I've wanted to tell this tale for ages, but time being the precious commodity that it is, I've had to put this on the back burner for awhile! And now with a lot of sleep stories making the rounds, the timing couldn't be better.
Project Winkie takes on a special significance when you deal with two children. After Thambi was born, I had decided that I would be a no-stress mother this time around. No worrying about spoiling him or holding him too much or nursing him to sleep etc etc etc. And it really worked well for those first few newborn weeks. Sathya stayed close to me and it felt like the only way to be. When he woke up hungry, it was so easy to pull him close and nurse him, and snooze thru it all. And when he was done, he'd just fall back to sleep and so would I.
And since Winkie was particular about sleeping next to me as well, I'd start off the night with both my sons on either side of me. Once Winkie was asleep, his father would take him to his room, where they would sleep the rest of the night together. I enjoyed the closeness I had to both of them and felt like a mother in every sense of the word, and there was nothing sweeter and purer than two needy souls lapping up my warmth and closeness.
But after a while, the novelty of it wore off and the discomforts became the focus. Even though I never did, I always worried about sleeping too close to Sathya and crushing any part of his tiny self. As a result, I'd either sleep with him in the crook of my arm, which made my arms go to sleep before I did. Or, I'd sleep very stiffly with my arms to my sides and think a 100 times before turning to a side, because that would make a dent in the bed and Sathya would promptly come rolling into that little spot I had just vacated.
And in the first part of the night, having Winkie also on the bed made it a little too crowded for comfort. I'd wake up in the morning, after those several awakenings at night, feeling even more raw and achy than before. And I'd be crabby for the rest of the day! Which is just not the way to be when you have to tend to another's needs!!
So things came to a head as usual. And I concluded that the boys will just have to sleep in their own little places, by their own little selves. With Winkie, I thought I could talk to him and prepare him slowly and gently nudge his habits into that direction, but what do I do about Thambi? I did not want him to cry it out at any rate. Firstly, he was too young for that and secondly, there had to be an easier and gentler way. I didn't want to ruin his sleep habits with my own interference and then wait for 6 months to train him to sleep on his own. When I was battling with all these thoughts, a timely email from a friend, the words of the Baby Whisperer and some music came to my rescue. Praba's email helped me believe that my baby could sleep by himself without my help, Tracy Hogg showed me how and the rudram tape became the sounds of sleep.
I read the book, and was won over by her gentle, sensible, no-nonsense approach which really helped me understand Sathya's needs better. Some of the things she says are extremely commonsense. Start as you mean to go on...i.e., whatever you do now, project it for the future and work out its feasibility for the long run. For instance, its okay to rock a sweet, innocent 6 lb newborn to sleep. Its that early time when the novelty of baby is upon you and you want to care for it in every way you can. But 8 months and a good 15lbs later, its not going to be so much of fun for those achy arms of yours.
I have done this with Winkie. I have rocked him, walked him, talked him and sung him to sleep, only to have him awaken 2 hours later and start it all again. So I knew only too well what she meant when she said...start as you mean to go on. This is a wonderful line to remember, with all the things that can get habit forming with our children, and which we'll eventually have to wean them out of.
Babies are the best self soothers....they are born with this ability.
I started off with watching Sathya's sleeping and eating pattern over 3 days. It was enough time to help me understand that he did have a routine of his own and there was a certain predictability to it. So, with that as a starting point, I was able to judge his cries better. You definitely know a hungry cry from a tired cry and an I'm bored cry from a stop-the-stimulation wail!
So whenever he started yawning, rubbing his eyes, and showing any other signs of tiredness, I'd take him upstairs and lay him down in the bassinet, still awake. Then I'd switch on the CD. I've listened to the chants on the CD a few times during the pregnancy, and hoped it was the most familiar thing he could have to wind down to. The first few times I did that, he was quite fussy. And I'd jump into the picture without giving him much of a chance and pat him to sleep.
Then I think it was about the 3rd or 4th night...when I realised something. That deep down, I did not really believe that he could do it. I was a little shocked to realise it. No wonder Sathya could not sleep on his own, what with all those anxious vibes hovering over him. So I said a prayer. A quiet one. Dear God...stay with this child and grace him with the comfort of sleep. Take my fears, and make me believe. And when I put him down after that, I did it calmly. I patted him for 2 minutes to get him to stop writhing about, and when he stilled, I gently walked out of the room. I listened outside the door for a few minutes. He had began to fuss. I was so afraid he'd become more and more awake and I had to control the urge to walk in and pat.
So I went downstairs. I didn't switch on the monitor for a few minutes. Let him have his try in peace. 5 minutes later, I switched it on. The sound of the chants came thru. There was no other sound. I listened more closely. Quiet. I looked at my mom in wonder. And relief. And pride. He'd put himself to sleep.
Once that huge first step was taken by both of us, I tried to remain consistent with this everytime. I also had to remind my Mom to put him down when he was sleepy. Grandmas have the natural tendency to hold and cuddle without a thought. Fortunately for me, she let me have my way with my fabcy notions and supported the process with her actions.
Now, its a way of life. Sathya sleeps on his own, for the most part. *knock on wood and coal and fire and whatever else it takes to not jinx myself for the said words*. Of course, not everytime is as smooth. There are days when he prefers being held a little longer. Or nursed some more. And I always let him lead the way. And once I know I have satisfied all his needs and he is well and truly sleepy, I put him down again. And have faith. And walk out.
Now for all the predictability of his night-time, his daytimes go for a bit of a toss. And just when I start to stress on it, I remind myself, that this IS his 4th trimester. And he can get homesick too, every once in a while. And that's when we enjoy the maximum cuddles and holding.
So while Sathya goes to sleep by himself, Winkie does not. I tried talking to him. The big boy talk. Look at your brother compare talk. The remember your friend in school peer talk. But he still wants me to stay with him as he falls asleep. I tried leaving the lights on in the passage and leaving the door open, saying I would come to him whenever he needed me. But nope. He knows what he wants and that is his Mom laying down next to him. So, I cut out his afternoon nap. It was a tough call to make, for I have always cherished his naps for the time I could have for myself. But if he were to sleep early at night, it had to go!
He welcomed it cheerily. He played games on the computer and watched some TV while I took a nap. He didn't disturb me if I told him not to. And he'd be nice and tired by the early evening, that the 8 PM bedtime was something he didn't resist. So once Sathya was down for the night, I'd tackle Winkie. After brushing, it was book time. A small book for the night, not a big one. My rules. :) Then lights off, before Wee Willie Winkie peeped in thru the window. A few minutes of cuddling, praying and I love you Amma's and he was off 15 minutes later to dreamland.
And once the task of the two sleepers was complete, I'd go downstairs flashing a victorious smile to my Mom and husband, and we'd all catch the last serial of our day on Sun TV.
Now I now we all agonise over co-sleeping vs separate quarters vs anything in between. I know I have. And right now, it feels like some balance has been struck. While Sathya sleeps on his own, his bassinet is still in my room, close to my bed. That feels good and comforting. And while Winkie still needs my presence, I now love those 15 minutes with him, as a relaxed time of just me and him. Where his Mom is not stressed, feels calm and loving, and that's the last thing he remembers before he falls asleep. And THAT feels good and comforting.
I have always believed that a well rested mother IS a better mother, than a harried one. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging/helping your child do something that he is very much capable of doing in that age. It improves his confidence and self-esteem. And which parent does not delight in watching her child grow more independent? Well, at least in the early years. ;)
And a child DOES sleep better when he sleeps on his own without depending on our help at the end of each sleep cycle. Looking back, I feel that the 1 and 1/2 years of sleeping independence that Winkie underwent, helps him even today to sleep better, even if I am involved in that first stage of it. So purely from my experience alone, I can say that children need to be guided towards independence, at the age appropriate times. Sure, you have to follow thier cues on everything, but you also have to take the lead sometimes and pave the way. I've found that doing something for my child who knows very well how to do things by himself tends towards over-indulgence on my part. Doing it once in a while makes it special and sweet. Doing it each and everytime makes it a chore.
At the end of the day, it is upto us to skilfully wean them from the crutches of dependence and help them to grow good strong wings to soar and fly!!