Recently, a group of friends and I were discussing the times in our lives when God had revealed to us a piece of His character. (I know–my friends and I are a real laugh riot. I can tell you’re jealous.) It brought to mind a moment from almost seven years ago, when my oldest child was only a few weeks old.
If you’ve read much of this blog before, you know that I dealt with many many months of untreated post-partum depression, a holdover from the many many months of untreated normal depression. This beast appeared in all of its disgusting and insidious glory within hours of my daughter’s birth. (If you’re feeling a little too cheery on this beautiful day, you can read more about it here.)
Often an episode of depression will announce itself in the form of anxiety bordering on the unhinged, balanced ever so precariously with the belief that I can plan my way out of trouble…if only I ever figure out the right plan. Add the care and keeping of a tiny new appendage, and I was a real gem in those days.
Enter the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg. I inhaled this book. Hogg affirmed all of my instincts and made motherhood seem so much simpler than I had made it in my mind. She was famous for getting babies to sleep through the night within a handful of nights, before six weeks. The book outlines her method:
Lay the baby down, drowsy but awake. When the baby cries, pick him up and calm him and then put him back down.
This is supposed to reassure the baby that he is not alone but also provide an opportunity for him to learn that he is capable of soothing himself. In the book, Hogg gives several examples of clients to whom she’d taught this method; they all have stories of picking up the baby 88 times the first night, 43 times the second night, six times the third night, and zero times the fourth night (and ever after). This seemed like magic to me. If I could get my daughter to sleep…everything else would work. I could be a good mom, if I could only get her to sleep.
So, my husband and I decided to try it out. She was somewhere around three or four weeks old, certainly in the right age range to start this training, according to Hogg. We picked a night and spent the day psyching ourselves up for what we knew would be a serious test of our fortitude. We were prepared not to sleep at all that night, placing all of our hope in Hogg’s experience: by the end of the week, we’d have a baby who slept through the night.
Knowing how intensely mercurial my emotions were at this time, and how susceptible I was to stress, we decided to pray before putting her down the first time. Did we pray for peace, for strength, for discernment? No, nothing that spiritual. We prayed that it would work, that she would sleep, and that no one would kill anyone else in the process. Then we put her down and stood back to watch what would happen.
She started screaming. My husband picked her up and started making cooing sounds. She stopped screaming. He put her back down.
She started screaming. I picked her up and started making cooing sounds. She stopped screaming. I put her back down.
I think I can spare you a detailed account of the next eight hours and just tell you: the plan didn’t work. She didn’t sleep, my husband didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep. Nobody slept. This was worse than I’d feared. I’d stopped marking our progress after the 50th time we picked her up–and that had only taken an hour or so. My body was tired, my mind was tired, my baby was tired.
There was one unbelievable moment of grace, sometime around three in the morning, when the mind ceases to work rationally and is open to things like that.
I was holding, for the thousandth time that night, a crying baby, bouncing up and down on sore legs, trying to keep her quiet so that my husband–sprawled on the other side of the room–could maybe at least sleep for one minute, when it hit me: I was not upset. I wasn’t angry, or crying, or feeling anxious, or feeling disappointed, or even feeling particularly tired. I felt good. I felt useful. I felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing. I was helping my daughter learn how to do a hard thing. I was being a mom. In that moment, I thought about how many times that night I had already held her and how I would gladly have held her as many more times as she needed me to. I thought how remarkable it was that she had cried eight trillion times for the same exact reason, and I hadn’t gotten tired of her yet. I hadn’t given up on her. I hadn’t even gotten annoyed.
In that moment, in that tiny quiet private moment in the midst of the middle of the night, I heard God speak. He spoke into my fears, my insecurities, and my unshaking belief that I was incapable. He said, “This is how I love you.”
This is how I love you.
How many times had I cried out to God for the same reason, over and over again? Hundreds.
How many times had I thought that I couldn’t do what God was asking me to do? Thousands.
How many times had I been angry with God for making me do a hard thing? Millions.
How many times had God picked me up, and held me, and made soothing noises in my ear, and then, when I was ready, put me back down so that I could try again? Every. Single. Time.
To God, I am that red-faced, shrieking, helpless three-week old, and He is the parent, so full of perfect love that He will pick me up again and again and again, through the long sleepless night that is my life.
I am His child, and He is my parent. He will never not pick me up.
People, I don’t know how to say this clearly enough: what happened that night (and what didn’t happen: the hissy fits and self-pity) was not from me. In almost seven years of being a parent, and with four children for whom I have an obscene amount of love, there has not been even one single night in the middle of which I was glad to be awake. I hate being awake in the middle of the night. Middle-of-the-night feedings and soothings are to be trudged through, with as little anger as possible. That one night, that magical night of grace, was a miracle. God used a sleepless night to reach down and reveal something to a tired and scared and lonely new mom: His unending patience, and His unfathomable love.
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After such a mountaintop experience, we decided to try co-sleeping the next night.
That worked much better.