Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Confessions of a Mildly Detached Mother: Sleep Training

In this blog series, I examine the conventions of "attachment" parenting (which I wholeheartedly embraced before my child's birth), and detail how I have fallen short of those ideals. I don't mind being imperfect. If child rearing is a competition, I forfeit.

Sleep Training

I Ferberized my baby.

Doesn't that sound so evil?

Shut up! I don't care what you think, with your stupid, judgmental face.

Okay, obviously I do care. And if you are a firmly attached mom or dad, maybe you think I've done a bad thing. That doesn't change my feeling that this was one of the best parenting decisions we've made so far.

This sleep training system is named after the Dr. Ferber who developed it. I'm not going to bother with the five minute internet search that would help me present a more detailed history of the man and his controversial method. Basically, our pediatrician, Dr. C, told us about it and we did what he said. Only later did I learn that this was that thing called "Ferberizing" a.k.a. "crying it out".  

"This is a great opportunity to begin sleep training," the good doctor said at our four month visit. "She's developing a more adult sleep cycle and she doesn't really need to feed more than once between, say, 6:00pm and 5:00am. Eventually, she won't even need that one feeding. You may just want to skip it for her."

The thought of a regular bedtime and waking up only once in the middle of the night thrilled me. I hadn't slept for more than four straight hours at a time since the middle of my pregnancy. We picked a date to move her crib out of our bedroom. On that first night, I put her to bed when she fell asleep on her own (around 10pm) and woke up to feed her whenever she cried. On the second night, we followed Dr. C's recommended formula - last breastfeeding an hour before bed, 45 minutes of hardcore playtime, warm and fuzzy bedtime ritual, a little song, then to the crib at 8:00pm. At that point, she did exactly what he predicted. She screamed and screamed. We waited five minutes, then Dan went in to comfort and smooch her. Ten more minutes of screaming, followed by another smoochy comfort visit. We were supposed to wait another fifteen minutes before Dan's next visit, but at 8:20 he blurted, "I can't take this anymore!" and headed to her bedroom door.

That's when I miraculously grew a second, fire-breathing head that bellowed, "Don't even think of going in there!" Normal Tara would never boss her husband, but sleep-deprived Dragon Tara had no such qualms. Alarmed by my other self, I stepped out to the porch for some much needed fresh air.

At 8:25, I returned to silence. Our baby was actually asleep and she remained that way until 11:00pm. I think I fed her twice that night. She had a somewhat easier time getting to sleep the following night. By night three, she was simmering down by 8:10pm.

Here's how it's been since -

- Baby has been pretty great about getting to sleep within ten minutes of bedtime, except when she hasn't, which usually happens when we  have company, which makes us feel like shitty, callous parents. The truth is that when company isn't around, it's been pretty easy to deal with her crying. Pre-baby, I never thought my sensitive soul could handle it. I was wrong.

- For the following six and a half months, I still nursed her whenever she awoke. It was twice a night for a while. Then it was just once, except when it was actually three or four times a night, and that's when I wanted to jump off a bridge. What can I say? Teething and growth spurts are a bitch. Some parents will say that the early weeks of waking up every two hours to feed a newborn are the worst, but I disagree. I was mentally and emotionally prepared for that drudgery. The worst is when baby's sleep patterns spontaneously regress.

- I hoped that she would learn to sleep through the night on her own, but that happened just a handful of times by age 10 months. That's when I finally opted to do as Dr. C suggested and just skip those feedings for her. That was a tough choice, not because I felt like I'd be hurting her, but because I felt like I'd already failed as a mom. Other people's kids slept solidly. Why wouldn't mine? But honestly, my sense of failure was more a reaction to other people's concern. I avoided talking about my broken sleep schedule because I couldn't stand those worry-faced expressions. Were they judging me? Maybe, or maybe not. The answer didn't really matter. The point is that for many months, I didn't mind that one midnight meeting with my sweet, snuggly baby girl. Getting out of bed blew, but feeling her melt in my arms as we sat in placid darkness was its own bliss. Nevertheless, I ultimately decided that I wanted at least seven straight hours of slumber more than I wanted to bond during the wee hours.  

A few times, I mistakenly tried to implement that change on the fly. "I'm just not going to feed her tonight. Simple as that." Dragon Tara inevitably reemerged when sleepy Dan would roll over in bed and say, "I have to work early tomorrow. Can you just go feed her?" Alas, the baby's screams were too much for either of us to resist and then I'd find myself stumbling through the dark. Eventually, I recalled Dr. C's more organized and purposeful method. We picked a date. We chose our strategies. We tried feeding her water instead of breast milk. When that didn't work we just let her cry. The first night sucked. The second night was a little better. She's slept through nearly every night since.

As I've stated in other Confessions posts, I'm not writing this as advice. I realize my methods may not work for other kids or parents. Rather, I write this for kindred Mildly Detached Parents seeking encouragement. I would like them - you, perhaps - to know that they (you) are not bad people. I'm not a bad person. At least, I strive to be a good person. But I also strive to be happy. Sometimes that means making choices that benefit me instead of putting my child's gratification first. If I always opted for the latter, I'd be a sleepy bitch with sore nipples and no time. And that wouldn't bode well for my relationships with everyone other than the baby.

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