09 August 2005

Shut It Out

I've decided that Ferberizing, crying it out, Healthy Sleep Habits- whatever you call it doesn't teach babies how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. It works, but for a different reason. It teaches parents how to ignore the cry. Not ignore it completely, but enough to convince ourselves that it's good for the baby, and the whole family, if that child can learn to sleep on his own.

We started out as co-sleepers. Well, we started out with an organic pregnancy, had her at home, carried her in a sling, delayed vaccinations, the whole natural parenting thing. We did it that way because we believed it to be the best for our baby. We still do. And we swore we'd never cry it out. Many parents say the same, but I was really opposed. I judged the other mothers in my group- especially those who eagerly planned the day they would begin to Ferberize. How could anyone, especially a mother, let someone they love cry alone- for a long time or some prescribed number of minutes? Who would let his friend cry without comforting her?

I knew the trend these days is to let 'em cry, so I armed myself before she arrived by reading the No Cry Sleep Solution. I learned some very helpful facts, these two being the most important: 1. for an infant, 5 hours of sleep IS sleeping through the night; and 2. "sleep problems" are really in the minds of the parents, not the bodies of the babies. My understanding shifted as I read, and I arrived at mothering expecting no sleep miracles. We were good for a long while. We had a bedtime routine. Book, sing, nurse to sleep. She would sleep for four or five hour stretches, and I counted my blessings. Then she started getting teeth at 4 1/2 months, her first cold at 5, and began nursing every two to three hours every night. I was already back at work and quite accostomed to my four hour stretches of sleep. I started to have a "sleep problem" and doing something about my child's sleep patterns seemed the only way to fix it.

We moved her from our bed into the co-sleeper with sadness. I loved sleeping with her even though it tweaked my back. A couple of months later, we detached the co-sleeper and placed it progressively farther from our bed. At 6 or 7 months, we moved her into a crib. I tried to stop nursing her to sleep by using the Pantley Pull Off which involves sneaking the nipple out of the babe's grip and holding your breath praying she'll stay or go back to sleep. It was very frustrating. So many nights and naps we jiggled her until we felt we could jiggle no more and then we bounced (but she much prefered the jiggle. We should have never watched the Happiest Baby on the Block. It generated thousands of dollars of chiropractic bills and mama-sobs in the night. But that's another story). My resolve vanished along with my good humor. I was ready to pack for the Funny Farm.

I know, it's all an excuse. You've already figured out I'm leading up to Why We Did It. Unlike all of those other evil parents, our situation was so bad that this cruel method was justified. Yeah, right. Perhaps I caved to peer pressure. Many of the mothers in my group had reported great success with it. They looked so... fresh at our gatherings. And they responded to my own cries cautiously- I am the Queen Granola of the group- "You know, you don't need to suffer like this." Perhaps it was a result of my research. I couldn't find a single family with a child between 1 and 5 who didn't do it. When I asked my friend with 2 children how she got them to sleep. She said she had them cry it out. "The first at 9 months. The second at 6. Both times when my exhaustion was greater than the stabbing in my heart listening to them cry." This easy admission from a woman who trumps my naural ways. She didn't do ANY vaccinations and lives in Fairfax, a town with an artful balance of imported french linens, sweaty bicyclists, art films, aging rock stars, pot heads, and investment bankers. What I do know, is that I didn't want to be angry anymore. I was angry at Stella for shrieking after I jiggled her for 40 minutes and tried to put her down. I was angry at my husband for sleeping so well through my 3 am pacing. I was angry at the cat when she sneaked into the room and I had to chase her, silently, in the dark beause Stella was finally asleep and the cats aren't allowed to sleep in our room. I was angry at myself for being a bad mother.

So one evening, one emotionally intelligent mama who had tried the method, had a relapse, and was back to jiggling, walked me through a plan. My husband and I wouldn't have been able to plan so efficiently. It would have required days of emotionally-laden debates- time that I didn't have because I couldn't take one more night of being awake from 1 to 4 am on a work night. When my husband came home, I informed him that we'd be starting tonight. We would put her in her crib, drowsy but awake, and let her cry for 30 minutes. After which, if she was still crying, we would go to the room and sing to her, but not pick her up, and walk out. A simple plan for a monumental process that took an hour of self-exploration over the phone. "Will 5 minutes be OK? How about 10? 15? How will she respond if you sing to/ touch her? What are you going to do when she's crying to keep from going in?," and so on. We didn't make a plan beyond 30 minutes or for what I would do when I was waiting for those 30 minutes to pass. I couldn't know how I would react, so my plan was to wing it. I sobbed while she screamed, wrote a brief I'm-a-hypocrite-and-an-evil-mother email to my mother's group, and at minute 29 she stopped like the winder ran out. That was 7 weeks ago.

She never did cry longer than that first 29 minutes. But the crying didn't stop like I assumed. I had heard that many people need to do it again after teething, a cold, some disturbance. After events that happen for the better part of the first 2 years. "But it's easier," they'd say, "than the first time." But we never had a stretch- 2 days even- without some crying. Half the time she cries for less than 90 seconds, if at all. She likes to talk herself to sleep. Or do karate with Bun. That's very popular. But she does cry to sleep the other half of the time. Sometimes she cries off and on for up to 25 minutes. Often it's 12 minutes of crying, a little karate, then silence. No one warned us about this possibility. No one talks about it.

So I started some new research. It turns out it's pretty common for these Ferberized babies to never actually learn to fall asleep. If crying is the so-called learned method, I think it sucks. It takes me 12, sometimes 25 minutes to fall asleep, so that's understandable. But I don't usually cry doing it. A toss and a turn, a little karate to defend my half of the bed, sure. But crying? Nope. Ok, crying is one of the most significant ways a baby has to express herself. So what is she saying?... Mama, how could you leave me here? Oh, I'm so tired I wish I could just find the right position and fall asleep? The neighbors are too loud, why won't they just shut up?! That's the problem, I don't know. But it sure sounds distressing. Now here's the interesting part. I can listen to it and do nothing. Not only that, in seven weeks, I have learned to read, eat dinner, empty the dishwasher, water the garden- yes, enjoy myself while she's crying. I have advanced well beyond covering my ears, humming and rocking back and forth while my husband rubs my shoulders. Even more impressive, in this past week of night weaning- where she wakes and cries to nurse but we leave her there until some set time- I have turned down the volume on the monitor at 2:24 am and woken in a guilty panic at 4 to her crying, wondering, was she crying that whole time? Then I quickly answered myself, Nah.

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