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Wrestling With the Beast

There’s a topic I’ve been avoiding in these postings because I know it’s controversial.  But I know that every parent struggles with this issue and because I’m trying to be open and honest about where I am in this parenting thing, I need to bring it up here and be ready for the email onslaught.

I’m talking about sleep-training.

Madeleine started sleeping through the night right at three months.  I mean 10-12 hours.  I’m not bragging here; I know it was through no marvelous works of our own.  She just did it.  But at 4 ½ months, she started waking up in the middle of the night for a 2 a.m. feeding.  The first few times, I got up, thinking, “Ok, she never does this, must be something going on.”  I assumed it was a growth spurt.  But then the 2 a.m. became 1:30, then 1, and I knew it was simply habit.  Whether or not we fed her rice cereal before bed made no difference; she’d simply gotten used to getting up and eating.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave her to cry it out in the middle of the night, so we kept going, hoping it’d fix itself.  After all, she clearly knows how to self-comfort, or she’d be up much more often at night and she wouldn’t go down in the first place.  And miraculously, the situation did resolve itself.  She ended her growth spurt or whatever was going on and went back to sleeping better after 2 weeks.

Until last week.

She’s become sporadic again; waking an hour after going to bed, in the middle of the night, at 2 or at 4 a.m..  Add to that the whole nap thing – she won’t nap for more than half an hour, despite that one-time glorious three-hour marathon – and I’m not sure what to do.  I’ve read the Ferber book and spoken to my girlfriends and my pediatrician.  Bottom line, every single baby gets “Ferberized” at some point in their life, insofar as they all learn how to comfort themselves to sleep.  Whether that’s done when they’re six months old and sleeping in their own crib or 18 years old and sleeping in their own dorm, at some point your child will learn to fall asleep without you.  We’ve never had Madeleine in our bed for the night – she never took to it, which made that tough choice pretty easy – so she’s somewhat independent already.  She sucks her thumb rather than a pacifier, so she’s got that comfort object under her own control.  We’ve heard her wake up in the night, talk to herself, and go back to sleep, so we know she can do this.  I truly felt in my heart of hearts that this would be helpful to her in the long run, hopefully with naps as well as at night.  So recently, when she woke up an hour after going to bed, I checked in on her.  She was not wet, she was not hungry, she was not in pain or feverish.  She smiled and cooed when I walked in.

So I left her.

She cried.  For four minutes.  I comforted her, and she quieted.  This went on for a total of 28 minutes, with me gradually leaving more time between visits.  In between comfort times, I lay on my bed and listened to her on the monitor and wept.  When she put herself to sleep, I went to my husband and sobbed.  I knew I could turn off the monitor, put a pillow over my head, watch t.v. while she worked this out.  But I had to be there with her however I could, even if it was simply suffering alongside her.  In the morning, she woke happy and gurgling; she wasn’t clingy or timid or needy during the day.  I do believe I did the right thing, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.  I know that she won’t remember it at all, or hold it against me, but part of me holds it against myself.  My husband’s having just as tough of a time of it, so we’re together in our misery.

She’s never cried for as long since then; she’ll cry for maybe five minutes now when going down for a nap and that’s it.  I know I won’t stick to this hard-core; I’ll be more quick to give her the benefit of the doubt when she wakes in the middle of the night, going to her and feeding her on the assumption that she’s not just playing me or looking to hang out, that there’s something really wrong.  But if it becomes a pattern again I’ll have to examine why and perhaps look the beast in the eye again.

Sleep training an infant’s not for everyone; I respect parents who make the choice to sleep in a family bed or get up to nurse several times a night even with a toddler.  I know this was right only for Madeleine and can’t say it for anyone else.  No matter how many books you read, no matter how many girlfriends you talk to, in the end, it's up to you.  As my girlfriend Abby says, "No one knows more about your child than you do, because every baby's different.  You are the expert on your child."  But whatever you do, if it’s coming from a position of love and a desire to do what’s best for your baby, it can’t be wrong.


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