She was the thing that wouldn’t go to bed. Granted, the very cute thing that wouldn’t go to bed, but still.
When I gave birth to my daughter in 1983, her dad and I were two madly in love Bohemian college students living on whatever was cheap at the grocery store and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. We liked to play our record albums and darts in the apartment on Friday nights. And, like most people in their early 20s, we loved our sleep.
Along came Jaden. Out the window went slumber.
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For the first couple of weeks, I rode the high that came with visitors and presents and the realization that this little person belonged to us. By the time she was three weeks old, she was smiling — really — and, no, it wasn’t gas. People cooed and marveled at her. And I grew progressively tired from waking every two hours to lift her from the basket next to our bed and feed her.
Then one night, I pulled her into the bed meaning to go feed her, but instead fell asleep with her on my breast. A few gloriously restful hours later I awakened with a start. Did I roll over and smother her? Did he roll over and smother her? Gazing down, I was greeted with a joyful, toothless smile. No harm done.
And so it began. Years of a child who would not sleep in her own bed. Tricks to lulling her included swaddling her in the old-school swing that required very careful, quiet cranking every five minutes or so; zipping her up in a pink snowsuit and packing her into her carseat on the running washing machine to simulate a car ride; and the most frequent go-to — crawling into my bed with her cuddled up to my body, waiting and waiting and waiting for her to fall into a deep enough sleep that I could untangle myself without waking her.
Fast forward four years and I’m pregnant with our second baby. A son. A son who would — dammit — sleep in his crib.
The labor was easier. I fell in love all over again. And after one week of bedding him in a basket in our room, I gave him a good feeding, changed his diaper, cuddled him and laid him in his crib.
Back then we didn’t have baby monitors so I missed the typical buildup, but there was no denying the wails when they started. He was pissed. And I was determined. So I did what my mother-in-law – my very nurturing mother-in-law — suggested.
I let him cry.
For five excruciatingly long minutes I sat outside his room squirming with guilt and let him cry. When he hadn’t stopped, I quietly opened the door, left the light off, checked his diaper, placed his binkie back in in his mouth, rubbed his head and tip-toed back out.
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It was miraculously quiet — for about 35 seconds. And then came more cries; five more long minutes of cries. I repeated the same routine and tiptoed back out. The cries became softer, then intermittent. And then… quiet. Every night the windows of crying narrowed as he learned to soothe himself.
There are two passionate sides concerning the practice of letting a baby cry it out. Proponents say suffering through a few nights of wailing is essential to helping your baby develop good sleep habits. Opponents say that it’s cruel to let a baby cry in the dark. Both sides make strong points and the research is extensive supporting either argument.
I’m no researcher or child psychologist, but I can speak from experience and here's what I know:
If you ask my daughter Jaden where she slept as a baby, she will tell you she doesn’t remember but she knows she was loved. And if you ask my son Mitchell where he slept as a baby, he won’t remember either, but he’ll also know he was loved. They’re both successful and well-adjusted and I observe no evidence of scarring — neither from letting my daughter crawl into bed with me every night for years, nor from conditioning my son to fall asleep in his crib before he even was one month old.
Interestingly, my daughter’s 4-year-old continues to sleep with her. My son, on the other hand, along with his wife, conditioned their three-month-old to sleep soundly in his crib shortly after he was born.
Each will say they wouldn’t do it any differently. Their kids are happy and I support whatever decisions they make. For my part, however, I think I did it better the second time around when we all were able to get more restful — even if still interrupted — sleep not so long after leaving the hospital.
This post was written by Tracey Dee Rauh.
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