My little stowaway


I had a moment the other night. Many people, me included before I had a large family, think that moms with lots of kids have it easier. That they are more patient, more loving, that their children are more manageable. But the truth is that even moms with lots of kids have moments when they think this is all a little too much. Moments we don’t brag about on Facebook.

Since the twins were born, the nights have not been great. But while I am severely sleep-deprived, I am functional as long as the routine holds. I can deal with a crappy night. But when it gets crappier, I have moments. Moments of intense frustration, almost anger.

Ève sleeps better than Lucas. She usually wakes-up once a night between 3 and 4 am after going to bed between 6 and 7 pm. She nurses quickly and goes back to sleep. Lucas sleeps with me and wakes-up constantly. I ditched the clock when it started to make me angry. I don’t know how often he wakes-up and it’s better that way.

The other night, around 11 pm, Lucas woke-up as usual and I nursed him for a good half-hour. Then Ève woke-up against regulation. She wanted to nurse too but there was no more milk. I only have one working boob. When it’s empty, I need to give it some time to refill. That’s just The Way Things Are. But Ève was not buying it. My husband tried to cuddle with her but she became completely hysterical. I tried to nurse her for comfort but she wanted FOOD!

I tried giving her a bottle but she refused.  For a while, she was fine cuddling with me, her watchful eyes wide open. I felt so lonely in the silence of my house, hearing my children and husband snore in the comfort of their beds. For a minute, I hoped that someone would come and sit with me and commiserate on the great injustice that was befalling me. Eventually, after a third dry nursing attempt and following return to bed, she lost it. I offered the breast again and instead of taking it, she grabbed it with her sharp little nails and violently threw it away. It hurt so much; I was so mad, I yelled “ENOUGH!” put her gently in her bed still screaming and walked-away. I may have slammed her door. I went downstairs and crashed on a couch. I heard my husband walk over to her room and pick her up.

I was mad at my body for failing me. Mad at the”insufficient glandular tissue” that made it impossible to produce enough milk for two babies. I was mad at myself for taking it out on Ève, for feeling so misunderstood and helpless, for expecting my 13- month-old to get it. I was mad that my husband had to go comfort our baby because I was too mad to do it myself.

I went back upstairs. I was eventually able to have a let-down and she accepted it as enough of the Good Stuff to return to sleep. My husband said “She needs as much closeness and affection as Lucas, she’s just not as good at asking for it.” And he is right. Lucas is cuddly and melts into your arms like soft butter, Ève gets mad and trashes about until you force the breast or the soother in her mouth and hold her tightly. Only then does she realize that you are here for her.

I went back to the day I found out I was pregnant with Baby#7. I drove the children to school on a snowy morning, stopped by the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test, came home and took the test with my coat still on, in the downstairs bathroom by the garage door. I remember standing in the mud room thinking “Well… Here’s Lucas…” We told the children about the new baby on a car trip to Florida. When I found out we were having twins, I was so thrilled by this gift of life. A little freebie. A #8 tucked-in with #7. I was looking at our Florida pictures later that year, wondering how crazy it was that we had two babies all along. A little stowaway! For some reason, even though both babies were conceived at the same time, I always thought of Eve as my little stowaway, my little freebie, the little #8 tucked-in with #7.

When Eve woke-up the next morning, I went to nurse her. She laid her little head in the crook of my arm and relaxed against my chest. I stroked her soft wispy hair and kissed her warm round forehead. I looked at her soulful half-moon eyes and told her “I’m so happy you came along. I love you”

And it was all forgotten.

The sleep book review edition


I have written several posts about my sleep struggles. Well, not technically my sleep struggles — my sleep would be awesome if I could get any — but my struggles with getting my baby boy to sleep. Or more precisely, to fall asleep and stay asleep. You can find my sleep deprived rants  intelligent analysis here (in French), here and here (in French).

This is not a new issue for me. My interest — some would call it an obsession — with good sleep goes back to my oldest child. Or, more precisely, was caused by my oldest child but didn’t gel until I had my second child. See, my firstborn was sleeping 8 hours at night by 3 weeks and 12 hours by 6 weeks. Uninterrupted. And she also had long naps during the day. It’s hilarious when I think about it: this child would go down for the night at 8 pm and sleep until 8 am. Then she would go back down for her morning nap at 9 am and sleep until 11. Then she’d be down around 1 pm until 3 pm and would often have an evening nap around 5 pm for an hour or so. Then she’d be down for the night at 8 pm. This “sleep routine” was well established by her 2-month mark. What’s hilarious is that I — 22 year-old omniscient me — thought (a) this was normal, and (b) I was doing something right that other struggling parents were obviously not doing.

(As an aside I would like to add this word of warning to young parents with easy babies. I have eaten back every single critical word I ever said about other parents. Even those I said in my head. If you have easy, manageable children take this advice — especially if you are hoping to have more — offer a word of deepest gratitude to God and Shut Up. If you don’t, the aforementioned God will “bless” you with babies/children exhibiting every single trait you ever criticized in other people’s kids and you will be plagued by an ever-present urge to call them and grovel at their feet begging for forgiveness. Take it from me.)

When my second child came along a year later he was immediately different. For one, he did not like being left alone in a bassinet. When at age 3 weeks he did  not sleep through the night, I wondered “What is wrong with that child?” (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha *cough* *wheeze*). By 7 months of age, he was still waking-up to nurse every hour. I was fried and I read Ferber’s Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems. We ferberized our son and it worked, more or less, like the book said it would.

But the Ferber method was not only difficult for me as a parent, it just didn’t work with my next dreadful sleeper (in the person of my fourth child). She was nearly a year old when we started implementing the 5-10-15 method (also know as gradual extinction) and she cried, and cried, and cried, and cried…. for 10 hours a night, for a full month. Oh, she would occasionally stop for 30 minutes and rest a little. But otherwise, she cried. And we gave-up.  Eventually I weaned her and she stopped waking-up to nurse. But that premature weaning weighted heavily on me. I wanted to understand why some of my children were such lousy sleepers and what I could do to help them before getting to a point of desperation where I had to let my babies cry their hearts out. I didn’t want to have to choose between nursing or sleep. I was thinking in terms of the ecosystem of the family. It didn’t make sense to me that the need for rest, comfort and sustenance in mother and baby should be mutually exclusive. Yet, in my case they were.

I read Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer but her antiquated approach to breastfeeding turned me off and made me wonder what else in her approach might not be, let’s say, based on sound science. If you want to learn more about her E.A.Z.Y. method start by reading the Amazon.ca comments section. You will notice that the reviews split between 5 stars and 1 star: very little middle ground reviews. My warning would be that if your child does not respond well to being put on a schedule (some do, some don’t), you can ruin several months of your baby’s babyhood trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. This doesn’t make for good memories.

When my sixth child was born, I quickly noticed that she was showing the tell tale signs of being a lousy sleeper: brown hair and brown eyes (yes, this is how it goes in my family: brown eyes = lousy sleeper, blue eyes = self-soothing baby. It splits evenly between the 8 and even alternates.) Someone recommended Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block and by far this book has been one of the most helpful I have read. It comes with some mild words of warning, most notably that the book is infuriatingly repetitive. It could have been published as a pamphlet. Also, I would like to see some scientific evidence related to that “calming reflex” and that “fourth trimester”: because something seems to work doesn’t mean that it has to be “trademarked” into some pseudo-medical concept. Finally, I would take the claim that his method solves colic with a boulder-sized grain of salt. That being said, his time-tested method of swaddling, white noise and rythmic motions will result in a calmer, more settled infant. This book — and a few Aiden & Anais swaddling blankets — is my go-to baby shower gift. It is better read before the baby comes along. Despite what the book claims, I would set the best-before date on this method at 6 weeks meaning that after 6 weeks, it may not help you as much as it would have before. My 3 year-old was swaddled well into her 5th month and my twins at 3 months will still moro-reflex-themselves silly if left unswaddled.

My 3-year-old is showing how to be the "Happiest Baby on the Block": swaddled and sucking.

All this being said, Happiest Baby on the Block says little about sleep problems and what to do when they occur past the 4th month. Someone gave me Marc Weissbluth Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child and I bought Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Twins (essentially the same book with more emphasis on scheduled awakenings). If you want to learn more about the science of sleep and its importance, this is the book for you. In a nutshell, his approach to sleep is that “sleep begets sleep” and that a well-rested child will naturally sleep better at night and during the day. It can be a dry read if you are as severely sleep-deprived as I am but the summary at the end of each chapter is enough to get you going. While Weissbluth’s method is not a straight-up Cry-it-Out approach, it can get to that if you let it.

All these books have helped me better understand my babies’ sleep. Each book describes at length how its method will help your baby sleep better. Each book has testimonies from parents whose children used to wake-up every 10 minutes and went-on on sleep 12 hours!! In a row!! Without waking-up!! Ever again!! But none of the books  has a decent troubleshooting section.  For instance, Weissbluth claims that if you put your baby to bed drowsy but awake at the right time (ei, before he gets overtired and cranky) he will quietly settle into sleep. When I put my son in bed drowsy but awake after the first signs of drowsyness, he wakes right up and freaks out. Now what? That doesn’t seem to exist in Weissbluth’s method: I must have missed the signs of drowsyness and waited too long. So I try again with shorter intervals of wakefulness. Still no success. Now what? Troubleshooting may suggest that the method in question is not a slam-dunk, and this may not be on any parenting book author’s wish list. But it would be nice to understand why some kids just don’t get it.

In the end, if my experience with 8 newborns has shown me anything it’s that some babies are able to fall asleep and stay asleep unassisted and others aren’t. Among those who are unable to fall or stay asleep unassisted you will find different degrees and variations of difficulty. For instance, my son can’t fall asleep on his own during the day but has no problem at night and overnight. It is possible to turn a good sleeper into a bad one through bad sleep hygiene (for instance if baby is constantly being woken-up or unable to nap adequately) and it is possible to turn a moderately bad sleeper into a moderately good one. Really lousy sleepers from hell and colicky babies are just that and your best bet is to aim at survival. That’s why Karp and Weissbluth are my favorite books: they propose to instill a good sleep hygiene through gentle repetition of time-tested routines. But if your child does not respond to the approach by sleeping like an angel, you can still keep those routines going without loosing your mind. Not so much with Ferber’s gradual extinction or Hogg’s Pick-up/Put down.

For my twins, I have adopted my own set of sleep principles. My approach has two pillars. The first one is survival: I need well-rested happy babies and this means that they must have naps during the day. At their age, we are still looking at 3 naps a day or more if they are very short. The second pillar is enjoyment: these are my twins. Having twins is a unique life experience and I’ll be damned if I waste it in a constant struggle with my flesh and blood. I have every intention to have wonderful — if blurry — memories of my twins’ infancy: raising twins is too tiring not to make the most out of every smile.

In order to give Lucas the rest he needs during the day, I have resorted to the swing, which I used to not-so-lovingly call the neglect-o-matic.  I only put Lucas in the swing for his naps. I nurse him, swaddle him and put him in the swing with white noise. He can sleep 2-3 hours like this. You may wonder, as I do, how the heck I will wean him from the swing. The truth is I have no clue. I’m trying to address this issue in steps and right now I am getting him in the habit of sleeping a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon and an hour or so in the evening. When his body is used to sleeping, I figure that being drowsy and falling asleep will come naturally and we can transition to sleep out of the swing. I’ll write a post when we get there. At night, he can usually fall asleep on his own in bed so I cultivate this ability like a delicate flower. I figure that he has the ability to fall asleep on his own and will eventually apply it to his daytime naps as well.

As far as night sleep goes, once again, the two pillars. Survival means that if Lucas needs to finish the night in bed with us, so be it. That’s what David did and our early morning cuddles are some of my fondest memories. Survival also means that I will  not spend a night awake listening to my baby cry. If I’m going to be awake, it will be drowsy with a nursing child. Ève is starting to sleep through the night (from 7:30 pm until 4-5ish) so the days when I’m up every hour with one or the other will be soon over. I know that to a parent of a singleton, waking-up to nurse every 3 hour sounds like a nightmare but to a parent of twins, it sounds like a trip to paradise: I haven’t slept 3 hours in a row since mid-August (I’m writing this in January).

In conclusion, Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child are the best resources in terms of understanding the science, physiology and importance of sleep to overall health. However, if you are not willing to let your child “cry it out”, just skip that part of the book. To establish gentle sleep routines and help your child sleep better — undertanding that “better” is only relative to your baseline and may mean going from no sleep to 2 hours — Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Happiest Baby on the Block are your best bet. They are a nice complement to each other. If you have no problems letting your child cry it out, save your money and don’t buy any books: both Weissbluth and Ferber agree that no harm will come to your child from crying it out assuming they are not hungry, sick or in pain. Just close the door and walk away.

I may be getting too old for this but I’m done pretending that I don’t care about my babies.