October 7, 2003

On the sleep habits of newborns, or "Is she sleeping through the night?"... Sleeping is a struggle in our house these days as you can tell from the time stamp. Poor Sirah simply cannot sleep as she struggles with Bronchiolitis and RSV. We have faced many medical issues with our children already including serious chronic medical conditions but I always struggle with breathing difficulties, they are so scary (especially in ones so little) and can so quickly become life threatening. It is times like these that make parenthood such an emotional rollercoaster for me.

We just woke up with a start as she couldn't catch her breath. That has to be among my worst nightmares. But she is fine just breathing so rapidly right now. We are up for the morning and I most likely for the day. I suppose I really can't complain as we did manage to be in bed by around 10pm last night (a first in weeks for her) and she only woke up a few times to nurse so we probably did get more sleep than we have (even though we got up for the day at 4:45!) in recent days.

These early days of a child's life pass by so quickly and they are so precious. I really don't mind that our sleep is so disrupted, I just anticipate it and actually try to embrace and enjoy it. It seems so odd to me that our culture is so focused on a child "sleeping through the night" and in such a universal way. It seems inevitable that as soon as someone sees you with a newborn after they comment on how beautiful they are the next thing out of their mouths is "Is she sleeping through the night yet?" I would like to believe that is because they are trying to empathize with the fact that as a new parent you are not getting much sleep and they want to be there for you, but I don't really see it that way (at least not by the vast majority of people who ask me that). It seems like people see it as a milestone or an accomplishment a child must reach very early on.

As our children are allowed to learn to sleep themselves - they don't reach this "milestone" until they are ready. Rhiannon was nearly 3 before she slept through the night with any consistency. Ciaran was about 18 months old before he stopped waking up regularly. All three of our children woke up frequently in the early days and that was fine with us because it is what our children needed for their health, growth and development. So as you can probably guess it has been a long time since I got a "good" nights sleep but I just realize and expect that is part of my job. Friends of mine with older children do assure me that you get a few years of sleep in again before they become teenagers and then you never sleep again until a few years after they are out of the house!

I used to be sensitive to this discussion and get upset when people asked me about our sleep habits, then I got defiant about it and now I am just saddened that it is so important to people and treat it the way I really feel it should be treated. "We sleep how you would think we do, we are up throughout the night but that is fine because I anticipate it and know it is important and these days are so short and pass so quickly." I have found this response usually elicits horror from many new parents or parents with small children (unless they choose to parent similarly). But it usually elicits smiles and responses like "what a healthy attitude" or "you know that is a great approach" or "you've got the right outlook" from parents of older children, elderly, health care providers and many others who have been there before.

So what if we don't sleep much these days. We all get what we need and that is all that is important. Sleep will come someday later if it ever comes again. I hardly slept in college but no one was curious about my sleep habits then. Why is everyone so concerned about them now? If it truly was to empathize than the responses that follow should be empathetic, they usually are not. They often seem just curious to see if I am miserable and often a comparison to when their children slept through the night, or unwanted advice on what I need to do to help my child achieve that goal (as if it were a "goal" I wanted them to achieve at two months). And for all of you who are curious. Yes I am getting more sleep with a newborn than I was when I was 9 months pregnant and suffering from prodromal labor. Everyone thought I was crazy that I said I would get more sleep then, but I am. Besides at least I don't need to get out of bed anymore so I am at least getting more consistent rest and I am way more comfortable!

I guess this is on my mind because I faced that question repeatedly at church this past weekend because our daughter is almost two months old. Well come back and ask me in another two years or so. It saddens me that as a culture we push children to grow up so fast and fit into our lives the way we want them to rather than to accept them and their needs for what they are. Children and their needs should not be seen as an inconvenience to parents, they chose to have children they need to accept the responsibilities and all that comes with it and not push kids into things they are not ready for yet. A newborn needs to eat, an infant needs closeness and the comfort of their parents, a toddler may need the same things and even young children need reassurances that they are not alone in this world at night in the dark. This all just seems normal to me, what does not seem normal is telling me I need to put my helpless little baby or child in a cold, dark room alone and leave them there for 8-10 hours so I can just get some sleep. Love your babies and children, enjoy this time and it will be a treasure to remember. There will be time enough for sleep when we are older. Sorry for the tirade, it was on my heart as I nurse and cuddle my sick child back to sleep.


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