Sleeplessness and Surrender: When Your Baby Just Doesn’t Sleep

My baby doesn’t sleep.

She’s a happy, healthy, bubbly baby — but she doesn’t sleep. Or at least, not the way I wish she would. Yes, we’ve gotten the rare 7-or-8-hour stretch (although 2 or 3 is the norm). Some nights are better than others. But 11 or 12 hours of quiet slumber? Not in our house.

Yes, I’ve tried it all: Solids, formula before bed, a strict nap schedule, awesome bedtime routine, sleep-training, the $40 Magic Merlin Sleepsuit, lavender diffusion — even sleeping on the futon so she has the quiet master bedroom all to herself. And while we’ve made progress and she goes down for naps and bedtime without nursing, rocking, or even a pacifier, she will not stay asleep all night (or even most of the night) no matter how many tears I cry or how much I beg God for a full night’s rest.

For the past 6 months, I’ve spent hours consumed with how little sleep I’ve been getting, and with how on earth I can get MORE SLEEP. I’ve cursed the mothers whose babies love sleeping, I’ve devoured baby sleep books, I’ve tried all the gentle and not-so-gentle approaches to getting more rest. I’ve even considered blowing $400 on a sleep coach.

Have You Tried To Give Up?

And then, yesterday, my mom called just to talk. Per usual, I started our conversation bemoaning a bad night’s sleep and how the baby woke way too early from her nap because of trucks and sirens on the busy street outside our window.

“I know it’s easy for me to say,” My mom started, “But maybe it’s time to surrender this to God.”

At first, my blood pressure started to rise. Ya, ok, mom. I’m exhausted. I can NOT do this one more night. It’s too hard. You don’t GET IT. 

But then I heard that still small voice, “She’s right, Natalie.”

Counting Blessings

Mom went on about the importance of counting my blessings: Evelyn is a happy baby who hardly cries (except in the middle of the night). She is healthy and whole — no trips to the hospital, no breathing tubes, no shots or medication. Casey and I are healthy. We have a safe place to live and food on our table. I could fill pages and pages of all the blessings in our lives.

It was then that I thought of little Octavia, a baby I saw on Facebook who spent Christmas and New Years in the hospital fighting for her life. Or the mom on Facebook who posted, “Happy Birthday to my baby boy. He’s celebrating with Jesus in Heaven.”

I’d rather go without a full night’s sleep for my entire life than lose my baby.

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe that there are ways to help babies sleep. I do think some babies are naturally good at sleeping, and I think some parents are great about keeping a consistent schedule that encourages their littles to rest. I’m not here to say, “Babies don’t sleep. Get over it. You don’t need sleep and stop trying to make your baby sleep.” I’ve seen that message EVERYWHERE and I don’t think it’s helpful. I’ve read the articles about cherishing the moment and how I’ll miss all these cuddles. Again, not helpful. By all means, sleep-deprived-mammas, TRY it. Try it all.

But if you get to this point — the point where “it all” has proven mostly futile — Surrender.

Throw up the white flag. Lay down your weapons. Take a deep breath.

I realized that I’ve wasted so much of my precious energy on frustration. I’ve been more or less angry at my helpless baby because she’s the reason I’m not getting the sleep I need. And how wrong is that?

It’s not like she’s willfully trying to torture me. It’s not her fault. Clearly, I need a major attitude adjustment!

Sleep: My Idol

I always knew that sleep deprivation would be the hardest part of motherhood for me. I’ve been addicted to sleeping from a young age: My grandmother loves to tell the story of how I stayed at her house one night, and at 7:30 told her I needed to go to bed. In college, I would shut off the lights at 10 p.m. because no matter what was happening, a full night’s rest was way more important to me.

During my entire pregnancy I struggled with fatigue: Even with 9 or 10 hours of sleep a night, I needed a 20-minute nap in the middle of the day just to function. So when I thought about waking up after just three, or four, or five hours of sleep — and then working and taking care of a baby? Ya right.

“I can’t do that, God. No way.”

Guess what? I can. It’s not always fun. It’s what I consider the major reason for my postpartum depression. But night after night I’ve had to sacrifice sleep — that precious thing that, when being honest with myself, I might love more than God.

Being Humbled

Besides getting my priorities straight and my “loves” in order, these sleepless nights have kept me humble.

Before having a baby I prided myself on how I was going to do things “right”: I would follow all the safe sleep rules. I wouldn’t torture myself because I thought sleep training was evil. I wouldn’t roll my eyes at the idea of a schedule. I would be willing to do what I needed to do to get sleep, and my sleepless nights would end after a month or two. I could control my baby — I’d read plenty of success stories from other mammas who had done just that.

And again, I’m not here to say you must sleep train or that doing so is wrong. I’m just here to share that God sat in heaven and smiled: He had other ideas.

If Evelyn learned to sleep at 6 weeks, I might have gotten arrogant. I might have assumed my parenting style was perfect. I might have thought I’m rocking this mom thing. I might have rolled my eyes at those “other moms.”

But instead, I’ve been defeated. Knocked down. Worn out. Beaten.  I don’t have the answers. I am not perfect. I realize that every mom is doing her best, and what works for me might not work for anyone else. My baby does not love routines the way her mom does: She may not be Type A. I’ve come to the end of myself time and time again, and realized I cannot do motherhood in my own strength.

I need community. I need my husband. I need God’s all-sufficient grace.

Waking up exhausted forces me to fall on my knees and say, “God, I need You. I cannot do this day without You. I just…can’t.”

And She Slept…

Believe or not, last night she only woke up once. ONCE. Even after her nap schedule was all messed up. Even after I cried in the middle of the day because I couldn’t handle another sleepless night.

No, I don’t think this is the end of our sleep woes. I don’t think that telling God, “I surrender this to You” means He’s magically going to take away the problem. Maybe: But unlikely.

But I realized yesterday that I do not know the future: Evelyn might never be a good sleeper.

Am I going to spend the next 5 months or 5 years obsessed with getting her to sleep? Am I going to lose happiness and joy because this one thing in my life isn’t going the way I want it to go?

Or am I going to surrender and ask God to teach me something through this light and momentary trial?

So here’s my New Year’s Resolution: I’m going to find other ways to take care of myself — like coffee with friends, a nap, a long hot shower, doing a craft just for fun — and accept that sleep is not everything.

And that He is.

He gives strength to the wear
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.


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