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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Brilliant Sleep Doctor

We've completed about two weeks of having no set bedtime for the kiddos and collecting data about their sleep. It's been a rough adjustment for me, but the kids seem to be doing fine. Ella is often the last kid up at night, just putzing around, happy that she can still be awake. Jonah also stays up very late. Ella used to go to sleep, with the help of a little Melatonin, at about 7:30. Now she's averaging a falling-asleep-time of about 9pm. It's been tough having all the kids up during what used to be Alex and my grown up time. We've had to get creative about watching our grown up shows, having conversations about family schedules and logistics, and spending time together. I keep telling myself to give it time. Eventually we won't be in this bedtime limbo anymore and I'll have a better idea about who needs to go to bed and when.

Today Ella and I met with our friend, the Sleep Doctor, again. He looked at the data I have collected about how much Ella sleeps, and told me she's "about one standard deviation away from the norm at this age." And that "this is not pathological." In English, that means she IS in fact a short sleeper, which is normal for her and not a bad thing, and that it is not a sleep disorder. This is just how she is wired. She is sleeping less, sleeping better, and quite happy about it all. She has confidence in being a good sleeper now. Or at least that's what we're working towards.

I love the Sleep Doctor. He is amazing brilliant and validating of my Mama Instincts. Basically everything I said I think we should be doing with Ella, he said yes. Science backs you up. Do that. Don't listen to all the crazies out there who are telling you you are wrong and nuts, because you follow your instincts because you. are. right. 

Ha. Take that, world. The Sleep Doctor backs me up, and he's a DOCTOR. To all my Mama friends out there who are doing 'different' or 'interesting' or 'weird' things to help their kids get the best sleep they can, follow your instincts, the Sleep Doctor says. You're right. Everyone else is bonkers.

The Doctor said if Ella sleeps every night in our room, she will not become more clingy, in fact she will become less clingy. She will have confidence that we are always there for her, sleep will be comfortable because she has what she wants most in the world--Mama and Daddy. The Doctor said that at some point, independently, Ella will decide she'd rather sleep in her own bed. And then I'll be crying because I'll miss her snuggly little self next to me in my bed.

I said it seems sort of pointless to move Ella to her own bed after she falls asleep, because she's just going to be right back in our bed at some point during the night anyway. The brilliant Doctor said I am right. Why not let Ella just stay in our room and not have to run, in a panic, in the middle of the night, in to find us every single night? The Doctor said I need to follow my instincts.

When parenting conundrums come up, I always think about the African Mamas I grew up watching. They carried their babies on their backs, snug against their warmth, everywhere, every day. Those babies never have to learn to "not be so clingy." They don't have anxiety about their Mamas leaving them because the Mamas never leave. If the Mama leaves, so does the baby, on her back! What a gift to be able to give your child- that constant security. Why is it in our culture that we place such a value on independence? Why is it bad that my toddler wants me all day and all night? Why is it bad that she wants to feel her Mama's warmth, her Mama's love, all day and all night? Why does our society frown on things like sleeping next to your children, or picking them up a lot, or whether they cry when you drop them off somewhere? I think my children have my African-blood-by-osmosis flowing in their veins. I think they were born knowing that we were supposed to be more closely connected than our society views as appropriate. I should have carried them all on my back for years, wherever I went. 

(I wonder how African Mamas of twins carry them…)

So Miss Ella and I came home from the Sleep Doctor's office and began a hunt for what sort of device she can sleep in next to our bed. The Doctor suggested having a separate bed for Ella right next to our bed, because eventually she's going to get longer, and she's going to sleep perpendicular to the grownups in the bed, and that's just annoying. So to have a small barrier to signal that "this is my bed" and "this is Mama's bed" but we're still so close we can touch would be ideal. We found a little cot on sale, and of course it's pink. Perfect. It's ordered and we'll see how this all goes. At this point in my sleep-deprived life, I really don't care who sleeps where, as long as everyone sleeps at some point.

Now about the "one standard deviation away from the norm." Ella needs less sleep than most kids her age. She does not have insomnia or other sleep disorders. She just couldn't stay asleep as long as we expected her to, given what pediatricians and others had told us. The Doctor said that when we start seeing her get sleepy, we can encourage her to go to her bed and we can read books or snuggle or whatever. He told her that Mama can't just hold her and rock her to sleep every single night. She can stay up as late as she needs to, but Mama may have things to do. So she can stay upstairs with "the brothers" (as she calls them), or play by herself, or things like that. Ella's smart and quick. She was smart enough to argue with me about how "HE said I could stay up as late as I want!!!" and the Doctor knew today that Ella would be listening to him saying Mama can't always rock you to sleep all evening. When it's bedtime, yes, that's a perfect way to fall asleep. But while little Miss Ella is boppin' around all night, flitting to music and having tea parties and zipping around playing Chase The Dog, Mama needs to do some other Mama-y things.

The boys all demanded to have their sleepy meds back. They don't like the feeling of not being able to fall asleep. They like a schedule, a routine. They find comfort in feeling that sleep will come when it's supposed to.

So tomorrow we'll start a new sleep chapter in this house. Tonight at 9:30, after reading two books in her bed, sweet Ella fell asleep without any resistance or arguing or hesitation. She will be in our room at some point tonight, but right now she is fast asleep in her own cozy bed. 

Boy, parenting is a ride, isn't it? A crazy, trippy, unexpected, swervey ride. I never know what's around the next corner. I'm learning, over and over and over again, that the best thing to do is listen and follow my instincts. Listen and follow.

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