Last night Anna had a night terror. She's had them before, but this was by far the worst and longest lasting and I felt awful for her.
For the link-phobic, a night terror essentially happens when a child doesn't stay asleep between sleep stages, but also doesn't wake fully. They can scream, thrash, and appear awake, but aren't really conscious and will have no memory of what happened when they come out of it. The worst part from a parental perspective is there is literally nothing you can do to stop a sleep terror once it starts. If you hold them, they push away from you and try to throw themselves out of your arms. If you try to talk to them, they might scream more, or ignore you, or perceive the sound as a threat and holler "no! no!" You can also prolong the incident by doing this.
Normally, Anna's "terrors" are mild - she wakes up fussing and crying but it passes in a couple of minutes, you can give her a sip of water or milk and put her back to bed. Last night she started crying and when it became apparent she wasn't just fussing we said "okay, she's having a night terror, let her alone and she'll come out of it" like we usually do. This time, she thrashed and flipped herself over the bedrail, landing on the floor before anyone could catch her.
I tried to hold her but it became obvious that wasn't going to help anything. My mother in law was still in the house and she couldn't believe it. Really, you can't believe what's going on unless you see it. I wound up moving the coffee table out of the way and laying her on the living room floor (where she couldn't hurt herself) until she woke up, at which point she sat up, held up her arms, called "mama" and asked for a drink. A few sips of milk and she said she wanted to go to bed, where she slept peacefully until 7. She was genuinely perplexed to fully wake and find herself in the living room with three adults standing around her.
The worst feeling in the world is seeing your child scared or in pain and knowing there's nothing you can do to make it better. At one point I was literally sitting on my hands because I wanted so badly to hold her and comfort her, but every time I tried it just made things worse. I prayed. I sang to her. I put on music. Because even though at that point I knew nothing was going to stop until her body physically stopped itself, I couldn't just do nothing. I unloaded the dishwasher. I helped put Mary and Lily back to bed, both of whom woke up over the course of events. I pulled out my sleep books to confirm I was, in fact, not being a horrible parent by doing what I knew I had to do. And I still felt bad about it. Some days, it's never enough.
The book says kids will eventually outgrow sleep terrors and won't be traumatized by it. Until then, we're to give her a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine and avoid disruptions to her sleep cycle. But it's still a crapshoot. Too tired? Not tired enough? Stressed? (What stresses a two and a half year old, anyway?) Genetic link? There are a million ways to wonder what you're doing wrong, why your toddler isn't sleeping properly.
True to the book, Anna woke up this morning sunny and cheerful, the
only reminder of her night a slightly hoarse voice. She jumped on my bed
and snuggled with me, her ice cold feet (child will. not. wear. socks.)
a somewhat unwelcome "good morning!" but I was so glad to see her back to
her happy self.
So far it's been a good day. I'm hoping for an equally peaceful night.