Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sleeping WOOS to Sleeping WOWS!

I think it's safe to say that for the first three plus months of Ava's life she barely touched any surfaces. Meaning, between Rob and I she was held and snuggled pretty much around the clock. I think the plain and simple truth behind this non-stop holding of her was our need to fill our aching empty arms with a living child we helped to create by the Grace of God. With love and tears we embraced our second daughter into our arms and allowed her to fill some of the void we had been experiencing for eighteen straight months. While Ava can never take the place of Elise, her birth will remain one of the greatest healing moments Rob and I have experienced since October 12, 2007.

I believe the tragedy of loosing Elise and accepting that we will always long to hold her fueled our need to smoother Ava with continuous love and affection in her early days. It was virtually impossible to get enough of her. We were in true awe just being in her presence. During the daytime if I wasn't feeding her I was holding her and if I wasn't holding her I was rocking her and if I wasn't rocking her I was I was carrying her. In the evening Rob demanded his fill and and they spent several nights snuggled tummy to chest on the couch and so the sleep trend was set. She seemed to love it and need it as much as we did. The bond we formed as a family during this time was magical and truly therapeutic for our souls. Without any hesitation I would do it the same all over again.

Here are a few pictures of Rob and I snuggling our Ava Girl for you to enjoy before I get down and serious with the topic at hand...

Happiness is...

Oh how I miss her sweet little sleeping face!

All you need is LOVE!

For the first three months of Ava's life I desperately tired to solely breastfeed her with little success due to a supply issue. Breastfeeding Ava could be a whole topic in and of itself so I will try to keep it as minimal as possible. Being a former NICU nurse and Newborn Infant nurse I have some opinions on feeding your child post delivery while your milk is still coming in. I have spent countless nights caring for starving babies who had moms that refused to supplement with formula or sugar water while they had nothing to feed them with. Some of these mothers also wanted to sleep soundly leaving their starving babes in the nursery to scream all night in hunger mode not wanting to be bothered to let their child nuzzle them in the night. CRAZY I know! I have read several materials on this topic and truly do not believe in nipple confusion or any of the other "Nazi"  La Leach League jargon they tell you on why you should not feed your hungry babe while your milk is still coming in. Brown fat or not... I feel it is unnecessary and harsh not to offer your baby the comfort of a full belly if it is available during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours of life. I believe if it is your goal to breastfed your infant they will get the hang of it eventually if and when you have a milk supply.

Ava and I spent a lot of time during the first months of her life feeding, feeding, feeding. Feeding her and feeding me! I was breastfeeding, then pumping, then supplementing her hunger with a bottle, then cleaning the pump, then cleaning the bottles, and then feeding myself. As a result of feeding both by breast and bottle we were forced to be physically close to each other twenty-four-seven. It was a real dairy farm and a heck of a lot of work! No matter what I tried my supply never produced more than four ounces at a time. My growing babe was not satisfied with just four ounces of milk so I had to accept a little help from my friends at Gerber. I was still hopeful that if I drank enough fluid and ate enough calories and pumped enough times on top of breastfeeding my body would eventually catch up. It was exhausting. I was up in the night even when she wasn't so I could pump and demand my body make more milk on top of getting up with her to nurse when she was ready to eat followed by a bottle feeding to top her off.

No matter how hard I tried my body just would not produce the supply I wanted and Ava needed. After three long months of trying, a lot of personal angst, trips to the Women's Health Center to work with professionals, reading book after book, talking with moms who had successfully breastfed, and talking with Ava's pediatrician, I reluctantly threw in the towel. I decided that the sleepless nights and exhausting days were not worth the trouble and unhappiness it was causing me. She had gotten all the antibodies she needed for a healthy start and she was going to turn out just fine in the long run. I was ready to simply enjoy feeding her by bottle and having more free time to experience other bonding opportunities with her. Once my mind was made up, I was relieved I could start sharing some of the night time feeding responsibilities with Rob since I was on the verge of heading back to work just thirteen short weeks after her birth.

We had thought that in time Ava would get the hang of sleeping longer periods of time during the night as her belly was better able to stay full for longer periods of time. When she started eating oatmeal and other varieties of baby food my fingers were crossed. But without fail each night she was up and she was hungry. How do you just lay your crying infant baby back in bed, shut the door, and say good night? Rob and I were not able to parent her in that way. We took turns and rocked her and if that didn't settle her to sleep we fed her. This method seemed to be working just fine and we were really a team caring for her in the night. With that said and as much and I loved these night time moments with Ava we prayed for longer periods of sleep and that in time she would outgrow the need to eat in the night. Ava seemed to never grow tired of calling us to her side in the night and to a point we never truly grew tired of her neediness and so this went on night after night.

Naps were another issue in our sleep battle. The issues were would she take one, when would she take one, and where would she take one? It was all dependent on how her night went and the variables seemed to be endless. If she was up in the night early then she would nap great in the morning but if she was up later in the night then a morning nap was hard pressed and a late afternoon nap was a must. A late afternoon nap would throw off bed time and if she went to bed later it didn't mean she would sleep longer or better. With all that said I must also say she has been a very happy baby. She seems to be one of those kids who don't require a ton of sleep to be cheerful. Generally, if she did nap it was for about an hour and most days she did eventually take two naps. Fighting a baby to sleep when they are not tired is a battle not worth fighting. I learned this the hard way on some occasions when I pushed napping with her because I desperately needed a nap to recover from a long night. Rob and I seemed to get used to operating in a continuous state of sleep deprivation and she was used to being tended to no matter the time of day or night.

While this was working great for her the older she got the harder it was for us to rationalize all the reasons we came up with for why she wasn't sleeping through the night. The reasons were usually either she was hungry, in a growth spurt, teething, sick, to hot, or to cold. It was obvious that she was physically ready to maintain a full belly at night so why wasn't she? Like most parents, I asked around to other parents that I have the greatest respect for and I read books on sleep, sleep theories, and sleep techniques. My favorite book on the topic of sleep sweet sleep is the gospel of sleep, Baby Wise. I know that I am not the smartest parent, or the perfect parent, but I am the best parent I can be when it comes to my Ava Elise! I knew that all of our holding, feeding, and rocking her to sleep was part of the sleep problem she was having. She loved being rocked to sleep by us with a bottle because that is all she has ever known of going to sleep. So when the million different variables in her life were waking her up in the night she needed us, her sleep aides, to get her back to dreamland. Even though I knew what the problem was Rob and I were not ready to sever ties rocking our sweet girl to sleep.

Along came Ava's first birthday and she was still being rocked to sleep, on a bottle, and getting up in the night. She was starting to eat more table food and we still hoped that in time she would stay fuller longer and sleep through the night and we could still enjoy rocking her to sleep. We were delighted at feeding her and did everything to make mealtime fun for her from trying new finger sized foods, new dishes, new silverware, new bibs, and new sippy cups. She was doing a fair job of eating but she never took to taking milk from a sippy cup. She would drink water all day long from a sippy but refused to drink milk in her cup. Odd right? Our little miss was starting to have ideas of her own and make independent choices. I figured that the more she was offered milk in a sippy she would eventually take to the concept. Then we would be rid of the bottle all together and then for sure she would sleep through the night.

Here are some of the super cute dish and cups sets we acquired over time.

I really love the Crocodile Creek Series. They are made of melamine and are unbreakable!

Then my latest cute set is by Sugar Booger a part of the O.R.E. Baby Brand Series.

Ava loves her Hoots Owl so when I saw this set I thought for sure she would drink milk from her cup. "Who-Who" wouldn't love to eat and drink using this fun dish set?

All of the cute dishes aside I decided to really work hard with Ava to get her off the bottle since we were still not ready to give up rocking her to sleep. It seemed like the next best place to start being it was one of her favorite wake time habits. I began by making her use a sippy at mealtime reserving the bottle only for nap time and bedtime. She didn't seem to be phased by this rule. Overtime Ava became content to have water with her meals knowing she was going to eventually get her beloved bottle when she loved it the most, sleep times. In the mean time, I really tried to make this bottle to sippy transition as fun as possible in hopes she would eventually take to it. She was treated to new cups and sippys which I know was not the cheapest way to go about it but it's what we tried hoping for success. We now have several fun cups and sippys ranging from every brand known to man, to every color, to every cutesy animal, all with a variety of different topper styles.

Nothing seemed to entice her to drink milk out of a big girl cup. With her fun sippys on hand I still I kept on trying.

When Ava turned fifteen months old she developed a pretty big mommas girl complex. She would not let Rob take care of her in the night. She cried and cried for momma. With a mommas girl at hand and a husband who tried to help but couldn't, I only made it for a month of getting up with her solo in the night. After thirty long days of doing it alone I depleted all the reserves I had. I was past exhausted. I knew I couldn't do it physically anymore. I had to sever ties with Ava's sleep pattern and let go of one of my greatest joys as a mother, rocking her to sleep. This was not her fault, it was ours, and it was time to teach her how to fall asleep on her own and to be all done with the bottle she so loved.

Sleep training began on August 11, 2010. It was a sad day followed by a sad night. My little baby was growing up and it was time to break her of some habits we allowed her to develop. I decided that it is to much boring stuff to give you the play by play of the first ten days of Ava's sleep training process and progress. However, I will still  share some of the specifics with you. Day one involved going to bed awake after our usual bedtime routine that consists of bath time, massage, jammies, snack, brushing her teeth, books, babies, praying, lights out, and rock-a-bye my Ava to our bedtime song. Day three we officially said goodbye to bottles forever. We also welcomed a special bedtime baby that Ava picked out from the Sand Castle in Holland called Baby Stella to ease some of the bedtime tears. She did seem to work and Ava really loves this new addition to her baby collection which is always ever growing. Day four seemed to be the hardest day for Ava for whatever her reasons at bedtime and she cried the longest stretch which was for a full half an hour straight. The longest thirty minutes of our lives. By a week out she was really getting the hang of just being rocked for a little bit of time while we sang and went to bed virtually tear free. By the tenth day she was asking for "night-night" and pointing to be put into her crib before I was done singing. So that was that. We went from "sleeping woos to sleeping wows" in just ten days!

Here is a cute picture of Ava's newest bed time baby!

Stella Elise Kolkman joined our family on August 13, 2010!

A full month later and our family has adjusted quite nicely to this new phase in life, "Sleep Sweet Sleep!" I think it is safe to say Ava Elise is officially a big girl! She has adjusted extremely well to her new bedtime routine and is sleeping at least 95% of the nights the whole way through. If she does wake up it's only for a few minutes and only requires a few love taps on her back and singing our special song. Then she's either out like a light or she is settled in enough for us to go back to bed without tears. Naptime is also very consistent. She is currently taking one nap a day after her lunch around twelve-o-clock and sleeps for two to two and a half hours. The consistency or her nap is something I do really love and depend on and is definitely a bonus. She has also adjusted to her sippy cups and we are finally getting some use out of the sippys she initially refused. The journey to sleep has been a long time coming and in the end it's the best thing for our family and I hate to say it but me too!

Nevertheless, if Rob and I are blessed again with a living child he or she will definitely be rocked to sleep. I say let them be little while it lasts because it won't last for long! AMEN & GOOD NIGHT...

Last but not least... Enjoy this precious picture of our girl and her babies!
Hoots, Stella, Camille, Ava, & Bah-Bah.

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