Lessons Learned By A First Time Mom

I’m a bit ashamed to admit just how much googling I’ve done since Aubrey was born. Neither Will nor I had any previous experience with babies, but even if we did I don’t think anything can really prepare you to be a parent, besides becoming a parent. Every baby is so unique. Every situation is unique. Every parent is unique. So that equates to approximately five million different scenarios and ways to handle them by my calculations.

This week I decided to start a true schedule with more concrete times (following Babywise), and jump into sleep training. I also had the grand idea to try to wean A off the paci after realizing what a crutch it had become for her. Talk about throwing her for a loop right? AND, this is only just over a week before we leave on an extremely long trip back to the states so she can meet all the friends and family who have thus far been loving her from a distance.

If you google about sleep training, and crying it out, and weaning your baby off a paci, the vast majority of opinions out there will tell you that there are specific ages when it’s ok to try these things…and only a slight few that feel that it’s ok to start as young as Aubrey, or younger. In fact, most advise against trying these things with young babies claiming they aren’t capable of self soothing, or handling it until they are more mature. Note I don’t say older, although that is how most seem to classify it. The concept of maturity was one part of my learning this week.

Going forward with my plans sounds insanely stupid, even just typing it. But, I have my reasons.

Aubrey has done a great job of sort of falling naturally into the holy grail of routines, the 3 hour feeding and nap schedule. Without much effort at all on my part, following the eat, wake, sleep routine, she would wake from a nap, get a diaper change, eat, lay on her playmat for a bit, hang out in my arms for a bit, then go back down for a nap for a couple of hours. And even more magical, after wearing myself out at every nap rocking and bouncing her, to the point I thought her tiny brain might have turned to scrambled bits, to get her to sleep, one day I just tried laying her down with no rocking…and she fell asleep immediately.

But there were two issues with this seemingly seamless scenario.

Because we had no set times for waking up, napping, or anything for that matter, every day was different. And if you know babies at all, they thrive on predictability. Between a growth spurt and the erratic nature of our everyday schedule, Aubrey began cutting 3 hours down to 2, and sometimes even less. Which led to me nursing more frequently than I probably should have, causing me supply issues and Aubrey a lot of frustration, not to mention a drastic shortage on quality naps.

Problem two was that A required her paci in order to go to sleep and resettle. This meant trying to figure out how to carefully rig her paci in such a way that it would stay in her mouth long enough for her to go to sleep, a couple (hundreds) of trips by mom back up the stairs to the nursery (talk about a leg workout) to pop it back in when it fell out before she was fully asleep, and watching the video monitor like a hawk for the 45ish minute mark when she would inevitably transition though a sleep cycle, and if the paci was not in position, she would wake up either ending the nap way too early, or causing me a terribly hard time getting her back to sleep. Multiple times when she woke up I would try to soothe her without the paci, holding her, rocking her, patting her back, patting her bottom, holding the white noise closer to her ear, turning the white noise down, swaddling her tighter, swaddling her looser, swaddling her with one arm out, adding a blanket, taking a blanket away, you name it, I tried it. NOTHING worked but the paci. This was when I knew she needed an intervention.

Basically, we needed to make some changes for both of our sanities.

Another problem, which is not actually a problem, but more like something everyone strives for, was that she still isn’t sleeping more than 4 hour stretches at night with any regularity. We’ve lucked out with a few 5-5.5 hour stretches (so I know she is capable of going that length of time between feedings), but they are rare. Supposedly she should be capable of sleeping 7 hours at a time by this age. I know that part of the problem is her body has become sort of programmed to eat at that time of night because it’s what she’s always done, in other words it’s habit. Babies metabolism also gets on a schedule, so if they always eat at a certain time, they will naturally get hungry at that time every day. Another part of the problem is that she doesn’t have the ability to go back to sleep on her own without that magical paci. This was yet another issue the Babywise method is supposed to help.

And after that entirely too long intro (yes I’m just now getting to the gist of this entire post), this all led me to the conclusion that it was time to get down to business. And this is what I learned.

There is nothing truer than the statement, “You know your baby better than anyone else.” 

I felt Aubrey was ready to give sleep training and crying it out a go because in a way we were already halfway there. She was already able to put herself to sleep with the help of a paci, so taking the paci away was a natural next step. I realized that I had not been letting her cry without immediately tending to her in some way, and thus never letting her learn even the first thing about soothing herself. I also wasn’t learning to identify her cries very well, because I never let them go on more than the few minutes it took for me to calm her back down.

The first day we started our new schedule and tried CIO, I hadn’t yet made the decision to also make her quit the paci cold turkey. So I gave it to her, settled her in for her nap, and left. She went to sleep quickly as usual, but when the  sleep cycle ended and she woke up paci-less, she cried. She cried for a long time. She cried until she had to take a rest to catch her breath (with me secretly hoping she was finally falling asleep), then she would cry some more. Basically every nap besides her first one (which for some reason is always very easy) that day, involved starting with 30-45 minutes of sleep, followed by a series of crying fits until nap time was finally over. I even broke down in the evening nap and gave her the paci back at one point, but she was too upset for even it’s magical powers to work. I was beyond nervous that I was slowly sabotaging us for the night ahead. Here my child was a decent sleeper, and because I wanted even better, I was ruining the good thing we already had. My worries only escalated when she fussed and cried practically through the entire two hours from when we put her to bed to the 10:00 “dreamfeed,” even though I had given her the paci back, but with the slight alteration of a needle sized hole (another method I read to help with the weaning process). I had accepted that I would not be getting any sleep that night, and told Will to get out his ear plugs so he could get some sleep so he could function at work the next day.

Fortunately the day hadn’t scarred her too bad. After the last feeding session she went to sleep (sans paci) very quickly, and slept solid until 1:42am. This was only about 3 hours and 15 minutes, but it was right in line with the normal time she had been waking up each night for weeks prior. In an attempt to try to push her wake time out, and get her body used to a different feeding time, I gave her the paci, and she went back to sleep. She woke up again at 3:12, and again I gave her the paci and she went back to sleep. She woke a third time at 3:50, the paci was not sufficing, so I nursed her. Stretching the time between feeds to just over 5 hours. She didn’t wake again until I woke her up the next morning at 7:00 (normally she would wake at 1:30, again between 4 and 5, and again at 6:30 – wanting to nurse each time). *I feel I should note here I would never keep my baby from a needed feed. I only felt comfortable trying to push her night feed out because she had shown me on multiple occasions that she was able to go that long between feeds. 

The second day she went down for her morning nap, sans paci, without a hitch. Only fussing for about 3 minutes. She slept solid for two hours, even stirring at little at the transition, but never waking up. I actually had to wake her up. During nap two she put up a fight, but went to sleep after about 15 minutes. Unfortunately the base had decided to do an exercise that day and a siren went on and off during her entire nap. Each time it would slowly wake her up, then she would have to cry herself back to sleep. But she did it. Every time. Never taking more than 10 minutes to so, and most times much less. We are on day 6 and she still needs the paci like a lifetime addict needs their fix. However, we have moved full-time to the pin-hole altered paci (which she totally hated at first, and still rejects slightly because she knows it’s not right). She is able to go to sleep most nights after the dreamfeed, after the night feeding, and for her morning nap all paci-less. She is still needing it to fall asleep and stay asleep during her day naps. I also give it to her at night while I am trying to stretch out her middle of the night feeding. Last night she woke around 1:00am and again at 3:00am, both times I gave her the hole paci, then she didn’t wake until 5:00 – finally making it to the 7 hour stretch we are aiming for. Now if I can just get her to stay asleep those whole 7 hours…or figure out a way to strap that dang paci to her head 🙂

Obviously we’re still in the process, so I don’t know the final outcome, but I have full faith that she is capable of learning how to put herself to sleep like a pro. Which leads me to the second thing I learned.

Babies are smart. A lot smarter than we give them credit for.

I think it’s easy to assume babies are these helpless, dumb creatures. But after watching Aubrey wiggle and squirm and root, completely unassisted, until she had inched herself up my body to nurse – I realized that that would be a very mistaken assumption.

Every baby has a different learning and development curve. Since the day she was born Aubrey has been very alert and aware. Part of the reason I’m convinced she isn’t a mellow baby. She isn’t happy being left to lay on a mat or blanket, or sitting in a seat. Normal tactics to calm her down and trick her don’t work. It’s like she knows what you are doing. She also very much knows what she wants. If she she hungry, she HAS to eat. If she is tired, she will not be happy until she is down for a nap. There have been times when she is exhausted and is upset because of it, and if I utter one “shh” in her ear, the light whimpering will explode into a full blown fit of rage. Our baby will NOT be shushed, when there is something she needs or wants. Which subsequently concerns me for her later years haha! Making my next point of great importance.

I have more patience than I ever thought I would.

Taking the chance of being snubbed by every mother, grandmother, aunt, etc…out there, I personally, have never liked babies or children – and neither did Will. Neither one of us really grew up around babies or children much younger than us. Neither of us babysat (Outside of one time when I watched two older kids for one of my teachers who had already fixed them dinner and provided a movie for them to watch, and they went to bed an hour after I arrived.). To say we were uncomfortable when left alone with a small child, would be a drastic understatement. Until our nephew Noah was born, Will had never held a baby before, and I had never held one so young. We were those people who got annoyed when there was inevitably a crying baby sitting next to us whether it be at a restaurant or on a plane (still are actually – although we now share a bit of pity for the exasperated parents). And even now that we have a child of our own, we still don’t particularly like babies and children, although granted we have a newfound appreciation for them and their parents, but we love our child.

So to have a tiny human screaming like a banshee, at a decibel that seems certain to rupture my eardrum, on a regular basis, one would think that I would literally lose my $hit (excuse my French). But by the grace of God, I haven’t. I actually haven’t even come close. Whatever hormones are pumping through my body, and whatever bond and love that develops when you give birth to your baby, they are magical. I read somewhere that mothers are incapable of getting mad at their babies (something fathers sometimes have a hard time understanding), and I’ve realized that it is very true. No matter how many times Aubrey throws up on me, screams in my face for multiple hours, drags me out of a deep and much needed sleep, or blows out a fresh diaper I have only seconds before finally snapped the last snap on…I can’t help but look at her with love and adoration, albeit sometimes with a very weary heart and bloodshot eyes.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wanted to apologize to every parent who has confided in my their parenting challenges, and I’ve responded with comparing their children to my dogs. Dogs are a lot of work, and a lot of responsibility, and many may think they are babies…but they are NOTHING compared to a child. Nothing. I look at my dogs regularly now and tell them what wonderful, amazing, easy creatures they are.

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