I almost hate to write about this for fear that it will stop, but here goes. My sweet girl is sleeping through the night. Pretty consistently. She started doing it three or four weeks ago, but only about twice a week. Now it’s almost every night. If she does wake up, all it takes to get her to go back to sleep is to pop the pacifier back in and maybe reposition her or cover her with another blanket.
This is a child who would not sleep unless she was being held. Day and night. For four months. I don’t mean that she would cry a little if you put her down, I mean she would scream nonstop. Holding her constantly was not that big of a deal during the day, and not that big of a deal at night when I was on maternity leave, but by the time both Bret and I went back to work, it was a huge deal. We split the night in half – one of us holding her until 2:00 a.m. while the other slept, then switching for the 2:00-6:00 a.m. shift, after which we’d pass her off to Grandma and drag ourselves through our morning routines and to work.
More than one person has given me the old “Well, babies don’t come with instruction manuals – ha, ha” speech. But that’s not true. They do come with instruction manuals – about three dozen of them on any given topic – and they all say different things. How do I know which book is right? Which philosophy should I follow? Am I going to damage my child for life if I follow the wrong one?
Then people say to just ignore the books and follow your instincts. Instincts? What instincts? We humans might be born with an innate desire to care for our young, but certainly not the knowledge. Why else would there be so many damn books? So I went to the bookstore.
For sleep, you’ve got your “cry it out” school of thought (most commonly known as “Ferberizing” after Dr. Richard Ferber) and there’s the “let them sleep whenever and wherever they want” school (popularized by Dr. Bill Sears and other “attachment parenting” proponents).
I agree with Sears that babies’ wants are their needs – they’re not being manipulative by crying and wanting to be held. It’s what they truly need. But I also think that at a certain point, I’m doing my child a disservice but not teaching her how to fall asleep on her own, without being held. When she was old enough, it was time for her to learn that her bed is a good, safe, warm, happy place to be and that that’s where she should sleep. I wasn’t about to become one of those parents on "Supernanny" who has to hold her six-year-old all night or he won’t sleep.
Even Ferber says not to try his method on very young babies (under four months) but people thought we were nuts for holding her every night, all night. I suppose part of the reason I was willing to do so was because of our social worker. She believes in co-sleeping and holding adopted babies a lot because otherwise they’ll have attachment issues. She told us in our classes that the baby will know from the minute she’s born that my voice was not that of her birth mother so I’d better do everything I could to make her feel safe and comforted and taken care of and to me that sounded like I’d better never put the kid down in her crib or she’d be scarred for life. (The social worker, by the way, has no research to back this up, just her own experience as a mother of two children she adopted, one of whom she freely admits was a holy terror for much of her life; the social worker clearly believes if she’d held her more as a baby, things would’ve been different).
Everyone said we’d get through it but there were times I wasn’t sure. Getting 2-4 hours of sleep a night, every night for weeks (months!) on end, and then having to get up and go to work (and be creative and write) felt like some kind of sick joke. The only way I got through it was massive amounts of caffeine and sheer will. And a very kind husband who, when he saw me starting to crack, told me he’d take over so I could sleep.
So, we are now on, I believe, day 4 (maybe 5? 6?) of baby sleeping through the night. I’m like a new woman. Okay, I still feel tired all the time, but not in that “I’m going to break down and cry if there aren’t any diet Cokes left in the fridge” way. And, irony of ironies, I kinda miss holding her all the time.