Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saint Doula

It's been nearly a week now since we took the drastic step of hiring The Sleep Doula to help train our nearly five-month old daughter to try to sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time and, although I was against it at first, it has truly been a life-changing experience.
After yet another restless day of rocking our lovely daughter, Grace, to sleep for 20-60 minutes, only to have her wake up within the preceding hour and have to repeat the whole process over again, my wife informed me she was hiring the Sleep Doula.
"The what?" Was my initial sleep-addled response. In her frenetic way, enhanced by more than four months of minuscule sack time, my wife explained that she was going to kill herself if Grace's sleep pattern continued for much longer and that this Sleep Doula was the ONLY answer to the problem.
After I shook off some of the cobwebs of a couple hours' sleep, to focus on just what my lovely, but completely insane spouse was telling me, my first thought was 'This is going to cost a lot.' I must have been thinking that thought out loud, or have lost my inner monologue capabilities, because my wife instantly responded: "It will cost you a lot more if I'm dead." My wife is a very smart woman, far more so than I ever acknowledge publicly as to do so would put me at an even greater imbalance in our power relationship, so I tried to hear what she was saying, but all I kept thinking was: 'What kind of loser parents have to pay someone to get their baby to sleep?' By their very nature babies are supposed to sleep most of the day. However I was not dealing with the reality of our situation; that Gracie was a child who refused to be a baby... in this way she seemed to have bypassed the whole infant and toddler stage and proceeded straight to the life of a 10-year-old: constantly active and wanting to defy her parents by staying up late. Canadian Music icon Leonard Cohen once famously said that drinking, womanizing and staying up late were the only true forms of rebellion, but clearly he wasn't referring to babies.
I guess as a lifelong night owl, I only have myself to blame. In this regard the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Not so long ago, after Grace was born, I was forced to admit - after another occasion of being wrong - that my wife is ALWAYS right (I even wrote it on a note that my wife keeps in a drawer). Here is yet another example of me being eternally in the wrong position.
The Sleep Doula showed up on our doorstep last Thursday, at 7:45 pm, in the middle of me bathing our daughter (something that gives us both great pleasure). She was not what I had envisioned. She arrived in a powder blue velour track suit, armed with a Blackberry and a bottle of Coke. She told us she would sleep on the floor all night next to Grace's crib and shush her every time she cried out to be held by mummy or daddy. She said from everything she'd heard in the 1-hour phone consult with my wife the day before, Grace had an "attitude problem" and like a softer female version of Alec Baldwin, it was her job to straighten her ass out (I am of course paraphrasing very liberally).
After I toweled off and swaddled Grace, as I have done almost every night of her young life, I laid her in her crib completely awake, with the lights out and the white-noise machine on and said goodnight. It was 8:00 pm. As I left the room, she began to cry immediately and on my way out our Sleep Doula crawled into the room on all fours, so as to not be noticed by Grace. This is to trick your child into thinking it's still you (or in this case my wife) in the room doing the shushing. It's supposedly more comforting than a total stranger.
I should add here that we had tried the Tracy Hogg (AKA the Baby Whisperer) technique a week earlier, whereby you put your baby to sleep drowsy and when she cries, you pick her up and quiet her back to that drowsy state again and lay her back down. This seems like a good alternative to the very popular 'Cry It Out' philosophies, promoted by best-selling authors Dr. Marc Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby), Dr. Richard Ferber (Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems) and Dr. Jodi Mindell (Sleeping Through The Night). I still get chills remembering how our lovely little pale half-Korean, half-white bundle of joy morphed into a screaming, wailing and snorting red-faced banshee over the 21/2 hours we spent trying to get her 'down.'
So you can see my reluctance to believe how this Sleep Doula would have any more success by merely 'shushing' our champion crier.
From the first shush, Gracie went into hysterics that put me in a Vietnam-like flashback situation. This went on for an intense 90 minutes, but then something truly miraculous happened: quiet. Through a series of key words and shushes, the SD had tamed our sleepless stallion. I was literally at a loss for words, when our jump-suited doula came back downstairs and we all huddled around our baby monitor to witness the splendid slumber.
Look, it's not as though we had never seen her sleeping peacefully, it was just that it had only come after prolonged periods of rocking, walking or swaying that made you want to jump out the window.
To know that she could now essentially put herself to sleep? Heaven.
However it was still not clear sailing, as 45 minutes after she went down, Grace awoke ready to do battle against her shushing adversary. Our SD, also known as Tracy Ruiz, was again equal to the task. Another hour of shushing put Grace back into dreamland. At 11:00 pm I crept into the room with a bottle of breast milk for what Tracy called a 'dream feed.' That's when you feed your baby while she is still asleep. Grace sucked back the 4 OZ bottle in roughly 10 minutes and continued her slumber as I gently laid her back down and closed the door.
She woke again at 1:00 am and required minimal effort on Tracy's behalf to close her eyes again. She then slept from 1-4 in the morning. Grace got in another hour, before Tracy called Rosa in (via text message, hence the all-important Blackberry) at 5:30 for a feeding, for which she turned on the lights, so your baby does not associate sleep with food. After a 5-10 minute power feed, out went the lights again and Grace was put back to sleep by roughly 6:30. Our SD then left and Grace didn't wake again until 9:00 am (it was supposed to be 8:00, but we overslept - yeah).
In the morning Tracy told us to greet Grace with plenty of celebratory kisses and cuddles and lots of enthusiastic praise. This was certainly the easiest part, after having to listen to her plaintive wails all night long.
While we were both filled with a sense of euphoria over Grace's stunning ability to sleep without being held and rocked, the one downside was that she was clearly POed at her parents and let us know by averting her gaze, every time we tried to establish eye contact. It made me feel like I was in high school all over again, trying to get the cool girl I was crushing on to notice me!
However it is a small price to pay for regaining one's sanity. It might have been the first time in weeks, perhaps months, where I was able to look at my wife and see the lovely woman I fell in love with and not as an appendage to my daughter.
And while we really didn't manage any more sleep for ourselves than we had using our nonstop human-swing technique, we both knew we had turned a corner in the quest to have our daughter sleeping 'normally.'
In a nutshell; we were able to get back that sense of just loving our baby, instead of looking at her as a terrorist, trying to 'break' us by keeping us up for days on end. Sometimes all you need as a parent is a pause to dispel the negative thoughts that can creep into your tired mind.
We can thank the Sleep Doula for that.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Hi Jon, thanks for sharing your experience. We are thinking of hiring Tracey for our baby too. Is Grace still sleeping ok now? We are just wondering whether her method changes her sleeping habit permanently. Thanks