As I sit down to write this, I have to tell you, that last night was a rough night. I was exhausted and looking forward to a good night’s sleep, it was my night to co-sleep with E. At 10:30 I comforted him back to sleep before settling in myself, sometime around 1:30 (I never know when this really occurs) I went into his room when he stirred and whined, and at 3:30am he kicked and squirmed and crawled on top of my body rooting for my breast. I tried to pat his back, and gently “shhh” him, mentioning that it was still night-time and the nursies were sleeping, that he could nurse when the sun rose. He was not having it for some reason, and got very upset. We spent a few minutes bouncing, soothing. I called my husband in for reinforcement with water and to see if E would allow him to soothe. Maybe being so close to the nursies makes it harder to understand that they are sleeping? After 20 minutes or so E gave in to sleep. He woke again around 5am, and we nursed, but he was restless, pulling my hair, kicking. We went into daddy, into the big bed, and nursed again. Eventually I begged my husband to take him because I had reached the point of tiredness, where exhaustion turns to anger. Hubby thankfully swooped in, and got up with E. I slept, and now I am a functioning, less bitchy mother for it.
As you can see, from the story above, night weaning is not for the faint of heart. My biggest piece of advise for those who are considering it, is to make sure everyone involved is ready, and on board for the ups and downs. As much as it is a physical process, it is an emotional one. Like any part of parenting with intention, there are joyful moments of celebration when things go as you had hoped, and moments of anxiety, questioning, and feelings of guilt when they don’t. Be ready, have help, stay strong if you are doing this for a purpose that is ultimately to benefit the health and happiness of your family. Now back to my story….
About a week into night weaning, where my hubby had taken over all of the night wake ups, he leaves. I am left to take on the role of comforting, without the most useful tool I have ever used up until now to comfort. I grounded myself in determination, and hoped for the best. I stuck to our nightly routines of bath time, stories, nursing, and singing songs to sleep. This part was a breeze. I even went to bed in my own empty, large and lonely bed, just waiting for E to wake up so that I could go join him. And of course he did.
E has always had a pretty predictable sleep cycle, and always woken at the same times (within about a half hour or so). 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 5:00. So you can see why nursing him at each of these wake ups was leaving me utterly exhausted and depressed. Now that we have gotten through to the other side of night weaning, he still wakes or at least stirs at these hours, but is typically comforted back to sleep with a simple pat on the back, or snuggle. However during this second week of night weaning, with me left to my own now limited devices, these wake ups were tough.
E would wake. I would snuggle him and offer him water if he began to cry. I would rub his back and sing softly. If he got very upset, we would get up out of bed and go bounce on our ball, or rock in our chair. Within 5-10 minutes he would give in to sleep and we would get back in bed together, until the next wake up. The first two nights I was actually quite proud of how we did. I stayed strong in my reserve not to nurse until 5am, and he accepted my determination without too much of a protest. Then we went to visit a friend….
My friend is a dear mama that I met when E was 3 months old, at a breastfeeding group. Her son is just a few weeks older than E, and as she was able to stay home with him for his first year, we spent much of our time together. She and her son struggled with weight gain and milk supply, and I (along with many other beautiful mamas) was able to donate some of my milk to help him grow. So he and E are milk brothers, and mama H and I are like sisters. Now she is back to work, and they are having their own struggles with sleep. E and I went to visit and stay with C while his daycare was closed. We had a wonderful time living, playing, and parenting together. We got a little taste of what life in a village might really be like. They listened to my story of night weaning, and became inspired to start the process in their own way. I soaked in this mama’s kind and gentle mannerisms toward her family, and came home a kinder, gentler mama myself. But I will admit, night weaning, when you’re sleeping in a new place, is not ideal. For three nights I tried as best as possible to keep the same routine. But by the third night, I was utterly exhausted, and gave into to a bit of nursing to get us through the night without having to get up and bounce.
In this way, night weaning has ebbed and flowed for us. It has been as close to a gentle process as we could make it, without letting boundaries slip, or giving in. It has been a good lesson in the solidarity, and strength of heart that we will need to establish boundaries with E in future parenting. We are a family that believes in letting children have their freedom, their opinions and expressiveness, the ability to learn about right and wrong through trial and error, but we are also a family that believes in making conscious decisions. Night weaning perhaps was the first of many of those decisions.
When we returned home daddy tried to take over night-time duties once again. But after so many nights with me, we found that E was not ready to easily accept daddy as comforter again. So we started to take turns with wake ups. We noted that we were making progress. Each wake up was a little easier to deal with, less crying, a quicker return to sleep. We began to get more rest ourselves, and began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But before we would get there, daddy and I were scheduled to go on a trip, for two nights. It was our first ever trip away from our baby together. And so the job of night comforting was being transferred yet again, to the ever willing, ever helpful grandma….
(stay tuned for part 3!)