Posted by: Hannah | 03/25/2013

bye-lo baby bunting

I had a long chat on the weekend with a regular reader; I’ve known her casually for years, but most of what she knows about my life comes from this space – this space where I am honest but not too honest, because there is a fine line between ‘truth’ and ‘potential future embarrassment of my children’.

But it occurred to me as we talked that I default to talking about the (anonymous) dayhome kids rather than my own. I make it sound like at 5:30 every day all of my issues with little kids just disappear, and that’s so not true, good lord.

And I also realized that I’ve maybe given a skewed perception of my failures as a parent; i.e., because I’m trying to respect my kids as growing, autonomous beings I’ve not been entirely forthcoming about some of the challenges I’ve faced and continued to face with my own boys.

So, in the hopes that it will perhaps encourage that one reader, plus anyone else who (mistakenly) thinks I have all the answers (or even half of the answers)…

Harry – like the Big Apple, he never sleeps

Well, not never. But from the time he was a tiny newborn, he didn’t conform to anything I thought I knew about sleep.

He would nurse, on one side. For twenty minutes. He would drift off to sleep before the breast was emptied. He’d lie on the nursing pillow, still partially latched, and sleep for forty-five minutes or so. He’d wake, want to nurse some more. Because I didn’t know any better, I’d shift him to the other breast, where the cycle would repeat itself.


I didn’t know that not emptying the breast would lead to engorgement & plugged ducts, both of which I had. I didn’t know that it would also negatively affect my milk supply (it did). I didn’t know that humans will naturally start to wake up after forty-five minutes of sleep.

So many things I didn’t know. And it nearly ruined my mental health and my marriage.

I felt like a failure because my child wouldn’t sleep unless he was touching me. He co-slept with us for the better part of nine months, not because I wanted to bed-share but because no one got any sleep otherwise. And when I say “co-slept”, I mean “actually laid right on my chest all night long”.

When I feel like I’m failing, I get defensive. I lashed out at Michael constantly. I snapped that he didn’t understand what I was going through (and I stand by that, he didn’t know what I was going through. But since I didn’t spare a thought for what he was going through, I was really being kind of unfair.)

At nine months, I went back to work and Michael became the stay-at-home parent for a while. I decided once and for all to move Harry to a crib, in his own room. And then it got really bad; three or four wakings a night, and him unable to soothe himself back to sleep unless I was holding his hand or patting his back. On countless mornings I woke up, lying on the bare hardwood floor next to his crib, maybe with a stuffed animal as a pillow, my arm rammed through the crib bars and a mass of pins and needles because I’d passed out from sheer exhaustion at some point during the night.

Then I’d get up and go to work! It was… well, horrible.

One day, Dr. Phil (who I used to watch faithfully, before he went all Montel on me) had The Sleep Lady as his guest. The family they profiled sounded exactly like ours. The long, drawn-out bedtimes. The constant night-wakings. The sleepless nights for a guilty mom trying not to disturb the rest of the house, storing up resentment while she cat-napped everywhere but her own bed.

That very night we started The Sleep Lady Shuffle (click the above link to see the method). And it worked. IT WORKED.

Within a week, bedtimes were taking less than twenty minutes. Within two weeks, the night-wakings were down to maybe one a night, and that one was easily resolved. Within a month, Harry was sleeping in his own bed, alone, every night.


To this day, Harry is the most troubled sleeper of my kids. He has a hard time winding down for sleep. He says he will lie awake sometimes for hours, obsessively thinking about things that upset him. He can’t be allowed to read himself to sleep; he’ll finish the entire book and then start over again from the beginning. He wakes easily. He’s a very early riser. In order to ensure that he gets enough good, healthy sleep every night we need to start his pajamas / toothbrushing / quiet time routine a good hour before bed. During especially stressful or exciting times we’ll add a cup of chamomile tea and / or a warm bath as well.

I spent so much time when he was a baby trying to make his sleep effortless – for him – that I ended up making it harder on everyone.

I still feel badly about that.


This ended up being really long, so tomorrow – the dinner-table battles I somehow got sucked into with Ron, and how that’s playing out in the family dynamic.



  1. I felt bad about Owl’s sleep until I read “our babies, ourselves” a fascinating book written by an anthropologist who specializes in the care of babies in other cultures. And I learned that babies like Owl and Harry aren’t considered “troubled sleepers” in other cultures, but instead are called “normal”. Newborns sleep with their mothers and continue to do so for the first few years of their life, and apparently those Mothers are horrified by the American way of making babies sleep all by themselves. That being said, I sure hope the next one is a better sleeper or Ph might go insane.

    • The next one very well might be. I had a hard time with Ron when he was very small, because I assumed he was like Harry. I’d swaddle, rock, cuddle, co-sleep, etc etc, and he’d scream. One evening I was sitting in the rocking chair with him, in tears, while he wailed and wouldn’t settle. Michael came in and laid him in his crib, intending to comfort me – and bam! Ron fell asleep almost immediately. That was the very first indication I had that he was an introvert.

      • What a dream that would be!

  2. Gah. He sounds just like my older son. Tough, tough.

    • I’m still shell-shocked by the whole experience, I think.

  3. Oldest is quite similar. His first four months were hellish and I became like the walking dead. Thank dog for the only friend I had at the time who’d had a baby – she gave me Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and I wore that book out. Better sleep didn’t happen overnight, but it happened within about a month. I feel like it saved my sanity and my husband’s as well. Even now oldest is 10 and sleeps much better, but the first thing to go with him under stress or excitement or illness is sleep and he is always an early riser.

    Youngest was one of those (to me) bizarre babies who fell asleep anywhere under any circumstances. She’s 3.5 and still goes to bed with minimal fuss every night. That said, her dinner-table issues make me insane. Oldest has always eaten almost everything almost all the time.

    My personal theory is that with kids you can get sleep or food, but not both because that would make parenting too reasonable 😉

    • You know what, I’ll buy that theory. Harry is a crap sleeper but the best eater ever – he’s got a more adventurous palate than many adults I know. Feeding Ron cooked food is nightmarish (see tomorrow’s post, ugh) but he will ASK to be put to bed early if he’s tired and knows he needs the sleep.

  4. He sounds very much like my C (although she would nurse long enough to empty the breast). Often she would wake up and stay awake just to play–she’s always been social. We finally got her to sleep alone but anything unusual like sickness or a trip would mean we had to retrain her. At 10, like Harry, she sometimes can’t fall asleep due to her thoughts. I have similar issues so I guess she’s just a chip off the old block.

  5. I will tell you this: I was legendary in my family for being a poor sleeper. I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and my parents – this was the 70s – would essentially lose it and shriek at me to get the f*** to sleep. It didn’t really help. I’m a good sleeper now though 🙂

    I went – no word of a lie – six years with massively interrupted sleep. First, pregnancy then small baby. Then – pregnancy again! Then crazy colicky baby who never slept through the night until he was four and a half. Everyone sleeps fine in my house now though. I think of those years and wondered how I actually functioned.

    • GAAAA SIX YEARS. Murder would be done. Really. I don’t know how you functioned, either. Must have been crazy to make your own acquaintance again after you’d gotten some rest!

  6. This happened to me with my oldest, too. I am so shocked, now, at how indulgent I was with him – he basically slept on me all the time, at all hours. Poor kid, I feel like I broke him.

    He’s 10 now and a pretty good sleeper, actually. He sometimes has trouble falling asleep but once asleep, he’s pretty rock solid and will sleep through until morning. So there’s hope!

  7. My eldest was never, ever a napper, but was a champ at sleeping through the night starting at 6 weeks of age. This worked beautifully until he went to kindergarten and we realized that other children don’t actually fall asleep at midnight, after lying quietly and contentedly in their beds for four hours in the dark. Then being comatose until at least 8 AM. We spent a year trying to adjust his sleep schedule. His wierdo sleeping habits are not THE reason why we homeschool, but we appreciate not having to deal with that battle.

    As for the 2nd kid: I took him to the doctor at 3 months old and mentioned I thought it was strange that he kept falling asleep during the day time. The doctor gently let me know that it’s normal and healthy. WHO KNEW?!

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