Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yes, I need to be needed

For all the talk of infant sleep, of getting and keeping your child in a restful slumber, I have to admit that I feel kind of weird when my kid falls asleep on his own and stays that way. My maternal instinct starts to go off. Is something wrong? Why is he sleeping so far from me? So when he turns, and tosses a few times, and opens his eyes in that sudden and surprised way, I feel a little surge of relief. All is well.

I guess I'm strange because I can really take or leave my kid sleeping like some kind of comatose valium addict. The rhetoric of sleep in North America is completely different than the rest of the world. We sleep less, we work more, and we expect our children to nod off alone and stay that way. The reality is that kids aren't meant to sleep that way. As very young babies, frequent arousals are due to a need for nutrition, comfort, and attachment. It is also associated with reduced chances of SIDS. As babies age, their circadian rythms also mature, but are still not the same as adults. And why would they be? Their brains, expanding and processing as they are, require sleep in different ways than ours do. Not only restorative, sleep is also a time of increased mental activity and growth. Children wake up frequently at night because they cycle through deep and light sleep phases more quickly than adults, not because their sleep is dysfunctional. Even children whose parents believe they sleep through wake at night, they just go back to sleep without parental reassurance.

Of course, there are times when I wish Ender would be guaranteedly fine on his own. When company is over, or when Mike and I have plans to watch a movie just me and him. The baby wakes and I let out a long and audible sigh. There will be no movie. Just cuddling a baby back to sleep.  Mostly, though, aside from being frustrated, I notice progress in Ender's sleep patterns. He sleeps more heavily, and pushes away from me at night, not wishing to be in constant contact. Eventually we will put him on a little mattress of his own next to our bed, and when he is old enough, move him to his own room.

Until then, I'm enjoying being needed. As infrequent as that may be these days, I treasure the way his chubby hands twine in my hair and he lets out a little sigh, so different than my own, of true contentment.

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