Self-Soothing Sucked the Life Out of Me
~By Melanie Wiley-Bachmeyer
Like other bundles of joy, our sweet baby, George, also packs an insomnia-filled punch. For ten straight months, my husband and I have struggled to catch a solid five hours of sleep, with George waking up and demanding milk and some prime real estate in our bed.
Yes, I’m still calling it “our” bed, even though George has gradually appropriated it for his own use. Take a snapshot of us at 2:30 am, and you’ll find George wedged between my husband and me, arms splayed in spread-eagle fashion. Before we know it, it’s 5:30 am and the stuffed animals in his crib have gone cold in the absence of his body warmth. Then we wade through another feeding session and sleep until 7:30 am. Rise and — yawn — shine.
It’s little wonder that I’ve taken to scouring every parenting guide, as well as the Internet, for solutions. The sheer abundance of blog posts and articles on the subject of sleep training is enough to cause major confusion and panic. But I persist. Five, maybe even six, hours of continuous sleep isn’t really that much to ask, after all. Or is it?
Once I begin reading, my parenting self-esteem inevitably takes a nosedive. Most babies, it seems, are sleeping through the night by six months of age. Six! So I’m clearly missing something. How do they do it? The majority of experts advocate — and I knew, just knew, this was coming — letting your baby learn to self-soothe, two alliterative words that sound seductively simple.
Loyalists of this method make the process sound like one long bubble bath. After all, what could be more soothing than self-soothing? Plus, it’s got some heady backers. Even my pediatrician has advised me to let George “cry it out,” though this particular phrase is not as sexy as “self-soothe.” Whatever you call it, though, don’t kid yourself: it’s gut-wrenchingly hard.
Self-soothing goes something like this: an innocent baby, like George, must bawl his little eyes out for 15 to 30 minutes before falling asleep.
Yes, self-soothing can take up to 30 minutes. When the pediatrician said to let George cry for up to half a hellish hour, I nodded silently, all the while thinking no way do I have that kind of will power. George may be in the bottom 10% as far as size goes, but I’m convinced he outranks the entire free and not-so-free world in sheer persistence. But I felt I had no choice but to give it a go.
At 2:30 am, knowing that I breastfed him an hour prior, I decided this would be the perfect time to put self-soothing to the test. Just as he began crying, I reassuringly whispered to my husband, “Please don’t move. He’ll cry himself to sleep soon.”
Seeing his demands unmet, George’s wails immediately became all the louder and more desperate. It wasn’t long before we witnessed him raise himself up on his two roly poly legs and begin screaming (and I swear pointing) at us with the full force of his preverbal outrage. We pulled the comforter over our heads and scrambled for earplugs. If it we didn’t know it before, it was obvious now that our son had far more determination than we did.
It was only a matter of time — I’d say around two minutes full minutes — before I bounced up out of bed and soothed him myself. He fell asleep within seconds, tightly holding a large piece of my hair in his hand. Self-soothing, I couldn’t help but think, is for suckers.
Making choices about sleep is a little like online shopping. Sometimes you need to hunt around to find the best deal. With the self-soothing option way out of our family’s picture, I’m now turning to the experts who don’t tell me to toughen up.
The Sears, it turns out, are right up my easy-does-it alley. I’m looking to them for self-confirmation, not self-soothing, and I have to say their methods rock. My husband and I are still not getting all the sleep we desire, but George is in better spirits after dark, and when George is happy, everyone’s happy. Like myself, the Sears team advocates tending to whatever the baby’s needs are at the time. Your baby, they assure you, will eventually sleep through the night, “eventually” being the key word in my situation.
Am I guilty of cherry picking parenting advice? Of course! But that’s the beauty of being a parent in the first place. I get to do things my way. I get to call the shots, at least when George says I can.
We got the pic from inhabitots.