Elusive Sleep

I’m not going to name any names (*cough* WILLA *cough*), but one member of our household is responsible for our sleep deprivation over the past few months.

Who, me? Surely not!

One great thing about having kids is that everyone has advice for you, no matter what the issue may be. I am as guilty as anyone. I give out advice all the time–it’s one of my favorite hobbies. But when it comes to parenting, I do try to keep my advice to the “don’t freak out and everything will be fine” variety. Two people very close to me are going to have babies in the next few months. One of them asked me about birth centers versus hospitals, and I basically said, “look, you don’t have a whole lot of control over the outcome, so just go to the place you think you’ll be most comfortable with.” The other person asked me about the baby registry and what she might need. My advice? “You don’t really need anything at all except diapers.” My advice is meant to ease their minds and to avoid sounding like I have all the answers, because I clearly don’t. Do I take my own advice? Not at all. When we had our first baby, I registered for everything under the sun and then bought even more. When it came to our second, I worried every day for nine months about where I should give birth. Once I decided to stay in South Africa, I worried until the very last minute about which hospital to give birth at. I registered at two hospitals and I had two OB/GYNs plus a midwife, all ready to meet me at one of the hospitals should I go into labor. Worry is my middle name.

Anyway, Willa started sleeping pretty well, right after the colic died down. She slept through the night for the first time at around 8 weeks. For the next month, she would sleep for 5-6 hours at a time almost every night. I was feeling great. Then we left South Africa, and everything changed immediately, the day we arrived in Michigan. She didn’t sleep through the night again until… last week. It was four solid months of waking up every few hours. The worst part was Italy. There, she didn’t even nap. She would wake up at the slightest noise. If a dog barked or if Charlotte spoke, we’d hear Willa crying a minute later.

Almost as soon as we arrived here in Addis, she has been taking long naps every day (sometimes 3, but she is starting to drop that third nap). In the past week she has slept through the night (one long 7-8 hour stretch) four times. I joke that it’s because we’re back in Africa and she somehow knows this is the continent of her birth. After all, the high altitude should have disrupted her sleep, not put her back on a normal schedule. Here, there are dogs barking all night, churches broadcasting prayers all night, our generator going on and off all day and night… you’d think she would find all of this activity startling, not soothing.

When she was going through her four month sleep strike, everyone had opinions about what was going on. It was all well-meaning but often contradictory. She’s hungry, give her some formula, take fenugreek. She’s gassy, stop giving her solids, try probiotics. Put her to bed earlier, keep her up a little later. Don’t swaddle her, swaddle her, try white noise, keep the room silent, try a rock n play, bring her to bed with you, let her cry it out, whatever you do don’t let her cry it out.

For the record: we didn’t change a thing except geographic location, and Willa decided to sleep or not sleep according to her own whims. I sincerely believe these children are their own people. They come out fully-formed. Of course, you do what you can to encourage creativity, kindness, and other positive traits; it is our job to guide them through life’s challenges and help them become self-sufficient adults. But you can’t force them to do everything you want them to do (especially when it comes to sleeping and eating). Finding the balance between letting them be themselves and raising them responsibly is probably the greatest challenge I will ever face.

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