I work part time.
Most days, to be honest, I work because I “should.” I have run through this list with my wife ad nauseum as I have alternatively floated/asked/begged to be a stay-at-home mom. We like our lifestyle, which requires two incomes. It’s a good example for the kids to see working moms, killing it at their careers and earning respect in the workplace. It keeps you current to regularly interact with adults of all ages. It’s not good for the kids to be my “everything” because (wah wah) they will one day leave me to live lives of their own. Etc.
Some days, I work because I really enjoy what I do. I’m on an interesting deal, I got to take on a role I’ve never had before, I drafted something that went straight to the client with no one else reviewing it. These days it’s easy to love work, because it involves positive feedback and pats on the head and excitement.
Then there are days like today. Bumby has not been sleeping well at all lately, and has been grouchy and contrary as a result. Also, because he has not been sleeping, I am exhausted and have been, well, grouchy and contrary. Today I grudgingly dragged myself out of bed at 6:45, just an hour and a half after the most recent nighttime wake up, and took my shower to get ready for work. I drank an unspeakable amount of coffee, put on some clothes that were not leggings, and dragged myself to the office.
The day wore on. It was boring. I checked Facebook a lot. I looked at online pictures of our new house and fantasized about the day I will not be too exhausted to start running again, while I ate chocolate at my desk. I bought a new nursing top from Gap.com. I did a little work. I researched “sleep schedule 14 months”. 10 minutes earlier than usual, I packed up and left the office and got on the train to go home.
And you know what? I can’t wait. I’m excited to see the kids, both big and of the Bumby variety. I am looking forward to cooking something interesting for dinner involving leftover ham. I can’t wait to hear about their days, and I won’t even be annoyed if Bums wants me to hold him the whole time I make dinner.
So sometimes I work (or “work,” as was the case today) just for a break, so I can actually tolerate my life again. Or even muster some enthusiasm for it. That is ok too, I think.
The worst night
Two nights ago, I nursed Bumby to sleep, like I always do. Well, I nursed him, then I rocked him, then I placed a sleeping baby into his crib. It was relatively painless. He hadn’t nursed fully, so before I went to bed, I decided to pump. I had a business trip the next day, so I would be away from home for over 16 hours, and I thought an extra bottle couldn’t hurt. At midnight, he woke up. I tried to nurse him, he did not want that. I tried to rock him. He did not want that. I walked around holding him, patting his back. He screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I tried to rock him again. He flung his head backward and bashed it on the arm of the rocking chair, and screamed. I stood up and bounced him, and he kicked me hard enough in the bicep that I almost dropped him. I persevered. Time went by.
My wife came up as I was sobbing, he was screaming, and I was shouting “STOP HURTING ME!” at a baby who was kicking me in the arms and chest while simultaneously pulling my hair. I handed off.
After 20 minutes or so of my wife doing all the same things that had not been working for me, we stopped. We laid our wailing baby in the crib, and she patted his back. He calmed down, we stepped away. He cried again. She patted again. He calmed, we stepped away, we left the room. This went on, and on, and on. Sometimes, patting didn’t work, and we picked him up. Once, I went in to pat and he stood up, wailed, and clung to my arm with the most pathetic face I have ever seen. I picked him up, he calmed, and I set him down. Repeat, repeat. When he got particularly wail-ey, and wouldn’t be soothed by holding or patting, we set him down and decided to give him 30 seconds. We stood outside his door talking about whether we were okay with how this was going. We are both adamantly opposed to letting him cry it out. This wasn’t that, but it wasn’t always far off either, especially at that moment when we were standing outside his door as he cried. It was only a short while, a minute at most, but it was probably the first time in his life when we had not responded to his cry. Listening to us outside of his door, he quieted. It was around 2 am.
At 2:15, we were lying in bed, and listening to Bumby make all kinds of little baby mouth sounds over the monitor. He was not crying, just chirping to himself, chewing his fingers, occasionally amusing himself enough to giggle a bit. And then….. he just wasn’t. It took 2 1/2 hours, but he went back to sleep on his own, alone, in his room. At 4, he woke, and I nursed him. He fell asleep easily after nursing, and I put him back in his crib. I got up an hour later and went on my business trip with a solid 2 1/2 hours of sleep under my belt. It was the worst night he has had since he was born.
The next day, I fretted. I was away from my baby for his morning nursing for the first time ever. He had fallen asleep alone in a dark room for the first time ever. Did he feel abandoned by me? Was he angry? Was he doing okay? I have read all the sleep research, and I agree with Dr. Sears on this point — If you do something to get your baby to sleep, and he’s not himself the next day, he’s telling you that what you tried wasn’t okay with him. But I was away! Was he okay with what we had tried? I didn’t know.
I called home, and learned that he had been happy all day. He took a nice long nap in the morning, over 2 hours, to catch up on some of the sleep he missed overnight. He ate well, he played, he laughed. He was okay. I was not, but that was for me to work on. After all this, I am not sure I was ready for a baby who didn’t need me multiple times in the night, a baby who would only nurse once. But the way things were going clearly weren’t good for him, so we had to try this.
The best night
That night, we committed ourselves to staying the course. I would nurse and rock Bumby to sleep like usual, but if he woke in the night before 4 am, he had to go back to sleep on his own. We would help him calm down, but going back to sleep was his job. We set the stage for him. I gave him his reflux medicine, and he ate dinner. I put him in his jammies and changed his diaper. I put a couple drops of a fennel/catnip natural gas drop that we just got onto his pacifier. I turned on his nightlights and his heater so his room was dim and cozy. I sat down to nurse him, and he was PISSED OFF. Just like in the middle of the night the night before, he would not nurse, he would not be soothed by rocking. I thought about it, and realized that I had just nursed him about 2 hours before, because the business trip had thrown off my nursing and pumping schedule. So I got a small bottle, maybe 2oz of milk, and gave him that instead. He sucked it down, snuggled into my belly, and drifted off to sleep, just like that. I picked him up and set him in his crib, no drama. He stayed asleep.
He woke at 10:30 or so, and I gave him back his pacifier. He rolled onto his side, and went back to sleep. Thanks, mama.
He woke at 12:30 wanting to nurse, but no dice. My wife went up, and patted him. He screamed louder — you are not mama, and you do not have milk for me! She stepped out for a second. He calmed almost immediately as she stood outside his door. She came down, and we went back to sleep and so did he.
He woke at 4:45. I snuggled in the big bed with him and nursed him. He drank a full meal, rolled onto his back, and went to sleep. I roused him to burp, then put him back in his crib. He snuggled in, grabbed his blankie, sighed, and went back to sleep. I went back to bed myself.
He woke at 7:45 with a diaper full of poop and a smile on his face. He slept over 10 hours, and woke up three times. This is the best night we have had in months.
We are committed now. We will make him as comfortable as possible so that sleep will come easier for him. We will help him get to sleep at the start of the night, with a full belly and a comfortable room and even some rocking to help him transition from his busy day to his nighttime. If he wakes at 4am or later, he can have a snack. But if he wakes before that, or if he doesn’t fall asleep nursing, going back to sleep is his job. We will always respond if he cries, and he will never be left to cry himself to sleep, but in the middle of the night he goes in his crib awake, because he needs to go back to sleep on his own.
I am sure we will have more setbacks, more nights like the worst night before we have more nights like the best night. But for the first time I have some hope. I think his reflux medicine is working, and I think his gas drops are working, and I think he’s finally comfortable. He liked the bottle at bedtime, so if it seems like there is not enough milk to nurse, he can have another one if he wants so that he goes to bed with a belly full of milk and can make it to 4am. I love putting him to bed gently and having him fall asleep in my arms. I love nursing him once in the night, so I am in no rush to night-wean completely, but a partial night-wean and some self-soothing in the middle of the night seem to be good for him. And also good for me.
On Saturday, the big brother turned 10. He’s in fifth grade, which is the last grade of elementary school in our school district. Since I moved in with the kids, one thing that has always been my responsibility (and one of my favorite things) is making their birthday cakes. Some years, they try to out-smart me by asking for super-elaborate designs, but I always come through. This is one of the ways I show these kids how much I love them. They can have whatever birthday cake they want, no matter what they come up with. This year he asked for two kinds of frosting, strawberry and vanilla. Not too complicated.
On Thursday, I made cupcakes for him to bring into school on Friday morning to celebrate his birthday. I try to make the cupcakes the same as the birthday cake. Of course, we did not have the strawberry and vanilla frosting, so I had to run to the grocery story Friday morning after drop-off, and finish the cupcakes to get them to school before snack time at 10. This is nothing compared to what I have done in previous years. Once, I got stuck working late and had to bake the cupcakes at 2 am. Once, I accidentally turned all of them a frightening shade of hot pink (it turns out you can’t really make things red with food coloring — they just get more and more pink).
Thursday night, Bumby’s new reflux medicine finally kicked in. For the first time in his life, he slept five and a half hours straight. If you’re obsessed with baby sleep, you realize this is the clinical definition of sleeping through the night. We did nothing differently — no different bedtime, or routine, or soothing method, or periods of crying. He just wasn’t hurting anymore, so he slept. I woke up Friday morning giddy with sleep. My little baby was finally sleeping the way a 7 1/2 month old baby should be sleeping. He was so happy, and comfortable. Even when he did wake to eat, he didn’t scream and writhe around the way he used to. He just fussed, nursed, and went back to sleep.
My happy, well-rested little guy crawled around the kitchen and poured the dog’s water on the floor as I frosted the cupcakes. This is when it hit me. These were my last cupcakes. Big Brother was in fifth grade, and wouldn’t be allowed to bring cupcakes to school the next year. The guy who used to be the baby wasn’t a baby any more. Bumby won’t be at the elementary school for five years, so for five years, I don’t get to make the cupcakes. Five years from now they probably won’t even be allowed cupcakes — they’ll have to bring in birthday carrot sticks or pretzels. Making them at 2 am, turning the whole batch hot pink, and every other cupcake mishap was now water under the bridge.
Big Brother finished out his cupcake years on the same day that Bumby slept through the night. Sometimes, the milestones feel good. Sometimes, they feel sad. Either way, they just keep coming.
Wondering where I have been these last few months? Well. I will tell you. I have been trying to get my baby to sleep. Or sleeping myself, in the rare event I have been successful.
Bumby is a fantastic baby. He barely ever cries. He eats well. He laughs a lot and loves the kids. He is very fat and adorable. But he does not sleep, at all, ever. He falls asleep easily, but if left unattended, rarely stays asleep for more than 40 minutes during the day, and rarely sleeps more than two hours in a stretch at night. Still, at seven months old, this is the case.
At around four months, I took Bumby to Michigan to visit some family and friends. I may have mentioned that one of my friends, who has reflux herself, and is blessed with two babies with severe reflux, watched Bumby playing for about an hour, heard me complaining about my lack of sleep, and said very definitively, “He has reflux. Get him to the doctor.”
After a bit more hemming and hawing, I finally did it. They gave me a prescription for very low dose of Zantac and told me to have him sleep on an incline (which we had been doing, with no success). The Zantac did nothing, so we went back for more. They quadrupled his dose, and he stopped projectile vomiting 15 times after each meal. This was a success! However, he became very constipated, so he still. did. not. sleep. We started giving him prunes, and water. The poop started moving again, and at last our baby was comfortable. He still needed to learn to sleep well, but the intervals started stretching out. First it was a three hour chunk of time, then four. We transitioned him to the crib, and the four hour chunks became somewhat reliable. A few blessed times, we heard him stirring and talking on the monitor, then… nothing. He put himself back to sleep, waking only once in the night to eat. I was giddy, drunk on sleep.
But then… for those of you with reflux babies, you know what happens next. Bumby ate, and grew, and gained weight. His body adjusted to the Zantac. The four hour chunks of time dwindled to three, then two and a half, then he was waking every hour again. What is going on? Is this a normal developmental night waking problem (he’s teething, he’s learning to crawl, he’s growing)? Or is it the reflux? Finally, the last symptom would come back — he would start coughing and choking, then spitting up, a little at first, then after every meal, then many, many times after every meal. Back to the doctor, weigh the baby, increase the dose. Enter constipation. Then his little body adjusts. A few weeks of sleep, and then the long stretches of sleep start to decrease as he gains weight and the medicine loses effectiveness. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s miserable for us. But if I am tired, what must it be like for a seven month old baby getting this little sleep? His eyes are constantly red-rimmed. They have a little rash around them because he sucks on his hands and then rubs his saliva in his eyes so often. Sometimes when he wakes from a nap, he looks up at me, miserable. Mama, I’m tired. And yet, he doesn’t cry. He laughs a lot, and loves his siblings. I think he is being quite a trooper through all of this.
We are currently in the “adjust the dose” period, which means that he has now gone about 3 weeks without sleeping more than two hours at a time. It always takes us a few weeks to assure ourselves that his night-waking doesn’t have another cause, because we hate to medicate him more than is absolutely necessary. And he is in fact teething, and learning to crawl. But yesterday, we upped his dose just a little bit on our own, pending a call to the pediatrician, and he slept for four hours straight before waking to eat. When he did wake, his shirt was soaked in spit-up.
I feel so bad for the poor little dude. Slowly, we are learning though. Next time he starts waking, we will take him to the doctor first, not only as a last resort. We will offer more and more prunes as we adjust the dose, to stave off the constipation. Probably just as we get our heads around this challenge, he will outgrow it though, right?
Last Friday, my sister needed to get a steroid shot into her epidural space to alleviate some pain associated with a slipped disc. She was nervous, so I told her I would come in and sit with her before her appointment. We were going to get some food at a deli afterward, and then I would head home. Operation Bumbysleep had been carrying on with moderate success (naps improved, nights much the same, with the exception of putting him down easily in his crib at night for an hour and a half before bringing him down with us).
Long story short: I went into the city. The appointment took longer than I thought. The lunch eating took longer than I thought. Bumby refused to nurse politely in the restaurant, which means he did not really get a good meal, because while I am all about public breastfeeding, I am not about public boob exposure while a screaming baby draws attention to my toplessness. While changing Bumby’s diaper during my sister’s appointment, I discovered a disturbing rash on his abdomen. I texted a picture to my wife and asked if she thought I needed to get him to the doctor. I had to drive my sister home from the Upper East Side to her apartment on the Lower East Side at 4pm on a Friday because her back was numb and I didn’t want her taking the subway (although – this is why there are CABS, people).
The end result was that at 4:48 on Friday, I had a starving baby and was driving up First Avenue looking for a place to pull over and feed him when my wife called. “YES! I think you need to get him to the doctor!” Now she tells me. I can’t call while driving, the traffic is horrific, and of course there is no place to pull over on First Avenue. I am a ball of stress. She reminds me, over the screaming, that I had promised to go to the Boy Child’s baseball game at 6. Although we live less than 15 miles outside the city, there is no way I am making it in this traffic in less than an hour. I hang up on her. I pull over into a no standing zone — hydrant, I think — and call the pediatrician, who of course is already closed even though they are supposed to be open for another 4 minutes AT LEAST. My wife calls back. She has also called the pediatrician, while googling baby rashes, and decided it is a post-viral rash from Bumby’s cold. Meanwhile, Bumby is crying and screaming through the whole thing. I get back on First (because the FDR is even more backed up than the surface streets) and keep driving. Bumby is long overdue for a nap, but won’t sleep in the car because he is starving. And has a rash! And is exhausted! But at least I got matzoh ball soup? Ugh. I was so frustrated with myself, which was exacerbated by my wife calling while I was navigating through Manhattan rush hour traffic with a screaming baby to tell me she was also frustrated with me.
When I finally get on the FDR at 6, we are creeping along at less than 5 miles per hour. Bumby is screaming and hyperventilating. I see a stalled car on the shoulder and take the opportunity to pull over in front of it, throw my flashers, and climb into the back seat to feed Bumby. At this point, I don’t care if it’s legal, I don’t care if I get a ticket, I don’t care if the truck drivers crawling past at 5 mph get a good eyeful. Bumby is starving, and I am going to feed him. I figure that if someone goes off the road, firstly, they will only be going 5 mph, and secondly, they will hit the stalled car before they hit us.
After I feed him, he zonks out. I am 45 minutes late to the baseball game, and Operation Bumbysleep is thoroughly fucked for the night. He is so overtired that he cries all evening and won’t go down. He is up every hour all night long. I feel I deserve this punishment, because of being the Worst Mother Ever. Saturday naps were short and ineffective, and Saturday night was just as bad — lots of fussy crying, difficult to get down. When he was up for the day at 4:30 Sunday morning, my wife, who had forgiven me for being the Worst Mother Ever, decided to take him on a little driving tour of City Island and then read and play in his room while I got some much-needed sleep. Sunday he took 4 long naps — two of them were over 2 hours — and he was back to being a delightful baby. He went down easily last night, so I had some hope he would sleep a couple longer stretches, but he still woke every hour or so to eat all night long, until he was up for the day at around 5. This was tragic, as I am super anxious about a work meeting I have today, and really didn’t want to go into it on four hours of broken sleep.
In summary: Operation Bumbysleep was derailed by my own foolishness, but we have had some success. He is still a much better napper than he ever was before, even if he is no better at night. He is getting too hot in the swaddle, and it’s too small for our big boy, so we bought him a mesh Woombie that’s made for bigger babies and will keep him a little cooler. We’ll see how he likes it. I am inclined to keep him in it all night and put him in the pack and play in our room to see if he sleeps better near to us but not with us, although I love sleeping with him and don’t really want to let it go just yet. I was also pondering the Magic Merlin suit, but I’m afraid he’ll totally overheat in it, and I’m not sure whether it will work as well as the swaddle. Any thoughts on the Woombie and the Merlin suit would be greatly appreciated. The naps are great but this mama is desperate for some nighttime sleep.
PS The rash was gone in the morning, so we decided it was indeed a post-viral rash. Whew.
Two nights ago, I had the worst night with Bumby that I have had since he was born. Worse than the growth spurts, worse than when he was a newborn. He was up about every 45 minutes and literally would not sleep without my boob in his mouth. Blame it on his cold, blame it on his approaching the four-month mark, blame it on whatever you want, but by the time he was awake for the day at 5:30 am, I wanted to die. I fed him until 6, then I looked at my wife, who was about to get up for work, and said, “Please just take him. Take him away from me.” She put him in the stroller because she needed to walk the dog anyway, and he slept 2 1/2 hours straight. Of course.
I became convinced that proximity to me was causing him to nurse WAY more frequently than he actually needed to. He also hasn’t been napping for shit. He used to be a pretty great napper — I could nurse him to sleep, ooze away, and sometimes he would sleep on the bed for two hours like that. No more. I haven’t had more than a 30 minute nap in ages. His total sleep is declining, which makes him over tired, which makes him sleep even worse. Something had to give.
Enter Operation Bumbysleep. Step One is to get him to fall asleep somehow other than nursing or time in the carrier, and stay that way for some period of time. Even if it’s short. We need to create some sleep associations that do not involve parts of my body. I have had some success with the swaddle, but I thought he was a little too big for it. You know, because he’s the size of the average 7-month old. But it seems like he wakes up because his arms float all over the place while he sleeps, and eventually whack him in the face or cause him to startle, so yesterday afternoon, when he seemed tired, I gave him a diaper change, jammed him into the swaddle but left one arm out so he could get his thumb if he wanted it. I gave him a pacifier, and I placed him sleepy but awake under his mobile, which he likes.
Operation Bumbysleep fail. He watched the mobile for a while, then got bored and started whimpering. I sat outside his door to see if the fuss would turn into a cry. It did. My wife and I are both adamantly against letting him cry it out, even for a little while, so I went in and tried to comfort him without picking him up. This seemed to piss him off even more. Sleepy but awake. HA.
I tried a new approach. I re-swaddled him with both arms in and popped a pacifier in his mouth. I closed the blinds and sang a ridiculous and repetitive song. It goes like this:
Oh my little baby, what you need is a nap, nap, nap.
Oh my little baby, I will help you sleep.
Over. And over. And over. His eyelids drooped, and his body became a dead weight. He spit out the pacifer. I put him into the crib and walked away. Total time: 15 minutes. Operation Bumbysleep success.
He slept like that for an hour, when he woke up hungry. He seemed sort of pissed off to be awake, and he fell asleep twice while nursing. I didn’t want him to have a nursing sleep association though, this was kind of the whole point. So I woke him by changing his diaper, which needed to be done anyway, and started again with the swaddle and ridiculous song. The first time or two that I tried to put him down, he woek up sort of mad, but he eventually did stay down. It took almost 30 minutes, but he slept another hour.
In the evening, I let him nap in the carrier, because I needed to walk the dog and I could NOT sing that stupid song anymore. He got about a 20 minute catnap. At bedtime, we started our normal routine — diaper change, walk with dog in stroller. Normally we come in and I nurse him to sleep at this point, but our plan was to nurse and keep him awake, then do the swaddle-singing business to get him down. While we walked, we debated what to do when he woke to eat. Bring him back into bed with us, so the transition to his crib is gradual (and mama gets more sleep – I can usually doze while I feed him in our bed)? Nurse then sing/rock him back to sleep?
He fell asleep in his stroller on the walk. This has never happened before — it must have been from all his great napping. We figured we would get 20 minutes of sleep before he was awake and wanting to nurse, so when we got home I put the infant seat in his room and shut the door. We climbed into bed without him for the first time since he was born. After a while, my wife whispered to me in the dark, “Be careful what you wish for. I miss Bumby!” I missed him too. He slept until somewhere after 11:30 this way, and when he woke, I brought him in with us. He seemed very happy about this. He nursed at that time, then again at 2:30 and at 4:45. This seems like a lot, but it was such a vast improvement! Most importantly, he fell asleep and I could move him away from me a little, so I could actually sleep while he slept.
He was such a happy baby when he woke up today! He was up for the day about 8 1/2 hours after falling asleep. Once, at around 5:30, he woke, but he went back to sleep without nursing. I think he legitimately needs less sleep than some other babies his age, because I tried to put him down after being awake for 2 1/2 hours, and he was not having it. He dozed for 15 minutes and was back up. I wore him out by letting him play with toys, have a bath, do some tummy time, and get dressed, then tried our swaddle/singing routine. He was asleep before I could close all 4 sets of blinds in his room.
I think we will carry on this way for a while before we start trying to rock him down in the middle of the night or cut nighttime feedings. Ideally I would like him in our room at night anyway, at least until 6 months, and our little butterball is already too big and heavy for his bassinet. Which, for the record, he never slept in.