The Sleep Wars, Round 3

Posted by jdg | Friday, March 31, 2006 |

We lived in a little apartment in the city that looked out across the street over the park to Sutro Tower. In the street there flowed rain and water from the guy who washes his P.T. Cruiser every day, and the water was filmy and prismatic and slow in the gutters. Cars went down by the apartment and down the street and the noise they made echoed in the living room. Garbage trucks and streetcleaning trucks came every day in the early morning, emptying the burdened curbs and filling the apartment with noise. The living room had six windows and as soon as the sun rose the room was filled with light and noise.

[fuck: I can't write this in bad faux-Hemingway. I'll just have to go with better-than-average Geraldo]

When we first reported from the sleep front, we were optimistic. We were examining and weighing the different battleplans offered by our joint chiefs of staff, Weissbluth and Sears. It was still early in the war, and our optimism carried us through dozens of nights of waking and screaming, waking and screaming, hour after hour. "It will be over soon," we told ourselves. "She won't be like this forever. Eventually she'll sleep through the night."

She never did; it became clear that unless we took up different tactics, the battle was going to be one long hard slog. Once we were at our wits end, we took a shot using Dr. Marc Weissbluth and Dr. Richard Ferber's "cry it out method." Juniper cried, alright, but she didn't really get the good doctors' "it out" part. She would cry for hours. It didn't work.

We have left a trail of experts behind us, experts whose advice just didn't work in the trenches. Weissbluth. Ferber. Sears. Michel "Dr. Judd" Cohen. Tracey "the Baby Whisperer" Hogg. We were desperate. One night she'd sleep great, the next lousy. In Rumsfeldian terms, we lacked the metrics to know if we were winning or losing the global war on sleep deprivation. Everything stagnated; nothing worked.

Then, Wood discovered Moxie. She's no fancypants pediatrician, she's just a cool blogger chick whose sleep discussions on Ask Moxie gave Wood a clear, more balanced perspective on infant sleep, and for months Moxie's sensible approach allowed us to work with Juniper's sleep in its natural state of flux; the war became one of attrition. A few weeks ago, Juniper wouldn't go back to sleep despite any amount of comforting, so we decided it might be time to try crying again. Rather than follow one asshole pediatrician's cockamamie theory de rigueur, we have taken the path of least resistance. And for the most part it has worked.

We are happy to report that at long last the enemy has shown weakness. She is now "sleeping through the night" because we retreated to a position of strength: the living room floor. We are sleeping on a lumpy fold-out mattress, entrenched with the dust bunnies while she sleeps in the luxury of her crib with the whole bedroom to herself. We're no longer in there to wake her up with every cough, sneeze, or rustle of the sheets at 3:30 in the morning, causing her to stand up and howl at us like a wounded emu until we pick her up. And she's sleeping. We wake up at dawn with the intense light from the living room windows and the noise of the garbage trucks and streetcleaners, but waking to the dawn and a sleeping child is a blessing after a full night of uninterrupted sleep.

Our strategy has been to put her to bed after some time with the booboobs that leaves her in milk-induced euphoric sleepitude, and then if she wakes up we Ferberishly let her whimper until she goes back to sleep on her own. Without us in the room, it usually works. We have had a week of good sleep, and last night when we put her to bed I was ready to put on a flight suit and land on an aircraft carrier to declare Mission Accomplished.

But our enemy is crafty, and understands how to exploit our greatest weakness. Yesterday Juniper had what Wood called her "cutest and sweetest day ever." And I can attest that the last few hours were indeed just that. We played with her Schleich animals, giggled in the tub, and she sat calm and silent in my lap while I read her seven books before bedtime. She even gave me a real hug and a kiss goodnight. Then at about 1:30 a.m. she woke and started crying, and by the timbre of her bellowing I could tell she was standing up. That was not good. Half an hour later her yowling was stronger than ever, and choked by tears. Wood was lying next to me in fitful frustration, ready to pull her hair out. Ten minutes later, with Juniper still crying, I went into the bedroom and picked her up. She was shaking. Her face glistened in the light that streamed in from the door I had opened. Choking and sobbing she threw her head against my chest and wailed. She was mad at me, and she was letting me know. She felt wounded. I wanted to smash Michel Cohen's smug face for telling me that "crying it out" doesn't affect her. I would have thrown Richard Ferber to wild dogs. I could not calm her down. After a few minutes of this punishment, her sleepy mother entered, lifted up her shirt and let Juniper rest her mouth on the boob. The sobbing stopped. She instantly fell asleep, imprisoning poor Wood in that position until she was asleep enough to lay back down in her crib, where she whimpered herself to a sleep that lasted the rest of the night.

And now, with Juniper reasserting a position of strength, drawing us out of our trench and mowing us down like a Messerschmidt, her reinforcements have arrived. Wood's mother is here for one of her patented "middle-aged-woman-sleeping-on-Dutch's-living-room-floor" weeks. Like Lord Cornwallis eyeing the approach of the French fleet at Yorktown, an imminent sense of defeat rests woefully in our bellies. We have a friend whose mother-in-law visited from Paris after she and her husband spent a month sleep training their daughter. The first night she sat there white knuckled while the baby cried in the next room, and despite strict orders not to, she rushed into the bedroom and comforted her. This went on night after night, and that month's worth of sleep training unraveled in a matter of days. Wood's mother knows better than to do that; if she tries it she'll be sleeping in a cardboard box on Larkin Street tomorrow night. But still, with her snoring on our living room floor, we have no option but to return to our bed.

We'll see what happens, but by now we're like Caesar's grizzled veterans: we know we can take whatever comes at us. What have we learned? The only advice worth listening to is advice that doesn't purport some superior knowledge of what will work with your child. Babies have their own personalities that can vary significantly from the statistical mean. It just seems to make the most sense to work with your own baby rather than the baby that only exists in some pediatrician's head.