When Kroshka was two or three weeks old my husband and I went out for strolls around the city. Our son easily slept three hours in his stroller so we would make it to the old town, grab a coffee, window shop, sometimes have a quick lunch, and leisurely walk back home.
“Aren’t we lucky? You know all those poor moms who have to deal with sleep deprivation? Are you sleep-deprived?” “No.” “Me neither… I mean there are a lot of challenges, but at least Kroshka sleeps well.”
And he really did. The whole of the first month. I have to mention that we co-sleep. Since the very start. When I was pregnant and in preparation mode I was convinced that co-sleeping is a big no-no.
The whole question of baby sleep gave me anxiety. Only on the back! Never on the back! Place him on the side and use a sleep positioner. Do not use a sleep positioner, it’s dangerous! Remove all the pillows, blankets, and toys from the crib too! Tie some pretty pillows around the crib walls so baby’s legs don’t get stuck between the bars. Use a sleeping pod, it mimics the womb and your baby will sleep like… well, a baby. Throw out your sleeping pod! Did you know they are prohibited in Canada?
I would lie in bed at night with my eyes open, thinking about all of the above and kicking my legs now and then — anxiety and restless leg syndrome are a fun combination. In the end, we went to Ikea and chose a nice and sturdy crib. No pretty pillows, no soft toys, no sleeping pods. I made up my mind. And then Kroshka arrived. He clearly had other plans.
From day one, still at the hospital, he slept with me. The nurse attached a tiny baby bed to the hospital bed and placed him there, but within an hour he started squeaking and I moved him closer to me. And then even closer still. The next day my husband ordered a cot that attaches to the bed. Ikea crib was moved to the storage space indefinitely.
In the first four weeks I tried my best to make my son stay in the cot. On most nights I would end up sleeping in the shape of a letter “zyu” as I’d put it in Russian. Hint: there’s no such letter in Cyrillic alphabet.
I slept with the lower half of my body on the bed and the upper — in the cot, next to Kroshka. I’d gradually crawl back to the bed when he went to sleep, hug my husband, enjoy five to ten quiet minutes, then, inevitably, make my way back to the cot.
When Kroshka was one month my parents came to Germany to help. It was my mom who finally said: “Why are you struggling? Just sleep with him.” And just like that our nights became easier.
What I remember about the second month is that Kroshka went from falling asleep anytime anywhere to falling asleep in my arms. I would have to purposefully sit down, put a feeding pillow on my lap, and hold him. He fell asleep quickly, but moving him from my arms onto the bed was impossible.
Please, don’t tell me that he felt the temperature difference between my arms and the bed and I should have just put a blanky under him. I tried. What really helped was my mom who’d come to the bedroom and with the words “What are you gonna sit here until tomorrow?” take Kroshka from me and rock him to sleep. My mom, the baby whisperer.
I also distinctly remember Googling “baby only sleeps outside” which brings back the memories of going for a walk twice a day for two-three hours. Whenever we couldn’t go for a walk, we’d put Kroshka to sleep in a stroller on the balcony which is common practice in Russia. By the way, it was mid-January.
Month three was almost entirely uneventful when it comes to sleep if you don’t count that one time when we called an ambulance in the middle of the night. When Kroshka was two and a half months we took a trip to Berlin in order to apply for his Sri Lankan citizenship and passport. Day one went amazing. He slept on the train, he slept while we went to Point Charlie and Brandenburg Gate, he slept in the evening at our beautiful Airbnb. And then at night he woke up screaming like never before.
When you don’t have kids, you tend to think: babies cry, that’s just how babies are. So when someone’s baby is crying it’s mostly annoying, but never worrying.
Once you have your own baby, you realize they don’t just cry, but communicate some kind of discomfort. Then you are more concerned than irritated.
So when Kroshka woke up not crying, but screaming, I panicked. I did not call the ambulance then. I called it when he woke screaming for the third time that night and at that point I was crying along with him. Sure enough, once the medics arrived he calmed down and smiled at them. The next day we figured it was a two and a half month growth spurt. Probably. Like you could ever know for sure.
Month number four… oh, man… the sleep regression. The naps suddenly shortened to forty minutes. Accustomed to stroll around the city for hours, I would leisurely walk to the Old Town. And just when I was about to take a sip of my coffee and turn on a good podcast, Kroshka would wake up and start screaming. I ran home with a baby in one hand and a stroller in another. With each passing day the hope that it was temporary faded. The radius of my daily walks became smaller and smaller until I was too afraid to wander more than five hundred meters away from the house.
I thought it was the regression. It was the preface. The real regression started two weeks later. Officially, the change in sleep patterns in babies can take from one to six weeks. Guess where on that scale I found myself?
For one and a half month that coincided with the start of pandemic in Germany I was stranded in a one-bedroom apartment with a baby who had five to six naps a day. And each of those naps required lots of effort.
I read this book about babies’ early development in which the author suggested that for a baby to fall asleep you should just put him to the crib and say: “Nighty-night! It’s time to sleep now!” What you shouldn’t do: hold him in your arms, breastfeed, rock. I won’t tell you the title because I hated the book and the author too. It felt like she’s building unrealistic expectations, as if there are moms out there who have it easy (doubtful) and the only reason I am struggling is my incorrect behavior.
Let me tell you a secret. I didn’t wake up one day and thought: let me rock my baby to sleep that seems like a fun idea. I had my butt glued to the bed until regression started. Rocking was a desperate measure. And even then, it didn’t happen in one day.
At first, Kroshka would doze off without any effort on my part. Then I had to hold him. Then I held him and sang a lullaby. Then I held him, sang a lullaby, and rocked him gently, while still comfortably sitting on the bed. The moment of no return came when I finally had to get up from the bed.
From then on it was walking, rocking, shushing, swinging, singing, breastfeeding — all at the same time. For thirty to forty minutes. Six times a day. It didn’t just feel like a groundhog day. It felt like I have groundhog hours inside my groundhog day. I started referring to the bedroom as my prison and dreading the “sleep window”.
I remember the moment when I first breastfed Kroshka while pacing the room. I thought: no other woman has gone this far. Then I read a story of a mom who breastfed while jumping up and down on a fitness ball. It made me feel better.
That one and a half month was so physically and emotionally taxing that I cried twice a week on average. I can’t remember crying that much since the age of sixteen when I thought I was too fat and feared I’d never have a boyfriend. High five, sixteen-year-old Yulia! You got yourself a husband and a hot one at that.
Sometimes I cried quietly, lying in bed next to sleeping Kroshka. He would not sleep unless I was right by his side, so I had to call it a day at eight in the evening. I felt like the last of my freedoms was given up — the freedom to choose when I go to bed. You know how some moms say they are exhausted because they work after kids are tucked for the night? Well, I couldn’t even do that.
Other times I cried hysterically, sometimes together with Kroshka, who would get confused and terrified, but I could not stop. A few times it happened in front of my husband who did not know whether to calm me or the baby down first. I felt for him even though I was the one bawling.
I felt better after, unsurprisingly. I want to say to all new mamas: cry when you need to. Cry ugly and loud. It helps. A few of my friends who recently had babies mentioned crying because they were hormonal. And I so wanted to hug them and say: “You don’t have to justify crying. It has nothing to do with hormones and everything to do with how hard motherhood is.”
Those six weeks felt like six months. When friends and family asked how things were, I couldn’t even bring up the regression, because how many times could I use it as an excuse for my apathetic face before it was one too many?
I kept convincing myself and my husband: it should be over soon, it should be over any day now. And then it was. Kroshka was almost five months old. When regression finally ends, you are left with a bunch of bad habits. Apart from rocking I also got into habit of holding Kroshka in my arms while he was napping. So it went on.
Eventually, it became more of my habit than his. I tried to make that time count by reading books, learning German and watching Masterclass. Granted, I couldn’t move, eat, or use the restroom until he woke up, but it was still better than running to the bedroom every twenty minutes to rock him back to sleep. Ah yea, the short naps continued even after regression. Meanwhile…
At four and a half months he woke himself up with flailing arms as I stopped swaddling him.
At five and a half months he went through another growth spurt.
At six month he transitioned from four naps to three which is when I started locking myself in the bathroom. Oh, it’s not what you think. I only did it to obtain complete darkness and put Kroshka to sleep as just rocking and breastfeeding simultaneously didn’t work anymore. If you told me that next I would have to get into a bathtub and do a ritual dance under a cold shower to make my son sleep, I would believe you.
But, honestly, compared to regression all of the above was short-term and bearable. Mostly I could enjoy my quiet time during the naps, albeit with my hands full.
During one of such naps I was watching Thomas Keller’s masterclass and chatting with another mama on Instagram. When I mentioned that I have to hold Kroshka every time he naps, she sent me a message: “Oh, you poor soul! God bless!”
And that’s when it hit me: am I one of those poor moms who everybody feels for? Because, believe it or not, I thought I was pretty lucky. I mean, I got all this quiet time to watch Thomas Keller and Anna Wintour. Plus I could watch Kroshka sleep and he’s just adorable. Aaaand I always got enough sleep at night.
Why is it that people ask you if your baby sleeps through the night, but never if he sleeps through the day?
I am happy to report that as of a week ago I was able to put Kroshka to bed during his naps. He is eight months right now. The first time I left the bedroom felt so surreal that I completely wasted an hour, not sure what to do with all this free time.
I am content, but, make no mistake, bracing for the next big thing. That’s right… teething.
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