It may appear from my previous post on the topic that this all occurred in the last week or so, but the road to this point began months ago. It started in the fall, when I first tried removing nursing-to-sleep from our nightly routine. The first step was small, just moving our last feeding of the evening from the bed to the beanbag three feet away from the bed. I'd nurse him while I read Miss M her pre-bed book, and he soon began to associate reading time with his evening snack. But, thanks in large part to the nap routine established at Mama KT's, he would eagerly crawl into bed with his sister and lie down on his pillow, tell me nigh-nigh and pull up the covers. Which was all a big act, of course - he'd still ask to nurse, and goof around, and crawl on top of me in order to fall asleep, but within a week or so, he got pretty accustomed to falling asleep without food in his mouth.
Now, falling asleep while still playful and happy and full of dinner is different from getting back to sleep in the middle of the night, all cranky and hungry and confused. Or so Mr. Baby made sure I understood when he would wake up three hours after going to bed. At that point, I'd bring him to bed with me (or, on rare nights, pick him up when he staggered into my room) and nurse as needed through the rest of the night.
And that worked, more or less, for awhile. He got some practice going to sleep on his own (relatively), but we still avoided major midnight meltdowns that would disrupt the entire household's rest. But then, as seems to happen with many toddlers between 12-18 months old, his night-nursing started to become more frequent and ferocious instead of less. I knew there were a number of factors involved - molars coming in, huge motor milestones, general winter malaise - so I tolerated it as long as I could. I'd get to the point of feeling I couldn't stand it anymore, and go a night or two listening to him scream in my arms, but then a new tooth would start poking through his gums or he'd get a phlegmy cough that woke him up all night and I'd think, well, I can't do it now. Knowing that a move and possible (although thankfully avoided) daycare change were also imminent, I put up with the disrupted nights in the interest of keeping as much consistency in his routine as I could.
And then, as detailed in the post before last, I just couldn't anymore. The all-night nursing was becoming all-day nursing as well, and it seemed like our every moment together was focused on when he could feed next. So, knowing that he had a couple nights away from me on the horizon, I began last week resolved to cut him loose, with the first step being night-weaning.
Sunday was our last normal evening, but then on Monday night, I greeted his first wake-up with nothing but my arms and a firmly in-place sweatshirt. Mr. Baby thought that was a huge load of crap, and made sure I knew it. He screamed and hit and kicked at me, hollering the whole time for "nursie." After about half an hour, it occurred to me that we'd be having a houseguest the next night, and although the kids manage to sleep through these tantrums, I couldn't expect an unseasoned, childless adult to ignore them. And so, in frustration and fatigue, I gave up and pulled him to me. He calmed down instantly. I sobbed.
The next night, our impending houseguest a no-show, I steeled my will and prepared to go into bedtime battle with a loving but firm commitment to our mutual good. And this time, I went in with supplies. His appetite miraculously returned, I fed that baby about to bursting, all evening long. He went to bed with little fanfare, and when he did wake up a few hours later, his fury over being denied the boob was fairly low-key. He'd flop around and fuss and pull at me, but all in all, he seemed to accept that he should probably just go back to sleep. Wednesday and Thursday went pretty much the same way, with some fits slightly louder than others, but in general, a begrudging acceptance that the all-night diner was closed.
So after that fairly well-tolerated start, I was thinking we'd be in great shape the following Sunday night, with two completely nurse-free days and nights behind him. Because, clearly, I'm an idiot. I didn't factor in that he'd also spent two completely mom-free days and nights, and so his need to be close to me was only going to be the stronger, just as it always is after those breaks. I did nurse him during the day, since it wasn't interfering with his regular eating and we needed the catch-up time. But Sunday night was, simply put, a misery. I wouldn't even say he was crying. He was bleating. He would sit up on his knees, close his eyes, and wail, "AAAAAHHHHHH! AAAAAAHHHHHH! AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!" It was heartbreaking, but, somehow, not as bad as if he were producing tears. I recently read a night-weaning essay/instruction guide by Dr. Jay Gordon, and in it he said:
Now, he will tell you that he is angry and intensely dislikes this new routine. I believe him. He will also try to tell you that he's scared. I believe he's angry, but a baby who's had hundreds of nights in a row of cuddling is not scared of falling asleep with your hand on his back and your voice in his ear. Angry, yes. Scared, no, not really.
And that's how it felt. Mr. Baby was definitely not a fan of the plan, but he wasn't hurting or frightened by it. I was right there with him, holding him and talking to him, giving him back his sippy cup and ducking out of the way before he clocked me with it. And so although I spent a collective two hours, over the course of four wake-ups, with him yelling at top voice in my ear, I stayed committed to our goal.
I was exhausted and miserable the next day, and dreading the night ahead. I felt just on the verge of bailing the operation, but wasn't willing to give up the week of hard work behind us. On the plus side, Mr. Baby was tired from his rough night and went to bed willingly and peacefully. He had four baby dolls piled up in his arms and, with his one free finger outstretched, requested "joooos." I gave him his cup and, within moments, he was out.
When I startled awake and looked at the clock at 4am, my first feeling was, of course, panic. I checked to make sure he was breathing, which, of course, woke him up. But it was 4am! In the morning! And he wasn't screaming at me! What he was doing was cooing, "Maamaa?" and climbing onto my chest to fall quickly back to sleep.
If we weren't done with middle-of-the-night feedings, I would have eaten him up.
I warily assumed that night was an anomaly, brought on by the exhaustion from the night before, but Monday went in basically the same pattern (except with me smart enough not to wake him up). And so, after 7 nights of struggle, I'm feeling fairly confident in announcing that we have successfully night-weaned, and even more important than that, begun a routine of solid night-time sleep. After five years of interrupted nights (and 1500 words of description), I can't even begin to tell you how good it feels.