Friday, October 28, 2011

One step closer to finding the middle ground

I've written a few posts about helping my baby to sleep, mostly when I was using the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth. I read several other books after that, searching for solutions and advice to suit my baby's needs. Reading all these different approaches caused a bit of an information overload in my brain, and I was frustrated that I couldn't find one book that really fit our family's personality. There are so many styles, and so many different arguments to support each one.  I decided the best, most sensible book I read was Attachment Parenting by Dr. Sears.

The basic tenets of Attachment Parenting are as follows: that our ultimate goal as parents should be to shape our children to be happy, trusting, compassionate, gentle, obedient, and independent individuals; that the foundation of this shaping comes from giving our children a secure base of trust and good communication in early infancy; that we begin to create this security by babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and always responding to their cries.

Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? I mean, that is my ultimate goal as a parent. I want my son to be kind, obedient, and communicative. I want him to be socially secure and confident. I want him to feel safe, especially when he's with those who love him. And most of all, I want him to be happy. So we tried it.

We began co-sleeping, bringing him in bed with us after his first night waking. He began waking up more often at night (which I knew would happen as a result of co-sleeping), but instead of having to sit up and rock him to sleep so I could put him back in his bassinet, I simply nursed him until he fell asleep. I loved cuddling with him, and I felt like our nights were much more peaceful. I held him and rocked him until he was fully asleep for naps and bedtimes, and learned to be ready to do it again if he awoke and cried 20 minutes later--which he very often did. I also started wearing Noah in the Moby wrap more, and you already know some of my positive experiences with wearing it. I was already breastfeeding on demand, so that was no problem. And I never let him cry if I could help it. 

However, my first blissful week of Attachment Parenting did not really carry over to the next. The main problem was with--you guessed it--naps and nighttime. I tired of spending hours at a time glued to the couch while I rocked my baby to sleep over and over again in attempts to give him a good nap. Noah got so used to me holding him as he falls asleep that Tyler had a very hard time soothing him if I happened to be gone for naps or bedtime. And the whole waking up every two hours to nurse him back to sleep at night was a problem. Co-sleeping was the greatest disappointment. Attachment Parenting does a good job of painting a beautiful, peaceful picture of co-sleeping, without addressing any of the potential problems or technical issues. Co-sleeping is no fun, for instance, when your baby eats too much from nursing all night and spits up all over you and your side of the bed. Then you have to get up, find towels, put a new pair of pajamas on (if you even have a clean pair of pajamas available), and mop up your baby's face--all of which do a great job of thoroughly waking the little stinker up. And sleeping only 90 minutes out of every two hours quickly becomes a form of slow, monotonous torture, even if all those groups of 90 minutes combine for a total of 7 hours.

***I have to interject here for a moment and say that reading and applying Attachment Parenting did one really good thing for me. It helped me to stop stressing when things don't work out my way (which I was doing a lot of before). It helped me realize that the relationship Noah and I build while he's awake is more important than the amount of sleep he gets. It helped me to relax and be happy, no matter what happens--or doesn't happen--during the day. It was worth reading Dr. Sears' book just for that purpose. I still love the philosophy behind Attachment Parenting, and I plan to use as many of their methods as I can to raise my children. ***

When I looked up solutions to these problems, most of what I found suggested that mom moves out of the bed while Dad does all the nighttime parenting (so that the baby can learn to fall asleep without snacking). Sorry, baby. This might sound selfish, but it was my bed first. Giving up sleeping in my own bed was not happening. The most discouraging suggestion was from Dr. Sears himself. The only advice he had for parents that have trouble co-sleeping is that Baby might not like to sleep so close to his parents, and that we should invest another $150 in a special co-sleeping bed that might or might not solve our problem. Really, Dr. Sears? That's all you've got for me? Gah.

I knew there had to be some middle ground--some way to teach my baby to soothe himself and get him to sleep for longer than two hours at a time (or 20 minutes for naps) while still enjoying a wonderful, perfectly attached relationship. So I brought my concern to my pediatrician, who suggested a controlled cry-it-out method. I was getting quite desperate, so we decided to try it, despite Attachment Parenting's insistence that leaving your baby alone to cry is an awful thing to do.

I spent the first night crying as much as he did. More, probably--he only cried for 45 minutes. I cried for most of the evening, convinced that I had broken his heart, that he had only stopped crying because he had abandoned hope of us ever coming back, that I was damaging our relationship forever.

I knew I couldn't do this unless I found reason to believe that I wasn't ruining my child's emotional well-being for the rest of his life. So the next day I hit the internet, in search for that middle ground. I searched for a good while before coming across two articles that put my mind at ease:

I realize that articles on the internet are on an entirely different level from well-researched, expert-written books. But these two women express something that's sat in the back of my mind from the first time I picked up a book on infant sleep: that there is no "perfect" solution or parenting style for every family. 90% of these authors have no problem assuring you that their book is the Bible of sleep. Well, they're wrong. Attachment Parenting will not work for every family. Ferberizing will not work for every family. Neither will Babywise, or The Baby Whisperer, or Dr. Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits. It's a feel-your-own-way kind of game. Books can do a great deal to help you find solutions, but really the perfect solution for your family is whatever works.

If there are any parents reading this, you're probably going, "Duh, Sarah. Lesson number one." But this really is a huge discovery--and a huge relief--for me. So with my new discovery, I decided to keep following my doctor's advice to let Noah soothe himself to sleep--even if that meant a bit of crying.

It's night five. I went through our usual bedtime routine with Noah, kissed his forehead, and laid him in his crib, drowsy but still awake. I left his bedroom as he fell peacefully, quietly, soundly asleep all by himself. I'm not anticipating an end to all of our nighttime challenges, but I have found resolution for now, and I found it--hallelujah!--with the Ferber method. I still love the philosophy behind Attachment Parenting, and I plan to use as many of their methods as I can to raise my children. But I have also come to the conclusion that Dr. Sears is hardly the end-all when it comes to sleep.

My best friend told me not long ago, "YOU write the book on YOUR baby." I have to thank her, because that is the most powerful and truest advice I've received so far. So thank you, friend. I think I will.

1 comment:

  1. Whew! You had me "on the ropes" after reading several of your past blogs. I began to wonder how you and your siblings ever survived your mother and me. But now I feel vindicated. After all, our largely self-taught parenting produced you, right? And we did it without the Internet!

    You are a wonderful mother, and I have been so impressed with how happy Noah is. It is easy to see that he is loved, and he knows it.