Let me speak to you out of the wealth of my experience.
But first, let me tell you how my eldest child lulled me into a false sense of security before I had the rug rudely pulled out from under my formerly well rested self. Never mind, I won't tell you about that part. It's not relevant, and it will only make us all long for things that will never again come to pass. I will just say that said child still routinely sleeps 12 hours a night and has to be dragged out of bed by the smell of burnt bagels while still wearing his favorite pajama shirt which reads "Waking Up Is Hard To Do".
Unfortunately, every child is different.
My other three children... Insomnia and I became close friends for quite some time. Even now, when I feel well rested and generally get my allotted 7 hours of sleep, there is rarely a night when the Man and I aren't each out of bed at least one time each. There are nightmares and potty accidents and lost loveys and pleas to "cover up me, Mommy" even though all children are perfectly capable of covering up themselves.
So here I am, not nearly as far removed from the trenches of sleeplessness as I'd like, to share what little I have gleaned with you:
- You can do everything right, but you can't make them sleep. I swear to you that I read every sleep book available when it came to the twins. And implemented all of the suggestions religiously. Even the ones that contradicted themselves. And did so like my life depended on it. Because it really did. And was too tired to realize that I was completely crazy pants. It may have made me feel like I was doing everything I could, but it didn't make them sleep. You can lead a horse to water... BUT (repeat after me) you can't make a baby sleep.
- If you have a partner in parenting, let them actually be your partner. The Man and I didn't really figure this one out until the twins. In all honesty, I felt fully capable of handling Tiny's sleeplessness on my own and the Man was swamped with work, so I made an executive decision to not interrupt the few hours of sleep he was getting. The twins were a different story. I was desperate over a year in, and he was home. He was my saving grace. This is especially important if you're still nursing. A middle of the night wake up had to be responded to by someone who didn't smell like breast milk. If you've got back up: use it.
- Water sippies are your friend. Sometimes early toddlers are just thirsty. It's hard work learning how to walk. Sure you'll have to break this habit once they start potty training and haven't stopped drinking themselves to sleep, but it's totally worth it on the sleep end now.
- It's a season. I know it's no fun waking up to a demanding child when you are supposed to be past that stage. Expectations are a beast. Especially when you're pretty sure yours are founded in reality. But seriously, it goes so fast...and then they're in a top bunk dropping sippy cups on their sisters' heads and you can't get to them for those midnight snuggles. Hold them close, smell their heads, remind yourself they won't be nursing for much longer, and try to pray something other than just "Please, God, let them go to sleep" (although that is a totally acceptable prayer too). I spent a lot of wakeful nights praying for other mamas who weren't getting sleep either. Solidarity, sister.
- Let these moments spur you to gratitude. Thank God on the nights you do sleep. And on the nights you don't, thank him that you have a kid who wants to spend time with you, a kid with a healthy appetite, a kid you can snuggle in your arms still. Or thank God that you get to send your husband in there to deal with your shrieking offspring while you roll over and get a little more sleep. There are always opportunities for gratitude if we are looking for them.
Why do they do this? Who knows. What is the joy of not sleeping? Sleep is wonderful! It's pretty much the best thing ever! Do they miss you? Are they really hungry? Are they perversely trying to keep you from being well rested enough to have another one of them? Could the answer be "D. All of the above"? We will never know.
Until, of course, we get to heaven and ask God why He didn't give us babies who slept a little better, and He informs us that He just wanted a little more time with us...and to give us a little more time with some the best gifts He's ever given us. Plus, He was all out of the babies that did sleep well and hadn't restocked on His supply yet.