Sometimes you’re better off not knowing what’s headed your way. Picture an arctic mariner who finds himself abandoned on an iceberg. If he knows he’s destined to spend weeks of polar winter freezing, lonely, and slowly starving, he may very well take off his gloves for a last look at his wedding band, finish off his rations in one gluttonous go, and lie down for an eternal nap. Game over. If, however, he catches sight of a superior mirage, he’ll likely keep moving long enough to greet rescuers as something other than a corpsicle. The illusion provides life-perpetuating solace.
For this reason, a new parent routinely hears that her infant’s sleep patterns will normalize “at the two to three week mark.” After four weeks the phrase “certainly by three months” gets bandied about. Rather than losing faith, a first-time mom redoubles the ferocity of her investment in the next magical milestone, trudging down the tunnel of parenthood toward the imaginary gleam provided by the six-month, one-year, and eighteen-month marks. With luck she pops her head above ground and breathes clean emotional air just before her little one’s first birthday.
If parents truly comprehended at the outset the degree and duration of sleep loss required, we’d probably quit, farming out the first six months to some type of baby boarding school (like Andova or Eggseter). But we don’t, and we don’t. Experienced parents either forget what those first months entail (after all, scientists have shown that a biological imperative produces hormones which make mothers disremember the difficulty of pregnancy and child birth), or they rationalize that the next baby will be different (a slip of the mental wrist that’s even easier for those who started with a sick kiddo).
I labored (literally) under the misconception that my second infant would be healthy and happy – sleeping for more than an hour at a time at night, going down for a nap without Herculean efforts (yes, I call toting a 10-pound boy in a Baby Bjorn for hours at a time a feat worthy of the ancient demigod), and allowing us to place him in a bouncer or swing without screaming bloody murder. After just a few weeks, when I realized that even our ridiculously fabulous new double stroller couldn’t turn our second go-around into a walk in the park, my hormones began leveling insults and accusations.
“What the hell have you done?” screamed the hypercritical, melodramatic demon that lurked inside my postpartum mind. “The girl child finally felt good! She slept! She listened! Now she’s totally exhausted thanks to her little brother’s nocturnal bellowing, and she’s challenging long accepted boundaries just for shits (on the living room floor) and giggles (as she removes a morsel of three-day-old ground beef from the crack in her highchair seat and shoves it in her mouth despite my vehement protestation). Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone? You didn’t like having time and energy for yourself? You decided activities like showering and sleeping were optional? You fool! You ruined everything!”
But then there are times when knowing full well what lurks around the bend provides the consolation. Once I was able to silence the Internal Monologue of Darkness and take stock of the situation, I recognized the beast possessing our newborn for what it was. In the middle of a nighttime nursing session, some organized thinking (piecing together my own observations and comments made by my MIL and husband) revealed that our new addition drifted off to sleep only to wake minutes later with a start accompanied by a sound in his throat that Ian describes as “the gurgling brook setting on a noise machine” often followed by regurgitation, coughing, and wheezing. Hello, GERD. I remember you. You terrorized our daughter for months. Welcome back to our home. We missed you like Lady Gaga misses obscurity.
I emailed our pediatrician at four a.m. Twelve hours and several desperate phone calls later, I’d taken Stuart to the Occupational and Physical Therapy department at Seattle Children’s, given him a dose of reflux medication, and put him to sleep on a large “wedge” designed to keep him propped upright with a straight back. (Therapist: “I’ve been working here for 30 years and have never once seen someone get a referral and a wedge in the same day. You’re a pushy person, aren’t you?” Me: “Yes, yes I am.”)
As of Stu’s six week check-up, we’ve turned the corner. Vivi largely stays true to the avowal she makes every time she asks me for something special (like an M&M, a trip to the Pacific Science Center, or the privilege of helping change Stu’s diaper): “I will, I will, I will be a good listener, Mama.” The addition of a second noise machine enables her to sleep through the night, she’s mostly come to terms with the fact that she can’t take the baby off to her room to play with her other dolls, and she clearly adores him (When he cries: “It’s okay, Shtu Shtu. We hear you, honey. Hushy hush.” When he “talks”: “Really? Is that really, Shtu-Ert?”). Thanks to a trip to the GI specialist and two more prescriptions, Stu has begun to nap well, sit quietly for prolonged periods of time, and share his happiness through some seriously top-shelf cooing.
Hopefully sleeping at night will follow shortly. Certainly by three months.