When people ask me how motherhood is going, I say, “Great!” and list what Peeper is up to these days—crawling, standing, making ridiculous faces when she eats peas.
If a good friend asks, though, my response is a little different.
“Great!” I might start out, then qualify with, “much better than before.”
For much of December and January, Peeper went through what a dear friend called an ornery spurt. She was waking about six times a night, sometimes staying up for an hour or two. Daytime naps were battles waged around the crib. And Eric and I spent sometimes upwards of two hours trying to put her down each night. Her MO, falling asleep on our shoulder and crying the second we tipped her toward horizontal, was exhausting.
Then I got sick on top of all of it and it pushed me over the edge.
We tried using The No Cry Sleep Solution, which basically entails picking your baby up when she cries after you put her down, waiting til she’s quiet, putting her down again, picking her up when she cries, and doing that as many times as necessary.
I never found out how many times that was. I lost count as I tried it and gave up after an hour.
One day after a few nights of this, Peeper woke up from a 20-minute nap angry and tired. She wouldn’t let me put her down. Her crying flipped something in me. I was so frustrated and exhausted that I threw one of her toys across the room.
That might not sound like much—what harm is there in lobbing a cloth block?
But it freaked me out. I felt as if my personality and patience had evaporated, leaving sludge behind. I didn’t like how I was acting. But how could I behave any differently? I was beyond sleep deprived.
The night of the Toy Throwing Incident, we started cry it out. The method involves putting your child to bed (fed, clean and dry) and letting her cry until she figures out how to soothe herself or give in to exhaustion. Proponents say it’s the best and quickest way to teach babies to fall asleep on their own.
Critics say it’s barbaric.
That first night Peeper cried for 45 minutes; I cried longer. I gave up and went in to her. I must have apologized a hundred times as I patted, rocked, and soothed her.
The next night we tried again. To our surprise, she fell asleep after 25 minutes of crying. (Of course time expands when you have a screaming infant on hand so a half-hour seems infinitely longer, but still.) The next night, her crying shortened to eight minutes.
Within a few days, Peeper was putting herself to sleep. After a bit of fussing (and sometimes none at all), she would roll to her side or stomach and snooze away.
All of a sudden, Eric and I had some free time in the evening. We weren’t tagging out so the other could take a turn bopping a crying baby.
I can’t begin to express what a difference this made. We had a little time to talk about the day, wash a few dishes, have a glass of wine or watch a TV show.
It was life-changing.
I never thought we’d do cry it out. It seemed cruel, and I worried Peeper would lose her trust in us. But as far as I know, no study has shown a rift in the parent-child attachment because of a few nights of extended crying. (This article lays out the debate and was a major comfort to me.)
Yes, letting your baby cry is horrible. But it was more cruel to be a zombie mother. It was more insensitive to snap at her when she cried. It was worse to have the “Why won’t you just go to sleep?”s outnumber the “I love you”s.
At this moment Peeper is slumbering peacefully. Our entire family is happier and healthier now that we’re all sleeping more. We have more energy for splashing bath time, peek-a-boo, crawling obstacle courses and walks around the neighborhood. We have more time for kisses, giggles, and cheek nibbles. We have more room for love.