My little guy is almost 1 1/2, and thankfully sleepless nights are now a fairly rare occurrence. Every now and then though, I have a night that brings me back to that first year, when he never slept consistently. It was so frustrating! But living through that year with him has given me invaluable tools for coping now when we have a night that's out of the ordinary.
Of my seven children, most were excellent sleepers. My second child until now was by far the worst, which had sort of lead me to believe that all the kids who came after somehow responded to my better parenting skills. I figured I had learned with #2 and become a better parent, and that's why they all slept better. But then along came #7, who gave #2 a run for his money. And boy, it was a trying first year! I listened to friends tout the sleep training methods that worked on their babies (methods that had all worked on my good sleepers) and we tried trick after trick, to avail. I signed up for newsletters from the sleep training expert, and they would arrive in my inbox just to taunt me after a particularly rough night, dangling the idea of a restful night before my eyes. I had to accept at a certain point that for some kids, there is just nothing that will work. Some babies just don't sleep well, even if you do all the right things.
And then, once I rid myself of the idea that I would ever sleep a full night, things got better. The baby didn't sleep any better, but I was able to cope because I didn't have the expectation when I put him down he would sleep all night. I devised a plan for soothing him that included plan B, and C, and D, so that my efforts were never fully exhausted. This is the same plan I still use if he wakes, like the other night, even though he's a mostly consistent sleeper now: I pick him up, I rock him and say a decade of the rosary. If he seems like he's settling then I try to put him in his crib, if not I continue with another decade. When he does tolerate his crib I don't leave immediately, I stay and rub his back while I say another decade. After each decade I try to leave, and if he's not settled I return for another. I know that since there are five decades of the rosary, I have lots of time. I also plan that if my rosary is finished and the baby isn't asleep, I'll start a chaplet of Divine Mercy. If I need more time, I say an express Novena (nine Memorares). And if after all of that he's still not settled enough for me to leave him, I'll start it all over again. Worst case scenario this baby gets prayed with all night. And Mary, the mother of all mothers, is with me during these late nights, helping me to keep perspective. Of course it's awful when your child won't sleep, but when I think of these midnight hours and my little boy drifting off to sleep bathed in prayer, it helps get me through.
Mama's, I know it's not easy when your baby won't sleep. But trust me when I say it won't be like this forever. Even if your baby has gone past the 1 year mark and is still not showing any signs of sleeping, don't lose sight of the big picture. At some point, they will sleep. Maybe it won't be for another year or two, or even more - but someday they will. And until then, don't count on getting a full night's sleep. Count on being awake, and develop a coping mechanism you can count on to sustain you through those dreary hours. Devotions were great for me because I could rattle off the prayers without thinking too much, and it always helped turn my heart away from despair. Maybe your coping mechanism includes waking Dad after so many times through your routine - don't feel bad about that either. One day you'll get less into your routine when baby sleeps, and then you'll count it as a gift. And then, a little less and a little less, until eventually you don't even need it. And then it will be in your back pocket, always ready to help you navigate the inevitable bad night that is bound to pop up.
Like so many things in parenthood, I think raising a child helps us learn how to navigate life. Because life is full of unplanned circumstances, things that deviate from the norm and push us out of our comfort zone, with no end in sight. When we are faced with those impossible situations, we can have one of two responses: we can recoil in despair, or we can have a game plan for getting us through. For me, the babies who didn't sleep have taught me that life doesn't always go the way I planned, and that's not a reflection of my own ability as a parent (or as a person). As mothers we want to fix, we want to solve, we want to have everything in perfect order (and yes, we want to sleep!) But sometimes no matter what we do, we can't escape the disorder, the chaos, the lack of routine. There too, we have two choices: give in to despair, or learn to cope. Seasons come and go, and the only response we can have is to weather what comes our way. Expectations can make navigating these periods so much more difficult, but surrendering to reality and inviting the Lord to help you cope with what's in front of you will give you the freedom you need to put one foot in front of the other and go with it. And then one day you'll look back and realize you are out. And you'll be so grateful for all the steps that got you through. When I see my baby now, the one who sleeps well most nights, it makes me remember doing those things with all of my kids. The ones who need me less and less as they get older, who can soothe themselves if they wake at night, and put themselves back to bed. And I see that in those baby years when they were so needy, all of it was laying a foundation that I hope will be with them forever, a level of love that evolves from one of constant being together and holding and coddling, to one that helps them step out into the world alone, confident and secure. These times of trial that deviate from the norm are not always bad, even if walking through them is hard. We just need to set our hearts not on getting past it, but being in the midst of it.