Before I had kids, I was the world’s perfect parent. I knew exactly how to raise a healthy, happy child, and how to make sure the child would never, ever cry. While I was pregnant, I knew I had this parenting gig in. the. bag.
Then, I had a baby.
Colic is a real thing, people. It involves hours and hours a day of crying, sometimes inconsolable. The only surefire relief my daughter and I would have was through nursing. That, of course, led to painful nipples and an oversupply of milk, which in turn led to digestive troubles for my baby, and more crying. Through the day and night.
Co-sleeping, which had seemed like a great idea in theory to get more sleep, didn’t work well for us. I couldn’t roll over or dare to even breathe, for fear of waking her. I would lay there, cramped and feeling trapped. During the daytime hours, the trapped feelings continued. My sweet baby wouldn’t even let me put her down for a few moments to get myself dressed, or even take a shower.
I started to feel resentment.
Toward my husband, who got to go to work and live with relative bodily autonomy, and who could risk rolling over in bed and waking the baby up, because he could just go right back to sleep instantly. Toward my baby, who I wanted to throw out the window at 3am. Toward the world at large, which just kept on going like nothing had changed. I kept hearing how what I was doing for my baby was so good and selfless, and on the inside I was suffocating. Internally, I felt ashamed and guilty because I was starting to hate my baby.
I knew this wasn’t how I wanted to continue. Actually, I quite literally knew I could not continue this way, only getting a few hours of broken sleep at night for months on end. Feeling mostly like I didn’t even like my own baby. There was no way, in my mind, that this was healthy, for me or my baby.
Desperate, I took a book out of the library, and decided to finally try: cry it out. It wasn’t anything I expected it would be. Here are some of the things that I learned:
1. Cry it out won’t ruin your baby.
The first night we put my daughter to bed, we sat at the kitchen table in silence as she cried. Then, 20 minutes later, silence. For 12 whole hours she slept that night! The next morning, I felt terrified. I had heard that cry it out just means your baby got so stressed they passed out. That it is detrimental to their mental health.
But guess what? When she woke up, she was not only not ruined, she was…. happy. She smiled to see me, as if nothing had happened. My heart burst. We had both slept, and not only that, but my baby seemed genuinely happy to finally have gotten sleep, too!
2. The needs of moms matter, too.
For the first time since becoming a mother, I started to feel like myself again. I started to feel the calm and confidence toward parenting that I had dreamed about when I was still naive and kid-free. Not only that, but I started to enjoy my baby, and was able to connect with her again. I am somewhat sensory sensitive, and I had no idea how overwhelmed I had been with the constant touch and zero alone time. I needed some time apart to recharge.
I had, for many months, believed that sleep training meant I was being selfish, and putting my own needs and sanity above my child’s was wrong. Yet, I got to a point where I was no longer able to mother my child because of how deeply my own mental health was being affected.
3. Sleep training isn’t the worst thing for babies.
The crazies realization for me was that my daughter actually seemed relieved to finally be allowed to have some peace and quiet. She quickly adapted to sleep: within two weeks she was finally, blissfully, taking two 1-2 hour naps a day and sleeping 12+ hours at night. She became more content, and I swear she started smiling more. I can’t ever say for sure, but it seemed to me that she too was touched out, and ready to have some space to learn to sleep, alone sometimes.
4. Cry it out won’t ruin your bond forever.
Ironically, after doing cry it out, my daughter and I bonded more than we had before. It wasn’t like magic of course, but I think that allowing both of us time to sleep, and space apart, allowed me to return to a more healthy mental state. I was able to enjoy her more, instead of obsessing over the lack of sleep, or the excessive touching.
5. Sleep training doesn’t mean you don’t sooth your baby.
Even while sleep training, there were still lots of cuddles and kisses. My daughter was held and worn and hugged regularly throughout the day, and there was no shortage of physical affection. I continued to nurse my daughter until she was 2.5 years old, something we both cherished. Middle of the night cries were still responded to, and I learned to distinguish true fear or pain from just the cries of an over-tired or over-stimulated baby.
There is a difference between a child who is neglected and left alone to cry, and a child who is loved and knows they are loved, and allowed to work through something new. Like learning to fall asleep unaided. We can debate all day whether a baby can or should learn this skill. I can say, though, that in our house this skill was taken to like a duck to water by my baby, and a very necessary milestone to reach in order for us to come to a better place in our relationship with each other.
6. Cry it out taught me to be less judgmental.
Because of what we went through, I realized, there is no one size fits all parenting. I also learned that a mother’s feelings, emotions, and needs matter too. I learned that there are a million ways to forge a bond and a loving relationship with your baby, and at the end of the day, it is that love that creates a secure attachment. Not the method of parenting.
This knowledge has shaped me as a mother. I am far less judgmental than I used to be toward other mothers, new and seasoned. I don’t think that cry it out is the best approach for every family, child or parent. And I also don’t think that bed-sharing or co-sleeping is the end-all-be-all either. I think we each find our way, and must listen to ourselves, as well as our own children, to find the way that works best.