What It’s Really Like to Be Up in the Night with a Baby and a Toddler

Like a late stage Alzheimer’s patient, I feel my mental clarity slowly slipping away more and more every day. So while I’m still lucid, I wanted to at least get down some of my thoughts.

It all started many weeks ago when I noticed the same thing happening to my husband. Like how little things that used to come easily to him were slipping his mind, whenever he would sit down he would “rest his eyes” for just a minute, and the bags under his eyes just kept getting darker. Scott had been taking care of our toddler, Ophelia, in the night ever since Julian was born eight months ago, and when Julian started sleeping a bit better, we decided that we would give it a go with me taking care of both of them in the night. He was very reluctant to let go of his special time with Ophelia, but he was willing to give it a try.

I was overly optimistic at first, especially when Ophelia (27 months) slept beautifully through the first night. But she has been cutting her two year molars for what seems like months upon months upon months and having a real bear of a time with it, so it was no surprise when she woke up several times the next night and the night after that and the night after that.

I handled it pretty well at first. When Ophelia gets up in the night, it’s usually only a matter of minutes until she’s back in bed again, and I usually fall asleep while nursing Julian. But getting up a few times in the early part of the night to take care of Ophelia, a few more times in the latter part of the night to take care of Julian, and throw in couple of bed wettings or nightmares from the big kids, and the sleeplessness began to add up fast.

Meanwhile, my husband started to feel better than ever! Not only did he look amazing and chipper, but he had energy to burn and can often be found doing various projects until it’s time to settle down for the night. This really works out in my favor though, because by the time he gets home from work, I really and truly need his help and rely on him to get through the evening chores.

Our days are full and complete and when it’s finally our turn to go to sleep at the end of the day, snuggling into our bed feels like the most relaxing spa treatment I could ever ask for. But it seems like my head only just touches the pillow when I’ll hear her Ophelia’s little whimpering voice through the monitor (which I hardly even need since she sleeps in our walk in closet right next to my side of the bed), and my heart will immediately begin to beat faster as a heightened sense of awareness takes over my mind and I tenuously wait to see if the whimpering will continue.

If it does, I go into her room and pick her up out of her crib (she’s usually standing up at this point) and set her on my lap in the rocking chair right outside of the closest. The red glow from my bedside lamp illuminates the milk cup filled with room temperature raw milk as my tired hand clumsily fumbles to grab it. Neither of us speak a word as she drinks hungrily and snuggles into the crook of my arm. I smooth her head, cover her with kisses, and feel her body relax and soften as I give her a pacifier and wrap her silky blanket around her legs. As I tuck her back into her crib, I quickly arrange the blankets hanging over the side of the crib just so and tuck the other silkies under her arms as she rolls over and hugs them. When my head hits the pillow again, I almost immediately fall back asleep, and my heart is full of a warmth that I’m sure I will remember long after this night.

Thankfully, Ophelia and Julian seem to have some unspoken agreement about taking shifts. Ophelia usually only wakes up in the first part of the night and Julian gets the latter. (If they both wake up at the same time, then I’ll nudge Scott who quickly jumps up and takes care of Ophelia while still half asleep.) Most nights, Julian falls asleep in his newborn bassinet in the living room while Daddy plays him guitar during the final part of our beautifully orchestrated bedtime routine, and then we’ll carefully carry him through the labyrinth of our house and place him next to my side of the bed. Other nights, he’ll fall asleep in my arms as I nurse him in my rocking chair. If this happens, I’ll gently place him in his crib which is just a stone’s throw from our giant king sized bed that can’t fit his 26 pounds of chub and flailing arms amidst my tower of pillows that I need for breastfeeding him in bed during the night.

At the first sign of a whimper, I’ll bolt out of the deepest of sleeps and stand tentatively over his crib waiting to see if he’s really waking up. As I approach his crib, I’ll notice the position of his head, and I’m reminded of which side I need to nurse him on next. Before I pick him up, I’ll lift up my shirt, scoop him and his silky up in the crook of my arm, and he’ll hungrily latch on before I can even fall back onto my tower of pillows. Since he’s been teething, he will nurse far longer than I am able to stay awake. With my head resting sideways on my softest pillow, I’ll startle awake when he finally pulls himself off my breast.

This change makes him a bit unsettled, and so I’ll have to get out of bed (each time reminded of how weak my abs still are I try to throw the weight of my legs down in a pendulum and try to lift the top half of my body and Julian at the same time) to walk, rock, and bounce him until he is completely settled. I try to keep my eyes shut and hang onto the dream that was just starting to dance in my head until I am sure that he is in the deepest of sleeps. I am often too hasty and he lets me know with a whimper if I set him back in his crib too soon. Sometimes, I have to take him back to bed and nurse him on the other side and sometimes a few more minutes of me walking, bouncing, and patting his back will settle him down.

By the time it’s morning, I almost feel a sense of relief. Sometimes both of the little ones will sleep in long enough for me to get breakfast ready, do my 8 minute ab exercises to heal my diastis recti, take a shower, or sit down at the computer to blog a little (like what is happening right now, yay!).

I used to try to count how many times they woke up so that I could tell Scott what kind of night I had, but now it seems like more and more often, the night just all blurs together the more awake I become, and if I don’t actively try to hold onto the details, they slip away as the day moves on.

I always start my mornings so dreadfully tired, and I love to fantasize about how I’ll try to take a nap when Scott comes home for lunch. But after I drink some water, wash down a big spoonful of coconut oil (which is helping tremendously with my candida issues), and start to putz around, I start to wake up more than I thought possible. It usually takes me all morning, but at some point, I’ll find time to shower and get dressed, and at that point I feel pretty darn good!

I mean, my brain is progressively degenerating to the point where I often can’t think of simple words to describe things and often end up just pantomiming or giving vague descriptions of things that used to come to me so quickly, but other than that and my slightly more disheveled and unkempt appearance, you would hardly know how sleep deprived I really am.

But somehow, I’m able to not just get through it, but be thankful for it. Maybe it’s because I used to be up in the night with my first two babies while working full time and I really and truly appreciate being able to sleep in and wear pajamas as long as I need to, or maybe it’s because I’ve visualized myself as an old lady looking back at these moments and know that my future self will cherish these moments as some of the most precious ones of her life, or maybe it’s just because I really am a superior human who can survive with less sleep. 🙂

But the bottom line is that I don’t mentally approach these sleepless nights as something to just get through. I am truly and deeply honored to be able to go through them for my children, and I wear them like a badge of the highest honor. I am thankful that I don’t need to resort to making them cry it out or slowly wean them from me as so many forums, books, and blogs seem to suggest to tired mommas. I know that these days are fleeting, that these times are precious, and how I treat these moments now will lay the foundation for not just the rest of their lives, but mine as well.

Because in the end, when we add up all of the moments of our lives, these are the ones that I am sure we will cherish in our hearts forever, these are the moments we won’t want to forget, and these are the days that we will want to relive over and over again as our bodies let go of this earth and our minds start to fade into that sweet state of dreaming where I will finally be able to get enough sleep. 🙂

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