Wednesday, August 18, 2010

on being a mother

She bends her head to his. She smells his hair. She has no choices. She imagines suddenly a film in which a sagacious dog travelled hundreds of miles, back along the scent, or the magnetic field, which pulled from what it knew and loved. This hair she could distinguish in a room piled high with other heads. This note she would hear through all others. This person is the centre. It is not what she would have chosen but it is a fact, it is a truth stronger than other truths. It is a love so violent that it is almost its opposite.
Babel Tower, A. S. Byatt

Going back to work in two weeks. Trying to get as much writing done as possible. The two hour nap at 11.30, which was reliable for almost three months, is no longer so. Not sure how to juggle childcare, teaching, writing, applying for jobs, and surviving. Lack of sleep is going to be a problem, but I don't have the energy to sleep train (nor do I think it will work). I need help. My mother is here for a month, cooking, cleaning, watching Leon for 2 hours at a time. Sleep has deteriorated, and he is nursing constantly. This is likely because he's separated from me now. Having my mother here has made me realize just how much help I actually need. Not having friends to rely on for an hour or two of babysitting every once in awhile, not having family, not having childcare, and not having a partner who can help...I don't know how people can be full-time stay at home parents without any breaks, any assistance. And yet, 18 months later, I'm so attached, I don't know how to function without him constantly by my side. But I will have to figure something out because there is little joy in this.

Leon's words at eighteen months
appah (father in Korean)
mommy ("help" or "I want")
it's mine


Anonymous said...

Is there any chance at all that you could arrange to take a real trip away from home without him? It might help the sleep stuff because he wouldn't be in that state of always knowing you were there to comfort nurse, and it seems like it would help YOU so much to be able to get a few nights of uninterrupted sleep.

It would be hard, I'm sure, and I know he is truly unusually sleep-resistant, but I can't believe it would do him any serious harm. This might not be practical for you at all, and I hope you will forgive me for being presumptuous enough to suggest it. Unsolicited advice is obnoxious, I know, and I don't even know you in real life, so it's extra unsolicited. But sleep deprivation is *torture*, and I thought maybe it would be mildly useful for some stranger on the internet to say that it wouldn't be irresponsible of you to take time away.

erica said...

i've thought about this, but my husband is somewhat resistant to the idea of fending for himself while working long hours. but my mom is here for two more weeks, maybe now is the time?

i do appreciate your advice, it's good to hear it from someone instead of going mad in my echo chamber!

Jessica said...

I haven't read this book yet, but I've heard good things about it. Not sure if it will speak to toddlers, but maybe just to know that Leon is not the only child and you are not the only parent going through this type of thing. My niece is very attached and, well spirited at 9 months old. She totally has her own agenda, particularly with sleep. Good luck Erica, I'll be thinking of you.

Stephanie said...

I agree with redfox - I know you have been giving your all to Leon for the past 18 months, but no one can do it alone without a break. Or without sleep. And it is creating a situation that isn't sustainable or fair to you or to Leon, because a sleep-deprived, anxious you just isn't as good as a relaxed, well-rested you. It's ok to take a break.

Christine said...

I feel compelled to comment, particularly because of that beautiful excerpt you posted. So beautiful it makes me choke up. There is nothing like a mother's love for her child.

Some thoughts on your post - does his pediatrician have any suggestions regarding the sleeping issue? There were two books that I found helpful when I thought I would lose my mind from lack of sleep when my son was still nursing round the clock. The first was Elizabeth Pantley's "No-Cry Sleep Solution," and the second was Soho Parenting's "A Mother's Circle." The latter is not specifically a sleep-help book, but they have a very good section on it. Each book offered bits of helpful advice, but I think ultimately I found them comforting because I felt as if I could take some control over the situation. I ended up journaling my son's sleep schedule, and this allowed me to observe his changing sleeping habits and work with and around them. Eventually, we did sleep-train him, but only when he was a little over one year old, when I felt he (more like me) was ready for it. To our surprise, it took about 3 days. We shortened our initial check-ins to only a couple of minutes or so, but then gradually lengthened them, as he got used to them. It meant nudging him past his comfort zone, but we made sure to provide him with plenty of pre-bedtime cuddling and reassurance. He's a pretty good sleeper these days, but maybe I'm just lucky.

Erica, you sound like a wonderfully devoted mommy, but I think you need to find little moments of "me" time, so that you and Leon can enjoy each other. Are you considering daycare for him when you return to work?

I probably overstepped my bounds with all of my thoughts, and I will ask for the same forgiveness as redfox, if I have, but I truly hope that you find your way with this.

erica said...

thanks for the comment. i did try pantley's method, but it didn't seem to work with leon's tendency to vomit. we used jay gordon's night weaning method and made it through 2 of the 3 steps. unfortunately i couldn't quite stick it out after nearly 2 weeks of complete sleep deprivation.

i'd love advice from anyone who's managed to get their night-nursing (every 1-2 hours), co-sleeping toddler to sleep through the night, either in a family bed or his own. leon is extremely strong willed and set in his ways...

Catherine said...

I think Audrey is pretty strong willed too, perhaps not as much as Leon though! Without sounding like a stuck record I am a fan of the Save Our Sleep schedules. It sounds as if Leon needs to nurse to get back to sleep. How does he nap during the day? And are you still co-sleeping? You mentioned Leon doesn't drink much apart from what he gets from you nursing. Little changes throughout the day might help - I always found making changes in the night very difficult. Perhaps right the day and the nights will follow? More fluid (not from you) and food during the day may help - I imagine making changes now are difficult, especially now Leon is older but he is human and humans are a very adaptable species.

I know what others are saying about advice. Personally I always welcomed it, as I could take or leave what other's offered, which is what I hope you will do with mine.

Sometimes I go to bed late and I literally tell myself off as I know that regardless of when I go to sleep I will be woken at 6am, and a grumpy mother is no fun and not fair at all to Lucy and Audrey. I need to be responsible about that but it's hard when it's the only time of day I get a few hours to myself.

Anonymous said...

I've been enjoying your blog for a while and have wanted to chime in about the sleep issue but didn't want to be presumptuous....

Anyway, here's my story. My son Lucas fought sleep like you wouldn't believe, and it got to the point where I felt I had no choice but to use the services of a sleep doula. She was available to come to our home and "sleep train" Lucas in person, but it was not within our means to go with this option, so we had her coach us through the process over the phone, and we applied the methods ourselves.

Basically, the doula's process involved letting Lucas cry it out BUT with this (I think) crucial difference: we spent the night in Lucas' room (out of sight) offering him verbal comfort with various phrases such as "it's okay, nighty-night, time to sleep" whenever he cried.

As you can imagine, the first night was just dreadful. Lucas cried unrelentingly for four or five separate ninety minute stretches as we tried to verbally comfort him. It felt completely pointless, and it was agony letting him cry and not picking him up.

However, on the second night, he was down to forty minute crying sessions, and by the third night, he was down to five minute sessions - and, amazingly, only two of these. Since I was in the room with him, I was actually present for the eureka moment he found his thumb. His thumb has become an incredible self-soothing tool for Lucas, and is still effective in stressful moments for him, even now at two-and-a-half.

If you're worried about Leon vomiting, it would be okay (according to the doula - I know because I had similar concerns) to clean him up and make sure he's alright, but, as soon as you felt sure that he was okay, you could resume with the same crying-verbal comforting process.

Anyway, I really do hope that I'm not interfering. I just wanted to share with you what my experience has been. Best.

dp said...

my little one didn't come close to sleeping solo until after i weaned ... we're back to family sleeping now, but the waking is much less frequent.

melissa said...

i'm sorry things continue to be so difficult with leon's sleep. i'm afraid i don't have much advice on the subject, as crying it out has worked for hugh. but i can totally understand how difficult change is when you have a little one. and boy do i understand how tough it can be without family or friends around to help. it was enough to make me move back to NY.

but i'm glad your mom can be there during this transition period. hopefully things will fall into place soon.

and i hope you're excited about teaching again! a different sort of mental stimulation. :)