Marietta Elizabeth.

153-EW062018This little nugget is a month old, and I’m finally writing a little bit about her birth, mostly so that I remember how it happened. I swear my brain didn’t totally fall out after Henry was born but this time- it is fried. Things I have forgotten lately include but are not to limited to my own address, times for doctor’s appointments, and basic words in the  English language.

I swore that this time, I would be a chill mom, calmly awaiting her child’s birth, instead of a crazy who was trying to have a baby early to make it to a wedding. But alas- I am just not a chill person. The waiting and uncertainty of when will a baby come kills me, and as I have absolutely no problem with highly medicated birth experiences (Pitocin for president), I started asking for an induction at 39 weeks at my very first routine appointment. Yes, I am such a gem. But since Henry’s birth was a couple weeks early and I was admitted at almost 7 cm dilated but with ZERO contractions, James and I were both nervous about having a baby in the car en route to our (rather far away) hospital.

Tangent which merits its own paragraph: I totally researched car births to be prepared, and my biggest takeaway was that you must call 911, even if you deliver yourself and then drive on somewhere. Without a record of an emergency call, some car cleaning companies will not clean your car, lest you be lying and you actually committed a homicide and are trying to hide evidence. You heard it here, Friends. Don’t say I never did anything for you. SPring2018-81

But I digress. When I tested positive for Group B Strep, my doctors joined the nervous ranks, cautioning me that I needed at least 4 hours of hospital labor receiving antibiotics before pushing. They decided that if I started my wild dilating sans contractions again, we might push for an induction early, which had me ECSTATIC. I was fully prepared to show up at my 38 week appointment, find out I was 5 cm dilated, and then breeze over to the hospital and get that epidural before nary a twinge of pain disturbed my serene soul.

The Saturday before said anticipated appointment was Henry’s birthday. Following the celebrations, I announced to James that we had to get ALL THE THINGS done, as it could be the last weekend I was pregnant. We cleaned out the fridge, took down and bleached the curtains (don’t be impressed- this is the first time I have ever done that and they were stained with red wine from a party two years ago), located the infant car seat, did mountains of purging and paperwork, and James packed a hospital bag, complete with all his toiletries. I laughed at him and how he would have to live out of it for the next couple days, but SPOILER- one of us did not have any shampoo at the hospital and I shall let you guess who.  James kept insisting that I was in a final nesting push, and I kept reminding him that I was just in a final procrastinating purge swan song. SPring2018-82

That night we were settled in for a good TV binge, and I was bemoaning my 8000 months pregnant miserable state that prevented any comfortable position. I kept having terrible back pain, and in a weird moment of clairvoyance, I texted our DC family to announce that I was so uncomfortable that I might just go to the hospital in the middle of the night. Please keep your phones off silent tonight, I begged, because I am definitely not in labor, but I sure am miserable. True, I had no frame of reference to know what a contraction was, but the hive mind of the internet told me it felt like a fist clenching, only that fist was your stomach, and I definitely had no tightening sensations.

At 2:30 am I woke up for my 6th pee of the night (because when someone tells pregnant women to “sleep now before the baby comes!” they are idiots who deserved to be punched in the face), and I felt so miserable that I did stretches in the bathroom, trying to relieve the terrible back pain. But then it kept coming back, and I spent the next hour trying to find positions that made it subside, succeeding, only to have it return. I glanced at my phone to see a text from my SIL in Sweden, who had just woken up for the day after dreaming I had had the baby, and I was like NOPE STILL PREGNANT… but I am having terrible pain that comes and goes… OH SNAP. (Do people still say oh snap? No, definitely not. )

But again, there was no fist tightening feeling, just crampy pain that would come and go and was thus to be ignored, until it got so bad that I was climbing out of bed with each ache. At that point I called my doctor, who confirmed that yes, this didn’t sound at all like contractions, but yes, my body is freaky deaky and no one knows how it contracts so maybe come in. SPring2018-78

It was go time. And James was not so sleepy that he didn’t look smug about his toiletry bag being ready to roll. I called my brother to come down and away we went to the hospital, predicting that we would be home in a couple hours and preemptively planning on skipping church and binging on McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. But on the plus side, the drive that can take up to 2 hours took 35 minutes at 5 am with no traffic, which is good, since every wave of back pain (now 5 min apart) had me whacking the dashboard and yelling things that shall not be transcribed. As I writhed through each back cramp in triage, I asked the nurse to tell me how big the contractions were measuring, you know, Richter scale style. She paused before telling me that “she had seen smaller,” and it became apparent that my contraction-free first labor had made me a total wimp. Yet sure enough, I had dilated past 5 cm, and thus even my weak back contractions were regular enough to where I was admitted and started antibiotics for the GBS.

And then the epidural came. Glory. That is all I can say. GLORY BE. Once that sweet sweet numbing cocktail started juicing up my whole self, I morphed from deranged beast into a chill dove, gently urging James to go get breakfast and read his paper in the lobby, while I, Zen Mama, listened to an audiobook and calmly awaited my offspring. Behold, the power of modern medicine. I want to marry it and have its babies, but lacking the ability to do that, I shall just allow it to enable me to have all my own.SPring2018-83

When Dr. Bro (as he shall be called because he was so chill that it would not have seemed out of place if I had looked down and seen him sipping beer and eating pizza while checking my cervix) checked in about 2 hours after I had been whispering sweet nothings to my epidural, he announced I was 10cm, but the baby was facing backwards, hence my back pain labor, and still very high. He had me lie on my side with a pillow for about 30 minutes, at which point baby girl dropped FAST and spun around, and it was Time.

Only not.

Given the Group B Strep situation, I had to be on antibiotics for 4 full hours before pushing, and unfortunately, it had only been 3 hours and 55 minutes, a technicality that would result in a whole lot of needles being jabbed into our baby to verify that she was fine. Dr. Bro and the nurse decided we would take up that 5 minutes with a practice push, just to remember how it is done. Since this was a practice, no one was ready for a baby, and he was still telling us a story about his own grandkids as I practice pushed for 1 second, 2 seconds- and then stopped at 3 as the nurse, doctor, and James all yelled for me to STOP BECAUSE THE HEAD IS COMING.

And so, dear reader, I stopped. Which was totally fine, because I had an epidural, so I was like, you got some America’s Next Top Model reruns on Bravo? Because I could be here all day and it is fine. The doctor started getting ready and suggested that perhaps I would want to fill the time by ordering breakfast to arrive after the baby. Why yes, yes I would. And so, there with my legs up and splayed awkwardly and mid-push, I ordered a breakfast burrito. Priorities, people.SPring2018-84

The second the clock hit 4 hours from the start time of the antibiotics, I pushed through one contraction. Dr. Bro told me that the baby would be out on the next one, and we fell to chatting in between. Mid-chat, and before the next contraction, he asked me to give just a little push, and then calmly requested I look down. I did, expecting- I don’t know what, but not the end of labor. With Henry I pushed for 2.5 exhausting hours before the doctor finally held him aloft like a hairless Simba and I wept. But this time, after less than three minutes of pushing, I looked down mid-conversation and there she was, looking equally surprised as the doctor handed her to me with a nonchalance that belied the fact that a human soul had just entered the world.

After such a difficult pregnancy, she was there. So calmly, so painlessly, so quietly and quickly entering my arms in a way that left me wondering how it could have all ended so suddenly and with so little fanfare. She was just there, our daughter, our Marietta Elizabeth, feeling so surprising and right all at once. She was on my chest and that strange swelling feeling of love and recognition and wonder that washes over you in waves was rushing to bubble over. She was a tiny bundle of dark hair and scrunched features and I knew her and she was strange all at once. Our Etta, a name, the only name, that we had discussed for months, arriving at last.

Welcome to the world little girl, we love you so. 81-EW06201893-EW062018And when my beyond delicious breakfast burrito arrived shortly after her birth, it also felt very, very right.

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The Summer List.

As always, I’m already a little drunk on summer and excited about the next couple months of long days and sweaty adventures around this city. We’ve already been to the splash pad close to ten times, including every night last weekend. These sun drenched days and big smiles are good for my soul. A lot of this transition from 1 to 2 has been really hard on me, but I told James that I feel so much better and collected when we are out and about. No matter how insane it is getting out the door, the second we start exploring this city, I feel confident and happy again.

I’m leaning in to the fact that Etta is a schedule-less potted plant newborn, and I’m refusing to stay home to get her on a nap schedule, opting instead to have her nap on the go so Henry and I can be out and about. I didn’t feel this freedom the first time around, but now I know- good sleep and schedules will come. But for these months- we are prioritizing being out. In addition to all our normal summer activities and time with friends, I’m trying to make some goals for what we want to do and accomplish this summer.

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Here’s what’s on our list for this summer:

Spend less time on my phone around the kids. I read this article and was really convicted that my vigilance over Henry’s screen time needs to impact how much he sees of my own.

Get daily toddler HIIT workouts in with Henry, as these really do help us get moving in our tiny space and enjoy the rest of our day so much more.

Hit the lavender farms (or this one!) and the sunflower fields.

A beach trip! I would love to make it all the way to the actual ocean, but I’m being realistic and thinking the Chesapeake might be better. Probably here, unless I find someone with a nice beach house who wants us to invade for the day.

Pick something. Probably blackberries here following the sunflowers, just like last year.

Find a creek for Henry to play in. Anyone in the DC area have a lead on a nice shady creek with a shallow creek for toddlers who love hurling rocks and getting muddy?

Check out this aviation museum with planes for Henry to sit in.

Make the rounds of our favorite splash pads, like Navy Yard and the Wharf and I want to check out this one.

Read books. With my dissertation behind me, and lots of nursing before me, I’m trying to actually read some fun books. Started this recently and I’m excited about it.

We usually hit the free ward days at the National Building Museum summer exhibit, but we are sadly out of town on our day this year. Boo! But check out yours here if you are local! We loved the Beach a couple years back and the Hive last year.

What are you all up to this summer? And DC area people with fun activities or festivals that I missed?

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Another list of random things.

First things first:Summer2018-2

THIS BABY. She is the best. And once we finally gave her a bath, she also assumed the fluffy hair of a baby bunny so just when I think she couldn’t get any better, she does! But good or not, this newborn stage still does not at all come naturally or easy to me, hence the lack of more substantial blog posts lately.

Now then- some random things worth noting.

A friend brought this baked ziti to Bible study recently* and I cannot emphasize enough how mind-blowingly good it was. Baked ziti takes me back to middle school days spent at the mall and leisurely lunches at Sbarro, and it is one of my favs, but this one elevates it to sinfully good. Do not flinch at that 1.5 lbs of mozzarella- just do it. (*By that I mean “three months ago” but I made a mental note to share it and am just now doing so.)

And on another cheesy pasta front, I made this last month (as I am nottttttt cooking again any time in the foreseeable future and living that people-bringing-covered-dishes life) for a fast summer lunch and it was everything I want in an easy pasta dish. I even cheated and didn’t string the sugar snap peas and it was totally fine.

Ok, fine- one more recent pasta win. Meatballs in the oven are my new favorite easy hack. I used lots more spinach than called for and it was a huge hit.

This will not be my finest swimsuit summer, but if I was looking to add one – I love this one.

I’ve been on an intense sort-and-purge mission to make up for the fact that we didn’t move pre-baby and are thus trying to carve out more space in our apartment. Because if you build enough shelves and toss enough things, it’s basically another bedroom right? (Wrong.) But I still loved this article about the anorexic homes the society and social media especially are pushing on us.

I wrote about our TV time extremism recently and many people happily informed me that I would cave on this as life gets harder. Maybe that’s true. But I hope to always be intentional about boundaries, and this article had some great information and realistic pointers.

I have always loved Beth Moore, and I really, Really, REALLY loved her bold words recently. The Church needs more such women.

But on a somber note, this article was a chilling and informative reminder of what parents can do to inadvertently make their children easy targets for terrible people. It made me sick reading it, and also made me aware of the things we do without even thinking about it that could open our children to abuse.

And to close, Henry, who has taken to requesting to have his photo taken and then posing like this far longer than necessary. He’s posing with the Blue Track, a game changer for small space play. Summer2018-4

Happy weekend! Happy Monday! It’s Tuesday and I’m finally getting to posting this- carry on.

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This is 2.

Henry turned 2 two weeks ago. Toddlers are great because they have such a low threshold for enjoyment. When we talked about what to do for his birthday, I was emphatic that we not do anything requiring much work. We weren’t sure when baby girl would show up, but I was sure that I would feel very disinterested in anything involving lots of work in those final weeks of pregnancy. Instead, we filled the day with the things that our little boy loves.SPring2018-51Like a breakfast date at the Pretzel Bakery! If you follow on Instagram, you know that we go here a lot. It was a default play space during the winter, and most of the weekday employees know Henry by now. They have chased him when he escaped and I was too pregnant to run after him, doled out band-aids when I was lacking, and had so much patience with the many messes he has created. One morning recently, I brought Henry in bed to snuggle when he woke early. He did so for a little while and then rolled to face me, put his hands on either side of my face, leaned in close, and firmly whispered, “Pretzel Slider… later.” What can I say- we are raising him well. SPring2018-55SPring2018-59We decided to invite a bunch of friends to join us in the park for donuts and coffee- no decorations, no games, no fuss. But my SIL did pick up these yellow balloons, because Henry is obsessed with “lellow boons.” To be fair, he calls all balloons yellow, and he also examined my belly one morning and declared it too, a “lellow boon.”SPring2018-61SPring2018-62SPring2018-63This is probably my favorite picture of my son. He is so happy here, and I’m not surprised, because he is surrounded by everything he loves most. He is outside, free in the park where we run daily. He has all his family around him, and his friends. This kid loves his friends, asks for them daily and lives for play dates with his posse. He loves singing, and frequently sings a mashup of all the songs he knows that goes, “Holy holy, shake your booty! AMAZING grace, Make wayyyyyyy, Happy birthday!!!” And he has treats, donuts. James recently asked Henry what he does with Mommy while Daddy is at work and Henry calmly answered that we “Go Target, eat donuts,” which did happen to be the truth that day. Even though we offer mostly healthy food at home, I love sharing a treat out in the city with my boy. I love getting to split something with him and see his face light up when I say we are going to get a treat. SPring2018-65SPring2018-66SPring2018-68SPring2018-71With his posse of uncles and aunt- this kid is beyond lucky that he has spent two years around extended family. My brother and his wife are moving this summer, and Henry will be saddest of all. Anytime he sees a car around town that looks like theirs, he gleefully informs me, “Dat’s Tante Wuthie’s car!!!” and he lives to go to their house and play with the “music” (ukulele) and suitcases that he knows lives there. As for James’s brother, Philip recently joined us at the park on one of those scooters you can rent anywhere around town. Henry has not stopped talking about, nor has he stopped angrily yelling at anyone else he sees around town on one that, “DAT’S UNCLE PHILIP’S SCOOTER!!!” Property rights are a top passion right now, and nothing disturbs our type A child like seeing someone in possession of something not theirs. This inevitably leads to the sorts of sharing issues and tantrums that we all associate with toddlers, but I also love it, love watching him connect objects and people in his world. SPring2018-72SPring2018-74I see a Walt Whitman quote so often on romantic cards or cute prints: “We were together, I forget the rest.” Every time I see it, I think of these past 2 years with Henry, these past 2 years where the blessing of his demanding nature and my flexible schedule means that my son and I have been together so much. We have taken on this city as a team, explored and adventured in every weather and circumstance. We have cried so much, laughed so much, and gone through approximately 2 million wet wipes. We have learned what it means to be a parent and a child and we have been together. He won’t remember much else of these early years, but I want him to remember that. He won’t remember all our mornings spent scooting to the Pretzel Bakery, the days where we rode the metro around the city just to stay warm, the times that we twirled under the low hanging pines at the park and yelled “TREEEEE FORTTTTT!” and laughed. He won’t remember how I climbed into his crib after every nap to snuggle until I got too pregnant or how I wore him in the sling way past the weight when it was doable to do so. But I hope he remembers that we were together, always together.

As for me, I don’t want to forget the rest of what 2 is for us. The way he has used a case of San Pellegrino as a “special seat” beside his crib for 8 months, only to replace it with a case of La Croix when we finally drank it. The way he rides his scooter with a boldness and dexterity that shocks people and is obsessed with his R2D2 helmet. The wallet we gave him for his birthday that he carries in his pocket and naps with, stocked with old loyalty cards. He thinks it looks like James’ wallet and that is all he wants. His obsession with luggage and emergency vehicles and escalators. His attempts at praying, which include “Thank you father” and then a list of everything from us, to the park. His love of our routines, and his insane knowledge of getting around Capitol Hill. The way we begs every day to go to work with James, mostly because he wants to ride the bus. His love of dancing and the way that, at the church nursery when other kids calmly sit and sing, he hurls his entire body all over during song time. His enthusiasm about helping with “laundries” and his zeal over cleaning floors. The way that he still likes to lay against my chest and wrap his arms around my neck when I hold him before naps. The way he likes to play with the house keys and walk out of the apartment yelling “Bye- see you later!” only to sit on the bottom step of the next flight of stairs and invite me to sit next to him. The way that his extroverted self sometimes crashes and he asks to sit in his crib with his toolbox, “just a couple minutes,” so he can regroup as he faux drills and nails and measures in silence. This is 2.

The night of his birthday, I insisted on putting him to bed though James usually does it. I sang extra long and held him, but instead of it calming him down, it ended in uproarious laughter as he kept on saying something and dying laughing, which made me laugh, and the cycle continued. We snuggled and laughed for so long, before I finally laid him down and he told me he loved me “so much!” I cried in the darkness, thankful for two years of calling that boy mine. I didn’t know when I put him down that I wouldn’t see him for 48 hours, that we would leave in the wee hours of the morning to head to the hospital. I didn’t know that the weeks that followed would be so hard, not because a newborn is hard or my body was sore, but because I would watch my wonderful little boy struggle in seeing his world shift. I didn’t know that the days following his perfect birthday would be full of so much imperfect behavior and anger and difficulty as he tried to find footing in our new family pattern. It’s normal, I know, this behavioral lapse when a new sibling comes home. And honestly, I get it. Henry, while excited for “my Etta,” is mourning the end of what was, of our dynamic duo. I get it, because I mourn it too, all while loving our new family of four.

So this is 2. All the excitement and wonder and hilarity and difficulty all at once. The past 2 years have, without a doubt, been the happiest of my life. Here’s to many more, and the kid who has made them so good.

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May.

Interrupting all these reflective posts on family culture for a regular old life update post, as May was a big month for our family. May5I tend to be leery about ushering in new seasons before we are fully into them. That results in premature excitement on warm days in February and cool days in September, only to be demoralized when it snows in March and scorches in October – which is always does in DC. But I have been crushing on summer hard since the first warm day in May. We survived winter, and I am really proud of our resilience in getting out every day in frigid weather followed by endless spring rain. But I am ready to thrive, the type of thriving that summer days bring. I know it gets so hot and humid, but I live for those long days, endless park and splash pad visits, and adventures around this swamp of a city. We started seeing those days this month, and had our inaugural splash pad visit with friends right before Memorial Day. Summer- we are so, so, so ready for you.May

Of course, my love of hotter days was tempered a little by being a thousand months pregnant. I surpassed my final weight with Henry at around 36 weeks with baby 2 and every day in May brought more physical discomfort and less sleep. People who tell pregnant women to “sleep now before the baby comes!” have obviously never been in the final sleepless throes of pregnancy and deserve every punch to the face that said hormonal and exhausted women restrain. But in spite of daily misery, there were lots of little joys in this last month. James and I made sure to sneak in some dates, I indulged in lots of pampering (haircut! pedicure! optimistically purchasing some new clothes that will most likely still not fit almost of the summer!) and a hearty dose of nesting (cleaned out the fridge! vacuumed out the car! washed my curtains! hired someone to deep clean my house for the first time ever!). May2

In the midst of it all, I graduated from my doctoral program. This past year has been so big both professionally, with finishing and defending my dissertation, and personally, with this endless and frequently miserable pregnancy, that I feel neither realm has gotten to have all the attention it deserved. Graduation seemed an afterthought. But then it finally rolled around, and I donned a robe that made me look like a sinister Catholic Cardinal from a Renaissance period drama, as well as a hat that made me look like Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall (yes, a strange and contradictory blend of religious regalia, I know), it did feel as monuments as it is. Walking across that stage and hearing Henry yell “YAY MOMMY!” out in the crowd made me so proud that graduate school has been a part of our family’s story the past 7 years. Graduation

And then May ended in the very best of all possible ways. We celebrated Henry’s birthday the Saturday before Memorial Day, in a morning spent eating donuts in the park with our friends before spending the rest of the day in some cleaning and baby prep interspersed with reflections and memories from Henry’s first two years. We went to bed tired and happy, even if physically I felt even more miserable than usual. But the night was short, as I was up with strange pain by 2:30 am and we headed to the hospital not too long after. By a little after 10, 2 weeks and 2 days early and almost sharing a birthday with her brother, she was here. Processed with VSCO with a6 presetMarietta Elizabeth. A first name from my grandmother and a middle name shared by her grandmother and aunt. May she grow into this amazing heritage. Our Etta, coming into this world so calmly and sweetly that I am forgiving the 37 weeks and 5 days of pain, fear, and difficulty that preceded her. Etta, the perfect end to May and perfect beginning to a new stage of life for our family. May4

PS: Sharing these pictures also made me very aware that Henry apparently wears that red striped shirt a lot. That capsule toddler wardrobe people- repeat alllllll the clothes till the fall apart.

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Sleep training: This is what we did.

Part 1 here!

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSometime recently James and I were trying to remember how we got here, how we got to the stage where the whole sleep thing feels like a very easy non-issue and to be honest… It’s really hard to think back and pinpoint how it happened. Maybe it’s because there is no way around some level of exhaustion, or maybe it’s because the new parent mind just blocks things out, but whatever the case- it was really helpful for me to proactively think back to the steps we took in those early months to get here.

Like all new parents, I had A Plan. I had read Baby Wise, and 10 days into Henry’s life, I decided to let him cry it out, as instructed by the book once you have had about 10 days to “adjust.” It was an unmitigated failure. I listened to my baby scream and cried so hard, until my mom reminded me that I did not need permission from any stupid book to snuggle my baby. She was right, and I decided that, while some fundamentals of Baby Wise were good, I needed to cast my research net and sleep approach further.

The key thing that my research (read: frantic sob-googling) revealed, is that baby sleep doesn’t mature linearly. So figuring out IF there is a problem is maddening, because sometimes what you think is THE END OF THE WORLD  is actually a normal developmental stage. But what you CAN do (because people telling you that a baby will grow out of it is like the least helpful thing ever), is figure out what good sleep skills you can be teaching at each age to work towards independent sleep. So, with the goal of independent sleep, a predictable schedule, and Henry putting himself down easily, here is what we did, broken down by age.

0-3 months

From 0-3ish months, babies are in the “4th trimester” and they just kind of sleep a lot, wherever, whenever, etc. People talk about how their 2 month old “sleeps great! Can sleep through anything, doesn’t need dark, ” etc.  Insert eye roll. Yes, they do, but that’s because they haven’t fully realized they are out of the womb yet. During this period, I relied a lot on the resources at Precious Little Sleep to confirm that babies don’t really “learn” much, nor will they have a schedule for more than a couple days before it changes. They need lots of soothing to sleep, so wearing them, rocking, using any combination of sleep props – all these things are awesome and helpful in getting newborns to sleep.

Still, I did follow the Baby Wise suggested cycle of eat-awake-sleep, meaning we did not use nursing to get Henry to sleep, unless it was a middle of the night feeding.  He slept in a Rock-n-play at night and for any naps where he wasn’t being worn or in the stroller, and the nap lengths were all over the place. We cranked that white noise machine as loud as it could go at home and he was swaddled. We tried to follow ideal wake times and put him to sleep before he was overtired- but it was a lot of guess work. At around 6 weeks, we established an actual bedtime (much later than it would later become- around 9ish), and around 2 months, we set an actual wake-up time (around 7:30). He was still waking up a couple times to eat in the night, but at least those two set times gave me some solid grounding.

Furthermore, we also started gently teaching him to put himself to sleep (though with the Rock-n-play, which helped). First, I would rock him till drowsy, set him down, and then stay beside him and pat him until he fell asleep. But slowly, I rocked and patted less. Around 2.5 months, we started allowing him to cry a little longer as he went down more awake. I did not use crying to try to prevent any sort of mid-nap wakings or night wakings, but we did let him fuss to sleep. After a very minimal period of this, he started going down initially with little to no crying. Naps were still unpredictable, nights were still interrupted for a couple nursing sessions, but bedtime became smooth.

So the takeaway, of what we found effective and teachable between 0-3 months to set us up for easy sleep training later: separating nursing from bedtime (this is the biggest thing!), and establishing that Henry was capable of putting himself to sleep, even if he couldn’t yet connect sleep cycles to stay there as long as I would like.

3-6 months

If you want to sleep train, this is the sweet spot. Much earlier than this and it will take a bunch longer/ be derailed by just normal development. But after 6 months you are fighting an uphill battle against object permanence.

Starting at 3 months, we did a couple things. First of all, we decided that Henry would fall asleep in his own room (in the RnP still), and then we would carry it into our room before bed because I still wanted him close. Yes, I know that is ridiculous- but it worked. He never woke up, and also learned to go to sleep in his room. At 4 months, we ditched the swaddle and the RnP in one fell swoop as he started rolling. It took approximately 2 nights, then he was back to putting himself to sleep quickly in the crib. He also started sucking his thumb, which was AWESOME, as one can’t lose a thumb as easily as a Paci.

We also used some crying to start eliminating night feeds, something which received the green-light from our pediatrician as his weight gain was fine. Our bedtime routine was solid and consistent: bath, bottle (formula- I breast fed the rest of the time, but some early weight gain issues prompted addition of one formula bottle a day, and I am all about it. It let me pump at bedtime, and allowed James to participate in feeding. Also meant we knew he went to bed FULL), books, sleep sack, one song in the rocking chair, down awake. Blackout blinds closed, sound machine cranked. He would then be nursed again when he woke up after 3 am, and then not again until 7. If he woke earlier, James was sent in to rock and soothe him initially, and then we allowed him to cry some too. This was not pleasant. It also was very short lived and did not scar him. Starting at 4.5 months, we started slowly tackling that last feeding. I didn’t want to just eliminate it like the others (which had been inconsistent and slowly disappearing on their own, thus were easier to drop). Instead, I started timing it and shaving off 30 seconds every couple nights. It took a month, but then he just stopped waking up once the feed was only a few minutes. At 5.5 months he was started sleeping 11 hours a night without waking. And all the tired mamas said AMEN.

As for naps… these became so much harder than night sleep, as most people with a baby will find. The length of an infant sleepcycle at this age is approximately 45 minutes, and until they learn to connect 2 or 3 into one long nap, they will wake after the first cycle (almost) every. single. time. It is the worst, and you want to lose your mind, and start trying everyyyyythhhinnnnggg to fix it.  Finally, I read this very helpful article. Inspired by it, I decided that the battle would eventually be won by Henry growing into connecting sleep cycles since he had learned to initially go down awake. In the meantime, I would cling to the semblance of a schedule by going in when he woke mid-nap and soothing him back to sleep through patting or rocking. It worked. For 2 months, I had to intervene almost every nap. But then one day- it clicked, right around 5 months. Yes, I realize this will be impossible with a second baby, as a toddler doesn’t give you the freedom to cater to every nap. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

If you are a schedule lover like me, between 3-5 months, Henry had 3 naps a day, 2 that were 1.5ish hours in length (usually with a rock down in the middle) and one that was 45 min. I went on waketimes between naps instead of a fixed schedule. At about 5 months, I moved to a set schedule, so I would keep him up/wake him early to stay on it. Yes, there were hiccups, like around 6 months when naps sucked again and I had to drop the end of the day catnap to get them back on track.

6-15 months

The hard work was done! Once we sleep trained, we rarely had to redo it. Illness, travel, etc. might throw us off for a couple days, but the groundwork was there. Yes, there were (and are!) inexplicable nights where we were all up. There is no short cut to sleepless nights as a parent, because children are humans who sometimes need something other than a sleep schedule. I have had to learn that over and over again. But on the whole, the work we put in those first 6 months gave us a really wonderful sleep system that bends and flexes as we need and delivers us all a lot of rest.

If there were more than a couple nights or days that got wonky, I did check in with sleep resources and some great panting forums I am on to seek out advice. Often a tiny schedule tweak was needed as he grew older and needed less sleep. Around 10ish months I started capping the first nap a little to allow the second to be longer and nights to still go smoothly. Between 13-15 months I had to cap it more and more until Henry finally dropped to 1 nap around 15 months. Bedtime had to move back and forth a little bit as naps shifted.  As he got older, he stopped accidentally falling asleep in the car coming home from places and “ruining” naps, which also allowed our schedule more flexibility.

For the schedule lovers! We embraced a 2-3-4 wake time schedule, with naps starting at 2 hours each (so wake up at 7am, nap from 9-11 and 2-4, bedtime 8) and slowly nap 1 shrunk. When we dropped to 1 nap, our schedule became 7ish wakeup, nap 12:30-3:30, bedtime 7:30. Now that he naps a little less, we do wake up 7-7:30 (he is not allowed out of his crib before 7 even if he randomly wakes early), nap 12:30/1-3, bedtime a little before 8. He often talks, sings, or applauds in his crib awhile before falling asleep for naps or nights.

To close…

Henry loves sleep. He loves his routine, his schedule, his crib. Because he knows those things so well, he also goes to sleep pretty much anywhere as long as I put him in his sleep sack, crank the sound machine, and go through our rhythms. He does not ever skip naps, because he knows that he isn’t getting out of it. Sometimes now he will talk to himself for 30 minutes before falling asleep, and that is totally fine. We recently went through some random night wakings, and I actually was able to explain to him that it wasn’t morning, and he had to lie down and sleep… and he did. I know there will be issues when we drop the sleep sack and he realizes he can climb out of his crib, or when we add baby sister to his room. But the fundamentals of good sleep are there.

Most importantly, embracing this approach to sleep is what allowed our family to thrive. It gave us predictability that I desperately craved and professionally needed. It facilitated my extroverted love of social nights out, as Henry will go to bed anywhere and can be transferred home without a problem. It allowed him to get rest at his babysitter’s house, which allowed me to go to work without worry. It restored a calm to our evenings and gave James and I sleep early on. It allowed me to have big chunks of time to write my dissertation.

But again…having your baby sleep well/long/anywhere/predictable is not a moral good, like teaching your kid to love the Lord or even making them eat vegetables or something. If you love __________ (nursing to sleep, co-sleeping, lengthy bedtime routines- anything deemed “bad sleep hygiene” by judgey websites) then it is up to you to decide if the pros of independent sleep are worth the cons. Sleep training is one element of what helped our family thrive, so we could stop stressing about sleep and get on with the business of cultivating family culture. Sleep is not the end goal, but rather a daily discipline that facilitates bigger goals.

And now… if any of you have great success stories about sleep training second babies who shared a room and a very small living space… by all means, SHARE AWAY.

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Sleep training: This is what works.

SPring2018-30I hesitated a really long time to write about sleep training, as baby sleep somehow proves ridiculously controversial. People transform an impression of how you get your baby to sleep into an entire judgement not only of parenting, but of your very love for your child and decency as a human.  Every camp has their own studies to support their methods and demonize the other side… in spite of the fact that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that how your baby sleeps has very little to do with their ability to attach, love, function, thrive, etc. as an adult. Google it, if you want. Or Google the opinion you already hold and let the echo chamber of the internet confirm your internal bias, because that’s what everyone wants to do anyways.

I have mentioned sleep training a couple times on this blog and Instagram, and every time, the emails and the messages pour in from desperately tired parents who have questions. I decided to devote two posts to this topic, squarely in the middle of a collection of writings on intentional family culture, which may seem like an odd decision. I do not think that baby sleep defines family culture. I do not think there is one right (or universally successful) method of getting children to sleep. But I do think that sleep becomes something in those early years that defines so much of a family’s schedule. It is often a top preoccupation of parents in the first couple years- and rightly so. When we are tired, we can’t function, much less intentionally parent. How we sleep, how we fill those precious nap times when our children sleep- these are things that take on an outsized importance. And so, we are going to talk about sleep this week.

In the next couple of days (or tomorrow, if I manage not to nap this afternoon and actually write it), I will tell you the steps that we went through to achieve independent sleep, long naps on schedule, and peaceful nights. These steps might help you, or they might not. I mean, they might not even help me when I try to implement them again with a second kid. But they worked once.

You cannot control the sleep of another person, cannot make someone sleep. But what every parent can do is think about what ideally works for their family. You might struggle to get there, but having an idea of what you want out of baby sleep can be really helpful in those exhausting early months. I don’t just mean the generic “we need to all get sleep,” nor do I mean the unrealistic “I want my newborn to sleep through the night and I want to be able to sleep in with a toddler.” I mean the concrete sleep needs of the entire family.

For instance, I knew that I am a terrible sleeper who routinely wakes up multiple times a night, struggles to fall asleep, and doesn’t like being touched as I sleep. I also knew that I would be returning to work part time after having Henry and therefore it was vital that other people could put him to sleep easily and consistently in my absence. I knew that I thrive, and our family thrives, on a schedule and predictability. I knew that I needed long  and certain naps to eventually become a reality, because I had a dissertation to write during them.

In looking at what was necessary for the needs and goals of our family, I knew that we needed some method of sleep training that involved Henry sleeping independently, not in our bed, able to put himself to sleep/be put down by others, and a whole lot of structure. I set out researching how to accomplish that as quickly as possible. Which, as you will see in a later post, still wasn’t “quick.” Newborns don’t sleep as well as we like- this is a fact. Our magic sleep goals of Henry putting himself to sleep, sleeping all night  without interruption or nursing, and taking predictably long naps on schedule clicked around 5.5 months.

This is not a post to judge those who take a different sleep route, nor is it a post to argue about safe sleep. There are safe and unsafe ways to do any style of baby sleep. I have friends who co-slept, still co-sleep, nursed to sleep until their children were 2, etc. In spite of what sleep training die-hards will tell you- these parents are not miserable and exhausted. Many of them love the hours that they spend cuddling their children to sleep. They cherish the bond of co-sleeping or toddler nursing, and you know what? I get that. The few times Henry has ended up in bed with us have been impossibly precious. I wasn’t able to sleep a wink, confirming that it wasn’t a good fit for us, but they were moments that helped me understand why parents “put up” with 1 year olds who still don’t sleep through the night or need lengthy rocking before naps. Those parents have found what works… for them.

Sleep training, like any decision in parenting, is about finding the path that fits your family’s unique needs and being willing to shrug at the scoffers and say, “this is what works.” Maybe not for you, maybe not for always, but in this moment, for this family, it works. And isn’t that what family culture is about? Finding what works for you, and then continuing on so you can all thrive. It’s about having the confidence to be your family and not anyone else’s.

So if whatever you are doing in the baby sleep department is working for you- that’s awesome. Don’t bother reading the follow up to this post. But if you are exhausted, anxious, resenting your baby when they wake in the nap or don’t nap, and generally falling apart over sleep- then something is not working, and maybe some nugget of what we gleaned will help you.

And now, some practical disclaimers:

  • I have succeeded in sleep training exactly one child, with honorable mention going to a few others whose parents I have talked with a lot. Thus, I know approximately  nothing. I am also not really sure how we will do it the second time around, as it will be harder with kids sharing a room. But I have talked with so many of you about it that I thought I might as well put my pointers in a post so I can stop sending them in individual emails. I poured myself into sleep research with a fervor that matched my dissertation research, and even if it didn’t always result in making Henry sleep, it at least explained why he wasn’t sleeping, which helped me not lose my mind in those early months.
  • Henry was not naturally a good sleeper, something that people love to contradict when I say sleep training worked for us. There are good sleepers, and I hope to get one the second time around, but I didn’t the first. He was up every 1-2 hours to nurse for weeks, cried if I put him down the first two months, crap napped like a pro, and emphatically was not going to give up nightly nursing sessions on his own. Which is to say, he was a very normal baby.
  • I read, and implemented, some of the highly controversial BabyWise method. Other parts of it I dismissed as totally BS that just isn’t in line with baby sleep science or common sense. I also really relied on the wisdom of this website and it is pure gold.
  • I am not going to link to all the scientific studies showing that it doesn’t kill your child if they cry a little, but I promise- it doesn’t.
  • If anyone wants to buy me this so that my next infant can magically sleep for hours- I will happily send you my shipping address.

And now I’m curious… what is the sleep situation that is working for your family?

 

 

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