Monday, April 27, 2009

By Way of Update (Lessons Learned from Sleepless Nights)

So, if you are readers who also happen to know me in my real life (or you happen to also be a friend on Facebook or you are a family member) then you know that my toddler is going in for surgery on Thursday. J has obstructive sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Since he is too young to have his tonsils removed the surgeon is only pulling out his adenoids but she is hopeful that this will do the trick. J has had sleep problems since he was born and all 21 months of his life have been a test of my endurance. I feel like I have a lot riding on this surgery--you know, like my sanity--and if this doesn't get us all some sleep I'm not sure what we'll do.

Anyway, I bring this up for a couple reasons:

1) to apologize for low quality blogging of late. All the sleepless nights have caught up with me and I feel like I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth (forgive the use of a cliche. I'm tired.). The other day I told my father I was overcome by a tremendous sense of ennui but since reading this post by Patricia Karamesines I have come to realize that what I am feeling is torpor. My blog posts have really been reflecting my torpidity lately, sorry. Several readers have emailed me topics to muse on and I'm excited to get to those soon!

2) to explain the soapbox I'm about to get up on :)

*Warning* Soapbox!! *Warning*

Being awake a lot at night with a cranky baby (who is now a cranky toddler) has given me a lot of time to reflect. I've learned a lot about my patience threshold, the importance of napping (aka cognitive consolidation time), and--this is the most important one--the necessity of listening to your children.

Thanks to my PPD and my young age, I was completely lost with my first baby. Naturally I did what any good college graduate would do and scoured the library for parenting books and read them over and over and over. When I came across confident so-called parenting experts I believed them, regardless of their credentials. This was especially true when it came to sleep.

My oldest, N, was also a terrible sleeper. She would wake up every forty-five minutes at night and cry and cry. I would have to rock her endlessly while singing every Primary song I knew. A lot of the time I cried with her. I was exhausted and miserable and she was moody and anxious. I knew that sleep was part of the issue and, at the recommendation of lots of friends, I tried to "Ferber" her when she was six months old. It was a complete disaster. I remember putting earplugs in and sitting outside the house just to drown out her screams for a few minutes. She would cry for hours and hours. The book, and my friends, were confident that the method would work and that I just needed to give it time and no matter what I shouldn't give up and hold her. After three or four days I did give up and snuggled her to sleep and we resumed our truce of rocking and singing. Now, I don't think that N had acid reflux disease (like J) or sleep apnea (like J--he's a complicated kid!) but I do think that this reaction fits her personality. Because she is naturally anxious and distrustful she needs/needed a lot of reassurance that she would be okay. When she was ten months old she started having nightmares and night terrors. She could talk a bit by then and would tell me about them. When she woke up screaming at night I just went in and snuggled her because I knew that's what she needed. Around the same time she learned to fall asleep on her own. I don't think that's a coincidence.

My second, E, was a relatively good sleeper from the start--she would only wake up two or three times a night. More of an observer than an emoter, it took a lot to get her really wailing but once she started there was no turning back (that's still the truth to this day). I started working on my book about the Holocaust shortly after she was born and I found that it made me grateful for her. Reading and studying about all the women who lost children and who were forcibly sterilized made me cherish her and when she would wake at night I would hold her and love her and she usually settled back to sleep easily. And, on the occasions where I did let her cry, she would fall asleep.

J, is a special case because of all of his conditions (have I mentioned the eczema? Oi! The eczema!), but I had learned a lot from my first two and I was grateful for him. I felt like I could trust my gut a little more. J wouldn't/couldn't lay flat and had a lot of gas. He would startle and wake up screaming. He would flail his arms and scratch his face and rub his feet on any rough surface. He sounded honestly distressed. So he and I co-slept for the first 7 months of his life. I had always said that was something I would NEVER do, but it was the only thing that worked. I would prop myself up on pillows on the couch so I was sitting up and lay him across my chest and he would sleep. We would still pace the floor at night sometimes, but he was calm and I was calm. Once we started treating the acid reflux disease and the eczema he improved a lot and was able to nap. Since the new year we've been figuring out this whole sleep apnea thing and, while I am exhausted, I am so glad that I followed my intuition. And, you know, I'm still willing to hold him and calm him through the bad times because I know that's what he needs.

So here's the gist of my soapbox (in case you couldn't find it in the midst of all my ramblings): Listen to your kids. As children of God they come with an innate wisdom in their spirits. They'll tell you what they need if you stop and try to see things from their point of view and really listen. Throw out all the "experts" or anyone else who touts a one-size-fits-all answer. Each child is unique and will need an individualized approach. Don't be afraid to give them what they need--even if you don't understand why they need it. And never hesitate to be compassionate. Compassion can get you a long way in stressful situations. I think there is a communication between parent and child, something special that comes with that holy bond, your spirit and their spirit can understand each other. As long as you try to listen.

Oh, and if you're still reading, thanks for taking the time! You made my day :)


Kelly said...

I enjoyed very much reading this post. Your "oi, eczema" made me smile -- I can hear you saying it. But when you said "the skin of my teeth" I just wanted to let you know you weren't being cliche, you were just quoting scripture. See Job 19:20. Best of luck the next couple of days! Your family will be in our prayers. Love ya lots!

Charlotte said...

I'm listening to my kids right now... as they fight. Sigh. Anyhow, I'm so glad that you are so in tune with your kids! They are so blessed to have you as their mommy. You and J will be in our prayers for a successful surgery & hopefully some blissful nights of peace for everyone!

mary lou said...

Amen to the other comments! I too am learning to give compassion and listen, and give a lot more understanding in situations with my autistic son. I told my oldest, "If I'd had K first, I'd have been a lot better mother." But, maybe not. Maybe it just takes going through each experience and learning as we go. Thanks for a great post!

Katie Langston said...

Good luck with the surgery, Laura!! I'll keep you guys in my prayers. My little one has always been a good sleeper, which is one reason why the idea of having another kid some day seriously stresses me out! I don't do well without sleep... :)

Th. said...


Down with Torpor! Up with Surgery!


Lura said...

Amen! Listen to your kids and give them what they need :) Bedtime routines for my two guys are very different, because THEY are so different! I need to spend a lot more time with my four-year-old than with my two-year-old. And once he does go to sleep, he usually wakes up in the middle of the night and comes into my bed. And you know what? I let him, because he needs that extra security. I just keep telling myself it won't last forever.

Becky Edgeworth said...

As a fellow exercise addict/LDS mom I follow Charlotte's blog and can quite relate. After reading your entry I have to say that you have a special gift as a mother. It sounds like you have really been through some difficult challenges and while I have 4 kids of my own sleep has never been a HUGE issue. So I want to say that I admire your attitude and your willingness to listen to your children (and not throw them out the window like I might have been tempted to do!!). I hope you really feel good about your mothering skills and I hope the surgery works!!

Shante said...

Sometimes I feel guilty for co-sleeping because other people say "how could you do such a thing?!". It was nice to read this post and feel like I'm the one in charge here, I'm the one "listening" to my child and with time we'll figure things out together. Thanks.