Poor little Elian looks miserable because, well, he is.
He fell asleep in the car at 4 pm and woke up after 5.
No doubt he needed the sleep, but the problem is that the timing was all wrong.
You know how you adult feel terrible if you take a nap at 5 pm? Cranky and groggy and miserable?
That’s how Elian was feeling too. Because the timing was off.
Our bodies produce melatonin at predictable times. For a two-year-old like Elian, his body produces melatonin the middle of the night and again in the early evening.
When we sleep at those times, we generally fall asleep easily and wake up easily (assuming we don’t have other sleep issues, of course). So a toddler who naps in the middle of the day should wake up fairly cheerfully.
When we sleep at the wrong times, we feel terrible.
I didn’t know this when my daughter, Calliope, was a toddler. I loved having long mornings to do things so I would put her down around 2 pm for her nap. And I couldn’t understand why she was waking up absolutely hysterical a couple of hours later. There was nothing I could do to coax her out of it. It was at least 30-minutes of kicking and screaming from my otherwise super chill toddler. It was horrible.
So sticking to a strict naptime schedule may be inconvenient to us parents, but if the payoff is a cheerful, alert child, I think you’ll agree it’s usually worth it. Save your exceptions to the schedule for days you really need them.
If you have optimized your child’s schedule and sleep is still a mess, set up a free discovery call and let’s get your family the rest you deserve.
A parent told me this recently and I had to laugh. And agree.
Every sleep book out there will tell you to put your child down in the crib “drowsy but awake.”
And parents the world over strive for this goal and then wonder what they are doing wrong when they carefully rock or feed their baby to a state of drowsy calm, gently place said baby in the crib… and the baby erupts in angry howls of protest.
Parents, it’s not your fault.
It’s bad advice.
Forget you ever heard “drowsy but awake.” It doesn’t work.
You have two choices. You either feed/rock/bounce/walk your child fully to sleep, or you put them down fully awake.
If you do the former, your child will more than likely wake up at some point, wonder where your loving arms -- the last thing they remember -- went, and start to cry for you to come back and repeat the process. It’s not your child’s fault. He or she just doesn’t know how to put themself back to sleep.
Imagine if you went to sleep in your cozy bed, surrounded by fluffy pillows and your soft comforter, and woke up on the hard living floor. You wouldn’t know how to go back to sleep either.
The same is true for your child. If she went to sleep in your warm embrace, she doesn’t know how to go back to sleep without the same conditions.
This is why I always recommend putting your child in his bed fully awake. If this is new to him, yep, he’s probably going to cry.
But not because he’s afraid, or feeling abandoned (pro tip: children can’t even understand the concept of abandonment before late toddlerhood), or in pain, never mind traumatized.
He’s crying because he’s tired and he doesn’t know what to do, becuase you’ve always helped before, and he’s probably angry that you’ve changed up the routine that he liked so much.
Imagine if someone told you, “from now on, you will no longer be having coffee in the morning. Good luck.” You’d be pissed as hell. And so is your confused kiddo. And being that he’s so little, you can’t explain.
Don’t feel guilty. He’ll get over it. The best thing you can do to help him is to be strong and consistent. Don’t cave. Ever. Well, at least not two weeks. Otherwise, all that crying will be for naught. After two weeks, once the new habit is strong, you can make the occasional exception.
I promise that if you stay strong, he’ll get it, and not only that, he’ll be happier than ever!
Of course, if you are able to rock/feed/bounce/walk your child to sleep and she stays asleep, rock on. (No pun intended.) But if that was working for you, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
This is not an easy transition. Be kind to yourself. Know that it's supposed to be hard. Remember when you started a new exercising or organizing or flossing habit? It was super hard at first, right? But then you started to get used to it and little by little, it got easier and easier until it was second nature, at least most of the time.
The same is true for your child. She'll get there. She just needs time and your loving consistency.
You don't have to make the change alone. Let me help. Set up a free discovery call and let's get your family the sleep you deserve. You got this!
"You and I have been talking about this years. And I finally realized it's what you said. It's about making a committment.
We have been sleeping badly for four years now, since Leo was two and started coming into our bed at night, saying he was scared. I knew I should deal with it but honestly, I was just so tired during the night and it was too hard to motivate myself to deal with it.
I finally realized that it wasn't going to get better until I took action. We have friends whose 10-year-olds still come into their beds every night, especially since COVID started.
It's nice to snuggle with Leo at night but neither Seth or I sleep well.
Also, I have been doing yoga every day this summer and I am very motivated to keep it up this school year. I want to get up early and work out before work, but with Leo in our bed, I can't because I'll wake him up.
So I made the committment while we were away in Colorado, where Leo was sleeping all night in my bed because Seth wasn't there. I used the trip as a transition.
I sat Leo down and said, "Mommy and Daddy don't sleep well when you are in our bed. We have to stop this. When we go home, you'll be sleeping in your own bed the whole night." I felt like it was important to not talk too much and just keep things simple.
I tried to be very positive, and said he would get a star on a star chart every night that he slept the whole night in his own bed. After he received 7 stars, he could buy a toy of his choice.
I made sure to remind him periodically of our conversation while we were still in Colorado.
I am not going to lie. The first night was hard. He was scared by something in the Scooby Doo show he had been watching, and was sobbing. He kept saying, 'I just want to snuggle with someone and not be alone.'
I honestly don't know where I got the strength but I just kept silently walking him back to his bed. I gave him an old necklace of mine to hold and told him it gave him a force field to protect him. He's been sleeping with it ever since!
In the morning, I focused on being positive, despite all the return trips to his bed during the night. I hugged him and said, 'I am so proud of you and you are going to be so proud of yourself when you sleep the whole night in your bed.'
After the first night, things gradually got easier. There wasn't any more sobbing, but I did have to walk him back to his bed multiple times.
Once he got his toy after the seventh night, I told him that from now on, he can't come out of bed at all anymore if he wants to earn another toy [after the second set of seven nights].
What do I wish I had known? What would I tell other parents in a similar situation?
Well, I honestly don't know how I didn't cave! I felt so sad when he said those hard things. Maybe it would have helped to have a coach to plan ahead and create resolve. I did have your moral support, which helped.
The most important thing was being really clear within myself that I want this. And I do.
I feel empowered now, knowing that if we have a night where we slip up, we can get back on track. It's like missing a workout. I know how to get back on track. I won't let one night derail us. Still, I want to try to avoid slip-ups, because it’s harder to get back on track afterwards.
It’s only been a week but i am excited to keep going.
It took years of talking to you to be ready to take this leap. At six-years-old, I finally did it."
If you are in a situation like Amy's, you don't have to go it alone. And you don't have to wait six years for great sleep, either! Set up a free consult so you get great sleep, and maybe even a great yoga routine going, too.
Three different parents have asked me just this week how to handle jet lag in their baby or toddler.
It seems after a year and a half stuck at home, we are all suddenly eager to get out of our homes and in some cases, our countries.
I am there with you. We are headed east in a few days (only one hour time difference) but then to Europe later this summer.
Europe was never even on my radar for these childhood years -- jet lag is hard enough on adults -- and yet, when a unique opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t pass it by.
So here are my tips for you, and the things I will try with my own children.
1. Don’t even bother trying to transition them gradually, unless the time difference is two hours or less.
Instead, just focus on making sure your child is well-rested, well-fed, and well-exercised prior to the trip.
2. If the time difference is only 1-2 hours, by all means start moving bedtime, meals, and naps about 10 minutes later each day until you reach the desired, adjusted schedule.
3. Consider avoiding socializing and childcare for a week or two prior to travel, if you can manage it, unless your child is able to wear a mask or you can ensure to only socialize outside.
(This is more to avoid a COVID diagnosis that could cancel your trip, rather than a true health risk, though congestion and clogged ears can be miserable for a young child on a plane.)
4. On the day of travel… all bets are off. Do whatever you have to do to survive. Bring alllllll the snacks. Offer unlimited screen time if your child enjoys it. Bring lots of little wrapped gifts -- the Dollar Store is a great place to pick these up. Bandaids, cling films, post-it notes, tiny containers of play-doh -- wrap it all up. Bring a new gift out every 15-20 minutes, or as needed. Record yourselves on the plane on your phone and play it back.
Survival is key, here. Good nutrition and award-winning parenting are not.
5. If you can afford it, a separate seat for your under-two child is a great idea, but you probably already knew that. If your child naps well in the car seat in the car, lug the car seat onto the plane so the child has a familiar place to nap. Safety is a nice perk but wasn’t my primary reason for bringing it on board!
If you are flying across an ocean and your child is small enough, a bulkhead bassinet is amazing.
6. Try to initiate a nap on the plane about the same time as you would start a nap at home, if logistics permit. Try to keep your child awake before boarding the plane unless doing so would result in massive overtiredness.
7. When you arrive in your new location, try to initiate bedtime as early as you can, as your child will surely be overtired, no matter which direction you have traveled.
8. The next day, try to acclimate your child to the new time zone… without waking them unduly early. This will probably mean some compromising on schedule -- just do your best.
9. Expect there will be a few ugly days of overtired behavior and wonky schedules. Keep your own -- and your family’s/friends’ -- expectations low. Warn them ahead of time because people who aren't parenting a young child -- even if they have done so in the past -- don't always remember how hard it is to travel with a little one, never mind across time zones.
Expect your child to be a monster some of the time, and be pleasantly surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be the case.
Also plan that meals will be extra challenging. Bring some familiar foods so your child has something to eat in case things are just too different while she is exhausted.
Do not attempt restaurant meals or anything else unduly challenging with a toddler. You will both end up frustrated.
Playground meet-ups are a safer bet.
10. Plan for plenty of unstructured time outside. Exposure to daylight will help to reset your child's body clock, as does ample opportunities for exercise.
11. Check with your pediatrician to see if melatonin is safe to use. It can be a miracle for resetting bedtime either when you arrive or when your return home, depending on which direction you are flying, but not all health care professionals feel it is safe.
If your healthcare provider approves, I recommend the Tired Teddies brand because it's a lower dose of melatonin than any other I've found, just 0.3 mg versus 1 mg or more. And oftentimes, just a half a tablet suffices for my six-year-old. Try a half and see if it works for your child.
Likewise, check with your pediatrician if you are considering using Benadryl to initiate a nap or a bedtime -- some children get ramped up instead of sleepy from it. Try it at home before you try it during travel, just in case things go terribly wrong.
And along with the flight recommendations, if your child suffers from motion sickness (whether car, plane, or boat) -- as my nine-year-old does -- check out Dramamine chewables. They have been life changing for us. Just make sure to give the medication 45 minutes prior to travel.
12. Go with the flow. If your child is up at 3 am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you can keep the lights off and try to be boring but at some point, you may have to face the inevitable and get up too. Or offer screen time in these special circumstances to save yourself -- you will go back to the old rules once you get home.
13. When you get back home, you may have to ease gently back into the old schedule but be sure to immediately go back to the old sleep rules -- if you didn’t bed share before, end it immediately. If you only feeding once at night before the trip, go back to that.
A friend talks about the “half-life of vacation” -- if you were gone 10 days, expect 5 days to return to baseline. But the more time zones you crossed, and the more exceptions you made to sleep rules, the longer it will take to get back to normal. Don’t panic. Just stay consistent. Things will eventually go back to normal.
14. And finally, someone asked me “ShouId I take my baby to see family in Europe?” This was a question I asked myself, and my “baby” isn’t a baby!
There’s no one right answer to this question, of course. That said, consider that we have all been locked down for a very long time, and most of us have desperately missed seeing our loved ones. Many of you have babies and toddlers that have never met close family members in person. And we don't know what the future holds, especially in terms of the virus but also, in general in life. I’m the first to say that sleep is important… but so is living fully. Life is short. It’s okay to make exceptions to the rules sometimes. Just get back to them as quick as you can.
If you are struggling to get your child's sleep on track, you aren't alone. Set up a free chat and find out how to get your family the sleep you deserve. Good sleep is everything.
The tantrums, in this case, are happening to a six-year-old. My six-year-old. Amelie, who declares herself “the leader of the planet,” has both a bold confidence and an extreme sensitivity to criticism.
She is also struggling at school, according to her, though according to the school, everything is great -- no fighting, no meltdowns, good cooperation and socializing. But Amelie tells us that everyone else in the class -- by which she means the three other English speakers -- are “besties” and she is only a “half bestie” because she doesn’t have scrunchies. Also, the teacher is "mean."
At home, she loses her temper easily, generally when she feels criticized, and occasionally has meltdowns, “barrinchas” in Spanish. Nobody enjoys these!
Just like all of you, I am still learning the art of parenting. We have started working with a therapist to get some strategies, and I’ve also implemented a few from my own reading. Many of these ideas I share with my clients as well.
Here are some things we are trying:
Parenting is an art, not a science. I am always trying to learn and grow as a parent. What interventions have you tried? What has worked best for you and your family?
PS If your child is overtired, behavior will almost certainly be more challenging. Schedule a free consult to find out if your child is in need of more sleep.
My girls turned 7 months a week ago and should be napping 3hrs max at 3 naps a day. I’ve found going from 3.5-3 hrs has been hard for them. I have to wake them up from each nap and they are upset when I do.
Also when I don’t give Y at least 3.15 hrs of daytime nap, it makes putting her down for naps challenging as she screams until she falls asleep. Yesterday I gave them 3.5hrs but thought it’d affect their night time sleep but it didn’t. They went to bed at 7:35pm, and woke up at 7am. Their wake windows are also 2.5hrs which works best for Y, but I’ve put Z down a bit earlier than that and she still sleeps. How can I slowly dial it back to get to 3hrs or should I just let them be since it’s not affecting their night time sleep?
In a word, no. It’s not a problem at all. Some babies just sleep more than others.
Sleep predictions by age are just averages. Some babies will inevitably need more sleep and others need less. If you are the parent of a high sleep needs baby, you are, by many accounts, lucky.
Other parents worry that their babies don’t sleep enough. I worked with a client recently whose 12-month-old baby just wouldn’t take longer than 30-minute naps. We tried everything. But the baby’s night sleep -- after our work together -- was beautiful. Ten to eleven hours a night, with no wakings. And her mood was great during the day. She just didn’t need a lot of sleep, total, and especially, not a lot during the day.
So while it’s a good idea to have a general idea of average sleep needs and average awake intervals, try not to get bogged down with them.
Here are some general guidelines for what to expect in terms of awake intervals. I recommend switching to a clock-based schedule (as opposed to an awake-interval based schedule) by about 5 months but awake intervals are still useful beyond that age as a general guide. For example, if your two-year-old naps from 2-4 pm, she’s probably not going to be ready for bed at 7 pm because she needs 4-5.5 hours awake between the end of nap and her bedtime.
Awake Interval Details by Age *averages. In general, try to keep the awake intervals at the shorter end of the range unless you have a low sleep needs baby.)
Birth to 6 weeks: 45-60 min
2 mos: 1 hour
3 months: 1-1.5 hours
4 months: 1.25-1.75 hours with bedtime about 1.75-2 hours after the last nap ends.
5 months: 1.5-2.25 hours with bedtime no later than 2-2.5 hours after the last nap ends.
*** Most babies transition from 4-5 naps a day to 3 naps a day by about 5 months old. You can expect naps to get longer when this happens. You will likely need a very early bedtime during this transition to prevent overtiredness.
6 months: 2-2.5 hours Naps should be ending by 5:00pm with bedtime 2.25-2.75 hours after the last nap ends.
7 months: 2.25-2.75 hours with naps ending by 5:00pm. Bedtime should be 2.25-2.75 hours after the last nap ends.
8 months: 2.25-3 hours. The last nap should end by 4:00pm and bedtime should be 3-3.75 hours after that.
9 months: 2.5-3 hours. The last nap should end by 4:00pm. Bedtime should be 3-3.5 hours after that.
*** Most babies transition from 3 naps a day to 2 naps a day between 7 and 9 months old. You will likely need a very early bedtime during this transition to prevent overtiredness.
10 months: 3-3.5 hours awake between 2 naps with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
11 months: 3-4 hours awake with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
12 months: 3-4 3-4 hours awake with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
12-18 months (2 naps): 3-4 hours awake with bedtime 3-4 hours after the end of the second nap.
12-18 months (1 nap): 5-6 hours awake before the nap and bedtime 4-5.5 hours after the nap ends.
*** Most babies transition from two naps a day between 15 and 18 months but some children transition as early as 12 months or as late as 21 months. When this transition happens, move bedtime earlier to prevent overtiredness.
18-24 months: 5-6 hours before the nap and bedtime 4-6 hours after the nap ends.
24+ months: The nap should end by 3:00-3:30pm or even earlier if you are finding that bedtime is too late. It is normal for bedtime to become later the longer the child keeps their nap. You may cap the nap to keep bedtime from getting too late.
For most children under age 6 (yes, a huge range of ages!), the sweet spot for bedtime is between 6:30 and 7:30 pm.
Don’t be afraid to try a much earlier bedtime if your baby or toddler seems overtired! If your preschooler is still napping (yay!), you may need a slightly later bedtime but if your little one is up until 9 pm or later, cap or eliminate the nap.
Again, these are just guidelines. If you are worried you child is sleeping too much or too little, schedule a free chat and we can figure out what is the best individualized schedule for your little one.
Fisher Price just issued a recall on their 4-In-1 Rock ‘N Glide Soother, an infant seat that can rock a baby forward and back as well as side-to-side. Four deaths have been reported: in each case, the baby was placed in it without the safety straps on and the baby subsequently rolled over in the seat and suffocated. They were four months old, two months old, two months old, and 11-weeks old.
Back in 2019, Fisher Price recalled almost 5 million Rock N Play Sleepers after 10 babies died in them. The deaths occurred “in most cases” after the babies rolled over in the devices, due to the fact that the safety straps were not used.
Clearly, the first lesson with these recalls is that it's critically important that safety straps are always used in infant containment devices. No matter what. It also suggests that parents should try not to rely on any inclined baby seat.
I have to admit that I was pretty devastated when the Rock n Play was recalled. My younger daughter LOVED that thing and would sleep up to 10 hours straight in it. It’s been hard to admit to my clients that that was a huge part of my success with sleep training!
Parents today have it harder, no doubt about it. A lot of newborns just don’t want to sleep flat on their backs, alone in a crib or bassinet.
It is safe to use a bouncy seat or swing for a nap if you are in the same room and watching your baby sleep. But it is critically important that safety straps are always used, even with you in the room. And that you are observing your baby breathing, of course. Being on an incline seems to be a risk for SIDS, possibly even with the safety straps, so better safe than sorry.
It is not recommended that you let your baby sleep in her car seat except when she is riding in the car. In that case, her car seat is the safest place for her, of course. Once the car ride is over, it is recommended that you take her out of the car seat and put her into her crib. I know how terrible that sounds! But the problem with the car seat is that over time, it can compress her airway and increase the risk of SIDS.
If your baby doesn’t want to sleep in his bassinet -- and this is very common, especially for newborns -- here are some things you can try.
First, try the actual crib. Many babies sleep better in the crib than the bassinet. Perhaps the mattress is more comfortable? Give this multiple tries before deciding if it helped or not.
Second, use the 5 S’s to your advantage (with babies under 12 weeks old). They are swaddling -- even if he cries! -- suck (pacifier or a clean finger), side lying (in your arms only, on his back in the crib), shushing (white noise), and swinging (in your arms, before placing in the crib).
Third, try placing a heating pad in the crib for a few minutes. Remove the heating pad and feel the mattress with your hand, checking to make sure it’s not too hot, before you put the baby down.
Fourth, don’t be afraid of a little crying. Even for a newborn, it is perfectly safe. Put the baby down and stay with her and gradually increase the amount of support you offer. Maybe your presence, or a soothing voice, is enough. Next, try the pacifier or a clean finger to suck. Maybe just placing your hand on her body is enough, or jiggling and patting will do the trick. If not, try rocking her and putting her back down again. Use feeding as a last resort as a way to put her to sleep.
Don’t expect perfection the first time. But keep trying at least one or two times a day. Things will improve with consistent practice.
If all else fails and he will only sleep in arms, enlist all the help you can. If you have a partner, family member, or alternate caregiver, take turns sleeping and holding the baby (the person holding the baby stays awake). If you can enlist a friend to take the 8 pm -- 12 am shift even occasionally, take advantage! Go to sleep as early as you can. Even an unbroken 4-hour stretch can be lifechanging. These difficult early days don’t last forever.
Likewise, if you can hire some temporary nighttime help, do it! I hired a “baby nurse” every fifth night when Amelie was a colicky newborn and it was the best money I have ever spent. I couldn’t have parented my three-year-old humanely in those early weeks without help. I was just too exhausted and frazzled without help.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against bedsharing. If you are nonetheless committed to it, please read up on “safer bedsharing practices.” The safest option is room sharing but not bedsharing.
Parenting a young infant is hard. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Ask for all the help. Be safe.
If you are struggling with massive sleep deprivation and an exhausted baby, you aren’t alone. Let’s set up a free chat and get your family the great sleep you all deserve.
You took the baby for a walk. You gave her tummy time -- although you feel guilty that it only lasted a minute -- and showed her all the expert-approved, developmentally-appropriate toys.
Now it’s time for her to nap. You are exhausted and praying for at least a shower if not time to do the dishes, a load of laundry, an opportunity to catch up on email. But she just won't go to sleep. You are trying not to be frustrated… but it’s hard.
Your mother suggests the baby isn't tired yet, "Here, give her to me! She just needs some time to play with her Grammy."
Your best friend is puzzled and suggests you are trying too hard, "I just didn't stress about naps. Baby Benny would just drop off wherever and whenever he was tired. Maybe you are stressing the baby out by focusing on the nap so much? Just live your life and don't worry so much! He will sleep when he needs to."
But neither of these strategies work. By the end of the day, your baby is fussy and frazzled. And so are your nerves. He cries for hours and honestly, sometimes you cry right along with him.
You have tried nap schedules but those don’t work either. The struggle is demoralizing.
Does this sound like anyone you know?
Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.
And you aren’t wrong that your baby needs more daytime sleep. And a schedule.
Your baby needs to nap. Sooner, longer, more frequently than you may realize.
Most of the time, the issue is that parents are accidentally missing the ideal window for a nap (it's surprisingly easy to do). When that happens, your baby becomes overtired and her body produces cortisol, a stress hormone that actually makes it harder for her to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Which can lead to lots of crying -- not only from the baby -- and rocking, bouncing, jiggling and walking your baby for hours on end.
It’s not your fault. It’s very, very easy to miss the early signs of tiredness, when it’s still relatively easy for your baby to fall asleep.
These early tiredness signs include avoiding eye contact, staring into space, or rubbing her eyes. Start getting your baby ready to nap at this point. Your baby is actually already moderately tired by the time she starts yawning.
Waiting past the point of the first yawn to make sure he’s tired enough to definitely sleep can backfire. Once he's fussy, you've missed the magic window of opportunity. Not only will it likely be harder to get him to sleep, the nap will also likely be too short.
For newborns, you can expect your baby to start getting tired after as little as 45 minutes awake, including the feeding. This will feel like a very short time awake. This is normal and to be expected! Do not try to keep the baby up longer. Start your nap routine (which will be very very simple at this age).
As your baby gets older, you will be able to stretch her awake interval a little bit. But you still want to watch your baby, not the clock. Some days she will be able to stay awake as much as an hour and a half, but other times, it will be less. Again, watch for staring into space, avoiding eye contact, and especially, yawns. Once you see a yawn, do not delay -- lunge into action!
It may take a few days, but if you follow her sleep cues carefully, you should see a dramatic improvement in her mood as well as more consistent, longer naps.
Want some help figuring out your baby’s tired cues? You aren't alone -- it’s confusing! Schedule a free chat with me and let’s figure it out together.
Trigger warning: pregnancy loss
On January 1, I committed to a new exercise program. I started working out vigorously 6 days a week and reduced my carbohydrate intake while simultaneously increasing my intermittent fasting. I was in the best shape of my life.
So when my period was late, I didn’t think anything of it.
But after a few days, I dutifully took a pregnancy test anway, just to be sure.
To my amazement, it was positive.
I hadn’t really believed that I could get pregnant without a lot of doctors and injections involved. After all, I had conceived my two older children with maximal medical intervention (plus the help of an anonymous donor).
And to get pregnant without medical intervention at 46? Impossible.
But we went to the doctor anyway and to my surprise, there was a tiny heartbeat flickering on the ultrasound. Impossible again.
Sergio was overjoyed and I was… stunned.
We had decided the previous summer that we were open to welcoming another child into our new family. Sergio and I had only been together a short time when we made that decision last summer, but pandemic isolation progressed our relationship with lightning speed. And I had always wanted to have just one more, but with a partner and enough time to actually enjoy the fairy tale.
But now that it was a fairytale come true, I felt so confused. Was it fair for me to have one more blessing in my life, after receiving so many? Did I want to give up the relative freedom of raising older children and to start over with the need for constant parental attention? Become exhausted and short on personal space again? Abandon our love for frequent, low-stress travel?
We started to fight. He desperately wanted this pregnancy and I was… deeply conflicted. I didn’t know how to be pregnant with a partner. I didn’t know if it was a good idea to go back to strollers and nap schedules and toddler proofing. Our lives were so good. The children -- our children -- were happy and thriving. We were enjoying road trips together. Life was so easy.
Finally, at ten weeks, I gave in to the inevitable. Ultimately, I realized there was no way I would choose to terminate a pregnancy. And therefore, I needed to commit to moving forward. And so I did.
“Okay, let’s do this. Let’s be all in, no matter what. Let’s have this baby.” I started to get excited.
And so the tide began to turn.
We went to our nuchal scan at 11 weeks pregnant. I was nervous, as usual, and Sergio was confident, as usual. We laughed as our baby kicked and waved on the ultrasound. We took videos. And then the doctor said, “Now it’s time to measure the nuchal fold, the most important part of the exam.” I didn’t hear the ominous warning in her voice, but motioned to Sergio to take my hand nonetheless. I knew this was an important moment.
She measured the space behind the baby’s neck and said, “it’s 4 milimeters. That’s not normal.”
Time stopped. A tear trickled down my face and under my mask. Then another.
The doctor said the nasal bone looked normal, but there was a problem with her heart, tricuspid regurgitation that was wildly abnormal. She finished the exam and wiped the ultrasound gel off my belly.
Silently I slid off the table and went to get dressed. I joined Sergio in the private waiting room and quietly took his hand and laid my head on his shoulder. We waited in silence for a very long time.
Finally the doctor rejoined us and kindly, gently showed us a calculation of our odds of Down Syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. Based on my age and the abnormal ultrasound findings, the risks were very high. She took some blood to run more tests.
I cried all the way home. We went out to dinner because I couldn’t face the children in that emotional state, but sitting at dinner, I felt all wrung out. We had nothing left to say. There was just an empty sadness.
We did choose a name for her, though.
It was chosen almost instantly from the spreadsheet of possible baby names that I had been keeping since we got the positive pregnancy test. It felt ironic to choose so quickly after deliberating so carefully with the spreadsheet, trying to find a name that worked in both Spanish and English, something we both loved.. But we had a feeling Isabella’s time on earth would be brief, and so we both felt the need to mark her presence with a name now, without waiting.
A few days later, we went to a different doctor to have a needle passed into my belly to biopsy the placenta. I cried the whole time because I had imagined that the baby’s heart had stopped between the two visits… and then was filled with relief that it had not. I felt guilty that I wished that it had.
The days passed with glacial slowness. Yet I didn’t want the days to hurry by, because I was dreading bad news so fiercely.
The CVS results came back. To our mutual shock and amazement, the results were normal! Sergio and I were united once again in joy. I allowed myself to relax and fully fantasize about babies for the first time. To imagine being Isabella’s mother, raising her as the beloved “trailing third” in a tight knit family.
And then a mere 24-hours later, the first doctor called. She had results from the bloodwork. And those results, combined with the ultrasound, declared our risk of Down Syndrome to be 98.4%.
We were dumbfounded. We had been told that the CVS results trumped the screening results. We called the second doctor. He reluctantly explained that this was a very rare situation, and there was no way to know which result was correct except for amniocentesis, which would require a 4-week wait before we could get the test plus two additional weeks to wait for the results.
My heart sank once again. We had been just barely managing to hide the pregnancy from the children -- trying to protect them until we knew for sure what would happen -- despite the fact that my belly was growing quickly. How could I possibly hope to hide it until 18 weeks of pregnancy?
More tears. Magically, Sergio and I remained united. He told me that he would support whatever decision I made. I knew how much he wanted Isabella, his first biological child, and my heart broke open.
The following week, we saw a third doctor to get yet another opinion.
He didn’t ask any questions, just started the ultrasound exam. He checked the Isabella’s heart. It was only 72 beats per minute, the same as mine. As a former NICU nurse, I knew this was terribly wrong. Her heart should have been beating at least 140 beats per minute. He checked some more measurements and then checked the heart again. No change. And she wasn’t moving, despite lots of poking and prodding of my belly by the doctor.
Silently I got dressed and waited in the hallway with Sergio, my heart breaking, tears pouring down my face.
When the doctor was ready, he started to explain the findings, that there was a hole in the baby’s heart and her nasal bone was missing (contradicting the first doctor) and her gallbladder was too big. Sergio interrupted and asked, “Forgive me, doctor, but Abby’s dying here. What does it mean, the heart rate?”
I cut in, “She’s dying, isn’t she?”
The doctor looked us in the eyes and gently said yes.
I asked, “Is there any hope? Any chance that she could recover?”
The doctor answered soberly but decisively, “there is no hope.”
Without consulting Sergio, I spoke up. “If there is no hope, I want to end it now. I don’t want to go home and risk hemorrhaging an hour from the hospital. Can we get admitted to the hospital right now?”
The doctor said yes, but recommended an amniocentesis first. He wanted to make sure there weren’t any genetic conditions that might impact the childbearing futures of Calliope and Amelie. Numbly, we agreed.
A few more medical personnel gathered and I lay on the table once again, my face turned towards Sergio’s, avoiding the sight of the needle penetrating my rounded abdomen. I didn’t care anymore what they did to my body. Still, I was startled by the sensation of pressure on my spine as they withdrew amniotic fluid. And momentarily overjoyed by the sight of Isabella moving once again on the ultrasound screen.
Despite all the bad news, if there was a chance she could still live, I would give her that chance. But the doctor reluctantly informed me that no, there was no hope. She was reacting only momentarily to the needle in her watery home. There was no chance her heart would speed up again. It was only a matter of time before her heart stopped entirely.
We went downstairs to the lobby of the hospital where, astonishingly, everything was already arranged. So different from my experience of American hospitals.
Then we went to our palatial hospital room and the process got started. The nurses and doctors were all so kind and unhurried. Medications were started to induce labor. Unlike in New York, I would have to give birth and only afterwards, have a surgical procedure to make sure Isabella was fully gone.
The next day, I delivered Isabella’s tiny body. I didn’t imagine that I would want to see her but when she arrived -- and the nurse dropped her on my bare foot! -- I changed my mind. It was a relief to see her perfect, tiny self. Despite my medical training, I had never seen such a small fetus -- 12 weeks, 6 days old. She had the most elegant fingers, just like her artistic big sister. A narrow face like Calliope and me. She was tiny and sweet and perfect.
I thanked her for making the difficult decision for us. She had lived and ended her life with perfect timing. I was grateful.
We came home that night, numb with grief and anesthesia. A friend had taken the children home with her so we had an evening to just lean into the exhaustion. The following morning, Sergio picked them up and we took them out to brunch, despite the fact that I was weak on my feet.
As soon as we had ordered our food, Calliope demanded, “Okay, now will you tell us where you were?” We hadn’t told them anything until that point about the pregnancy, the hospitalization, or why we were so out of touch for thirty-six hours.
I looked at Sergio, not knowing how to start. He bravely took the lead, “There was a baby in Mommy’s tummy. And she died.”
To my surprise, telling the children eased the ache in my heart. They were excited and happy to learn they had a sister… even though she had died. They had a million questions but no sadness. Calliope asked for an ultrasound photo to bury in the garden, since we had no body to bury. I couldn’t watch but Sergio took photos. She talks about Isabella frequently. My wise girl led us to emotional health. She has taught us that we can celebrate Isabella’s life and mourn her loss simultaneously.
Our hearts are gradually healing. We are grateful that she was a part of our family, even for such a short time. To feel her growing inside my belly was a blessing. To imagine our family growing was, ultimately, a joy.
I wanted to her share her story not to get your condolences or pity, but to share with you as courageously as many of you have shared with me. And to acknowledge that Isabella existed. She was here. She was loved. She mattered.
Last week, my daughter told me that she only got three pieces of candy from the class piñata.
I was filled with red hot, righteous indignation. Where was her teacher? Why wasn’t he watching? Why didn’t he make sure she got her fair share? Doesn’t he know that Calliope is terrified of the post-piñata-break-scramble for candy?
I wanted to call her teacher immediately and demand an explanation.
Instead, I took a deep breath. I pulled my nine-year-old onto my lap and wrapped my arms around her.
I murmured in her ear, “Oh, honey. That must have been so hard. You poor thing.” I squeezed harder.
It’s terrible to see your baby cry. I hated it. Even though she’s not a baby anymore, she’s still my baby.
There is also a certain physical reaction in new parents that does subside with time. You stop breaking out in a cold sweat, heart pounding, when your baby cries. That does -- mostly -- go away with time.
But there’s a reason that people say, “having a child means choosing to walk around with your heart outside your body.”
It’s a hard, terrible fact of parenting that our children suffer.
It starts with a heel stick in the hospital, then continues to the indignity of car seats, vaccines, holding hands to cross the street, teasing in elementary school, bullying in middle school, college applications in high school and so on.
And if your child is overtired, they cry. And it probably breaks your heart. Of course. You love your child.
But there comes a point where anything you do to help overtiredness starts to make things worse. This may not be immediately obvious. Your help might solve the problem in the moment… but it makes things worse in the long run.
The easiest way to know this is if sleep is overall getting worse despite increasing levels of adult involvement. If this is the case, your “help” is hurting more than it’s helping. Here’s a common example: you used to rock your newborn to sleep and then she would sleep for 4-6 hours, but now she is older and waking up every 45 minutes. You can clearly see that all your "help" is counterproductive.
We all do this from time to time. Me too. I get too involved. It’s human nature to want to spare our little ones all pain. But the truth is that we can’t spare our children pain. And trying to do so will only cause them more pain in the long run. We hear about this with college students whose parents call their professors to complain about bad grades.
It’s better to support and love our children through their pain, instead of trying to solve it for them. This teaches them how to endure increasing levels of discomfort as they grow up. A necessary skill in adulthood. We suffer through hunger pains, traffic lights, fights with our loved ones and yes, sleep deprivation.
Loving and supporting your children through pain might look like spending extra time on the floor with them during playtime and then allowing them to cry in their cribs when they are overtired at nap time. You are welcome to stay in your baby’s room while she cries and puts herself to sleep, if you want to. But she’s crying because she is overtired, not because she needs something from you. Give her the space to figure it out.
Likewise, if your preschooler is protesting bedtime and then throwing a tantrum when you try to turn off the lights, the problem is not your parenting, or turning off the lights, or leaving. The problem is that your child is overtired and needs to go to sleep but fears separation because he is overtired. It's true that most young children fear separation from their parents, but the fear is greatly intensified by exhaustion as well as by lack of practice. The best way to show your child that you will always come back is to… always come back. But always leave when you say you are going to. Be your child’s fearless leader. Let him feel pain… and love him through it. Offer lots of cuddles and high fives for his bravery in the morning.
If you are struggling to let your child cry, you are not alone. It’s hard work. Schedule a free chat and see if some coaching would help you get through the rough spots so that your family can get the rest you deserve.
PS Calliope later explained to me that her "greedy" classmates got... all of 5 pieces of candy. Not dozens, as I had imagined. I am so glad now that I didn't call her teacher to complain!
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.