Posted in family life, musings

waking in the night: a meditation on love

I lie on the low bed in the darkness, and my baby curls against me, resting her head on my soft chest and stomach (the stomach I resent when I try to dress for adult life but which functions so perfectly as a cozy baby pillow). Our breaths are the only sound, her faster, shallower breaths a counterpoint to my deep and steady rhythm. I slow the pace of my breathing to guide her into sounder sleep, hoping her body will follow mine. She is warm and solid next to me, tangible physicality grounding me in embodied reality and relationship. There are books I wanted to read, projects I wanted to work on, chores I ought to take care of, but I stretch out this moment much longer than necessary. There is such immense privilege in being the one whose presence can calm her fears and dry her tears; there is such wonder in being able to soothe and comfort another when I cannot do so for myself. I recall her newborn months, when I sat in the hospital rocking her, deep into the darkest depression I have yet experienced, and yet somehow able to calm and comfort her anyways.

Maybe none of us can completely accomplish that for ourselves; maybe consolation and peace are gifts we can give to others better than we can create them for ourselves, and which we must in turn receive from others if we are to experience them fully. My baby cries out for me to come to her and restore her to peace, to console her in the loneliness of the night; we grow, and become independent, and pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and strength, and we stifle our own cries in the darkness. Maybe we have cried too many times into an unresponsive void, and have decided we don’t want to risk adding the pain of rejection and worthlessness to the burden we already bear. We forsake the openness and vulnerability of our infancy, protecting our hearts – and closing the door to the fullness of comfort and peace that only comes through the love and presence of another.

I come to my babies in the night, though I may be exhausted or frustrated, because I know the pain of crying when no one hears, and I don’t want that pain to be theirs. I lift them in my arms, my little ones wakeful and sad for reasons beyond their ability to explain. And in the teary eyes wiped on my shoulder, the little head laid against my chest, the arms wrapped around my neck, I receive gifts just as powerful as any I give: love, meaning, and worth. They remind me of my own need for love and connection even as they show my my own power as a giver of that love and connection. However weary I may be, all the sleepless nights, all the hours pacing and rocking and snuggling, all the worry and time and energy spent, are nothing compared to what I have received simply be being their mother.

Posted in family life

night-time parenting and my need for grace

My worst parenting moments are typically in the middle of the night when one of the boys is taking an uncharacteristically long time to fall back asleep after waking. It’s a combination of three difficult factors: my tiredness, the unexpectedness of the problem, and the baby’s insomnia. I could probably handle things with more grace if only one or two of those factors was involved, but together they are a deadly trifecta to my parenting calm. Because I’m tired, it’s harder for me to assess the situation and come up with a solution; because the wakefulness is unexpected and not a normal event, I have no routine already in place to deal with it; and because the baby is also tired and out of sync with his normal routine, he typically can’t express what exactly is bothering him and keeping him up. Limerick has been known to scream for a good 30 minutes straight before managing to sob out that he wants a bottle of milk instead of a bottle of water, for example, which is a far cry from his communicative daytime self.

It is in those moments that I most desperately need to turn to God for help. That is when I am most helpless, most frustrated, least buoyed up by my own reason, most emotionally and physically fragile and worn out. And yet I don’t often find myself searching for grace and peace at those times. The immediacy of the problem blots out everything else from my mind, unfortunately.

And that is one of the reasons why it is so important for me to bathe my parenting in prayer in all the other moments – to keep praying for grace, wisdom, patience, and strength even when everything seems to be going well, so that when things get hard and my sleep-fogged brain can’t see past the crying baby, I’ve already asked God for the help I’ll need to get through it with love. I have to cultivate my relationship with Him, my dependence on Him, through all the easy times, the happy times, the normal times, so that my anchor and foundation are already secure when the challenges arise. It would be foolish to think the challenges would never come, and even more foolish to think I’d be able to handle them without a consistent effort to walk with God.

So tonight I think I’ll be preemptively praying for patience, wisdom, and compassion, just in case Limerick is up for hours in the night again – and maybe that will help me when I can’t see past the irrational tears and my body is crying out for sleep. If the Spirit is there reminding me of the reasons Limerick might be up (last night he was in some sort of pain and it took a dose of Tylenol to settle him down), helping me find solutions, helping me think despite my fatigue, maybe I won’t get so frustrated with my little guy, and will be able to better respond with gentleness and love, just like God consistently responds to me even when my complaints and tears make no sense at all in the light of the bigger picture that He can see.


Posted in family life

gentle sleep and bedtime battles

A few weeks ago I wrote about the beginnings of our night-weaning journey with Limerick and I can now say confidently that it is going really, really, well. Our new routine has endured through a 5 day, 104 degree fever as well as through the cutting of two molars, and last night Limerick didn’t even ask to nurse before falling asleep. He knew he was tired, and had asked to go to bed when we were playing as a family downstairs, but I was still surprised when I gave him the option of nursing or turning the light off and getting his water bottle that he replied, “light off, bottle!”

So that’s what I did – I gave him his bottle, turned the light off, turned the music on, and lay down next to him on the bed, and he fell asleep. Wow. I’m still amazed at his ability to go to sleep so easily! And he slept until 1:15, for a stretch of 5.5 hours straight! This is probably not a big deal to anyone who night weaned or sleep trained at an earlier age, but for my nighttime snugglers and nursers, this is huge. Honestly, I think he would have slept longer if he hadn’t needed a new diaper, because he went right back to sleep after I changed him.

Now my bedtime issues have swiveled back to Rondel, who has decided that nighttime is not a good time, and that being in bed is akin to being locked up in prison. I’m rather at a loss for how to structure his days and evenings so that bedtime isn’t a battle, since he’ll keep protesting even when he’s so exhausted he can hardly keep his eyes open. Any ideas from the more experienced moms out there?

Posted in family life

gently night-weaning

For various reasons, the time has come to begin night-weaning Limerick. He still co-sleeps, in a sidecar crib, and has always nursed to sleep. It was the path of least resistance for so long… but now, 15 months later, it has become a sleep crutch that prevents him from resettling when he wakes briefly during the night and thus wakes me about every two hours all night long. And the older he gets, the more difficult it seems to be for him to drift off while nursing, because he wants to engage and interact with me the whole time!

However, while I was convinced of the need for night-weaning, I was also convinced that I didn’t want the process to be one of prolonged or solitary crying. If he was going to cry, I was going to be there with him; if he was inconsolable and clearly not settling on his own, I was going to slow the process down and go at the pace he was able to handle. So I brainstormed some ideas for a new routine, and explained everything to Limerick a few times before implementing them, so that he wouldn’t be taken off guard when we did something new at bedtime.

“First we’ll nurse with the light on,” I told him, “and we’ll snuggle and talk about the day and pray together. Then, after you’ve had some milk, I’ll lie you down with your head on the pillow in your crib, tuck your bunny in next to you, pull the blanket over you, give you your bottle of water, and turn off the light. I will lie here right next to you and sing you a lullaby, and you can go to sleep.”

Why these steps?

First, the time of nursing and talking gives us a chance to connect at the end of the day, without any other people or distractions around, which is particularly important on days that I’m gone at work for hours. I want him to know that his bedtime isn’t just a task for me to accomplish, but a special time of calm and quiet for us to share. Also, he is still young enough that I want him to keep nursing, even though I can’t physically deal with the nursing all night long!

Second, the little details of the bedtime routine help to provide continuity and consistency from one night to the next, without making things too long or complex. The pillow helps keep his head elevated when he’s congested and the bottle of water gives him something to suck if he wants or a drink if he’s thirsty still after nursing (since my supply is getting pretty low, and it’s dry here in Arizona!)

Turning the light off after nursing helps to separate nursing from sleeping, so he doesn’t roll back to me for “kikis” after I try to situate him in the crib. This was a mistake I had been making on previous attempts!

Finally, Limerick loves music, and he seems to be far calmer physically when he has something to do with his mind – like listen to the words and melodies of songs. So the lullabies (whatever I happen to remember or make up) help him to relax, which in turn helps him to fall asleep.

As we were going through the routine, I narrated each thing that we were doing, reminding him of what we’d said earlier, until I ended by singing some old lullabies. His breathing slowed. His body relaxed. His hand holding the half-empty bottle dropped to his side. And I slid off the bed and went downstairs.

This was just the first night of the new routine. We’ve now had four nights of the new pattern, and in addition to falling asleep without the incessant nursing that was driving me crazy, he seems to be sleeping for longer stretches as well! Considering he is also teething right now, I’m quite surprised at how well this is going. Night 3 was a bit rough for him, and we ended up nursing a little bit more after the lights were off to help him calm back down, but he did eventually go to sleep on his own without crying alone or feeling like he was abandoned or unheard (it’s amazing how much calmer he got just from me saying, “You are really upset right now, huh?”). I’ve even been able to put him back down after a night waking in this way, which I didn’t expect to be able to do for a few weeks still! So there is hope, fellow gentle parents with poor sleepers 🙂 We can take care of ourselves and our babies in ways that won’t leave either of us resentful, bitter, or hurt.