"Loving the Soul" Chapter 7: A War on Sleep

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"Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism" excerpt by Janele Hoerner (CatholicMom.com)

As my frustration grew and mounted with Gracin’s lack of sleep, I began to feel hopeless. I had so many opinions coming at me from many different sources, and I was downright confused. I never would have thought that a child’s sleep patterns needed to be examined in as much depth as I was doing now. I wanted to believe that my child did not have to cry in order to sleep for a continuous period, but no matter what I tried, his sleep was not extending beyond 45 minutes in duration. After much research, anticipation, and tears shed on the topic, I purchased a new book with a happy little sleeping baby on the front. It is called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, written by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, who presents three different ways to help a child sleep.

This is the only book that I found showing multiple strategies in helping a child sleep. It also explains why sleep is such an important factor in raising a child. I read this book from front to back multiple times before implementing any of the techniques suggested.

The 13th chapter examines unrestricted breastfeeding. Weissbluth states that, “To maintain or develop healthy sleep habits for your child, have the courage to do what is best for the child.” For some reason this sentence resonated in my foggy viewpoint as I began to believe that I had to become courageous, something I always lacked, in order to help my child sleep. Although I wanted Gracin to sleep through the night, I did not want to break the mother and baby bond that I believed in. I wanted him to feel that I would do whatever he needed for his comfort, but living without sleep, in the patterns our lives had fallen into, had to end. He was not outgrowing this life stage of development.

After careful consideration of my son’s health and a full month of weighing our options, I picked the method I felt was best for us. At that point in our lives, I felt I needed to help him sleep soundly, and I was convinced some initial tears could not break the bond between us. In following the advice of a doctor deeply committed to helping children sleep well for proper brain development and who believed in having a well-rested family above all, we embarked on our new start. In addition, since I was already learning about the anatomy of the body in nursing school, I knew that the physiology of the brain was at the root of the proper functioning for the rest of the body. I felt like I had wasted too many months allowing my child to not sleep deeply, and, as I was his mother, it was my job to help him function the best he could.

Following what was suggested did not mean I had to stop breastfeeding my child on demand during his waking hours or even to an almost sleep-like state at night. It just meant that he did not have to rely on my breast for his only comforting technique. He could use his own body to feel security also. I wanted my child to depend on me and know I was the utmost devoted to him, but I did not have to continue to give him all of my energy anymore.

Since the two of us were not functioning where we should be, I believed that in choosing the quickest method outlined in Dr. Weissbluth’s book, we could be sleeping better and faster. I questioned my motives many times to make sure I was not doing this selfishly, out of my own pure desperation for sleep. I did not believe I would ever become the mother who let her child cry for no reason, but reading the pages over and over helped me remember why I was doing this practice.

I reminded myself that all babies cry, and sometimes they even cry when nothing is wrong. Gracin, on the other hand, never cried, so a few tears could not hurt. Before the start of the first night on his new journey of self-soothing, I rocked with him and prayed an entire Rosary with him by my side. I asked God to help us through this tough process while he entered into an almost drowsy state. As I carried him to his crib, I told him I loved him and gave him his tiny puppy blanket before saying goodnight.

Before I even had time to shut the door, he was already standing up attempting to claw his way out of his bed. My heart broke as I shut the door on my child. That night Gracin cried loud and hard for most of the night with small periods of a faint wine, which tortured my soul more than the tears. Although, in the morning, he moved with the same happy heightened alertness and did not seem to mind the lack of sleep. He did not hold what had happened the night before against me as I had envisioned. I was grateful.

The following night was by far the worst because he knew what was coming. He fought me from the time I took him upstairs, and he made his disapproval well known. He screamed with an ear piercing intensity during the night while I did my best to reread the pages of Dr. Weissbluth’s book between my own shedding of tears. He went an entire night again without any sleep, and I was distraught.

The next day Gracin seemed to be somewhat worn out as he collapsed on my chest after breakfast for a ten minute nap. Looking down at my little boy sleeping, I did not know how much longer we could both go on like this. I felt I needed to be consistent with my choices, but I did not know how much more I could go through. I vowed to give this one more night before I would resonate to our old ways, but something amazing happened.

On the third night, with one final attempt at this method, after I had rocked and fed him, I placed my whimpering child into his crib. Turing to leave the room, Gracin pulled my arm and said, “I loves you Mamas. I dos.” To my surprise after he said his part, he just laid there motionless until I walked out of the room. All that could be heard from his room was a faint whimper for the next five minutes. With the monitor’s volume turned up, I watched as he thrashed his body back and forth, fighting with his mind to allow him to rest. Following the whimpering stage, there was fifteen minutes of faint crying, but then there was silence. That silence continued for the next eleven hours straight. I was amazed and ever thankful for the gift of sleep.

I felt my prayers had been answered when I awakened on the couch the next morning to light coming through the windows. In a slightly panicked state, I checked on the monitor thinking something had happened to my sleeping child. As I adjusted the contrast to see his perfect sleeping body, I heard the sweetest humming noise coming from his lips. He was singing to himself, and as he began to fully wake up, I watched him stand up and call for me.

In three nights he had figured out how to self soothe, and, as a result, I felt we had won our war on sleep. Our whole world seemed to open up. We saw that sleep helped Gracin calm down a little bit. It was ultimately what his body craved so deeply. After those first few nights, he still loved me all the more, but he actually asked to go to bed when he was tired. Of course, I cannot honestly say that Dr. Weissbluth’s book fixed all of Gracin’s sleep issues, but this was a step in the right direction.

Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism is available at Amazon.com.

Read more chapters from Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism.


Copyright 2018 Janele Hoerner

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About Author

Janele Hoerner is the author of Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism: An Interior Analysis of the Impact a Special Needs Child Bestows upon the Family. She wishes to help all individuals to become selfless by the presence of special needs individuals in the community. She lives with her husband and their five children, two of which are on the Autism Spectrum, in central Pennsylvania. Visit Janele's blog at Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism.

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