Jen Simon hasn't gotten a full night's sleep in two years. Her son, Noah, was born three weeks premature, weighing just four pounds, and almost from the time he came home from the hospital he has woken up before dawn every morning -- as early as four and rarely later than 5:30 AM. And while his mother describes him as beautiful, smart, and funny, she has also nicknamed him "The Sleep Monster".
She has tried everything. Sleep training helped a bit, and at least whittled the number of awakenings from half a dozen, to just one. A sleep consultant was a disaster. She decided that by the time Noah showed signs of being tired, he was actually over tired, and instructed Jen to never be more than a few blocks from the apartment so that she could whisk Noah into his crib at the first yawn. She also suggested putting the boy to bed at 5, which only resulted in his waking up at 3 -- and also led Jen to start taking two separate antidepressants.
Jen and her husband switch off the days that they get up with Noah, but even on their off duty mornings they wake up at the sound of their partner getting out of bed. They have tried letting Noah sleep with them. That didn't work. They tried rocking him, and playing him special sleep CDs, and reading him sleep themed books. They have just found a clock that changes colors, hoping to teach him that he must play quietly in his crib until the numbers shift from yellow to blue. They still have hope that this will work, but it hasn't, yet. About once every few months Jen has started leaving her New York apartment and moving into her childhood bedroom in Kansas City, where her mother and father wake with the baby so she can sleep. It isn't quite as restful as she'd hoped, she says, because she hears her parents get Noah, but at least she can stay in bed.
She would like to go back to work in public relations, but she can't imagine being this tired -- she calls it Zombie Tired -- and having to get herself dressed and to an office. She had always thought she would have two children, but for the moment, and possibly for the future, she says, "we have no plans."
"I never knew that being a parent was striving for normal", she wrote on her Facebook page. She is desperate for some advice. "People keep saying to me it gets better," she says. "And it has gotten better. But when does it get good?"
Talk to any parent and you will find something they are "going through", something with which they need help. If nothing else, they need an ear, and some reassurance that others have been in the same boat, that nearly everything will pass eventually, and that yes, it will get good.
Today we are launching Parentasking (what you'd get if you cross Parents Asking, and Multi-tasking, 'natch...) a video series that takes readers' parenting struggles and opens the floor to other readers who have been there and bring some advice. We will also touch base with experts (though the bottom line is that there really are no parenting experts, just people who have been through this before) and ask them for practical suggestions. To help Jen, we contacted Deborah Pedrick, of familysleep.com, who has been helping parents get their kids to sleep for 14 years and who is the co-founder of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. You can hear all she had to say in the video, but her bottom line was that by responding to Noah before dawn, his parents have taught him that it's just dandy to wake up that early, and she had a few suggestions on how to teach him that it really truly would be better to sleep.
How about you? Have experienced you nights with the "Sleep Monster"? What worked? What didn't? How long did the torture last?
Should Jen think about having another child? Or going back to work? Is it impossible for her to fit either of those things into her sleep deprived life at the moment? Or perhaps part of the problem is that Noah is quite clear that HE is the center of his mommy's life.