It started when my son was 9 months old. This thing, tickling, beating, sometimes pounding on my insides. Sometimes it feel like I’ve resolved it only to have it squirm out of my abdomen, into my throat and inevitably into my eyes where it pours down my cheeks and I think “Maybe this time it’s finally gone.” It never is. It’s one of those things that, wrapped in guilt, cloaked in shame, manage to stick around despite all my attempts at denial, rationalization, and even good old fashion confrontation. The thing is this: I sleep trained my baby.
As much as I thought about it at all, I had always assumed I would be a super crunchy bordering on sanctimonious hippy mama. I assumed that I would have a natural birth. My mom did, twice. She was a midwife and bequeathed me with an impressive hippy resume right from the get-go. The train went off the track early because I did not have a natural birth. After 36 hours of labor, I had an epidural and then a c-section. Was I overwhelmed to be holding a healthy baby at the end of it? Yes. Did I harbor a grief about how his birth turned out that I felt I could share with no one? Oh, hell yes.
Despite my perceived failure in how my son was born, I had no trouble throwing myself headlong into mothering an infant with impeccable granola credentials. I breastfed and breastfed and breastfed until it hurt. I pumped strawberry colored milk to draw out my cracked nipples enough for him to latch onto. I woke up every two hours to do it all over again. I bopped that little bundle of soft muscle and tissue while he screamed and screamed with saint-like patience. Ok maybe not saint-like patience. Would a saint scream, “You have to take him now!” and then run out to the driveway to smash a beer bottle? Maybe not.
Beer bottle smashing aside, those first months were easy. Well no, not easy, but do-able. I knew what I was supposed to do and, by god, I did it. The real trouble came months later. That was when his sleep went from the accustomed two hours to one and a half to, if I was lucky, 45 minutes. I turned to my old friend Dr. Sears and his Attachment Parenting website. I found his words in my terminally sleep-deprived state cold comfort. I bought the book The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night and tried valiantly to implement the strategies contained therein. I found that they produced, despite the title, quite a lot of crying and precious little sleep.
I was desperate. So very, very sleep deprived and desperate. When a month long experiment with co-sleeping reduced my son’s precious dream time to a fitful half an hour interspersed with thrashing and demands for boob, and raised my desperation levels to “throw myself off a bridge because maybe then I would get some rest,” I knew something had to be done.
I had heard of “sleep training” (can’t you just hear the jackboots and “sig heils” from here?) but was full to the brim with parenting propaganda and good hippie training. No, I couldn’t even consider it. Not me, who breastfed, who wore her baby, who had a midwife Mom, for God’s sake. It took a knock down drag-out fight with my long-suffering husband, over nothing much at all, to finally make me think maybe, just maybe, it was time to let go of my fiercely guarded hippy credentials and give this “sleep training” a go.
The monkey was 9 months old when we first laid him down in his bassinet and asked him kindly, supportively, with as much love as there was in our hearts, to go to sleep on his own. There was a lot of crying. Heart-rending, teeth gnashing, wanting to bang your head on the sidewalk, kind of crying. But then, oh miracle of miracles, he fell asleep and slept for 12 hours. Twelve heaven-sent, now-I-remember-what-it’s-like-to-feel-human-again, hours. The next time we tried, there was more crying but also more sleep and as we progressed, in fits and starts, he learned that nighttime was for sleeping.
I was hounded everyday, am still hounded, by the party line that sleep training destroys you and your precious one’s bond of trust. But every day when my little monkey woke up with a beatific smile on his face and I woke up feeling not like a zombie, but like a member of the human race … I felt more and more like we had done the right thing.
My little monkey man is as bonded to me as he possibly could be, barring the introduction of duct tape. He is happy and content. He is a perfect little love bug. Almost all of the time I am happy with our decision to sleep train. Happy until those razor tipped wings start beating against my windpipe and my guilt and remorse rush in full force.
Is it because I have done something wrong, unnatural and selfish, something my little boy will be talking about in therapy 20 years from now? Or is it because some non-traditional parenting communities hand out guilt just as pernicious as any one of the “onbeat” expectations forced on us mamas? The answer to that I leave to you, my gentle reader. I’m going to go kiss my son, light of my life, center of my world, sleep-trained monkey of love.