Saturday, February 7, 2009

17 minutes

Ellis has never been a good sleeper. It has always taken a song and a dance, literally, to get him to sleep. The last few months have worn us down. Our days spent rocking and nursing for hours only to have him sleep for twenty minutes. Our evenings spent rocking, nursing, perfecting the art of laying him down in the crib and creeping out of the room without waking him. Usually it took about an hour and a half to get him to sleep at night. Some evenings it took three hours. And then our nights --a series of wake-ups, sometimes every hour, with a three hour stretch being the longest amount of sleep we got. Our sleep deprived minds banging away at the riddle of it. Is he cold, hot, should we have a humidifier, or a fan on? Dave and I bickering, storming around angry at what? Not each other, but we can’t be angry at the baby. So instead we fume in the general direction of one another.

Everyone gives you advice. From cry it out, to co sleeping, to weaning, to feeding him solids. I hope, when my friends who have yet to have children tell me that their babies are not sleeping through the night, I have the good sense to keep my mouth shut unless directly solicited for advice.

We have been doing child swap on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesday mornings I take care of Ellis and a two year old. On Thursday mornings, Matt, the two year old’s father takes them.

Two Thursdays ago, when Ellis began rubbing his eyes, Matt put him down in the crib to sleep on his tummy and let him cry. Ellis fell asleep.

I have been avoiding cry it out for eight months, and then someone else started it for me. I had it drilled in my head to never put Ellis on his stomach, and now realized that he probably sleeps better that way.

I didn’t know how to feel. Matt is a gentle soul, has been a father a long time and is so good with Ellis—if it was anyone else I would have been angry. I spent a long time on the internet reading about whether tummy sleeping was safe for a seven month old, scaring myself with SIDS facts and attachment parenting dogma against cry it out.

Last Thursday, Matt put Ellis down again and let him cry, and Ellis took a long nap. Dave became inspired. He called me at work and said “I am going to do it, I am going to let him cry it out at the next nap.” I told him not to let Ellis cry for more than twenty minutes. A little while later I got an email with the title “17 minutes”. Ellis had fallen asleep, again on his tummy, after 17 minutes of crying.

The combination of being on his tummy and letting him fall asleep himself, seems to work. We stand by his crib and pat and rub his back. He drifts off. We leave the room. He cries for a minute, sometimes five, and then he is asleep. He has never screams, and he never cries for that long. And he sleeps better and longer, wakes up more refreshed.

He is still waking up to nurse every three, sometimes less, hours in the night. We are not out of the woods. But suddenly putting him down for naps is easier, and Dave and I have our evenings back. It takes twenty minutes to put him to bed, rather than three hours and we actually have time to talk to one another, spend time with one another before we go to bed. And for now, that is enough

And one night last week, he slept for five hours straight.

When I first moved to New York, I couldn’t find a job to save my life. I was living in Washington Heights, temping at a Public Relations firm, with no money, wondering why I had gone to graduate school only to temp, wondering if I was going to have to give up and move somewhere cheaper and easier.

One night I took an extravagant taxi ride back up to Washington Heights, even though I had no money, even though it was irresponsible. I told the cab driver I was new to the city and that it was kicking my ass. He was from Yemen. He was one of those soothsayer taxi drivers that seem to have gained deep insight from driving in circles, from being on some perpetual journey around the island of Manhattan. He said, “This city is like a concrete wall. You bang bang bang your head against it. And then one day, a door swings open in the place you least expected it. And you walk through. And the city works for you, the city stops being your enemy. This is what will happen to you. It will happen in a way you could never plan for, in a way you would have never thought of. I promise,” he said, “And when it happens, you’ll remember me and this cab ride and know that I was right.”


  1. You write beautifully, Bree.

    Goodnight Moon is Ethan's favorite book. Sounds like him & Ellis have more then just one or two things in common. (ie. sleep, food.) I hope the sleep issues get better. It can be so terribly draining! Oh and don't beat yourself up about Ellis sleeping on his tummy. He's past the SIDS stage and may sleep much better on his tummy.


  2. at around 8 months emmett rolled over and went to sleep on his tummy. i remember i was shocked...i thought, all this time maybe he wanted to just sleep on his belly??? I (of course) had him pinned in that positioner on his side. he still sleeps on his belly...its hard to say how it has effected his sleep over all? i think he is happier to at least have the option! i am glad to see it only took ellis 17 minutes! its so hard to hear your baby cry....i sweat and my stomach drops ~~ i feel now i have a pretty good sense of the kind of cry it is ....then i decide how long i will let him cry. sometimes he gets into a rhythmic sob that i think gently puts him to sleep without dis-stress....its hard though.....

  3. Your post sounds just like what happened to us. After a long stretch of Meade waking every 1 1/2 something had to give. We decided to let him figure out how to sleep on his own...because what we were doing was not working. After a couple nights of some serious crying..patting..and support. He figured it out! He still wakes twice a night. But I don't mind...I like our short meetings in the night! Congrats!