This, Too, Shall Pass. Probably? Eventually.
When you decide to have more than one kid (or don’t decide – hello, surprise children!), you know intellectually that even if they’re the same sex, their personalities, appearances, preferences will be different from each other. Even if they’re raised by the same parents, in the same environment, they will be different.
I knew this, too. Or I thought I did.
My first daughter, Josie, was what I call A Magical Unicorn Baby. All her developments occurred exactly when the experts said they should – or sometimes earlier: She took her first steps at 7 months! (I baby proofed an entire house in less than 2 hours, thanks to her.) She’s never been a picky eater! She skipped the Terrible Twos, although age three had a lot of feelings and drama. SHE SLEPT COMPLETELY THROUGH THE NIGHT AT THREE MONTHS OLD! Essentially, Josie has been a breeze to parent; my husband and I believed we were not only #blessed, but also the Best Parents Ever. How we ever managed to walk through doorways with our big heads is still a mystery to me.
You can see what’s coming from a mile away, right?
Our second daughter, Caroline, was a game changer. My girls were different in almost literally every way imaginable. Hair color, eye color, face shape, length, weight – and that’s not even scratching the surface. Their differences were most profound in the area of sleeping. As a baby, Josie napped easily almost anywhere and adjusted to our sleep schedule without much trouble. Caroline slept in either her car seat or bouncy seat for at least the first five months of her life – maybe longer, but I genuinely don’t remember anymore. I knew most babies have a sleep regression around 4 months old, so I braced myself for some sort of change in her erratic sleep pattern.
She went from sleeping in 4 hour chunks of time to sleeping in one 6 hour block and waking up at 2 or 3:00 am for the day. Naps were mere suggestions at which she laughed. This continued FOR FIVE MORE MONTHS.
Here’s how it went down: Caroline would fall asleep for the night at roughly 6 or 7:00 pm. She would sleep until about midnight, have a feeding, then doze off until 2:00 am when she would then let the world know she was AWAKE AND READY TO PLAY. At first, I tried feeding her again and laying her back down, and that worked about 50% of the time….until it didn’t. We tried every sleep training method we could think of: gradual extinction, co-sleeping (too much anxiety for me), crying it out – both for me and her.
I am here to tell you that no matter what any expert says, some babies are just hard. They. Just. Are. Sometimes there’s an underlying reason that takes some sleuthing to figure out, like reflux or food allergies. Sometimes it’s due to a developmental delay. But sometimes you just get a difficult baby. It’s not because you’re a bad parent, it’s not because you skipped that childbirth class one time, it’s not because you were a horrible teenager. These things just happen. You can’t control it; you just have to survive it until the phase ends. Because here’s the good news I was told, but didn’t believe until it happened: This, too, shall pass.
I didn’t believe that this was just a phase because I genuinely couldn’t think past the next few hours ahead of me. I felt like I had been living this way for years instead of weeks or months, and I had run out of energy to try new ideas (or even think of new ideas). I yelled at my preschooler, my husband, and my baby because my patience was non-existent. Whenever I had the chance to nap – which didn’t happen often – I was anxious that the baby would wake up within minutes of my eyes closing, so my brain kept running and my body couldn’t rest. Because I didn’t work outside the home and my husband owns his own business and worked long hours, I was the one who dealt with nearly all the early mornings and any midnight feedings.
I remember asking my daughters’ pediatrician at a routine check-up about different sleep tactics to try. She listed off a few common ones and I just gazed at her with what had to have been the most blank, dead-eyed look known to humanity. I remember sitting in the car with both kids after the appointment was over and feeling so dejected because I couldn’t convey just how desperate for sleep I was. I remember trying to describe how I felt physically to my husband and saying, “I feel like an electrified wire that has been stripped of its protective coating.” I felt dangerous and unpredictable, two adjectives no one has ever or will ever use to describe me. I don’t know why I didn’t seek professional help, why it took me so long to put words to my feelings, why I felt like I had to push through this literal dark time on my own. Was it a point of twisted pride? Was I ashamed that, for once in my life, I couldn’t solve this problem on my own? Was I too far down in the mire of parenthood and transition to see that I needed some form of help?
Regardless of reason, I pressed on because I had to. Caroline would sleep in longer stretches sporadically, and it was just enough to keep me from doing a mental cliff dive into despair. Winter came, and while my nights with her weren’t getting shorter, a thought pattern within me shifted. To this day, I cannot account for what caused it; I’m a religious person, so I’m inclined to call it divine intervention. I recorded it on Facebook because I’m a good Millennial:
“Maybe this ‘trial’ of sleepless nights & early mornings isn't intended to be a trial at all. Maybe this will be the only period of her life where we'll have this much one-on-one time, with no siblings up in our faces, no errands to run, no projects to do. Maybe I've been complaining to God about this phase, begging to move on already, and all along, He's intended it to be a gift - a gift of getting to know my daughter. When I think of it that way, how could I be so ungrateful? How could I not see the value of this time with her? (Although I would also consider a full night of sleep a gift. Just saying.)”
That change in perspective changed my whole world. Up until that point, I could not begin to fathom how I would ever feel like myself again. I was convinced that this was our new normal, that I would always be tired, always be angry, always questioning if having a second child was a good idea. (Spoiler alert: It was. I can see that and believe it now.) When I realized that I had a choice in how I viewed this less-than-ideal situation, I gained a little bit of control back – control that I desperately wanted and could not grasp. Parenting is such an exercise in letting go and stepping back, two things at which I am genuinely terrible. That little bit of control in my mindset brought me back to myself and reminded me that I could survive whatever this kid threw at me.
I’m happy (SO. FREAKING. HAPPY.) to report that Caroline does sleep through the night now. What brought about this glorious new era?
Respiratory Syncytial Virus. (Yes, RSV.) When she was about 9 months old, Caroline caught RSV and coughed and snorted so hard for about two hours straight. It wore her poor little body out so much so that she slept straight through the night from 7:00 pm to 6:00 am. When I woke up and realized what happened, I was convinced she and I were both dead. She has mostly slept through the night from that day on – she’s 2 and half years old now. Go figure that my kid who has been a constant surprise from day one would have the weirdest sleep “remedy” I’ve ever heard of.
(I feel I must disclaim that this is not a physician-approved sleep training method, so please do not intentionally expose your infants to RSV in the hopes of a full night of rest. It usually leads to a full night of unrest, as I’ve since come to find out.)
While I don’t want to ever, EVER relive that period of my life, I can see now that time has softened some of the sharper edges. That Facebook status popped up in my memories one year later and helped me appreciate the family members and friends who made themselves available to help in whatever way they could. It reminded me of my MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers) group who commiserated with me and didn’t judge me when I cried from exhaustion during our meetings. It reminded me to check in on a few friends who are new moms and need to know that this, too, shall pass. It reminded me that I can do hard things.
I don’t ever want to forget that.
Katie Peters is a mom of 2 girls who mostly sleep through the night now. In her former life she was an English major but now reads Pete the Cat regularly. She lives in a rural area and is learning to bloom where she’s planted. (She also loves bad puns.)