30 November 2014

Oh, Sleep.

Thank you for listening to me vent about housing. I felt a release in writing about it, getting it out of my head via my finger tips. And when I read back over it a few days later, it gave me the reminder/insight that I've return to that dark place I often retreat where I spend too much time obsessing and planning for the future and not enough time living in the moment. This is my life now, these are my girls now, this is my marriage now - and it is good. I'm hoping that therapy can transfer to the other giant problem in my life: Eleanor's relationship with sleep.

We are reaching critical mass over here - the maximum amount of pain I can tolerate before I explode. Around 6 months of age, Abigail would regularly sleep through the night and had a predictable nap schedule. Not that life was perfect, but it was usually stable enough. I kept pulling myself through the difficult days with Eleanor by telling myself, "Around six months, this will all mellow out." Well we're six months now, and it's not mellowing.

I could go on (and on and on and on) about the frustrating absurdities of her demands, but I'll just sum them up (without exaggeration) here:

1. Eleanor will not nap by herself during the day. She must be in my arms or a carrier or being pushed in a stroller. If I put her down or get home and wheel the stroller into the bedroom, she'll wake up within minutes.

2. Eleanor spends a majority of the night nursing. A majority. Comfort sucking. I wake up every morning in a decent amount of back pain from staying in a side-lying nursing position.

3. About half of the time, I can nurse Eleanor down around 7pm and she'll stay there until we go to bed around 10pm.

Because of her absurd specificity, Eleanor usually only gets about three 30 minute naps per day. She falls asleep for the night around 7pm and wakes up around 5:30-6am. She's constantly tired, cranky, and always very clingy. Those pictures you see of her smiling? Those are usually taken shortly after her nap and of course, I'm also right there. I've read the Dr. Sears Baby Sleep Book about a dozen times since Eleanor's birth and I've tried everything several times. And I took her to her doctor and she emerged with a clean bill of health and no allergies. I'm loosing it.

If Eleanor was an only child, it would be easier - I could just hold her throughout her naps, take as long as she needed nursing her down for a nap on the bed, but I can't - I also have a toddler who can't be left alone. And I can't wear Eleanor for all her naps. On the rare occasion that Eleanor takes a good, hour-long nap, the change in her personality is very noticeably improved.

Allow me to finish setting the scene before I get to the juicy confession part. Eleanor crying:

1. Pick her up? Tears done. Put her down? Screaming hysterics. Up? Silent. Down? Screaming. As comical as a commercial if it wasn't so deafening.

2. The screaming? About 75% off the time, Eleanor goes from 0 to 60 almost instantly. Imagine how loud your baby would scream if she totally smoked her head on the sharp edge of a table. Blood-curdling, ear-piercing, makes you want to run in the other direction shear screaming. That's Eleanor's I'm not getting my way cry. No joke.

What did I do? I set her down in her crib (which is in the master bedroom), turned on the music and lights, switched the laundry, got the camera, and took her picture. I was gone for all of 180 seconds. One time we were riding in the car with my mom when Eleanor started crying. It freaked her out so bad she pulled the car over and insisted that I check to make sure Eleanor hadn't some how pinched herself in the carseat or something.

So my confession? Sometimes I let her cry it out.

I have to whisper it because I'm totally ashamed of it. I'm part of team Attachment Parenting. We're like the crunchy granola hippies of parenting. Tenets of my parenting religion include nursing (or bottle feeding in the case of Abigail) on demand, co-sleeping, positive discipline, and baby wearing. We think the cry it out method is lazy parenting that results in cruelty to the baby.

And I do think it's cruel! I think I'm cruel! I think I'm a terrible parent and I feel incredible guilt and that's why I'm telling the whole world! *Sigh* Let me start from the beginning.

As even the most ridiculous among us can conclude: I can't possibly wear or hold Eleanor at all times. There are times every single day when I have to take care of Abigail. So one day, Abigail is particularly sick and I just have to give her some one-on-one attention. So I put Eleanor in her crib, closed the bedroom door, and attended to Abigail: A fresh diaper, a nose wipe, a face wash, some medicine, a hair brushing. Nothing excessive. And Eleanor screamed. Boy did she yell. For a whopping 4 minutes. Then silence. She fell asleep. I couldn't believe it! And I spent the luxurious hour-long nap reading books with my attention-deprived eldest.

Over the next few days, I stopped jumping the second Eleanor started crying and I realized that sometimes she just lets out one sole wail and goes back to what she's doing. Like she was about to psych up and then got distracted. And a few times, I repeated the crib + closed door experiment while I got Abigail on or off the school bus and I returned to a silent apartment. Not all the time, not even half the time, but sometimes. And sometimes felt great.

So I think to myself, This is great! It isn't really the cry it out method and she's actually sleeping alone! Maybe we can build on this! Maybe by next month, she'll totally be sleeping independently! 

And somehow from there, I ended up on this slippery slope where Eleanor is frustrating me with her refusal to sleep, so I end up plopping her in her crib and walking away. At the time I'm furious, fed up, feeling like I'm at my limit. But when I calm down, I always feel guilty. Like I said, it doesn't always work - more than half the time, I finish up with Abigail or listen to 10-15 minutes of screaming and then retrieve a sobbing Eleanor. I feel guilty when I soothe her red face and wipe her dripping eyelashes. I felt guilty when it does work - tonight, for example, I was fed up and left her to cry in her crib. Within 5 minutes, it was intermittent scream - silence - cry- silence - fuss - silence - cry. In 9 minutes, she was completely out. And once she was out, I had calmed back down and the guilt had crept in.

So why do I personally find the cry it out method so cruel? I have empathy for Eleanor: if I was sobbing in the other room and Matt ignored me so that I could "learn to self-soothe," our marriage would be in a bad way. That's not healthy! If you were watching a movie where one character overheard another sobbing and ignored it, you'd think to yourself, "That relationship is doomed," so on what planet does it make sense to let my infant sob alone in a dark room?! Babies aren't born with self-soothing skills that could flourish if only us smothering mothers would learn to give baby a little space. And my response to the argument that "my baby stopped crying and fell right asleep when I did the cry it out method" would be the Dr. Sears line:

"Baby loses trust in the signal value of his cry – and perhaps baby also loses trust in the responsiveness of his caregivers. Not only does something vital go 'out' of baby, an important ingredient in the parent-child relationship goes 'out' of parents: sensitivity."

After much, much thinking and discussing it over with Matt, he pointed out that there are such things as boundaries, even with babies. And I realized he was right. No one can be everywhere all the time. If I was sobbing in the bedroom while Matt was taking care of the girls, or, heck, even taking care of the cat if she was sick, that would be totally understandable! If you were watching a movie in which one character overheard another sobbing but was tied up and couldn't help at that moment, you'd think to yourself, "That's a sucky situation; man, I really feel for both characters." The difference? Boundaries. So while I think it's totally in keeping with my parenting beliefs that it's okay if Eleanor falls asleep crying in the few minutes it takes me to take care of Abigail, I still feel totally guilty and ashamed of the times she cries herself to sleep while I'm sitting in the living room.

And so I go back and forth - I do need to take a few minutes to cool down and I shouldn't feel guilty about that. But on the other hand, my children are constantly going to frustrate and annoy me and I can't just leave them whenever they do! But on the other hand, I'm not really leaving them, they are safe in their cribs! But I am emotionally leaving them! But I'm returning to help them sort out their feelings! But not if they do fall asleep - now we're going to bed angry!

How can I even be having this debate with myself?! How can I even have let her cry herself to sleep tonight?! I find the cry it out method to be lazy parenting, cruel to babies, and I feel it's my responsibility as a parent to teach my children how to handle their emotions! But, damn, Eleanor being constantly sleep deprived is cruel to babies and it's my responsibility as a parent to keep my child as healthy as I can! And nothing I do is working!

I know parenting is hard and I know babies are clingy. And I'm totally okay with co-sleeping and with Eleanor not sleeping through the night yet. I really am. I have two problems I'm struggling to resolve.

1. I need to get Eleanor taking longer naps.

2. I need to figure out when it's a healthy boundary to let her cry and when it's cruel.

If you are not yet sick of my constant pleadings for advice in my continued failures as a parent, I would again ask you for some. Amelia, Cammie, TB, Mrs. S? You guys are so wise and I always appreciate your advice as I can hear in it your experience and love for your children. Katherine - you had some great advice on my Littlest Bully post. Sleep has got to be the hardest issue when it comes to parenting and babies. And this coming from someone who saw an infant through open-heart surgery...


Liz said...

I don't have anything profound to say about naps, unfortunately. But I do wonder if Eleanor is comfortable at night while she is co-sleeping? I know you mentioned she is pretty big for her age and I am guessing she is in a queen with you guys? The reason I ask is that my kids have a hard time sleeping when they are right up against me...probably the whole smell of milk thing. They can snuggle into my husband (Roo was famous for crowding him), but they tend to want to nurse when they are too close to me. Or when either my husband or I are restless in the night, they tend to be restless as well and nurse more often. Right now I am having this problem with the 10-month-old. We had to push the bed against the wall so that we can get more space and I can even sit up for a minute or two at the end of the bed while she settles without fear of her falling off of the bed. Perhaps I should wean her from co-sleeping, but getting out of bed to nurse her doesn't sound any more appealing at this point! Anyway, finding ways to give her more space in the bed at night *might* help. Hope things get better for you!!!

Cammie Wollner said...

That's so hard!

I was really against crying it out with Sadie (which meant a miserable 18 months like I mentioned today) but with Mae I finally realized I to let her cry it out one night when I got up to use the restroom and in a couple of minutes she was asleep. Usually I had to hold her hand through the crib and lay next to her for at least an hour and a half. It was miserable for both of us because she would be over tired and I would be exhausted.

The next night I did the same thing. She cried for less than five minutes and was asleep. I didn't really have guilt about it because it was so much easier on her as well as on everybody else in the house.

The same thing happened with Patch at around ten months old. At around six months he just wouldn't sleep in the same bed with us (the same thing happened with Mae) and would only sleep in a crib if I was there... but he wouldn't fall asleep while I was there. So I finally let him cry and again it took around five minutes before he'd be asleep... which was much easier on everybody than an hour of struggling to sleep.

Anyways, I'm not sure this is really advice or helps at all, just know that you aren't alone in having moved towards a version of CIO because nothing else was working.

Prayers you find something that works and lets you guys get more sleep soon.

Jenney said...

I still have some of your same issues with getting Katie to sleep alone. I *cannot* handle letting her cry it out for the most part, however there are days when it happens. My personal rule is: if she falls asleep within 5 minutes (I watch the clock in agony) then I leave her alone. If she's still crying at 5 minutes, I pick her up. Most days though she will fall asleep someplace, the couch, my bed, etc.. and then I move her to the crib.

Amelia Bentrup said...

Elanor sounds a lot like how Elsa was when it comes to sleep. A LOT.
Anyway, it was so hard. For the first 18 months of Elsa's life,. she didn't nap alone for more than 30 minutes. And after 18 months, she occasionally started to nap longer on her own, but it wasn't until she was over TWO that she started to nap for 1 hour on her own.

I've never even used a crib with any of my kids. With Elsa, we finally did have one (TB gave us their old one when they moved) but she never slept in it.

It's always been easier for me to nurse my babies lying down on bed and then sneak away (rather than try to place them in a crib). The mattress is on the floor so I'm not worried about falling.

And with all the kids, I've basically nursed to sleep for every nap and nighttime until they were between 3-3.5 Or, if I wasn't there at night, then the baby would fall asleep next to my husband, my mom and now my 12-year old can put her to sleep.

I've never done CIO. I'm not saying it's evil or bad (although I tend to agree with a lot of what you wrote), but I've never been able to do it. For one thing, most of the time we actually never owned a crib or place where the baby could cry it out. And, I never minded cosleeping or nursing to sleep, so I never got super frustrated or felt a real need for CIO.

I've also never had a problem with a toddler needing my attention or not being able to be left alone while I was tending the baby. When I just had two young kids, we had a very toddler-proofed appartment and I would leave the door to the bedroom open and the toddler would come in and out while I was nursing the baby. I never worried about the toddler being in the living room by herself or anything. And once the baby was sound asleep, I would sneak away. SOmetimes I would get 20 minutes..sometimes over an hour. Usually more like 20 minutes. My babies were all catnappers for the first year until they switched ot just 1 longer nap a day. Yes, at times they did seem overtired, but usualy if they got too tired, they made up for it, by sleeping more later.

My opinion on CIO is that it is "okay" if it's limited but one needs to be very careful. I don't think that it's JUST the crying, but I think having a parent "help" a child fall asleep for their first few years of life can help instill healthy sleep habits AND help prevent poor sleep or destructive self-soothing habits. I've heard of toddlers developing negative self-soothing habits (like head-banging or even behavior that while innocent in a toddler or baby, resembles masturbation and is not a habit I would want my child to start). So, I think it's important to be aware of "how" a child self-soothes. If they just suck on a paci a few times and drift off, I think that's fine. If they are in the crib by themselves awake for a long time before falling asleep (whether crying or not), I think you need to be more careful. I don't think it is healthy for a baby or toddler to have long periods of time "awake" where a parent is "unavailable" or "not near." I think the key to knowing if CIO is "harmnful" or not is how long it takes a baby/toddler to fall asleep once put to bed (whether crying or not).As long as it is a short time, I think it can be okay. I like what Jeney above posted about only 5 minutes of crying and then getting her.

I will say that my oldest kids who were all nursed to sleep/ co-sleep when young all developed good sleep habits when they got older.

Also, I've noticed is that my kids all sleep bettter when they've had outdoor time.

This is long. Sleep is really a tough thing. I hope things turn a corner for you soon.

Amelia Bentrup said...

Also, to add to what I wrote, I always did the "limp limb" test to know when I could them sleeping in the bed. When they were young, it took about 10-15 minutes for them to move into that deep sleep. As they got older the time got less and less. Now my 2-yo, I can usually leave within 2 minutes of her falling asleep.

Allison said...

Sleep is SO hard. I was kind of having a mommy war on fb the other day with some moms who seemed to think babies should sleep through the night and CIO was just plain fine. I think boundaries are good, and I think what Amelia posted is great, I think a 5 minute or so limit is the important part. If your child cries a bit and then tires and falls asleep that is different than just leaving them cry.

My daughter was a horrible sleeper too. She was in the room with us until 18 months but still, we had to pat or sing her to sleep and could only sneak out. Then at 18 months she had her own room but I still had to lay in there for a half hour or more until she fell asleep. Thankfully at around 2.5 she finally started sleeping really well and falling asleep on her own without my assistance.

I don't have any grand advice, just to say that I know how it is, you are definitely not alone and it is really really hard.

Anonymous said...

I've commented here before, but I'm not ready for more than a few "online" people to know that I have a kid yet. Long and dysfunctional story. ;) However, here's my two cents.

We moved DD into her room at four months, and started CIO shortly thereafter. I don't claim this is the answer for all babies; I just know it was the right one for her and us.

She's a very, very stubborn baby. I would rock her to sleep, and it would literally take 40-60 minutes for her to wear herself out enough to fall asleep, and to fall asleep deeply enough that she'd stay asleep when I'd put her down. Multiply that by three naps a day, bedtime, and nighttime, and you get a borderline-hysterical mom (not to mention baby) because she's so freaking tired, both physically and emotionally.

She was also a very light sleeper. DH or I rolling over/making any kind of noise in our sleep woke her up immediately (she was in a pack-n-play next to us). At the same time, every single time she squeaked/muttered/passed gas in her sleep, I'd wake up. I never could sleep soundly with her next to me.

Moving her to her room and to falling asleep awake saved my sanity, but it also did wonders for her. We put a bedtime routine in place--dinner, bath, bottle, story, prayers, singing/rocking--and after 15 minutes of singing and rocking, I put her down awake in her pack-n-play. She smiles at me, cuddles into her blanket, and is asleep in 10 minutes.

She did cry at first, but the very first time was the longest she cried--and that was for twenty minutes. Which was, for reference, half (or less than half) the time she'd fight and cry when I rocked her to sleep.

Other babies may have different personalities, and we'll adjust routines for those personalities as they come along. For us, this was 100% the right decision.

It was probably harder on me than on her at first, because I'd imbibed so much of the AP philosophy that I honestly believed that I was doing a terrible, terrible thing if I set her down long enough to pee or take a 5-minute shower and she cried during that time. I don't know that all AP books teach that at all, but that's the impression I'd picked up. Doing CIO was hard at first...but so worth it to us all at the end.

Best of luck to you all! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm jumping in here way late because hubby and I did a 40 day fast from reading blogs. It was awesome! A highly recommended, couple sacrifice to make!

I'm definitely the cruelest friend who reads your blog, because if, at 6-9 mo., putting baby down after sufficient nursing and at the time he usually falls asleep, he cries for 20 minutes, them I check in him. Do I pick him up? If he has a poopy diaper, yes. But when I've transitioned to the crib, it has taken never more than three nights of sadness for baby before he learns "this is bedtime. This is my bed, I'm in it because its time to sleep."

I need a break at nighttime, and my baby needs sleep -we both suffer when we don't get it, and I do believe that we have to be the adults in these situations and teach our children what is best for them.

I haven't noticed my kids learning to "self-soothe," but, rather, that they actually feel better when they calm down and sleep. All three of my oldest boys, from an early age (like 18mo), learned to telle when they were tired and actually ask(Ed) to be put in bed for a nap -because they have learned to associate being put to bed with relaxation and feeling better, as something good for them which they appreciate.

In my experience, if baby knows Mommy will pick him up in five minutes, he'll cry for five minutes. If ten, he'll cry for ten. I believe I should be the one to determine whether or not baby needs additional soothing or would benefit more from staying in his crib. Just because he's crying doesn't me he NEEDS me to hold him or nurse him, sometimes he's overwrought and really needs sleep more than anything, and staying in his crib will bring about sleep faster than prolonged holding/nursing/cuddling.

I don't believe it's 'cruel' for a parent to recognize a child's need for sleep and set the structure wherein that sleep will happen most effectively. I believe it's part of our role as the adults in our parent/child relationships. Is it difficult at times? Yes. But as adults, we're the ones called upon to determine what our children need and the best way to achieve those needs. And sometimes that means having the self-discipline to set parameters for a healthy household and stick to them.

As I mentioned earlier, all of this, applied to bedtimes for babies and toddlers, is based upon really knowing your baby's natural sleep schedule and being tuned into when and how much sleep he generally needs to feel good and be healthy, which means it isn't implemented until at least after 6 months, and sometimes later.

In many ways its like cookies. My boys would eat cookies every opportunity they get. But should they? No! And who should set the parameters and teach them healthy eating habits? We should, as parents, and it's the same with sleep. And they're not dumb. They're incredibly smart, and they can catch on and learn that even though their will is clamoring for five different things at naptime, being removed from those things and calmly spoken to about the benefits of sleeping, will eventually take root and your child can learn to listen to his body and recognize that his crib is a wonderful place to be, because it affords him the opportunity to calm down and rest, which is what his body needs.

Now I've gone on too long and I have many more days of blogging to catch up on! TB