Last night a familiar cry woke me from a dead sleep at 1:45 am. LM was up. I watched the video monitor to see if he could settle himself. He almost went back to sleep a few times, but didn’t. Eventually he was standing, pulling himself up on the crib rail and doing some kind of baby pull-ups that left his feet off the mattress and me worried he would somehow be able to launch himself out.
I looked over at my husband. He stirred but didn’t wake up. “I don’t know what to do,” I said. “Should I go get him?” No response.
It was up to me. Because my husband goes to work, it’s my responsibility to attend to LM during the night. That and the fact that I’m the one with the boobs, which is often the only thing that will get LM back to sleep.
I went to LM’s room and realized he did have a reason to cry: a poopy diaper. I changed it and nursed him, but he still did not want to go back down in his crib. I said goodnight anyway and left the room. After five minutes of crying, he was back to sleep.
I never thought I would be the kind of mom to endorse CIO (“cry it out”). I read the debates online – and there are plenty of them, because sleep is one of those inevitable mommy wars topics. “It’s cruel and selfish to let your baby cry,” the anti-CIO crowd said. “I could never stand to listen to the sound of my baby in distress. I just deal with being tired the next day.”
That all sounded great, until I was faced with a baby who just wouldn’t sleep. As a young infant he woke frequently to nurse, which I knew was normal. I thought he’d eventually start sleeping longer stretches naturally. But…he didn’t. And I didn’t know what I was going to do once I was back at work, because there was no way I could function on so little sleep. I was also very worried about staying awake for my 45-minute drive to work.
Then I got laid-off, so work was suddenly a non-issue. I continued to answer LM’s cries several times throughout the night. I would go to his room, sit in the glider and nurse him back to sleep. The iPad and I became very good friends. Frasier, Friends, Seinfeld and all manner of nineties sitcoms and I got reacquainted – they were the only shows I could watch (with ear buds in) that were both mindless enough yet entertaining enough to keep me occupied and awake.
But by ten months I couldn’t take it anymore. I was a zombie (actually a mombie), and even though I wasn’t working I still found it difficult to function at home alone with LM. A couple of times I fell asleep on the floor while he played next to me. I was useless at doing any housework. I wanted to start blogging but I had no energy. I was a shell of my former self.
Then to make matters even worse, LM started resisting being put back in his crib after I nursed him back to sleep. No matter how slowly or gently I tried to do it, he could sense the feeling of being put down and was not having it. (Yes, I know you’re supposed to do the whole drowsy-but-awake thing, but did whoever came up with that actually know any babies? It certainly did not work with mine.)
I was at my breaking point. I either needed to embrace bed-sharing or do some kind of sleep training. I had slept with LM in the bed before – it was sleep but not good sleep, as he would constantly want to nurse. My husband didn’t want him in bed with us on a permanent basis, and I was worried that later we would have a hard time transitioning him out of our bed and into his own. So we decided against it.
Searching for advice, I read The Baby Whisperer. The author condescendingly describes how we get into “accidental parenting,” which is the easiest tactic at the moment but not a good long-term solution. She claims that if we let babies CIO we break the bonds of trust with them. Her “no-cry” method consists of picking the baby up every time he cries, and then putting him down as soon as he is calm. She says to do this for however long it takes until the baby is asleep.
Yeah, well, “no-cry” my ass! The first and only night I tried this, LM wailed every time I tried to put him down. After an hour, I couldn’t take it anymore and left the room. He continued to cry, but then was asleep after a few minutes.
So I kind of fell into CIO. I didn’t follow Ferber or any other kind of method. I still rocked and nursed him to sleep, and would still go in when he woke up crying. But if he wouldn’t let me put him back down, he got a kiss and a goodnight and that was it.
It worked. The longest he cried was 20 minutes, and after a few days it was only a few minutes. Soon, he started sleeping longer stretches, and eventually slept all night. I don’t know if that’s because we let him cry, or if it was finally just time for him to reach that milestone on his own.
Yes, it was tough, but I didn’t know what else to do. I could not hold him all night. I needed sleep to be a good mom.
Have I scarred LM for life? Have I broken the bonds of trust with him? Is his sleeping through the night not so much “self-soothing” as it is an acceptance that I’ve abandoned him? I don’t know. All I know is that he’s sleeping, I’m sleeping and we’re both happier for it.
He does still occasionally wake up, like last night, and then I have the conundrum of what to do. So I let him cry for a little, and if he’s still upset I go in, make sure there’s not something wrong (too hot or cold, is sick, has a dirty diaper, etc) and try to get him back to sleep. If there isn’t and he still won’t go back to sleep, he’s on his own.
That probably sounds callous and cruel. But the effects of long-term sleep deprivation are no joke – I was seriously about to start hallucinating. Now, I am finally starting to feel like human being again. But I still sometimes miss our middle of the night cuddles.
Do you think I’m a horrible mom for letting my son cry? How have you solved sleep issues with your baby?
As I’m writing this my mind literally does not want to think, so sorry if this sounds a bit, well, foggy. That’s been the story of my life for the past year – I just don’t seem to be able to function as I did before I had my son. Why? I blame mommy brain. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)
As most moms know, sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of mommy brain. Sleep is an issue which I’m sure I’ll expound upon in later posts, but suffice it to say that my baby just did.not.sleep. I had a love-hate relationship with his night wakings: I loved to go into his room, take him in my arms and feel the quiet peacefulness as I nursed him. I enjoyed letting my brain turn off as I watched repeats of Frasier and Friends on the iPad to keep myself awake while feeding him. I felt that he should decide when to night wean, not me, so I continued to revel in our special relationship.
But I was seriously tired. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used to torture people. As the months of waking every few hours continued, there was nothing I started to crave more than sleep. And yet when I went to bed, my mind would spin in circles about all the things I had to do, and I couldn’t fall asleep. And so the cycle continued.
I’m also convinced that babies just suck the energy out of you. I don’t know exactly how, but somewhere in between cleaning up poop, wrestling a screaming, wrangling child and trying to decipher their every cry you become worn down to a shell of your former self. It’s not that you don’t enjoy taking care of your child all day long. But it’s exhausting.
Not to mention the lack of mental stimulation. Singing The Wheels on the Bus and reading Goodnight Moon over and over and over will will take your IQ down a few points. You’re just not stimulating the adult part of your brain formerly used for meetings with your boss and PowerPoint presentations. Now when I try to read a novel or even an online news article, my mind makes mental leaps – it can’t hold as much as it used to, so it boils down the information to one useful nugget and throws the rest out. As a result, I know the basics of what I read but can’t for the life of me have an in-depth conversation about it.
Even though my son is finally sleeping through the night, I find myself utterly wiped. Now that he’s turned one, he demands more of my attention when awake. He actually wants me to play with him – or at least watch him play. When I see moms with newborns I’m suddenly jealous – those were the days when he just lay there and didn’t do anything. I also take him to play groups, kiddie activities, swimming… he’s one and I’m already overscheduling him, and me.
Plus, now I’m actually trying to use my brain to write this blog and my freelance assignments. And I want to watch TV and movies again. And read books. And keep up on current events. And Facebook. So I squeeze it all in after he goes to bed and end up staying up late. And I’m still having that insomnia when it’s time to fall asleep.
Will it ever end, or will I spend the rest of my life in a kid-induced fog? Do you have mommy brain, too?