A few nights ago I was lying next to Donovan in his room in the dark at about 2am, waiting for him to fall back asleep (usually signaled by a change in his breathing.. and his hand finally falling away from being affixed to my face) when a thought occurred to me-- "I never thought I'd be here." And by "here" I meant mother to a(n almost) two year old who still wakes up in the middle of the night half the time.
I think the number one piece of advice I would give to new parents is this: don't believe the bullshit that baby books tell you about sleep. They lie. They are evil.
Every book I read basically made it sound like if your baby wasn't sleeping 12 hour stretches by 6 months of age (or sooner), it was the parents' fault for allowing/instilling poor sleep habits. Perhaps I was reading the wrong books, but they are among the most popular baby books out there (which worries and angers me now, looking back).
Sure, I remember other parents talking about how their own kids didn't consistently sleep through the night until ages 2 or 3 or even later. But I honestly never thought that would be the case for us. In my naiveté I assumed they must have "allowed" their children to continue sleeping "badly" and that we would do what we needed to help teach D to sleep better.
We did "sleep train" Donovan. I don't regret it in the least, as it taught D how to fall asleep on his own (rather than requiring the hours and hours of daily jiggling and pacing- and often screaming, usually on his part- otherwise needed to get him to fall asleep). This was crucial for my sanity, and has made the past year and a half much, much easier on all of us. I'm not saying this to brag, and I realize a lot of people disagree very strongly with letting an infant "cry it out" and I respect that difference of opinion. But I also won't apologize or back down for one of the few instances in the past two years as a mother where I had to put myself first (and refuse to think of myself as a lesser mother because of it).
(Well that was an interesting tangent...)
Sooooo, D didn't need rocking and cajoling to fall asleep, but he still woke up at night off and on. I thought we were on solid ground after his first birthday when he started sleeping 11 interrupted hours at night and kept it up for a few months, but somewhere along the way, thanks to colds and travel and nighttime temperature fluctuations (is he waking up from being too cold? Too hot?) and who knows what else, we're back in a cycle where he sleeps through the night (about 10hrs) maybe 50% of the time. Interestingly, in the past month he has also started needing me to lay down next to him till he goes to sleep. Not always, but a lot of the time. I usually only have to stay in there for 10-20 minutes or so. Not ideal, but I'm also not too sure what else to do about it. I'm hoping it's a phase that he'll just outgrow in time (he's been very attached to me in general lately, and I'm sure they're related).
I sometimes get so frustrated when D keeps waking up at night, or wakes up at ungodly hours of the morning for days/weeks on end. That one night a few days ago I was up with him for an hour, and then had to kick Zach out of bed to trade places with me because I was starting to get frustrated and even angry at the situation. I sometimes wonder if we should try to do something to try to get him to sleep better, and what that even could be. The thing is, by now I kinda believe that sleep (like so many other things about children) is one of those things that we as parents just have very little control over. I could agonize and go on forever about the things we did right or wrong or things we could have tried or might have interfered with his sleep in the past and what could have made it better... but really I don't think any of it would have made much of a difference. I think some kids will naturally sleep well starting from just a few months old. And others will not sleep well for years. And while there may be things we as parents can do to help strengthen (or weaken) sleep habits, the reality is that the amount of real control we hold is, I think, pretty scant. Which is scary. But also, kind of liberating in a way.
Just not necessarily at 2am...