The Sleep Training Wars (Part 1)

 
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This photo represents my #1 goal of life currently, for baby to sleep like this, in this, all night long. Note this photo was from like 2 months ago, back when the baby was actually capable of falling asleep quickly and easily. Oh how times have changed.

You guys, my goal for this blog has always been to be honest. I read blogs that describe families and babies that are so picture perfect that they make you feel so inadequate that you want to eat your feelings with cake and wine. The babies are always happy and smiling. The moms are well dressed and inexplicably always have blown out hair (1. What mom has the time for that on a regular basis? 2. Does no other recently pregnant woman experience what I am currently going through and lose clumps of hair at a time? That is not cute unless contained by a hair tie of some kind.) These people seem to live impossibly easy and beautiful lives, and that’s fun to read on an aspirational level (kind of like reading Vogue), but it also leaves one feeling….less than.

This is not that parenting blog. I don’t want it to be. Because you know what? Parenting and babies and life in general with a child, this stuff is HARD. Like hardest thing I have ever done without question, and I’ve trained for a marathon AND attempted to teach little Thai children English for 5 months (without me knowing any Thai or them really knowing any English!) I love my daughter more than anything. She is beautiful and the best thing that has happened to me. She has started to really show a little personality and she is so smiley and developing new skills like every second. And I have loved so much of life lately.

But even while loving so much, the last couple of weeks have also been really tough, full of those parenting moments where you just feel like such a failure. My daughter has never slept through the night (or slept for more than an hour at night in her crib). She has co-slept from like day 6 of life. But she had started to develop a pretty good nap routine. I could usually count on her to nap like 1-2 hours for her first morning nap, and go down pretty easily for the rest. At night she woke up to feed, but started to sleep as much as 5-6 hours before her first wake up.

And whether it’s the 4 month sleep regression (spoken of in the same fearful tones as Voldemort on parenting sites) or a Wonder Week or a developmental leap or a growth spurt or just my baby being a sadist determined to drive mommy and daddy off the deep end, a lot of that has just fallen apart in the last couple of weeks. It has started dependably taking longer to get her to go down for a nap than the actual nap lasts. Bedtime is even worse. I will spend 30 minutes to an hour rocking her to get her to sleep at least the first stretch in her crib, and sometimes even after an hour she is still awake and I have to go to bed with her. She wakes up to feed every 2-3 hours, sometimes more frequently. She used to maybe be able to do the “drowsy but awake” thing 1-2x a day. Forget that. 

Sleep is a mess. Baby is tired. Dada is tired. Mama is tired. If it weren’t for co-sleeping we would all be raving lunatics right now. And I have loved co-sleeping the last few months. But I am ready to stop. I think it might be different if I worked 5 days a week, but currently I’m only work 1-2 days a week tops. And so I’m home most days all day with Ryley. And when she only naps for 30 minutes tops during the day I have very little decompression time. And when she refuses to sleep in the crib at night and I have to go to bed with her at like 8 I have even less decompression time. Don’t get me wrong. I love an excuse to go to bed early, but it’s getting harder to spend almost 24 hours of every day with my baby. I love her dearly, but that’s a lot of baby time. That is like stage 5 clinger levels of baby time. Mama needs at least like an hour at night to watch TV or eat like a civilized human without a little person attached to her. I feel like we have reached a tipping point, where what’s worked pretty beautifully the last 4 months is just no longer working. We’re all outgrowing it.

You know how they say comparison is the thief of joy? When that comes to comparing yourself to other people with children it’s like quadruple the case. I have a lot of mom friends and co-workers, and every time I hear someone with a similarly aged baby is sleeping through the night, it’s like a dagger in my heart. What are they doing that I am not? Why are their babies good at sleeping? Is my baby trying to ruin my life? 

I ask myself these questions again and again. I google (I have sworn not to so many times but I just can’t stop) and that only makes me feel worse. These sites say it’s so easy to sleep train your baby. Just put them down (repeat it with me folks) “DROWSY BUT AWAKE.” If you put your baby down in her crib when she is already asleep then she will need to be rocked to sleep forever, even when she is middle aged you will have to go to her house and do this. But see, when I put my baby down drowsy but awake she opens her eyes widely in shock and fury and then starts to cry. And according to many of these sites I cannot let her cry, not even for one second because then she will turn into a sociopath who shoots squirrels with pellet guns and plots to murder her parents in their sleep. 

But you see my conundrum? How can I put her down to sleep awake and then not let her cry? Well there are people who suggest answers, and those answers are insane. Last night I tried the “Put Down, Pick Up” technique, where basically you put your baby down awake, swoop them up the second they start to cry, hold them until they stop crying, then put them down awake again, lather rinse repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat until the sun rises. I swear to God they should rename this “Put Down, Pick Up, Repeat Literally 5000 times until Mom and Baby Need to be Committed to a Mental Facility.” I spent FORTY FIVE minutes putting down and picking up my baby over and over and over again. She was not amused. I almost lost my mind. I finally had to put her down and let her cry for 10 minutes while I went outside and ate a slice of leftover Shyndigz cake the size of my head. Apparently to get this method to work can take WEEKS, 1-2 hours at a time, for all naps and bedtime.

I am not joking. I would literally go insane. And I would probably eat my weight in cake and maybe develop some kind of substance addiction. 

But then what am I to do? As our pediatrician gently reminded us, now is the time where we have to teach the baby to fall asleep on her own. But what if you have a strong willed baby? (remember, my daughter went FIFTEEN hours without eating because she didn’t feel like taking a bottle). She is not the kind of baby you want to play chicken with. And so I feel like we are left with the oh so controversial options of Ferber or Cry It Out. I like the sound of Ferber, both the method and the guy. I got the book. I read the book. He doesn’t judge you for co-sleeping. He even includes suggestions for co-sleeping parents many times in the book. He doesn’t think babies should be left alone indefinitely to cry. He thinks babies should be comforted by their parents in gradual intervals to show them they have not been eaten by the dogs.

But he does think that sometimes you have to let a baby cry a little. And as much as I know I will hate it and feel miserable and guilty, right now I feel miserable and guilty anyway as I spend an hour every night trying to get the baby to sleep. We’ve decided to give Ferberizing a go in a month when she is 5 months old, because I’ve read that’s in many ways the ideal age. And believe me for everyone about to call me a jerk, I would love if I didn’t have to Ferberize. I would LOVE if my baby was one of those angel babies who you put down in his or her crib and who gently drifts off to sleep.

Before you say that I haven’t tried hard enough, let me list the ways I have tried to gently sleep train my baby. We have made the environment as conducive as possible short of hiring a harp player to gently strum lullabies to her as she falls asleep. We have a white noise machine, blackout curtains, a sweet mobile. We have a routine, bath, pajamas, books. We do the magic sleepsuit. We have tried pacifiers. We have tried without pacifiers. I have tried rocking until very drowsy, rocking until sound asleep. I have tried feeding a bottle right before bed to get her tummy full. We have tried early bedtimes, late bedtimes, moving her last nap of the day earlier/later. I get her up at the same time every day, try to do naps around the same time. I EASY the crap out of her.

We’ve tried it all. She still ends up in the bed with us every night, and her nap sleeping is getting worse, not better. 

And so we’re giving it another month. I’ve decided this month is going to be like marathon training. We’re going to work really hard on drowsy but awake (only to the point of keeping everyone’s sanity intact). We’re going to do that bedtime routine with all of my Type A exactness. We are going to get ourselves ready, and maybe in the next month she’ll just learn to sleep without “crying it out.” Maybe she won’t.

Maybe Ferberizing will work wonders. Maybe it won’t. We’re all just trying to do our best. Parenting is hard. And I’ve spent more time stressing about another human’s sleep than I thought even remotely possible.

There was a moment last night during our misguided “Put Down, Pick Up” attempt, that I actually started to cry while rocking the baby. I just felt like I was doing something wrong, or my baby was doing something wrong. Why wasn’t this working for us? Why was this so hard for us? 

And then I took a breath. I remembered that I was holding a healthy, beautiful baby girl who is already so full of personality and spunk and stubborness. She is not an easy baby, but I also chafe at the term difficult which is given to babies so often who don’t fit into the experts’ molds. She has a mind of her own. She is going to be an adult who isn’t swayed easily or influenced to do things she doesn’t want to do.

She is strong and fierce and wild. And even if those traits are making life a little difficult right now, I wouldn’t trade her even if I had a guaranteed 12 hours of sleep at night (I might consider it, but ultimately I would keep her).

It’s just going to be a process. We’ll all get through it. We’re not perfect. This blog isn’t about perfection. 

Hopefully some parent out there who is struggling with doubt and inadequacy and all of those other parenting feelings that are unavoidable will read this and relate. We need to be kind and gentle with each other and stop all of this crazy judgement. Because when it comes down to it, as parents we’re all just doing the best we can for the little people we love most in the world.

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This cuteness hides a tenacious streak.

sam
8/11/2016 09:08:57 am

Hi! Just wanted to let you know I COMPLETELY RELATE! this is exactly how I felt about sleep with my now 9 month old! I would google baby sleep like crazy and drive myself crazy trying to force my newborn into an EASY plan and trying to nap for more than 30 min at a time! and learning to fall asleep on his own! and omg the 4 month regression was terrible! and I reached the point that u did too where I just said, its ok in a month, we will try CIO. I just wanted to give you some hope tho…things can change! my baby eventually just kinda learned how to fall asleep without doing CIO…he has had to CIO some nights, but nothing crazy. good luck I wish u all the best! hang in there! yes, def stick to your bedtime routine. also, I relied on one specific sleep blog called preciouslittlesleep.com- totally non-judgemental with great practical tips and suggestions. hope it helps!

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Liz
8/12/2016 06:21:13 am

Sam, so glad to hear from someone who can relate to our sleep troubles! The 4 month regression has been a doozy but starting to see some positive changes which makes me feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel! We are keeping with the bedtime routine and I love the site preciouslittlesleep! I agree that it is the most non-judgmental site out there and actually useful! Nice hearing from you and thanks for reading!

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Kelly
8/12/2016 09:33:03 pm

I love your blog! You are such a witty writer! I have a 5 month old and love reading your posts. Hang in there with the sleep training, you sound like the most dedicated mom imaginable!!

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Liz
8/14/2016 06:56:59 am

Thanks Kelly! You’re too sweet 🙂 And good luck with your baby! I’m sure you’re quite the dedicated mama too 🙂

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Lauren
8/15/2016 02:54:17 pm

Regarding parenting blogs and keeping it honest, I just heard this a week or two ago: “Don’t compare your hustle to their highlight reel.” (Wish I’d read it during maternity leave when I spent sleepless hours panning Instagram and interwebs.)

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Liz
8/16/2016 05:45:15 am

Lauren, LOVE that quote. Might have to print it out and put it on my refrigerator 🙂

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