It all went downhill just before my daughter’s 4-month birthday.
To be much more specific, Aria was 3 months, 2 weeks and 3 days old when I realized that we had a major problem. Actually, my 3-year-old daughter noticed the problem first, when she alerted me that I was about to leave the house without any pants on.
“Mommy, why you not get dressed today?” Anya asked.
It had been a long night.
Knowing that Aria would be my last child, I had decided to treasure each moment, or seize the day as they say.
For me, that meant holding her all the time and nursing her about 23 hours a day.
So when it came time for her to sleep by herself in her bassinet at night, she was confused. As soon as I put her down, she would sleep for about 30 minutes and then wake up, looking for me.
It was getting worse every night.
And after about a week of sleeping less than four hours a night, I was nearing my breaking point.
My well-worn copies of Dr. Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems and Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child were strewn across my bed.
But it was when I nearly left my house without bottoms that I knew I needed more help.
Thankfully, there are few things that you can’t outsource in Chicago, and I decided to call some sleep training night nannies to help.
“I can consult you over the phone or I can send in a nanny overnight,” says Rose Calderone, owner of Hush-A-Bye Baby, a night nanny and sleep training company in Chicago.
I opted for the phone consultation, as I was a little embarrassed about the state of my house.
I still have my dignity.
Calderone asked me about the temperature of my home (72 during the day, 66 at night, which is fine), the number of ounces Aria consumes daily (I don’t know, since I’ve created a monster who refuses to put her precious lips on a bottle) and whether I’m tough enough to handle the cry-it-out method (yes, yes, yes).
“The minimum it will take you is three nights and the maximum is 10 days.”
Seeing as I had already gone nearly four months without sleep, a mere 10 days more couldn’t hurt. I agreed to the plan of action, which basically included putting her to bed sleepy but awake, refusing to let her nurse during the night-and putting her down for naps every two hours throughout the day.
I double-checked everything with my doctor.
While my daughter is in the 75th percentile for weight, my doctor said I still had to nurse if she wanted milk during the night-as long as she slept for at least four hours between feedings.
My dreams of sleeping for eight hours were instantly dashed.
In my slightly delirious state, I contacted a second sleep expert, Pam Jones, RN, co-founder of Sweet Dreams Infant Care, a night nanny and sleep training company in Chicago.
“You’ve got to fix my baby,” I tearfully begged Pam. “Just tell me what to do, step by step, and I’ll do it.”
Magically, an email appeared with a document titled “Aria’s 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. sleep training plan.”
Step by step, hour by hour, it told me what I needed to do.
She should be awake by 7 every morning, and she needs to be asleep by 7 every night. And just as the others told me, she needed to nap every two hours in order to have a good night’s sleep.
With the plan, I was ready for the battle of wills: Aria versus Mommy.
The first night, I gave Aria a bath, gave her a massage, nursed her and put her in her bassinet.
She cried. And cried. And cried.
When I went in to soothe her, it made it worse, as she arched her back and pleaded with me to pick her up.
I caved after an hour, and nursed her. Then, I felt bad for ruining the big plan, and I put her back in her bassinet, drowsy but awake.
It took two horrific hours before she slept. For a whole eight hours.
Night two took 60 minutes.
Night three took 10 minutes.
We’re on night seven, and Aria now goes down with just a peep.
I’m here to tell you that I made it to the other side. I needed a little push from the night training police, but I made it.
Did I really need the help of the night nannies? Absolutely not. Everything they told me was already painstakingly described in my sleep books. But did they reassure me that what I was doing was necessary, that I wasn’t torturing my daughter and that she wouldn’t hate me for the rest of the my life? Yes. That, to me, was worth it.
I have a message to all you sleep-deprived moms: It doesn’t have to be this bad. Read a book to figure out your preferred method or hire someone to determine the best path for your baby.
And while you’re in the middle of your fog, please lay your clothing out the night before so you don’t forget crucial pieces.
Danielle Braff is a freelance writer and Chicago mom of two little girls.