I know I'm supposed to be on a blog break, but I feel like this is an important topic and if I can help just one person, it's worth taking the time to write. As my dissertation defense date approaches (less than five weeks away now), my stress levels are pretty much through the roof. I use Elsa's nap times to do the majority of my writing, though I do work at night and on the weekends as well. When Elsa was younger, I just followed her lead and she would take one long nap in the Moby, which was great for my productivity. Eventually, she was taking a 30min crib nap in the morning, which was short, but I was encouraged that her crib naps would get longer and more frequent.
I knew her morning "schedule"-go down for that first nap within 90min of waking and keep her other awake times under two hours, a strategy I learned from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. This book was given to me by my sister, mom of four, and I found it very helpful even if sleep training is not for you. Anyway, everything I thought I knew about Elsa's sleep pretty much went out the window about a month ago. She would cry if I tried to put her in her crib for naps. I tried everything: putting her down asleep, putting her down drowsy, but awake, lovey, white noise, longer awake times, shorter awake times, etc. Nothing would get her to nap in her crib. Then, getting her to go to sleep in the Moby became a struggle. Sometimes I would spend 45min walking her to go to sleep and then she would only sleep for 20min. I ended up holding her for most naps, sometimes just sitting in the glider in her room, completely freaking out that I wasn't spending that time working.
Because her naps were so all over the place, I felt completely trapped in my house. What if I took her somewhere and she fell asleep? Not only would I be missing an opportunity to work, I would also be further screwing up her naps for the day because she would often get a 20min catnap in and then be up until her next nap. There was no routine, no predictability, nothing. I would be attached to her ALL DAY, which left me exhausted by the time she went to bed. I would be overcome with anxiety every Sunday, thinking about being alone with her all week, wondering how I would manage to get her to nap, wondering how I would meet the writing deadlines I set for myself. This Sunday anxiety caused me to snap at Jason, cry, and be a mess in general.
I was afraid I would start to resent my baby, which is a pretty awful feeling to have. I felt guilty for wanting time to myself and horrible that sometimes I would just be biding my time until the next nap, the next opportunity to work. Even with this crazy nap pattern, she was still very happy and did not seem overtired, making me feel even more guilty that I was being a bad mom to her. Although my mom comes over once/week so that I can work, Elsa often screams bloody murder when I'm not around, which just made me more anxious and less eager to ask for help. On the weekend, it was impossible to get things done because one of us had to be holding her for all her naps. It was just really hard.
My breaking point came two weekends ago and then last Monday when she took three 20min naps. That's it. Even with me holding her. My sister called me and we once again talked about sleep. She had a new suggestion for me. Since Elsa goes down beautifully at night (drowsy, but awake, no crying whatsoever), she suggested I do EXACTLY what I do at night for each of Elsa's naps while she's learning to nap in her crib. She said that if I can provide that consistency for her, she might catch on to the naps.
On Tuesday, I was prepared for tears as I put on her jammies, put her in her sleep sack, read her Goodnight Moon, did all the things we do at bedtime. I put her in her crib with her lovey and her seahorse (yeah, I know about suffocation hazards, so you don't need to tell me) while she was awake, closed the door and left. Then I waited for the tears. Well, guess what? They never came! She slept for 48 minutes, the longest she has ever slept in her crib. She took two other crib naps that day, going to sleep without a peep for each one and sleeping for around 35 minutes. The next day, her first nap extended to over an hour. And each day, her naps become more predictable. Yesterday, she took three 1 hour+ naps, with one clocking in at 1h40min. It was a miracle.
I feel like a new person. I was worried that I was having delayed postpartum depression, but I think I just needed some time to myself. It's hard to admit that because when you're a new mom you're supposed to be so in love with your baby and there's nothing in the world that you'd rather do than cuddle her. And I do love her more than I ever imagined I could and she makes me laugh and I love to make her giggle. But, having some time to myself each day makes me a better mom because I'm happier and refreshed by the time she wakes up. I'm nicer to my husband and nicer to my birds. My dogs are perfect, so I'm always nice to them;) I think she is happier too because she's getting quality sleep and that's important. Now, I feel like I can leave the house to go for a run with her because I know she won't fall asleep in the stroller if she has just woken up from a nap. I take her to the playground by our house and let her look at all the kids running around. One of these days, we might start running more errands too. Baby steps, people.
Anyway, my sister is a genius and I need to send her on an around-the-world vacation for offering me that advice. I truly feel like it has saved my sanity. I am wrapping up the final chapter of my dissertation and when all of this is over in about a month, Elsa and I are going to go on adventures and do all kinds of fun things together. I really owe that to her for being patient with me while I'm figuring out how to be a mom and while I'm trying to close the chapter on my life in graduate school.