I wonder if there is a phase of parenthood that is called "the sleep pit of hell" that every parent goes through as they attempt to put a toddler to bed.
We are in that phase now.
There is "before Rebekah" and "after Rebekah". Before Rebekah I nursed Reuben to sleep. I had unrealistic expectations that sleep "after Rebekah" would be the same as sleep "before Rebekah". I was wrong. During my pregnancy my husband and I gently transitioned Reuben out of our bed and into a crib in our bedroom. It was not too hard. I nursed him to sleep and placed him in his crib instead of in bed with me. Sometimes he climbed out, but often he did not. He even started sleeping through the night, something he has never done before! And I slept (as blissfully as a pregnant woman can sleep) sans toddler for my third trimester--the first time in two years that I had not had one little person curled up next to me. As much as I loved bedsharing, I knew (or at least I thought, see next paragraph) that I would probably bedshare with Rebekah and thus needed to move Reuben to his own space. I also assumed I would still be able to nurse him to sleep after she was born, so we didn't change that part of our bedtime routine.
Cue the chaos of birth. I was away from my toddler for two days. This was the first time I had ever been away from him for that long. Even through he was with daddy he immediately sleep regressed when I arrived home. So, I had a newborn who didn't want to be separated from me and a toddler who missed me and also didn't want to be separated from me. Bed time has never been the same since.
First we tried daddy putting Reuben to bed. This resulted in him screaming for me for about half an hour before he fell asleep. It broke my heart but with a newborn there was nothing I could really do. I had to hold and nurse Rebekah. Nursing Reuben gives me nursing aversions (and if I had known this I would have weaned him before Rebekah came, but I didn't know this would happen) so I couldn't nurse him anymore. Those first two weeks Daddy held a boy who didn't want him and tried to get him to sleep. I kept thinking that if we just pushed forward and did the same thing every day he would eventually stop crying.
So then I decided to nurse him. I felt so bad for him. I would nurse Rebekah at the same time and it would really take all of the effort in my body not to cry from the nursing aversions. Afterwards when he did fall asleep I was angry, upset and grouchy. Although this worked for Reuben it did not work for me and was destroying my mental health. I only lasted about a week before I told my husband I couldn't do it anymore. Not to mention nursing him again made him ask to nurse 5043 times or whenever he saw Rebekah nursing, and cry when I told him no. That is not fun and also broke my heart.
I would also like to say that from the moment Rebekah was born Reuben stopped allowing us to put him in his crib (so he is wedged against my back all night, with Rebekah wedged against my front) and he also has stopped also sleeping through the night. He wakes up now 1-2 times a night. Every night. I feel like I would be insane--execpt for Rebekah only wakes up to nurse 1-2 times a night. She's an amazing sleeper. I'd actually get some good sleep if Reuben slept!! When Reuben was Rebekah's age he woke up every 1-2 hours to nurse. I am not making that up. So, I am really grateful that Rebekah's sleep habits are set to "default normal"...for now, at least.
Since week three of "after Rebekah" we have tried various sleep routines to get our toddler to fall asleep. I mean, he should be tired by 7pm! He does not nap anymore and wakes up from 6-7am.
We have tried watching TV until he falls asleep. Rocking him to sleep. Making him lay down in his crib while one of us tells him a story. Cuddling him to sleep. Reading him books. Laying with him and letting him watch something on our phones. One out of three times one of these things will work. Two out of three times he cries and screams "to go downstairs" or wants to roll around and play. If we let him stay up he is extremely cranky the next day and whines all day and is very overtired--so yes, we even tried just letting him stay up. Which we used to do "before Rebekah" when he'd have a sleep issue 1-2 times a week, but since this is EVERY DAY we can't really do that. He needs sleep. And we need to figure out how to put him to sleep.
This week we are trying an audiobook. We all lay down together (him wedged against me) and put on an audiobook and listen to that. It usually takes 45 minutes until he goes to sleep. Then daddy picks him up and puts him in his crib so I can have some space. Until he climbs out and crawls into bed with me again, anywhere from 15 minutes to hours later. It always happens.
I know it's just a season. But I really wish there was a magic sleep method that worked and did not raise my anxiety from all the crying. Oh, the crying. Hysterical crying. You would think I was torturing his favorite stuffed Pooh doll in fiery heinous ways from all the crying, flailing and wailing that goes on.
I feel so bad for him. I feel so bad for me.
I just want him to go to sleep because he needs sleep. And because I need toddler free time. I desperately need toddler free time. And time with my husband. And time with a book. And time to just relax and write blog posts.