Cry It Out: So It’s Come To This

I carried my son for (more than) nine months. Nine months of heartburn, leg cramps and backaches. Nine months of nausea and food aversions. Nine months of Tums, Pepcid and heating pads.

Nine more months have passed since Edwin was born. During those nine months, he hasn’t slept through the night once. Which means I haven’t slept through the night once. In nine months.

I’m tired.

I’m sick of being tired.

Which means that it’s time to cry it out.

I never thought I’d say those words. I believe in attachment parenting, co-sleeping and Dr. Sears. I never thought I’d buy a book written by Sears’ mortal enemy, Dr. Ferber, let alone consider his method. But I’ve done everything the no-cry, gentle sleep-training books suggest. We have a flexible nap schedule. We have a white-noise machine. We keep the room dark. We have an early bedtime. We have a long-established bedtime routine involving massage with lavender-scented Burt’s Bees lotion, reading books, nursing and rocking to sleep. We’ve tried putting the baby down already sleeping- he wakes up thirty minutes later, crying. We’ve tried putting him down only partly asleep- he wakes up instantly. None of these interventions seems to make any difference. He still wakes up multiple times per night and needs our help getting back to sleep. Over the past ten days or so, his night-wakings have actually increased, despite the one golden night about a month ago when he slept the whole night in his crib with only one waking. That was just a tease; things are getting worse, not better.

And not to repeat myself, but I’m tired.

Really tired.

(And so is my husband. And I’m sure our parents are sick of hearing us complain about it.)

So on Friday night, we’re going to start sleep training. We’re going to use the Ferber method, which involves doing our normal bedtime routine, and then putting Edwin down awake. Then we leave the room. If he cries, (which he will) we come back in the room after 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and consecutively longer time periods, just to reassure him that we are still there, but not to pick him up or help him get to sleep in any way. Eventually he will get himself to sleep on his own, and hopefully the next night, it will take less time. My biggest fear is that he’ll still wake up just as many times over the course of the night, and we’ll have to do the whole routine that many times. I’m pretty sure my husband and I won’t be getting much, if any, sleep that night, and I’m totally dreading it. But I’m committed to it too. I know this is what we have to do.

The moment that finally changed me from a “no-cry” to a “cry-it-out” mother happened on Sunday night, when I tried putting Edwin down very drowsy, but still slightly awake (as the books told me to do). His eyes flew open and he gave me a look that said, “Mommy, I don’t know what to do.” And I realized that by not giving him the chance to try going to sleep without help, I’m disabling him. I can’t control the fact that he’s a light sleeper and wakes frequently at night. That’s a biological problem that will work itself out in time. But I can help him figure out how to get himself back to sleep when that happens, thus giving all of us a chance for a full night’s sleep.

It still bothers me that I have to let him cry, though. Obviously, no parent wants to have to listen to their child cry, even knowing it’s in his best interest. But as a teacher, I’m disturbed that after decades of research, the most effective way of teaching a child to put himself to sleep is letting him cry it out?  That’s like saying, “So, kid, you’ve got a major problem to solve. Here’s your classroom and your materials. I’ll be back in to check on you every few minutes just so you know I’m alive, but I’m not going to help you in any way. You’re on your own. Oh, and since you and I can’t communicate properly yet, I’m just going to spring this on you right now. And….go!”

Dear child sleep specialists, please find us something better.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you who left me supportive and helpful comments on Facebook. Please think of us on Friday night as we start this ordeal, and send us some “stay strong” vibes!

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