This is a story about a time when sleep took a nosedive in our house and
it was not because of a typical sleep issue. Bedtime wasn’t off, naps
weren’t an issue, no monsters under the bed but somehow my then
5 year old started waking through the night. Sure, that happens
sometimes, but this wasn’t getting better. In fact, it was getting much,
Stella, my 8 year old, is a really smart kid. She loves to read, loves school,
and gives everything her all. She’s got a lot of hustle and I can see her
playing on teams down the road. She’s a leader, and goes after what
she wants - just like her mommy ;)
Before I go on, I want to say that Stella has given me permission to share this story. As an almost 9 year old, I don’t know exactly how much she understands about the internet and social media, but she does know what I do for a living, how I like to help others and one way I do this is by sharing experiences. It was a really challenging time in our house and my husband and I learned a lot about how to work through tough times as a family. I’m going to give you the cliff notes version, but I think everyone can get something from this story...
Back when I was about 8 months pregnant with Mabel, our third and last child, Stella started waking through the night and coming into our room. It started as once in a while, but grew over the coming weeks into several times overnight. After Mabel was born, the bedtimes started getting really rocky and then all hell broke loose.
The sleepless nights were becoming more frequent and brought on more and more exhaustion for all of us. Stella’s behaviour during the day was suffering immensely, and ours was too. It was getting harder for us to stay calm in the face of adversity and tantrums because we were drained and had almost nothing left.
We sought the help of a psychologist who gave us some great information and suggestions to try to help her behaviour, but all those attempts were failing too… What were we doing wrong??
Long story short, what we believe was the main issue was that Stella wanted me. She wanted her mom, she wanted more attention (both valid kid concerns!), but unfortunately I had less to give with two other children, one of which was a newborn. I understood it completely, but that didn’t mean I knew how to deal with it.
As a sleep consultant, I knew that poor sleep wasn’t going to get us anywhere with the behaviour modifications we were trying to work on during the day. We needed to focus on getting her (and all of us) some more sleep so we could even feel like we could tackle the daytime. We had been trying to work on this but it wasn’t getting any better.
I felt like a total failure. A new mom of three and a Certified Child Sleep Consultant, but I couldn’t get my oldest to sleep well again and this was tearing me apart. Not so much that I was failing, but that I felt like I was failing her.
In the end, we threw all of it out the window and did what we thought we weren’t supposed to do, which was to give her what she wants. I don’t mean to say that we don’t ever give our children what they want, but what Stella ultimately wanted was for someone to be with her - all night and all day. Obviously we couldn’t do this, but we did the next best thing we could think of.
At bedtime, she got me. I would lay with her until she fell asleep, which in the beginning took a long time. A reminder that I have an exclusively breastfed newborn and you mama’s out there know that early evening is usually a time when those newborns want to be with mom and breastfeed basically the entire time. But Stella needed me too, so I would lie with her to go to sleep, but I had to tell my husband to take Mabel to the basement or outside because I could hear her calling out for me too. This was SO HARD, but Stella needed more sleep.
Then she would fall asleep, I would leave, and whenever she woke that first time in the night, my husband would go to sleep with her in her room for the rest of the night (thank goodness we got her a double bed!). This was NOT ideal in our minds. We were not the co-sleeping kind unless they were babies, but it was getting everyone the most sleep.
Guess what happened after we did this? After what felt like “caving” into her demands, it worked. The few days that followed those first fuller nights of sleep had ZERO behaviour challenges. I can’t tell you how amazed and happy we all were when we realized our way through this.
It was a long road. We did this for MONTHS. Eventually, when the time felt right and with communication with Stella, we slowly moved away from this and we’ve all been back in our own beds ever since.
The reason I wanted to get into this story is because:
This experience has given me a much wider view of how I can help families as a sleep consultant. I know full well that doing all the “right” things doesn’t necessarily get you where you want to be. Sometimes it’s more about doing what feels right in the moment that will help you through, and I love to help families find their happy medium.
Ashley Cooley is a birth, baby and sleep specialist living in Dartmouth, NS with her husband and their three girls.