There should be a special place in society for sleep-deprived new parents. In a perfect world, this place would be full of ample-bosomed grandmother types who read stories and who always want to hold your baby and who know just what to do. In the real world, however, parents who are sleep training are often left to figure it out on their own, with only warring internet articles and other people's advice as their guides. As a result, there are a number of fights every couple has when first sleep training and, trust me, it can get ugly.
My husband and I were at complete odds with each other when our firstborn was an infant. We were both walking zombies at the time, so neither of us were at our best when it came to communicating or expressing our ideas reasonably (especially since grunting or pointing doesn't seem to count). All we knew was that 45 minutes of consecutive shut-eye was not enough to count as "sleep," especially at night, and that we had to do something about it. It was just that the "something" was hard for both of us to agree on.
So, sure, we fought. However, it's worth mentioning that there is a healthy and an unhealthy way to fight. If you're being abused in any way (emotionally, verbally, physically, financially, or otherwise) there's nothing "normal" about the way sleep-deprivation is impacting your relationship. So, keep that in mind while you peruse the very normal fights all couples have when they're sleep training.
The "Is It Too Early To Start Sleep Training?" Fight
One of the first fights couples have is over when it is "time" to get the ball rolling on sleep training. For most couples, there is one party who is like, "I would like if we could sleep together like grownups again" and the other who is more of the, "No, it's cool, I can just keep sleeping on the floor of the baby's room till she's a teenager."
Our firstborn was hell on Earth when it came to sleep. Actually, let me be a little more specific: sleep was something that happened every so often, like maybe for an hour tops, two to three times a night, and for little spurts during the day but only while I was standing up with him strapped to my body. My husband and I were hanging by a thread. He could barely function at work, and I was literally losing it (mentally and emotionally) at home.
During one of our first visits, our pediatrician had casually mentioned his (controversial) sleep training philosophy, which was that you could do it as early as the first month of the baby's life. The method? Cry it out. My husband had glommed on to that little carrot and dangled it in front of me as we slogged through our days. "Let's just sleep train, and then we can get our life back," he insisted. I wasn't quite ready, despite being extremely miserable. I was pretty sure we had misheard the pediatrician, or that maybe this method applied to other babies but surely not our own. We fought about it consistently until we scheduled an appointment with the man himself to settle the score.
The "Neutral Third Party Consult" Fight
When two parents cannot agree on when is the right time to start sleep training, they often seek out a neutral third party, or, a pediatrician or sleep training expert.
It was important that we both were present for the meeting with the pediatrician for two reasons. One, I needed someone on hand who still had the capacity to think, and who could remember conversations more than five minutes after they had occurred (seriously, I was like Dory from Finding Nemo after my first baby). Two, we needed to be sure that whatever the pediatrician said, both of us were there to hear it so as to not misconstrue the information to the other person, in order to make it fit our own personal sleep training argument.
The pediatrician barely heard our case before running to his cry it out (CIO) solution which was simply to put the baby to bed and to leave him there no matter what, until 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. the next morning. I stared at my helpless, squirmy offspring and struggling to imagine him alone in a crib for that many hours. My husband, meanwhile, nodded along sagely, like he'd known this all along and like sleep training infants was something with which he had years of experience.
The "Right Way To Sleep Train" Fight
Similar to the fight over the right way to load a dishwasher, the right way to sleep train a baby is a topic that causes a lot of contention among new parents. More gentle methods, like Ferber's gradual extinction method, made me feel a lot better about the whole sleep training thing, only because it allowed me to soothe my baby intermittently instead of the "leave the baby in the room for a million hours" method my pediatrician was urging us to try.
My husband, however, agreed with the pediatrician that none of these other methods would work and we would end up treading water until deciding to go for CIO in the end anyway. I was determined to prove him wrong, so I insisted that we give it a try.
The "Did You Even Read The Damn Book?" Fight
I couldn't try my method of choice without his full support, however. He needed to read all the books and articles, too. I left him the Ferber book with all the important sections highlighted and tabbed with those tiny sticky notes that made me feel like I was researching a thesis paper and not, you know, just trying to get a good night's sleep. I left the book by his bedside, by the toilet, and next to his work bag. My husband kept assuring me he would "look at it," which is code for, "I am so never looking at this."
The "But It Feels Like It's Not Just Regular Crying" Fight
Eventually, "my way" just ended up frustrating our son, because he would cry until one of us came into the room to pick him up, or talk to him in sweet voices, or pat his back. If my years spent in the Psychology lab in college taught me anything, it was that many behaviors are learned and reinforced with rewards.
When I finally steeled myself to start with CIO, we had agreed that if the baby made any noises that sounded out of the ordinary (i.e. a burglar has snuck into his room), I would be allowed to go in and check on him. Of course, in my mind every cry sounded "significant" and my husband had to talk me down from a ledge every time the tenor of his cries changed from annoyed to urgent-sounding.
The "Let Me Into The Baby's Room Or Else" Fight
There is only so much a new mom can take. Listening to your baby cry is one of the worst forms of torture to endure, as you imagine all the awful things your baby must be thinking while he is lying alone in the dark. "My mother doesn't love me anymore," or "I am alone in this world, and I have no one," for example, come to mind.
At a certain point in the evening, particularly if your baby hasn't stopped crying since that first moment you lay him into the crib and closed the door behind you, you had already had enough. You decided long before that you would make a run for the baby's door, where you would dash toward wherever he lay and grab him into your arms, and perhaps disappear into the night to find a commune where children can scream and cry in perpetuity and besides, those ample-bosomed grandma types will be there to help. When I reached that point during our first night of CIO my husband had to make a blockade with his body to not let me through our bedroom door to get to the baby's room.
The "Do You Even Love Your Child?" Fight
When your partner stands resolute in whatever sleep training method the two of you had both consented to, and you have broken down and want to go hug your baby, your partner is the evil demon. You decide there is no way your partner could possibly love the baby as much as you do, if it is this easy for your partner to tune out the cries and wails.
The "Why Did You Only Buy One Pair Of Ear Plugs?" Fight
Because of course they did. #Selfish
The "Please Step Away From The Baby Monitor" Fight
You have literally lost it at this point, and while you are supposed to be listening to your white noise app and dozing away with the one one ear plug you've now claimed as your own, you are wide awake and staring at the baby monitor. You are convinced the baby hates you now, and when they do become verbal they will never call you "mom," out of spite.
Your partner would like to sleep, but cannot do so with the eerie green light coming from the monitor, and those creepy crashing furniture sounds springing from the little speakers that are not crashing furniture but just funky monitor frequency and static noises. He tries to take the monitor away from you, but even you are shocked when the noise that comes out of your throat sounds like a guttural hiss as you shout, "Leave me alone! It's mine! It's mine!"
Eventually, during that first awful night of sleep training, my son stopped crying and slept. At some point I fell asleep, too. When I woke up in the morning, he acted like nothing out of the ordinary happened the night. "Do you not remember a thing from last night?" I wondered. But he just looked at me and seemed interested in his usual baby things, like my boob, and pulling the family dog's hair. No harm, no foul, I guess?