March 03, 2011

Love/Hate relationship with 'cry it out'

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I jerk awake with a feeling of startled panic. What happened? My confused brain stumbles through the cobwebs of sleep and then focuses. I was asleep. And it’s 4:30 in the morning. WHERE IS THE BABY?

I jump up and hurry to the nursery, gently opening the door. As I approach the crib I hear a gentle noise, like a kitten’s sleepy rumble. My son, seven months old, is sleeping. He has rolled over onto his tummy, cuddling his one lovey, a rumpled square of soft green cloth. He’s just fine.

And did I mention? He’s ASLEEP.

For several weeks before this miraculous event, I had been up every night, every hour. Jack had grown progressively more and more restless and clingy, refusing to sleep the moment he felt himself lifted away from the warmth of my arms. No one else could put him to bed. He couldn’t fall asleep without nursing. He ended up back in bed with me more than half the time, barely resting amid squirms and cries every time I moved or breathed. I was exhausted. I was emotionally spent. I was forgetting to brush my teeth.

Something had to be done, for the sake of my morning breath if nothing else.

Now, I absolutely hate the “cry it out” method. On the whole I think it’s just unkind. It goes against every instinct in my mommy-brain to leave my baby alone in the dark without my comforting arms (or other female appendages).

I have slept with all my kids, with a bassinet in my room. Usually I’d keep them in bed with me at least half the night up to about four or five months old. At that point, I feel they were strong enough (and I was confident enough) to move them to the nursery and to the crib. That’s when my internal conflict starts up.

You see, here’s where I have a confession to make. I am a total and complete hypocrite. Because as much as I hate it, two times out of three, cry it out has worked for me—and for my kids. My oldest, Anna, was the exception. She simply screamed. Period. I’d go back in every few minutes, talk to her and rub her tummy, then leave again. But she just screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

I gave it a week, during which time I camped out in the hallway next to her door every night, crying myself. But when every night turned out worse than the last, I gave the whole thing up for lost and went back to our normal “routine”. After all, getting up five or six (or sometimes more) times a night was better than staying awake, miserable, from dusk to dawn. What worked for Anna was time. LOTS of time. By one, she slept like a log, went down for naps as though they were her one true calling and barely twitched at the vast thunder claps so common on a Colorado summer evening.

For my other two kids, though, leaving them to cry has been a miracle. Not just for me, either. Sleep-deprivation, as we all know, is a bitch, linked to depression and nasty emotional hijinks. By teaching my babies to sleep on their own, I helped everyone in the house, INCLUDING them. It is this thought that keeps me from feeling totally selfish and cruel. Once they turned the corner, both kids were changed souls—happier during the day, more easy-going and less clingy, whiny and miserable.

Now in case you’re about to yell at me (or worse), I will say that I don’t carelessly lay them in the crib, close the door and go hit the night life while they scream themselves hoarse until they lose consciousness. It’s a process.

We established the bed time routine: changing, jammies, white noise, short story. Then the lights went out and we’d enjoy a wonderful chunk of nursing and cuddle time, but unlatching him before he fell asleep. Then there’s some more cuddling, until he was super-drowsy but still a little bit awake.

Then came the hard part. I put him down. Gently, sweetly, with much love, but still... down in the crib, not tight in my arms. With a gentle pat on his tummy, I left.

And he cried.

God, I hate that part.

The first two nights, he cried on and off for about an hour. Throughout that whole time, I listened to his cues. I went back in a few times and whispered to him. The few times his cries went from pissed off and confused to seriously freaked out, I went and picked him to start all over. He woke up several times that night and we did the whole shebang again. At least twice, though, just as I was about to go get him, he settled down again on his own.

The next night, bed time took about 20 minutes of crying after lights out. After that, only 10 or so. By the end of the week, he fussed a bit, snuggled into his lovey and settled down. He now goes to bed very well most nights, letting me put him down while he's still awake. More often than not, he sleeps through the whole night. It's not a perfect magic bullet and of course there will still be difficult nights (like now, with the cold he's had all week), but I can't argue with the incredible change in just the past month or so. I’ve actually had to spontaneously night-wean him. Because, you know, he’s fine. I’m the one with the boulders in my bra every morning.

I let my baby cry. There, I said it. Mea culpa. I don’t feel particularly GOOD about it but... I feel better than if I was sleep-deprived, jittery from 10 cups of coffee and bouncing a screaming, exhausted baby around on my hip all day. When I go get him in the morning, he now wakes up with a sweet smile.

And so do I.

(And now that I’m not too tired to brush my teeth and the morning dragon breath is under control, so does my husband.)

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Dude. Well said. I HATE HATE HATE the crying it out but that doesn't mean it didn't work. I still hate it BUT it worked for both of my kids. I only did it when all else failed and I knew they were ok and ready to handle it. I kinda lean towards "it's so mean!!!" when people talk about doing it with their 2 or 3 month old. I really only support it's use like after 6-8 months so yeah I'll get off my soapbox now. ANYWAYS, I know it was hard but wow! He sleeps! Yay!