When I lie down, I go to sleep in peace; you alone, O Lord, keep me perfectly safe
Sleep. It’s one of those things that gets taken for granted….until it’s gone. I know moms and dads of infant children can identify whole heartedly with this statement! Having five kids, I don’t get the standard 8 hours of sleep that most doctors recommend. Many nights I spend an hour or so finishing up some cleaning, doing laundry, taking a few minutes to work out, etc. Every now and then Zack and I will turn on the tv and catch the end of a game, or an episode of House Hunters, but not very often. I don’t say this in a negative or complaining way- our lives are full, God has blessed us with a houseful of children, and we are very thankful!
Fortunately for us, when it comes to sleep, our four big kids have been good sleepers. They do have some occasional sleep issues- Eden wakes up probably 2-3 times every week in the middle of the night and needs help going to the bathroom. When we brought Emmie home from China, she didn’t sleep well for several weeks, but if she wakes now, she usually is able to manage on her own. When we adopted Caleb, he was a year old and would occasionally wake from time to time during the night. Noah is out cold the minute his head hits the pillow, and always has been.
When I found out I was pregnant with Luke, one of the first things I realized was that I needed to educate myself on infant sleep….and hopefully how to “make” the baby be a good sleeper. I’m smiling as I type this- I was extremely naïve).
I began reading books regarding sleep, and felt somewhat prepared as Luke’s arrival got closer. I had decided to try and breastfeed, so I knew that factor alone would mean quite a bit of sleep loss in the first several weeks. I was not afraid of sleep training, and believed (and still do) that routines and consistency are very important. I also knew that Zack didn’t sleep well until he was almost 3 years old. Yes, Punky has lots of crowns in heaven. I, on the other hand, began sleeping through the night at one month old. I was really hoping Luke would take after me in this regard, and armed with my sleep books, I felt somewhat confident about the whole sleep issue.
Then, October 3, 2018 a little after 1pm, sweet baby Luke was born. And all that “knowledge” went out the window, just like my sleep.
I still remember the first time we tried to lay Luke down in the bassinet in the hospital room. He had been sleeping so peacefully in my arms. Anyone who has had the amazing experience of holding a newborn while they sleep knows just how precious moments like these are. I really didn’t want to put Luke down, but I knew I needed to try and get some rest myself. So, I gently laid him down, swaddled up just right, in his little basinet. The second his tiny little body touched that bassinet- instant screaming and eyes wide open. Hmm, I thought. He must like to be held. So, that’s what I did. Then we tried again to lay him down. Same result. I remember being a little concerned, but not too worried. The first couple nights we let the nurses keep Luke in the nursery throughout the night and bring him to us for feedings, and they never mentioned anything about him not sleeping, so we just thought maybe it was just a coincidence.
When we brought Luke home, like many babies, he had no problem sleeping all day long. No noise, no movement, nothing could hardly wake him from his sleep during the day. But when it came night time, he was ready to party. We realized that he had his days and nights confused (as they say). I knew to expose him to as much daylight during the day, make his room dark at night, etc. I also knew that in the first several weeks of life, there really isn’t much of a circadian rhythm going on with infants. I figured this stage would last for a few weeks, maybe two months, then all would be well. Everyone kept reassuring and tell me he would “get himself straightened out.” In the meantime, we did whatever we could to get Luke to sleep and keep him asleep- white noise machines, swaddles, rocking, walking, etc. But none of our efforts seemed to affect the amount or quality of sleep he got at night. When he did sleep at night, it was usually for two hours at a time (he always wanted to eat!) and absolutely only in the rock n’ play (yes, the product that has now been universally recalled) with vibration and motion. I worried that in the long run this would be a bad decision, and sure enough I developed a love/hate relationship with that thing, but at the time, it truly was the only thing he would sleep in.
As time went on, Luke did sleep less during the day, but his night time sleep didn’t improve as it should have. A large portion of every night was spent with me rocking, bouncing, walking, singing, swaying….whatever I had to do to get Luke back to sleep and to buy myself an hour and half or so of sleep. Sometimes he would sleep for two hours, sometimes an hour and a half, sometimes three (this seemed miraculous!). I spent many hours with my phone screen brightness turned all the way down, lying in my bed, reading about promising baby products on mom blogs and browsing Amazon while trying to coax Luke back to sleep. This honestly became my pastime. I ordered a steady stream of sleep help products. We’re talking an Amazon Prime package in the mail like every other day. Everything from “miracle” swaddles, tummy wraps, homeopathic elixirs, vibrating mats, a variety of portable baby beds, mattresses, you name it, I tried it. Thankfully Amazon has an awesome return policy, because none of them fazed Luke! Time after time, disappointment, and no sleep.
I began to develop anxiety about the night- I would feel the anxiety creep in during early afternoon. What would the night hold? How much would Luke cry? Could I really do this another night? What affect was this sleep loss having on Luke…and me? How would I have energy to make it through another day? It was during this sleepless time that Luke also began to develop acid reflux (we didn’t realize what it was at the time). He cried the majority of the day and night, and though you would think he would be exhausted by nighttime, he still didn’t sleep. As the sleep experts love to say (and its true) sleep begets sleep. Needless to say, he was not a happy baby his first few months of life, and again, we did whatever we could to keep him content, even if it was for a couple hours. Thankfully a close friend and the Lord’s providence put us into contact with a wonderful pediatrician that helped tremendously with Luke’s acid reflux, so that was one less thing to keep him awake! Zack and I continued to do whatever we could to help him sleep, or at least we thought we were helping. Looking back, I now realize this was part of the problem to some extent- We were so intent on helping him sleep, we never gave him the chance to learn to sleep on his own. More on that later.
By the time Luke was about 3.5 months old, I was on the verge of total exhaustion, physically and mentally, as I was only getting about four hours of fragmented (not consecutive) sleep at night. When I looked in the mirror, I barely recognized myself. Breastfeeding had taken a toll on my body, and because we suspected a dairy sensitivity with Luke, I had eliminated dairy from my diet and could not keep at a healthy weight. I had the biggest rings around my eyes I had ever seen, and my eyes always looked red. I felt guilty because I didn’t have the energy and stamina I needed to give my big kids the attention they deserved. I was cranky and not much fun. I didn’t like it. Something had to change.
It was at this very low point when I read about a “magical baby bed” called the Snoo. As part of my Amazon purchases, I had tried lots of different mattresses and portable type sleepers. I had even paid well over $100 for a portable baby bed that was supposed to make your baby feel like it was being cradled in your arms all night long. Well, it didn’t work and Luke screamed as soon as we laid him down in it. So needless to say, I was very skeptical of any baby bed that made such claims. But, the Snoo had basically perfect reviews on Amazon. Aside from that, it was being used by major hospitals to help premature babies sleep. And it was created by the best selling author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block”. It seemed legit, and it had to work, right? There was only one problem, and it was a major one. The price tag- it cost over $1000! I knew we could not afford that. I knew Zack Caldwell wouldn’t even entertain such nonsense. But, I also knew we had to sleep, and that I could no longer function in this condition.
This bed seemed to be the answer to all our problems. We had tried everything else, so in my mind, this was our last hope for sleep. Notice where I was putting my hope….
One night while Zack and I were both lying in bed awake, I rolled over and asked him, “How much would you be willing to pay to get to some sleep?” You see, I had figured out the monthly, weekly, and daily cost of the Snoo, and in my mind, it was totally worth it to get some sleep! And, as luck would have it, that particular weekend, it was on sale! Now if I could only convince my frugal husband that we needed this bed! Well, the lack of sleep must have gotten to him as well, because he didn’t need any convincing. Once I told him it had a 30 day money back guarantee, he was sold. I laid in bed and ordered it right then and there on my phone. I began counting down the days until it arrived. Finally, we would get some sleep!
I still remember the day the Snoo arrived. It came in a huge box and was very heavy. My mom and I brought it in from the front porch, and unpackaged it. If you google it, you will see a very modern and sleek looking bassinet type bed. But I didn’t care so much about how it looked as I did how it would help our Luke, and us, get some sleep! I got out the instructions and read them over very thoroughly. I downloaded the app on my phone and did everything I needed to do to pair my phone with the bed. The technology aspect of the bed was super cool. The Snoo also came with its own swaddle. The swaddle hooked into the baby bed. Once the baby was secure in the bed, the Snoo could be turned on, and then you could use the app on your phone to control it, or allow the bed to sense when the baby was upset, and do its magic- either way, the parent could always be in control. I was so excited for bedtime that night…I couldn’t wait!
We were still living with my parents at the time, so we all gathered in Luke’s room to see what was going to happen. It was like a live exhibition or something. We put Luke in the new swaddle, hooked him in, and walked just outside the door and watched- I had the app on my phone, turned on the bed, and we waited. As usual, it didn’t take long for Luke to begin to fuss and move about. That’s when the Snoo kicked in. Here’s a brief synopsis of how the Snoo works- at the first signs of the baby’s agitation, the Snoo begins to move gently back and forth in an attempt to calm the baby- this is level 1. If that doesn’t work, it progresses to the next level, where the motion is a little more intense. If the baby calms down, the bed reverts to the previous level after a certain amount of time. If the baby doesn’t calm down, it moves to a higher level, which involves more motion (there’s a reason the swaddle must be strapped into the bed before it will turn on). The cool thing is with the app, you can actually override the bed’s suggestion and put it at whatever level you want, or just let it do its thing.
Well, let’s just say Luke never made it back to level one that first night. In fact, within about five minutes, he had the Snoo at the highest level and it appeared there was an earthquake happening inside his little bassinet! He was being shaken, rocked and his feet were flailing up and around in the air while he screamed and cried! It was like a crazy ride at the Chicken Festival for newborns or something! This was not at all what I had hoped and longed and prayed it would be! My mom couldn’t watch it any longer, she had to leave the room. Zack and dad just stood there with their mouths open, and I was screaming, “Turn it off! Turn it off! “ (even though I had the control in my hand). I shut down the Snoo, unstrapped Luke and tried to calm him down. The Snoo was no match for baby Luke. I admit, I didn’t give it a second chance. The sight of Luke’s body being bounced around and his legs flying up in the air were just too much for me. We repackaged it the next day and sent it back, and they did thankfully honor the money back guarantee. Another hope of sleep dashed. At this point I had used up all knowledge of any remaining sleep products. Where to go from here?
I had read enough about sleep to know that most healthy babies could begin sleep training at around three to four months of age. Our pediatrician encouraged this, but I just felt like Luke wasn’t ready. Why? I had no answers. Because he wasn’t a good sleeper? The logic of that statement, well, there is no logic to that statement. That’s the whole point of sleep training. It’s training your child to sleep. Sleep comes easier to some children than to others. Training is also easier for some children than others. But one thing is for sure- the parents can either hinder or help the training along, and looking back, the first few months of Luke’s life, I believe we were hindering it. Poor Luke never got a chance to learn to sleep on his own because we never let him! We trained him to rely on us to go to sleep. So, now, it was time to, well, retrain him.
So, we went cold turkey, straight up Cry It Out sleep training. I was done with anything in between and ready to endure whatever Luke threw at us. First night, about two hours of non stop crying. We were still living at my parents house. Sorry mom and dad. I had to leave for the house for a while. I thought my mom was going to have to leave as well. It was tough. But the second night was better, and the third night was much better. His sleep ever so gradually improved for several weeks (by improved, I mean he would sleep for 4-5 hours at a time). But, around 8-9 months we hit another wall. So, we embraced another sleep training method, the Ferber Method. By embraced, I mean that I read the entire book and took into consideration what the author had to say about every part of sleep, including naps. I would encourage anyone who attempts sleep training to read the entire book of whatever you choose. I worked very hard with Luke to keep his naps in synch with his night time sleep and on a schedule, as well as his feedings. It was really hard work with Luke, and involved our entire family sacrificing in some way. I know this drove Zack crazy, as he felt like our life was dictated by Luke’s schedule, but I knew that if we didn’t come up with a plan and stick with it, it would mean more sleepless nights and the inability to have any sort of routine or normalcy in regard to a family schedule at all. It took a week or so, but the Ferber Method of sleep training seemed to be more effective for Luke at that point, and so we have been sticking with it ever since. I’ll be the first to say that sleep training isn’t easy, but it is well researched and documented, and if we hadn’t tried it, I honestly believe that I would have had a physical and emotional breakdown, and that Luke would still be a very poor sleeper and a very unhealthy and unhappy baby. It’s tough, but if you can hang in there and be disciplined in whatever approach you take, you will see positive results.
Our sweet baby Luke is now 11 months old, and he has finally become a mostly normal sleeper for a baby of his age. Some nights he will sleep from about 8pm-6:30 in the morning. Other nights he will go to sleep at 8, wake up at 4 or 5 to eat, and then sleep until almost 7. He takes only one nap a day (gave up his morning nap before he was ten months old), which was very hard initially, but it’s usually a good afternoon nap, so I can handle that.
Helping Luke to be just an average sleeper has been a long time coming. I have cried many tears and have had many frustrating days and nights. I have felt like giving up on any sort of sleep training multiple times and sleep, in general, plenty of times. I prayed for God to give me wisdom, strength, to help Luke sleep, to help me sleep, many times not understanding why my prayers hadn’t been answered.
Looking back, I think I now know why my prayers for sleep weren’t answered in my timeframe. I had made sleep an idol, a God almost, in my life. Please don’t hear me say that sleep isn’t important. It certainly is! Sleep was created by God and God knows our bodies require it in order to live and to be healthy. But I had made my peace, my contentment, basically my existence, subject to the quality and amount of sleep I got and how well my baby slept, not the fact that I was a child of the living God, the Creator God who alone could give me peace and rest. Again, please don’t hear me say that sleep deprivation isn’t an extremely difficult thing to deal with and live with- it certainly is and it certainly has real consequences, but nothing that is too much for the Lord to see us through.
My new petition to the Lord is that Luke will continue to sleep well and will be unhindered by the arrival of baby Levi in late January. I pray that God will help me keep my focus on Him and the peace he gives, despite what type of sleeper Levi is.
At the beginning of this post, I referenced Psalm 4:8. This is a verse my mom used to recite to me at night when I would be afraid or anxious, which was quite often. As a young girl, my mom spent plenty of nights lying in bed with me until I fell asleep. Little did I know at the time that she was using this same scripture to quiet her anxieties and fears over the many trials and tribulations they were experiencing with my adoption. I committed this verse to memory as a young child, and it is a verse that I share from time to time with my children when they are afraid at night. I always explain to them that God is the one who gives us peace and takes away our fears, so that we may sleep in peace. Recently, the Lord has shown me how the entire chapter of Psalm 4 speaks to what we place our hope in, and how placing our hope in the Lord can bring more joy than anything else. It has brought great comfort to me, even on the most difficult nights, and I hope it will do the same for you.
Psalm 4- A Night Prayer
1 Answer me when I call, God, who vindicates me. You freed me from affliction; be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
2 How long, exalted men, will my honor be insulted? [How long] will you love what is worthless and pursue a lie? Selah
3 Know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for Himself; the Lord will hear when I call to Him.
4 Be angry and do not sin; on your bed, reflect in your heart and be still. Selah
5 Offer sacrifices in righteousness and trust in the Lord.
6 Many are saying, "Who can show us anything good?" Look on us with favor, Lord.
7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.
Hang in there moms and dads. Sleep will come….eventually. It may not be when you want it, how you want it, but it will come. Through those difficult times, put your hope in the One who can give more peace than even the most fulfilling night of sleep. Our bodies need sleep, but our souls need peace even more.
(ps: I would be more than happy to share all the specific things we tried with Luke- what didn’t work, what worked a little, what worked a little more J Just send me a PM! )