This is Not a Post About Sleep Training

Okay, maybe it is. 

What it isn’t is a how-to or a how-not-to, or a method or opinion or plan or anything resembling “this is what worked for us”. 

Because I have no idea what I’m doing and today I am totally lost.

(If you are interested in reading about the nuts and bolts of sleep training, or to reassure your fears that you are either setting yourself up for years of sleeplessness or committing something akin to torture against the one you love, please check out this Science of Mom blog. She sorts through all the scientific research on cry-it-out to give an unbiased overview of the risks and benefits so that you don’t have to. I found it immensely helpful, as opposed to the many books and articles out espouse a “right” way and scare you about doing it “wrong”). 

The Bean is nearly 7 months. We’ve half-heartedly tried sleep training on and off. I’d planned not to sleep train; we were going to follow her cues and let her set the pace for things (one of those things we felt strongly about BEFORE we knew what the heck we were talking about). But it became necessary when we made the brilliant plan to move when she was just three months old so that I could pack up our life without her in my arms. I read a few books and articles and watched a DVD; we tried a combination of methods that worked pretty well. Then we hit four months and went through a sleep regression – which apparently is a thing, but we hadn’t known; if we had, we may not have bothered putting in the hard work before we got there and lost most of it.

The four month sleep regression lead us to the place we’d sworn not to go: cry it out. Not full on, mind you; I couldn’t hack it. One night of listening to her cry in her crib, my beau at her side shushing and comforting, while I curled in a tense ball on our bed and convinced myself that we were giving her her first lesson in trauma was enough. The moment her crying progressed from fussy to distraught I was at her door, sobbing, “I can’t, she’s too upset, we’re hurting her,” while my beau tried to convince me with steady voice that it was okay (they should warn dads that while sleep-training they’ll be managing the tears of both of their loves simultaneously). So we argued: an irrational, sleep-deprived mama and a papa who just wants his nights (and his partner) back. This is clearly a great time to make decisions. And since his calm, rational approach is like a spark to the keg when I’m at my most emotional, my inner mama bear raged and I leapt to the unfair place of “I know best because I’m her MOTHER,” swooped in, scooped her up, and nursed her back to peace, whispering through guilty tears, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Sigh.

In the light of day I conceded that this wasn’t an awesome way to handle things. We read more books, blog posts, and articles; we surveyed friends. We wrote up a plan and discussed strategy. We gave it a go. But somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice whispered, “why are we doing this?” At some point I decided that we didn’t really need to be, and went back to following her lead. We relaxed. I was tired of thinking about it.

The thing is, Bean’s nights, for the most part, haven’t been that bad. Not the best, but not that bad. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone; some of our friends have embarked on the sleep-training journey because they haven’t had a choice as their babes bless them with all-night wake ups, sometimes every half hour. I’m grateful that we’re not in that boat, and I send those families so much respect and love – little about parenting is tougher at this age. Our main motivation for sleep-training has been to teach her to self-soothe. Throughout the research, contradictory or not, it’s the common thread: babies need to learn, at some point, to put themselves to sleep. The other thing I’ve learned is that no one method will work for everyone, because babies are tiny complex humans who do what the hell they want. And that lead us back to the fundamental truth that has guided us since finding out we were pregnant: no matter what anyone might suggest or say, we will do what makes sense for us.

It boils down to that. And this is precisely where I’m stuck. I just don’t know. I don’t know what’s right for her, what’s right for us. Putting all the strategies aside, I just don’t know if we need to teach her this, or if it’s something that she’ll figure out on her own. Do we rip off the band-aid, or wait until it falls off on it’s own? If we wait for her to figure it out on her own, will we end up in a worse place? Or save her (and me) those nights of tears? We can’t know. It feels like a gamble either way, and we just have to make a decision and go with it. I’m not comfortable with uncertainty; I like to know that I am making the best choice. For us anxious folks, uncertainty is our kryptonite. The unknowns give me plenty to worry about and have my brain running in circles that leave me overwhelmed in indecision. Welcome to parenthood, mama, and the rest of your life! Better get used to it, one difficult choice at a time.

This is where I am today. For reasons I won’t get into (because it’s not the point here) we’ve decided to work on her self-soothing again, which has meant more tears, more reading, commiserating, and strategizing, and once again that little voice is back, asking, why? I don’t want to approach it with ambiguity, as ultimately I know that a lack of confidence can become a lack of consistency, which won’t take us anywhere but backwards. But here we are. We’ve got a plan, we’re going to try to stick to it. We’re going to listen to what she’s telling us and continue to take all that we learn and feel how it fits with us and go from there. I vow not to listen to anyone who tells me that there’s only one way. I’ll probably continue to question our choices and wonder whether we’ve taken the right path, and we’ll probably do some more exploring along the way as she gives us new information. Come to think of it, isn’t that okay? Her health and happiness are our biggest concern, so shouldn’t we keep re-evaluating and responding to her needs?

Ah, to be so confident.

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