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Leo, our son, is no dummy. He knows that his incessant screaming will get him what he wants, which is to not be in his crib. My husband had moved out of our bedroom because he couldn’t take Leo’s crying. It had become an exhausting routine: Leo would belt out a screech, I would pluck him from his crib and nurse him in our bed. There was something warm, inviting and cozy about being in our bed; he didn’t want to leave. Whenever I attempted to put him back in his crib, Leo would immediately wake up and start crying--so back into our bed he went.
Our efforts to get him out of our bed were numerous: We bought him a fur-lined hot water bottle, thinking he wanted to be near something warm. That didn’t work. I put a shirt I had just worn next to him, hoping he could be comforted by my scent. That failed too. He got used to his midnight snacks...that were available all night long.
My husband (and our pediatrician) were adamantly opposed to co-sleeping, but this turned out to be the only way Leo would sleep. The doctor said that it made sleep training much more difficult. “Do you want to have a good night’s sleep or do you want to be the kind of family where everyone is in the bed and no one sleeps?”
Every evening before we went our separate ways, my husband would plead: “Don’t let the baby sleep in the bed with you. He needs to learn to soothe himself.” I'd reply, “OK." And the next morning my husband would find Leo and I sleeping together in our bed. My husband shook his head as I rattled off the same excuses: the baby wouldn’t stop crying, my back hurt from picking him up, I was exhausted.
Leo’s crying fell into two categories: crocodile tears (meaning no tears) and wet tears. If there were wet tears, I would take him out of the crib, and if there weren’t any tears I still would take him out of his crib. Each time I picked him up, Leo’s crying would stop immediately, and he would give a devious smile. My husband witnessed Leo’s wide grin one night and decided enough is enough: The baby had to be sleep-trained.
Some of my friends swear by the Ferber Method, where you let your baby cry it out so he learns to soothe himself. We had done that with my daughter and it worked after four days. Our pediatrician had lectured us on how if we didn’t start sleep training at six months, the training would just be more difficult and could take four to six weeks.
“Just stick him in his crib, shut the door and have a glass of wine,” the doctor said. I tried to explain to her that our son had the most irritating cry in the world and could wake up the dead. “Put him in a closet--he won’t know the difference,” the doctor said.
The first night of sleep training, Leo cried for four hours straight. At one point, I told my husband this wasn’t normal; the baby could have a heart attack or something. My husband merely removed his earplugs and said, “Do not go into the room.” At 6 a.m. my husband finally retrieved a whimpering Leo and handed him over to me. My son was like a limp noodle. I felt terrible. This could not be the right way to sleep train a baby.
“I don’t think this sleep training is working,” I told the pediatrician on the phone. The doctor said to have my husband give the baby a bottle of milk, reiterating I should not go into the room. The next night when Leo woke up, my husband gave him some milk and the baby slept for six hours straight.
Six hours of uninterrupted sleep was a milestone. But then we went on vacation, and all our hard work dissipated as Leo returned to his old sleeping patterns. He wasn’t waking up every two hours, but two to three times a night and creating a big disturbance with his dramatic wails. We would need to retrain him.
“That little punk,” my husband said, one night as we looked at Leo standing up steadfastly in his crib and wailing at full lung capacity. “He’s a monster baby.” He picked up him, squeezed him, put him back in his crib and shut the door. Leo cried harder.
“Don’t go in there,” my husband warned. “Do you want to do this the right way or your way?” I shoved my husband aside and went into the bedroom and looked at Leo. Poor thing. He had real tears coming from his eyes. I thought about how hard we had been working to get him to sleep, how crabby we had become and our doctor’s discerning advice on how babies sleep better by themselves. And with that, I put Leo in my bed and we slept together.
Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?