I’m really great at making declarations about my blog’s area of focus and then doing absolutely nothing to follow up on said area of focus.
The last post was my lament on Dylan’s ongoing sleep problems. After 2.5yrs of seriously interrupted sleep, I resided myself to the idea that I would be without good sleep for the foreseeable future, and might as well blog it out. I did embark on a mission to find help and to get to route of the problem. I did pursue a couple of very promising avenues of help. And guess what? I’ve just had FIFTEEN NIGHTS IN A ROW of very acceptable sleeps!
In the past we would experience anywhere between 30-mins and 3 hours of hysterical screaming that could only be soothed (and not always) by a bottle (or three) of rice milk.
My current definition of “Good Sleep” is ZERO bottles of milk between 7pm and 6am. We still have a bit of crying, but in the last 15 nights, no crying has lasted longer than TEN MINUTES!
I will control myself and resist the temptation to go into just how big a deal this actually is to me. First let me explain what happened.
We moved to England and here as soon as you get into the health system they send you a letter telling you they’d like to send someone to visit your house and see how you’re all getting on. That in itself blows my mind. So, I met with a lovely lady named Sian three times. During the first visit she listened to my terrible story and then made a time to see me again. During the second visit she gave me a very thorough photocopied wad of information about sleep training. She told me now that Layla was settled into school it was time to deal with Dylan’s sleep training. She said we had two main options: controlled crying, or inching myself out of the room.
The latter is a much gentler and slower process of getting to the point where Dylan could fall asleep without me being near him. I would just sit on his bed with a book as he fell asleep, and then night after night work my way onto a chair, then inch the chair out of his room. This sounded nice because Dylan definitely had some major anxiety issues. I attributed these to the fear that someone with sleep apnea must experience. They are said to have horrible nightmares about suffocating etc. He needed to know I was there with him.
I also had a big guilt complex from last year, back when I was working at the university three days a week. It just so happened that the schedule meant that I would put him down for his lunchtime nap and always be gone when he woke up. After a couple weeks he cottoned on to this pattern and started protesting his nap and then picking up a life-threatening lung infection. This was the start of his need to know I was there any time he stirred in the night.
The thing is I am not a patient person. I was groggy and wanted sleep NOW, not to inch my way out of the box room over a matter of weeks. Anyway, that would have been hard to do since I’m often alone with two kids at bedtime and Layla would have none of it. She knows her rights.
So I told Sian I thought we needed to explore Controlled Crying. She explained that this is not the same as letting them “cry it out”. It just so happens that all things being equal, I am actually a big believer in letting them cry it out. It was the sleep apnea that rather rudely interrupted my attempts to co-author the next Gina Ford plan.
Controlled Crying means letting him cry for 2 minutes (a minute for each year of their life) and then popping back in and matter-of-factly reassuring them, and then leaving again. This can happen dozens, if not hundreds of times a night until they realize that they might as well just quit and sleep through. Sounded like a long shot but at this point I was a beggar too impatient to choose option one.
I was gearing up the strength to embark on this plan, and told Sian I thought my husband would be emotionally strong enough to hold out for the 5-7 nights it would probably take. Then something unexpected happened. I asked Sian if she thought Dylan looked well enough to endure it, if in her non-medical opinion he looked like a normal healthy kid who just needed sleep training. The reason I asked this was that a year ago Dylan was quite visibly an unwell child. This is what each member of his medical entourage told me anyway – I couldn’t see it because I looked at him all day long and in that situation it is hard to see the little changes that happen. According to his doctors he was clearly unwell – he had dark blue circles under his eyes, pasty white clammy skin and bright red lips indicating too much yeast in the gut. I thought he was looking pretty normal now, but wanted to double check.
She looked at him, then looked at me and went quiet for a moment.
Then she said to me “I think you should take him to the GP and just explain the situation so that he can assure you that he is no longer in danger. You might need that. He looks absolutely fine to me, but I think you need to hear it from a doctor.”
I must have looked a little confused because then she went on to say something along the lines of how big a scare I have had and how incredibly natural it is that I am terrified of leaving him in the night. He was at risk and I had to be on high alert, but just because that season has passed doesn’t mean I know how to come down off high alert.
Then I cried a lot.
Then I thought about blogging this development but procrastinated because it was quite painful.
Then I decided to do a bit of evidence gathering. Sian had told me to start a sleep diary but I’m not so good with the follow through, so that never really happened. Instead I just observed, and instead of observing Dylan I started to observe myself.
I had a flashback of one of the many visits to the GP in Discovery Bay I was on with Dylan earlier in the year. The DB Medical Centre were getting ready to launch a Frequent Visitors scheme just for my family. Not only was I running down there every time Dylan got a sniffle, I would do the same any time anyone in our household so much as cleared their throat – the basis for this was that I could not afford for anyone to infect Dylan. I sat in the waiting room as Dylan played with the toys in the corner, and imagined the receptionists rolling their eyes at me here she is again, doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time… I’m partial to letting the odd conversation play itself out in my head, and in my head I replied I know, I know, it totally LOOKS as if I’m a neurotic mother who has nothing better to do with my time, but believe me, I am a very busy lady. There are a hundred other things I need to be doing instead of shuttling my son to and from waiting rooms all week. I looks like I’m the problem, I can totally see how it would look like that from where you are sitting, but I assure you, it’s not me…
I was satisfied with how that mental exchange concluded. In my mind the receptionist nodded and agreed, yes, you’re right. It does look like you are the weirdo, but after hearing your explanation I am convinced that you are the helpless victim in this situation. Of course no mother wants her kid to be sick. No, you’re doing everything right…
Back in Oxford, in reality, I was beginning to allow myself to explore the possibility that I could be the problem. It seemed ridiculous but stranger things have happened.
I noticed that Dylan was much calmer when Tom put him to bed. I noticed that Dylan insisted on my spoon-feeding him, even though he is well past the age of independence in this area. I started him in daycare and he only cried for me for 5 minutes on the first day and after that couldn’t wait to be dropped off. I asked his minder if he ate anything at school and she said yes, as if of course, why wouldn’t he? He’s just a normal kid.
Then one night it happened. It was after Tom had been away on a tour for a few nights. I was exhausted from being the sole adult in the house and Dylan was kicking off in the middle of the night. I lost my temper. I took him out of my bed, turned a light on in another room and gave him a telling off. I put him in timeout so I could go to the loo and take a breather because in all honestly I was worried I might chuck him out the window if I didn’t give myself the timeout.
I breathed a quick prayer and then went back to him. He was hysterical to the point of hyperventilating. I went through the process of getting him out of timeout – explaining why he was there, asking him to say sorry, and then cuddling him and telling him he could not come back to bed until he stopped crying. He controlled himself beautifully. I knew it was hard for him, but he did it. As soon as we got back to bed he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. We slept until 8:30am. Layla was late for school the next day and none of us was sorry.
I knew I was on to something. I bought Boundaries with Kids, a book I knew I needed to read for other reasons, and it confirmed things to me – I needed to be firm and clear with Dylan about my expectations for the nighttime and if he chose to scream all night, then I could not reward him with milk, or even with my presence, but instead that I needed to make it not an enjoyable experience for him. Thankfully he’s only needed two midnight timeouts since that night. They always happen quickly now.
I’ve just noticed how long this is and Downton Abbey is on so I will conclude part one here.