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Labor Pains: A Sleep Doula Saved My Sanity

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Truthfully, my kids are good sleepers. (Except for when I announce that they’re good sleepers – then they’re up all night.) Sleeping through the night has never been an issue in my house; both girls could go a solid eight hours by the time they were seven weeks old. Getting our kids to sleep, however, was always a nightmare. (Pun intended.)

So, after two and a half years of “winging it” at bedtime and rocking our tired tots to sleep night after night – time that could have been better spent sipping wine and catching up with Dexter – we welcomed a sleep doula into our family.

At the time, our youngest was nine months, and I was on maternity leave (in Canada, we get a full year). I’d been working as an editor of a parenting magazine, where I read a lot about The Sleep Doula (also known as Toronto-based Tracey Ruiz). I’d heard she could fix any little one’s sleep habits. Friends at the office, former colleagues and even my shrink all sang her praises.

So when I met Tracey one night while out with a few mutual mama pals (I’m convinced it was kismet), I asked – nay, begged – for help. I arrived home and told the husband about her, to which he said (and I quote): “What the hell is The Sleep Doula?”

I’ll tell you what the hell a sleep doula is – she’s someone who saved (and continues to save) my sanity. Sleep doulas are heaven-sent expert sleep-trainers who make it their mission to help tired moms and dads get their kids to sleep – and stay asleep. They’ll train you over the phone and even come to your home and spend a night (or several) on your kid’s floor if that’s what it takes for everyone in the house to catch their zzzs.

Tracey spent an hour on the phone with Peter and me, explaining how she was going to empower us to get our nights in order. She suggested we start with the baby before tackling our toddler, and she gave us homework: get upstairs and get the kids ready for bed early, cut out that 11 p.m. dream feed, and give Peyton a bottle at 7:30 p.m. for a reasonable 8-ish bedtime. We were to put her down awake in her crib and then shush and stay with her once the crying started. On Sleep Doula’s orders, we weren’t to cave and pick her up. Not a fan of cry-it-out, Peter was put in charge of Operation Sleep. I’m told Peyton cried for 45 minutes that first night. (I left the house; I’m weak.)

The second night I sat on my porch crying to Sleep Doula on the phone while Peter shushed a miserable Peyton. She cried for just 15 minutes before settling. On the eighth night she cried before her bottle (knowing what was coming) but by the time we put her in bed she cooed, mumbled, gurgled, yawned and went to sleep – tear-free.

For the past few months little Peyton has been in Dreamland by 8 p.m. almost every night. And most mornings we have to wake her up so we can drop her off before work. Sleep problem number one: Solved.

Our bigger problem is Addyson, our almost-three-year-old. We never subscribed to establishing a proper “bedtime routine” like the ones our friends bragged about after having their wee ones: baby has a bath, gets a soothing massage with sweet lavender-scented lotion, has a cuddle and a song, baby has a milky nightcap, she’s placed in her crib wide awake and by 7 p.m. the little lass is fast asleep.

Bedtime in our house always went something like this: Some nights Addy would have a bath, some nights we’d lotion her up (mostly to mask that barfy formula smell on the nights she didn’t bathe). She’d hang out with us, cry, nap, cry, gulp down a bottle, be rocked until she fell asleep and placed ever so delicately in her crib. The whole cockamamie process took until 11 p.m. or so, which meant we were too darn knackered to do anything fun – like dishes and laundry – once she was in La-la-land.

Before Peyton came along Peter and I made a pact: We weren’t going to repeat the same mistakes we had made with Addy. We were going to give the whole routine thing a go. We strategized often (like every night after Addy would fall asleep at 10 p.m. – in our bed – before being carried to her room). I’m pretty sure we pinky swore that we’d make sure that our new babe didn’t end up with her sister’s bad bedtime habits. (Pinky swears clearly mean zilch in our house.)

Sleep-training my darling Addy, who is sleeping in my bed right now as I type – at 1:08 a.m. – has been officially dubbed as Operation More Sleep. We took a bit of sleep-training time off after “fixing” Peyton’s slumber, but we’re ready for Addy to hit the hay early and stay in her room all night. (The kid’s a bed hog and I want my pillows back.)

Of course, we’ve had our share of naysayers along the way – folks who think they’re better parents than we are and who believe it’s silly and lazy to buy into the whole “sleep doula” thing. (They’re just judge-y because they’re super tired.) We think it’s one of the smartest parenting decisions we’ve ever made. The kids sleep better (well, Peyton does, anyway), we sleep better and we finally get time in the evening for ourselves. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

(Photo: Jupiterimages)