Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Alert!

Wandering Scientist has been discussing sleep (or lack of it) since she became a mother. I have been keeping mum about some of the not so warm and fuzzy aspects of motherhood. I don't want to scare future breeders and cause birthrates to plummet even further. But, I don't want others to be as surprised as we were. And, it may provide comfort.

When Iris was a newborn, staff at the hospital kept remarking, "How alert!" when they saw her huge beautiful eyes. (They were a dark grey with navy blue rims. I got lost in them for hours at a time.) That should have been a clue. What kind of newborn is open-eyed for hours at a time?

First time parents, we had no idea that they were really saying, "You are never going to get a full night of sleep again." Some babies are naturally more alert than others. They are more aware of their surroundings and require much less sleep than normal babies. While the other newborns doze in the nursery, super alert babies stand out because they appear to be studying their surroundings with wide open eyes.

Forget about all those parenting books' estimates that say "your baby should be sleeping x hours per day by this age. " You can scale those numbers down by a factor based upon past performance.

Eventually, she did sleep 3-5 hours at a time during the night. We co-slept and Iris and I became adept at breastfeeding while semi-dozing. My goal was to breastfeed her through her first two flu seasons; she was born in November 2000. In May 2002, I weaned her. That meant that we lost the only reliable means to put her to sleep. Eventually, she learned to sleep through the night, about 6 hours at a time.

Mark and I were high-fiving each other when, in late June, she taught us not to count your chickens (or hours of sleep) too soon.

We had rented a Chautauqua cabin in Boulder, CO. The cabins are spaced closely together. They are not air conditioned so everyone sleeps with their windows wide open.

What a great place for Iris to wake up screaming. She continued screaming for two more hours. She was inconsolable. She didn't respond to any of our normal methods of soothing her. In desperation, we called our pediatrician back in Los Angeles.

The triage nurse who answered the phone understood the problem immediately. She asked if we were first time parents. "Why, yes. How did she know? "

"Because you haven't heard about night terrors yet. She is just having a night terror. " She explained that Iris didn't respond because she wasn't really awake. 18 months was awfully young for onset; it usually starts at 2 or 3. She continued, "Congratulations, you have a highly imaginative child. It usually happens to imaginative children." Imaginative and precocious.

Mark took her outside, walked her round and round, and she calmed after 10 more minutes of screaming. Maybe the night air woke her up. Maybe she noticed the beauty of the moon. She was a happy baby when he brought her back to bed.

The next morning, the manager of the Chautauqua came by to talk to us. It appears that someone in another cabin had turned us in for possible child abuse.

That's all for now. We will discuss the night-time wheezing and sleep apnea later. It is a saga with no end.


  1. Anonymous07:10

    We had the "How alert!" comments too, and everyone remarked on her big blue eyes. We thought all the other babies were boring, staring blankly at nothing in particular. Look at how interactive our child is! And so on. Little did we know...

  2. Funny, we got almost the exact same comments as my buddy mimi. Hmmmmm....

    I hope we avoid the night terrors, but I'm not counting on it.

    I try very hard not to talk too much about Pumpkin's sleep issues in front of expectant mothers. Why give them something more to worry about? But I do talk about it in front of new parents, because I want them to see that there are a wide range of "normal" sleep patterns for a baby and a baby who doesn't sleep as well as we'd like is not a reason to feel like a failure or feel guilty.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I think that these sort of stories are one of the most helpful things in the momosphere!


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