Will you join forces with the Granola Fighters and march on the enemy with your babies strapped to your chests, bleary-eyed from a restless night’s sleep spent in the same bed with your entire crying, tossing and turning family? Or, will you enlist with the MFS, Mothers For Sadism, and engage the enemy alone, your babies left behind in their cribs, crying hysterically in their isolation?
The battle lines were drawn last week when psychologist Darcia Narvaez published a widely circulated article that claimed to have scientifically proven that the popular “Cry It Out” method of sleep training babies was dangerous and caused a lifetime of adverse effects; among them, anxiety, a lack of independence and an inability to make meaningful attachments to others. If I wasn’t completely computer illiterate I would have somehow created a link for you right here to read that article, but I have no idea how to do it. Sorry.
I can’t say for certain which army I would join. If there is one for mothers who did sleep train and mostly think that it worked great and saved her sanity, but who have residual guilt about the process, then I would be a four star general. I had planned to write about my adventures with sleep training before the article in question was written because it was such a trying experience. It was really, really haaaaaaard.
Remember when you hated sleeping? Remember when you thought it was such a waste of time and didn’t even feel good anyway? Yeah, me neither. Even the word sleep is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. Sleeeeeeeeeeeep. It’s musical. Sleep is my religion now. I pray to the sleep gods.
They are cruel and unmerciful gods.
For the first six and half months of Luka’s life, I slept in the nursery with him. My husband slept in our room, in our comfortable bed, alone. The operative word here being, slept. I’ve become somewhat fixated on his sleep habits since the birth of our son; obsessing on it, hating him for it, perhaps even standing over him for hours as he slumbered, ‘Paranormal Activity’ style. I, in the meantime, slept on a cot next to the crib that bowed down in the middle so that my butt was a good foot below my head and feet. After Luka’s first wake-up to eat, I would bring him down on the cot with me for the rest of the night. I woke up, at every sound, at every movement, and of course for feedings. Now, before a raging crowd of indignant parents storm our home brandishing torches and demanding that I turn my husband out to them for a public stoning, it’s important to note that he is a critical care doctor. His patients are very,very ill and we both felt, and I think, if you reflect a moment on the condition you would want the doctor to be in who is caring for your critically ill loved one, we will all be in agreement that he needed to go to work in the morning with more than three hours of sleep under his belt. Look, I’m not Mother Teresa. Don’t think I didn’t hate every one of his patients during those wee morning hours, my head dipping and bobbing, as I rocked the baby in the dark.
So, long story short, I was tired. Really, really tired. In other news, I don’t handle being tired very well. At all. I might have been able to muddle through if it weren’t for two things. First, Luka woke up a lot at night, and didn’t take any naps. I had no opportunity to recuperate from the long nights, and secondly, I have a crazy, obsessive anxiety about insomnia. Not just my own. If you are at my house and you can’t sleep, I won’t sleep. I’ll stay up with you, I’ll sing you songs, I’ll make you warm milk, but you must sleep. You must go to sleep. So, you can only imagine how nutso I was that my own little one had trouble sleeping! He had trouble falling asleep, unless he was vigorously jiggled, or strapped in the bjorn, and he had trouble staying asleep. It was driving me insane. Completely insane.
This was how I was thinking; if it’s well established that sleep deprivation is detrimental to a fully formed adult brain, what kind of effect might it have on a brain that was developing? Could it be the cause of Autism? Of ADHD? Of learning disabilities? Something to think about for sure. I was terrified for my baby. We moved into a new house when he was six and a half months old, and my crappy cot bed wouldn’t fit in his nursery, so I knew the time had come. I love you little guy, but cry me a river……
I read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Weissbluth, and I gave it a go. It was heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, terrible, terrible. If I could have achieved the same results by lighting my hair on fire, I would have taken that option. I followed every direction he gave and I have to say, everything he said would happen if I stuck to the program, right down to the hours in the day that they would happen at, happened. And it happened in under two weeks, with only two or three days of real serious crying. After that, it was just one, maybe two episodes of half-hearted fussing for fifteen minutes or so a day.
Now? Now, I have a baby who falls to sleep every night no later than 6:30 ( oh yeah) and sleeps until 7:00am. He wakes up usually once, for a bottle, takes it and goes right back to sleep without a peep. The last two nights, he didn’t wake up at all. He is happier, and less fussy in between his two, hour to hour and half long naps. I think it worked beautifully, and I just don’t believe that any permanent damage has been done. For myself, and for my son, I’m confident that I chose the best course of action, but I get it if it doesn’t work for you. Believe me I get it. I hate remembering those first days, I wonder if I’ll try a different approach with baby #2. I do worry that I started too early, maybe I should have enjoyed a month or two more of co-sleeping. I find myself sometimes hoping that he will wake up fussy now so I can dash to him immediately, snuggle him, and rock him, trying to make up a little for the loss of night-time physical closeness between us. There is no right way. I bet with each child I have, I’ll tweak it, or change it completely. I’ll trust myself, then second guess myself, crucify myself and probably end up with a perfectly content child. You will too.