Monday, October 21, 2013

Sleep...and what we did in the middle of the night.

I brought my babies home from the NICU full of ambition.  Ambition for nursing, for sleep training, for all kinds of stuff.  We laid them in the pack-n-play in our room that first night, side by side, and ate dinner.  I showered, went to bed...and embarked on a several-months-long endeavor that can only be described as nightmarish, to use polite language.

First night home!

Our babies were already on a 3 hour feeding schedule to aid their growth in the hospital.  Once we got home, here was a typical cycle in the night:

  • Baby A would cry, hungry.  I would get out of bed to change his diaper (which seems simple now, but as a new parent, fiddling in semi-darkness with snaps and tiny flailing limbs, it was daunting).
  • I'd nurse on one side.  
  • Then I'd supplement with formula, because at the time I still wasn't producing much milk.  
  • Burp the baby. 
  • I'd swaddle him and attempt to put him back to sleep.  
  • Right about then, but sometimes in the middle of the above process, Baby B would start to howl. If I had finished with Baby A, I would go get Baby B.  But if I wasn't done, I'd nudge my husband to get the second baby and change him.
  • Give Baby B bottle.
  • Nurse him on the other side. 
  • Burp.
  • Swaddle.
  • Try to put him to sleep. 
  • THEN I would pump.  I was trying to build up my milk supply.  Then I would have to refrigerate the milk and clean out the pump parts so that milk wouldn't go bad, and so that no milk would crust or curdle in, on, or around the pump.  
  • Go to sleep.  
  • Comfort fussy baby.
  • Comfort other fussy baby.
  • Retrieve fallen pacifier for Baby A.
  • Retrieve fallen pacifier for Baby B.  
  • Both babies seem to start getting hungry again, and it hasn't even been 2.5 hours since the beginning of the last feed.
  • Start the whole thing over again.

First time to sleep at home!

We did this for months at 8 p.m., 11 p.m., 2 a.m., 5 a.m, and 8 a.m., etc.  A good friend recently asked me what was harder:  My first year of teaching (which is hard for anyone, and for me it was a year of trial by fire with a particularly difficult group of children) or having twins?  I paused and my husband jumped in:  "Are you kidding me?  Having twins was harder!  It was like a military boot camp at night! Get out of bed, put on your boots!!"  

Looking so sleepy...when it's not bedtime!

The above proceedings and sleep deprivation were brutal.  My milk production never really increased, and completely disappeared after 3 months, even after taking a prescription to help.  Part of this was also, because of sheer exhaustion, I started skipping some nursing and pumping sessions and opted for formula instead, especially in the middle of the night when we felt like zombies.  Sometimes I wonder, had I stuck to just nursing if my body would in fact have eventually responded to the demand.  The other half of me wonders how much time we could have saved, and rest achieved, if I'd known in advance my milk wouldn't fully come in and we had done only formula from the beginning.  But I console myself with knowing that they did get some nursing in for their first few months of life that was beneficial to their health.  One can beat oneself up with guilt and "what-ifs," but in the end we do what we think we need to do.

There were some things we did to juggle the work load at night: (It didn't look like this all the time.)

  • We would feed and put down the babies at 8.  I would make sure I was showered and ready for bed before starting that process so that I could sleep from around 9 to 2 a.m.  My husband would bottle feed the babies for the 11 pm feeding, and I would either sleep or pump.  
  • My husband would sleep from around midnight to 8 a.m., and I would do the 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. feedings on my own, knowing that I could also try to nap during the day when they napped.  
Eventually, my husband, who was great at soothing the boys in the early hours of the night, managed to get them to push out their feedings to midnight or later, and then would go to bed.  Sometimes that meant that I wouldn't have to feed them again until 4 a.m.  Gradually we went from 3 night time feedings to 1.  That lasted to 6 months and then we started sleep training, and you can read more about our experience with that here.  


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