So, the general response that I get when I tell people (and let’s face it—I’m a big complainer, so I tell everyone I see, even strangers on the street) about Hank’s propensity for insomnia falls into one of two camps. Either I should let him cry it out, and it’ll suck for a few days and then be done… or clearly there is something wrong, like he is sick or teething or dying or I’m a bad mother, so I should go to him and we should hug it out.
I’ve read The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, and I love it. I love the idea of gently putting my baby to sleep and having him know how to just go to sleep. And, when I put him down at night, that works. I follow our routine, and I put him in his crib, rub his back a few times, tell him I love him, and I leave. He generally rolls over and goes straight to sleep. It’s absolutely lovely.
But that doesn’t help me two hours later when he wakes up crying. If I go in to him, he wants to nurse. Which I might be happy to do, except then two hours later he wakes again and wants to nurse. And he is nine months old, 23 pounds, and I’m not old enough to have the kind of saggy boobs that will surely result from overfeeding a tired baby. If I don’t nurse him when he wakes up, he just cries and gets more and more worked up. Kullervo is able to go to him and calm him down… sometimes… and it takes a really long time, and still doesn’t last for more than a couple of hours.
The poor thing just doesn’t know how to fall asleep.
I started to suspect that I would have to let him cry it out. To validate this idea, I called the one person I was certain would tell me to just let him cry—my mother. When Hank was a month old and she came to visit, she told me to put him on a schedule, that he didn’t need to eat on demand, he should eat every four hours, and if it hadn’t been four hours, he should cry until it was. (I didn’t follow this advice.) So I was certain she would tell me Hank should cry it out.
So, of course, she didn’t. She said that if he’s crying a lot at night, he must be sick or teething.
I really don’t think he is though. He’s not crying in pain… he’s fussing. And when I go to him, it doesn’t help. What helps is going back to sleep. He won’t take a pacifier. He won’t suck his thumb or fingers. And he really enjoys sitting himself up, so if I lie him down, he just pushes his little body back up so he can holler at me some more, with accusing eyes about the fact that I won’t just help him fall asleep.
I have spent a lot of hours considering crying it out. So many people recommend it. So many. And it doesn’t fundamentally bother me to consider other people’s babies crying it out. But the idea of my baby crying it out does. So I have spent some time navel-gazing, trying to figure out what exactly it is that bothers me about it. Is the issue to do with him… or is it an issue with me that I shouldn’t project onto him?
I haven’t come up with any definite answers yet. I think that part of it is just the natural maternal instinct to not like the idea of my child hurting or being sad and not going. I think part of it relates to some really powerful memories from my own childhood of feeling abandoned and feeling alone. I think that one of my goals as a parent is for my kids to know that I love them unconditionally… and ignoring crying doesn’t seem to convey that. But if this is an issue where I am concerned with my own reaction, or a short term solution, as opposed to how it affects the baby long term, then I don’t think that’s fair to the baby. It’s always easier to do something as a short term fix than to implement a long term solution—hence all the problems with government policies. Long term, I want my children to know how to sleep and sleep well, and I want them to be independent and not need me to coddle them, if that makes sense.
I’ve also had to consider the fact that if Oliver or Hazel decided they didn’t want to go to bed, and threw a fit about it and cried… I would totally tell them to suck it up, tell them I loved them, and leave them to it. If they cried in the middle of the night, I would go to them… but I wouldn’t do whatever they wanted just because they had a nightmare—I would reassure them and leave, and if they got really upset about it, tell them I loved them and that they needed to go back to sleep anyway.
So what makes my nine month old different than my four year old? There is certainly a matter of being able to communicate ‘suck it up and I love you’ to Hazel, but can’t be sure that Hank gets the nuance.
Ultimately, we have decided that at night, we are going to try to let him cry, situation depending. We’ve done it for three nights now… and it’s hard. The first night we did it, he first woke up at 11:30. I figured I would nurse him and put him back to bed, and he could then go for a longer stretch. No big deal. Except that he woke up again at 1:00. Kullervo went in to him, rubbed his back for awhile, and he fell back to sleep. Success! Except that he woke up again shortly afterwards. So we let him cry. And he cried on and off (and, I guess, slept on and off) for the rest of the night. I’m honestly not sure how much he cried because when I would drift off to sleep, I would dream he was crying. I also had a dream that Oliver and Hazel were sitting on a beach, staring vacantly at me like they were zombies, chanting, “My mommy lets me cry. My mommy doesn’t care.” Seriously. We brought him into our room at 6:00, and I nursed him and we both fell back to sleep.
The next night, I think he woke up less. I didn’t have any zombie child dreams, which I consider a mild victory over my subconscious. I’ve been giving him extra love throughout the day, and he honestly doesn’t seem any worse for wear. He is still happy to see me in the morning, and all day long, and seems more well rested.
And then, last night, he slept. He slept from 7:15 until 5:00. When he woke up then, we let him fuss for a few minutes, but then brought him into bed with us, where he nursed and then slept until we woke him up at 7:00. And we have all had such a wonderful day as a result.
So, I’m still not wild about the idea of letting Hank cry it out at night. But I am wild about the idea of all of us being better rested. Should we backslide, we might consider other options. In the meantime, I was able to have an amazing, fun filled day with all of my kids today.