question.

And I have been sleeping—downstairs while my husband takes the night shift, during "Dora the Explorer", while my two year old pushes through other children’s nap time, and in pockets here and there, whenever I can. Still, when friends, readers, and total strangers reach out in response to a question—or plea—for advice, I thought I’d write enough this week to at least say: I heard you.

I really heard you.

Lisa Belkin at The New York Times responded to my post by putting it in greater context and including it on her Motherlode column, a stroke on her part that, to me, felt like both a journalistic and magical act. All of a sudden, what had been a solitary and isolated experience became part of a larger conversation with people who, even in my most rested state, I might never meet in person. I printed the 154 comments, just as I did the comments posted on this Lunch Box Mom blog itself, and the notes sent to my private email. I put the pages in a folder, and carried it around to read while eating, or at pick-up, or before heading to bed—a collection of essential information, stories, warnings, admonishments, and support, that came at the right time.

First, there were those men and women who wrote to address the physical depletion a parent feels when he or she has experienced prolonged sleep deprivation. These were cautionary tales. The women who eventually developed seizures; a chronic disease (believed to be linked to the stress of the experience); others who had panic attacks while eating—and choked; one with neurological problems lasting longer than the child’s sleeplessness; and a dad who related three-fender benders.

There was the emotional pain--marriages, friendships, familial ties: broken.

These stories stopped me in my tracks. They were, as much as the empathy expressed alongside them, enough to wake me up from whatever pattern I was creating.

For that, I looked at the other advice sent in those emails, or posted in comments. Nap while the kid watches TV, enroll her in more (than we were already doing) daycare, trade off nights with my husband—and sleep somewhere else when I do so; get the ball rolling to find longer term escapes (a night nurse, or nanny). Co-sleeping had not gotten us much more sleep--but I was glad to know it worked for many. And, there were the wonderful and beautifully not paradoxical sentiments: to give in to the circumstances and have fortitude.

Most of the comments—and every single email sent directly to me—included a story about the writer’s child (or relative) who experienced sleep problems. Many, but not all, included a specific path towards progress, or a diagnosis that made a world of difference. Sleep apnea, sensory processing disorder, dairy protein intolerance, autism, the 1 in 20 million case of being born with liquid in the inner ear, or the unique case of an adopted child whose body contained excessive amounts of a heavy metal—needing to be cleansed; others with iron deficiencies discovered only when taken to a hospital for a comprehensive sleep study. Fixes included craniosacral work, crying it out with a lock on the door, melatonin, boring the kid with Masterpiece Theater, or exhausting them with running the stairs of an apartment building.

There were the comments posted from the other side of the spectrum—the readers who were bad sleepers when they themselves were children, or who knew people who were. The young woman who learned to swaddle herself and those who eventually used their hours of wakefulness to be highly productive. Along those lines, there was the advice to help Ava be as independent as possible, chiefly, through books and the ability to read. And, with our work with Ava now, it seems the stories about children with active imaginations, who need both intense interaction and physical exhaustion during the day, and specific coping strategies to unwind at night, children, who with age and ability, become better sleepers, were consistent with what we’ve seen in our own staggered progress.

I was struck with a deep sense of connection to the readers who wrote to say they’d “been there” that “it will get better,” and in the meantime, to find ways to sleep and “hang in there.” I laughed out loud as though I was separated from birth from the woman who wrote to say that her first thought when she felt dizzy and disoriented from sleep deprivation was to think she was being poisoned from carbon monoxide. And, I thought about what it meant that one woman, whose pre-teen now sleeps at least nine hours a night said, “I still remember that light-headed, walking on eggs feeling only too well—I suspect it will haunt me to the end of my days.”

I am deeply grateful to the people who posted comments or sent emails. They didn’t have to, and certainly what they recounted were either hard-won strategies, or memories that would have been easier and less painful not to revisit. Still, they reached out—they wrote, they helped.

Becoming sleep deprived is like walking into a forest at dusk. One bad night becomes two bad nights; two bad nights become a week; a week becomes a month, and months become years. By the time you realize you are alone in the dark, too disoriented to find your way out, it’s too late to look for a map. I wonder what parents might be given before their child is born (even if it’s their second, or third) that could establish benchmarks and strategies in the event they find themselves in this part of the woods. Something that takes the subjective, emotional part out of assessing one’s own level of depletion and makes it as much a part of our discussion of child rearing as post-partum depression. Six months, nine months, 18 months, 24 months in—how are you doing? How much sleep are you getting? If it’s less than x, then here’s what we do. Not for the kid—but for you.

Along those lines, as I’ve drifted off to sleep, I’ve had a version of a Utopian dream. Some people already live in communities that might offer this, or have a network of friends who “care-share” or belong to churches that have something similar, but as far as I know, it’s not popular in my area.

In our conspicuous age of parenting, when we have classes for every age and interest, and gadgets for every need, why don’t we address the physical and emotional needs of parents and have buildings—parts of a hospital, a church, a gym or center like those built for seniors or teens—designed specifically for parents or caretakers that is free from the distractions of home?

Here you could drop your kids off at the child care center and then retreat to a room with cots. You could sleep for two hours, or go to the library and read the paper, or to the cafĂ© and eat a meal sitting down, or go to the auditorium and hear a lecture. Then, at the end of those two hours, you’d pick up your kids.

And, life would go on.

And, now, because I heard you and I listened, I am going off to bed.


Cathy said...

Our mutual friend, Margarita, told me about a place in Bogota that is like an indoor amusement park for kids. Meanwhile, upstairs...moms can get manicures, pedicures, hair cuts, color, massages, etc. etc. and presumably could nap while the kids play. I thought this was so brilliant. It has to be coming soon....

Emily said...

Hi - glad to hear you're doing better. On the Utopian idea, depending on your circle of friends, you could try doing swaps (simplest) or starting a babysitting co-op? We have one and it's a lifesaver for a lot of us, esp. those of us who don't have extra money to spend on babysitters.

parenting ad absurdum said...

Oh good!! I'm glad you got such a positive, supportive response. It just goes to show that we parents are a village - we stand for eachother and our children!

Jennifer said...

It gets better. So much better. My 9 yr old had me in a state of semi-consciousness when he was 2. He drank bottles all night long, slept on a mattress next to my bed, and had me asking perfect strangers: "does your child sleep." I was the sleep-deprived Mom at the playground. Still seems like yesterday. My husband and I were of the "whatever works" philosophy. Good luck!

Kristi said...

I'm glad to hear you are getting rest. When you have kids, life really seems to come down the basics - is everyone fed? is everyone slept? is everyone clean and warm? But everyone has to include you too.

Leah Deragon said...

I accidentally solved my {postpartum sleep deprivation turned} insomnia when my baby was about 3 months old (and I had literally not slept for 2 and a half months) I had to have my gallbladder removed UNDER GENERAL ANESTHESIA - it reset my buttons or something and I returned from the hospital a person once again able to sleep. If I ever experience something so devastating as a brain that cannot sleep anymore I will ask for therapeutic general anesthesia... not kidding

Anonymous said...

I cried through both articles. I too have a soon to be two year old who DOES NOT SLEEP. I feel your emotional and mental struggles. Being pregnant with baby no.3 has only increased the sleeplessness. I have nothing to offer you but empathy. I can only continue to pray for us both and the other families dealing with these difficult times. I'm so glad I found your article.


Lunch Box Mom said...

Brandy--I am not sure you'll get this comment but I hope your youngest begins to sleep. I can only imagine how tired you are.
I heard from many moms who said with age (even just a year more) their kids began to sleep more soundly and I can say that was true for us. We had to adjust a lot of things to Ava, and generally, she's not as good a sleeper as her sister, but things got better--eventually. Take care of yourself--you need your rest.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you will get this comment but how are things now? Do you have any tips or maybe you've written a blog as to how things progressed now with the benefit of hindsight. Sadly we are in the middle of a 2 year sleep deprived ride with our daughter. It has put massive strain on our family relationship (I have postpartum depression as well and feel even guilty since I stay at home). Thank you.

Sarah Vander Schaaff said...

Anonymous--my heart goes out to you. Yes, it did get better. Ava is now 8, in fact, and by the age of 3.5 or so, things began to improve. But I will never be the same and I know you are in the middle of an extremely difficult time. Having postpartum depression, and being sleep deprived, must feel particularly lonely and painful.
As for others understanding--I am not sure they do, unless they have been through it themselves. There is sometimes a sense that the mom and dad must be doing something wrong. And you're doing your best, for sure.
I do not know what support yu have, but if it's possible to get some sleep for yourself--having a friend come over during the day or having your husband take the full sleep duty at night, you need to get a few days of real sleep. It's hard, because you're probably over-tired and finding it hard to actually sleep when you're allowed.
As for new sleep training techniques--having Ava in full day (when I went back to work) helped her nap in the afternoon. She never did that with me, oddly enough.
Having the "treat" for when she did stay in her own bed all night--something she liked that was wrapped up in paper, that was her reward, certainly helped give her an incentive.
We also had to get a 15 watt lightbulb--that stayed on all night.
We drew a picture together of her sleeping in her own bed that we taped by her bed.
Music did not help, but some kids do like "" or "" not sure which it is--sorry. Or they like books on tape to listen to while they fall asleep.
I am not sure if you are still nursing, but sometimes when you stop, that helps the child, as well. intuitive, but I have heard from a few moms for whom that was the case.
Be kind to yourself. Take care. And know that for most people, things do improve as the child gets older. All the hard work we did actually paid off. Ava sleeps well, and in her own bed. She is bright and curious and very sensitive to her world. I see how those traits contributed to her sleep problems when she was young. Her mind does not easily let go of the day. She does not have ADHD, but she is a a receptive creature. You may discover the same is true for you--and look back and say it now all makes sense. But in the meantime, turn to those who can help you get some sleep. It may not be your own family, but a friend or a babysitter.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for your response and I'm so glad that things have worked out for you. It does give me hope in the midst of this tempest. The postpartum depression has caused me to have major anxiety and rage (like Incredible Hulk rage) and this is directed at my husband. He hasn't said it but I know he may be thinking about splitting. He is a great dad and provider and is so good with our daughter. But all we do is fight. 2 years of this when many other parents talk about the "dreaded" first 3 to 6 months. Try 24 months or more.

I will certainly take your tips into consideration. And I agree with some of your other posts: CIO, Ferber, pickup/put down, noise machine, black out curtains, rewards, special pillow, mattress, etc and etc just don't seem to work with her. I read a book "Raising Your Spirited Child" and she is that. Intense even when she is awake.

I can see that she is smart. Always on. Even at night. I suppose this is where some of it comes from. We have a baby sitter that helps but it is not all week as I'm a stay at home mom. My sleep deficit is probably deeper than the Grand Canyon.