I am so glad to read that things seem to be working. Yay - fingers crossed for you.
I'm reading this thread with interest because my almost four month old has been getting less and less sleep as the days and weeks go by. Today she had three twenty minute naps all day long - by the time I was getting her dressed for bed she was so tired that every little noise or jolt would make her startle, her bottom lip stick out and she'd begin to cry so heartbreakingly. I know exactly how she felt - because I feel so sleep deprived and on edge I think I'm going to jump out of my skin as well. She co-slept beautifully for two months, but then something changed. She'd take hours to fall asleep (lots of crying), stopped nursing lying down, and would take forever to get back to sleep after nursing at night (so we'd have to get up, bouce, sway, rock etc for up to an hour to get her to sleep). We tried the crib one day and it seemed to work, so although I missed her, we moved her in there. All was well - she was waking up once, maybe twice a night, going back to sleep easily. She even had a few nights where she slept 8, 9, even 12 hours. The past few weeks things have been crazy. She had a week or two where she'd wake up at 3am and be wide awake till 6am. Now she is just waking up constantly and taking ages to fall back to sleep. WE've begun putting her down in her crib and bringing her in bed with us when she wakes up at night, but even that isn't helping things much as she'll still not settle well in bed with us, and all three of us seem to spend the rest of the night in a semi-awake state. Not sure what the answer is - still trying to figure out what my next step should be.
I've noticed in talking to many mamas that some just handle the inevitable sleep deprivation better than others. Some women just roll with it, co-sleeping or not. I don't. I've always had a hard time wiht lack of sleep - my mom says even as a child if I stayed up too late a few nights in a row i'd get sick. I can't function on this little sleep, I can't drive safely, I can't carry on conversations, and most of all (just like you mentioned) I cannot be an attached, responsive and gentle parent to my four year old OR my sweet babe. It breaks my heart to feel like I am failing dd#1, and not living up to the expectations she has based on our relationship over the past four years. But - I just don't feel like I have anything to pull from when I am this tired.
It took me four years to be ready to have another baby because it was so hard for me the first time around - I seriously just about had a breakdown between 4-6 months (when my dd was waking about 15+ times per night). She rarely nursed to sleep (rarely comfort nursed at all) and would never co-sleep.
I was at my wits end - when my ped explained that if she is used to waking and nursing then she has a legitimate hunger cycle that needs to be addressed to help her sleep improve - so just trying to cut out nursing sessions is almost guarenteed to fail, even if it seemed to be helping at first. Just like an adult skipping lunch and then snacking constantly until dinnertime, a baby who is not fed when they've grown to expect it will make up for the feeding somewhere else. She suggested we gradually decrease the length of nursing sessions - which we did with great success. I paid attention for a few nights to see how long dd would nurse for, then started ending the nursing session just two minutes earlier. Once she was settling easily I reduced it a few more minutes. It was NOT a quick fix - it took about two months, but by six months she was sleeping about 12 hours and taking two naps during the day of about two hours each. All this was accomplished without crying, without ignoring her needs for closeness, without traumatizing her. The end result was a much happier daughter, and a MUCH, MUCH happier mother. Once she was sleeping I finally felt like I had hit my stride and could really do it.
I can't even express how much it frustrates me to see that your request for help was met with repeated suggestions that the problem is yours, that there is nothing gentle you can do to encourage better sleep, and that co-sleeping will solve everything. I've seen this time and time again, with an attached and loving mama at the end of her rope, just about begging for help and being told that the only AP solution is to just live with it.
Being an attached parent is about the bigger picture, not just where everyone sleeps at night, or how often a baby nurses - if gently and respectfully helping your baby to sleep better enhances your overall relationship with him and with the rest of your family - how can that not be AP and in the best interest of everyone involved?
I don't believe in CIO (we did some CIO with dd#1 - in a fit of uninformed desperation - but would NEVER do it again, and will always feel guity) - but I also believe that periods of good, solid sleep are very beneficial for most babies, and that they can be achived in a number of gentle and respectful ways, ways that honour the needs of both baby AND mother.
Best wishes for a good nights sleep.