Letting your baby 'cry it out' is agonizing. Especially if you are a first-time parent. If Mazzy's cries had words they would be— "MOOOMMMMMMY!!! WHY HAVE YOU ABANDONED ME?? DON'T YOU LOVE ME ANYMORE??!!" But after many inconsistent stops and starts, we finally stuck to our guns and successfully sleep trained her at about seven months. Once I got past the idea that Mazzy was going to hate me in the morning (she's not), it wasn't nearly as hard as I expected. In fact, sleep training is up there with one of the best gifts I have given myself. And she hasn't said so explicitly, but I think the baby is happier too.
Putting Mazzy to sleep used to be the most stressful part of our day. When 7pm rolled around, the dread of what was to come next would settle on us both like dust on a television screen. First, there was the bedtime routine. (You can't join the mommy club if you have no bedtime routine— it's New Parent 101). Change, bottle, book, rocking with lullaby. Mazzy would play along for a bit. Then somewhere around the second verse, she'd arch her back like a gymnast, flail her arms and start SCREAMING. It was almost impossible to hold onto her. The goal was always to get the pacifier in her mouth no matter how much she resisted— she only fought it because she knew it worked. If you somehow managed to get her to nod off, she would immediately jolt awake in a panic as if you had tricked her and were about to steal all her toys. Isn't there some Shakespearean phrase where he calls sleep "little slices of death"? Between the iron grip, the force feeding of the pacifier and the look of sheer terror on Mazzy's tiny face, I felt like I was killing her every night.
Mazzy hates sleep with such a passion that it would seem strange if it wasn't so familiar. I've struggled with sleeping my whole life. When I was little, I would lay in bed waiting until I thought it was just long enough to go downstairs and announce to my parents that I couldn't sleep. Even now, after my husband goes to bed, I like to stay up to watch TV or work on my laptop or futz around the house. At night it seems like you can accomplish anything— there are no other places to be, no agonizing over making it to the gym, no trying to squeeze in an errand, no job, no baby- it is free time pure and simple. My eyes must be practically closed and my brain about to shut down before I drag myself to bed. I get why Mazzy doesn't like to sleep- there are so many more interesting things to do while you are awake.
On our first few sleep training attempts, we were unsuccessful. Consistency is key and we had none. Mazzy started turning over in her crib and getting trapped so I had to keep going in and helping her out. And each time I went in, she got even more inconsolable when I left, which meant starting from square one every time. I have read Goodnight Moon more than any one else on the planet. When she figured out how to turn back over herself, I thought we were finally ready. Turns out my husband was not. As the cries got worse, he would stare at me with these big eyes that said, "Are you sure she's not going to remember this when she's older?" And then the next thing I knew, he'd walk into the kitchen with a red-eyed, sniffling, teary Mazzy in his arms, claiming, "I saved her".
But then my husband went away for a few days and I realized this was my opportunity. Forget Ferber, forget Weissbluth, forget The Sleep Lady Shuffle– I was going cold turkey. Mazzy got more upset every time I went back in and out anyway. And I don't know— if the baby is crying hysterically, doesn't it make more sense to make her feel like she is truly on her own, then that you are sitting right beside her and not helping? My child doesn't care if you offer words of encouragement- she wants to be picked up. NOW.
The first night the crying sounded like it went on forever but when she finally quieted down, I realized it had only been 39 minutes. (Timing the crying is the key to EVERYTHING). I could handle 39 minutes! And once you know that yes, the crying will eventually stop, each night gets shorter and easier. It seems ridiculous but after just one week, I am now able to put her to bed with barely a fuss. She gets upset at the beginning of the routine— when I change her into her PJs because she knows what's coming. But after a minor fit, she surrenders to the process. She might even seem completely awake when I put her down in the crib but she lies there like a champ while I leave the room and we don't hear a peep.
Well, every now and then we hear a peep. Like the time my mother was over for dinner. The baby went down fine but about an hour later she started crying. My mother stared at me in horror as I continued to pick at my grilled salmon. "She's fine," I said. To which my mother replied, "I never let YOU cry it out." And I said, "Yes, I know, and I've had sleep issues ever since."
For a quick and brutal guide to the four most popular sleep training techniques, please click here.