Can you hear that? That's the sound of silence; glorious silence. Otherwise known as my daughter's afternoon nap, which will last anywhere from one-and-half to two hours. Her afternoon naps haven't always sounded like this, though. For a while, her afternoon naps didn't sound like anything because she didn't take them. And if she did manage to fall asleep — and then not wake up and scream the second I'd put her down — this silence would only last for about half an hour before it was broken once again. For a very long time, my daughter just couldn't seem to get the hang of napping and it was horrible for her and me. But after deciding to let my daughter Cry It Out, our nap experiences changed for the better and we've never looked back.
Yep, I let my baby Cry It Out and no, I'm not ashamed of that choice. In fact, you shouldn't be, either.
Almost from birth, my daughter had trouble with naps. I'm not sure exactly what it was that I did in those first few weeks that gave her an aversion to nap time (and I can hear my partner's voice in my head right now telling me, "It was nothing you did!"), but from the beginning my daughter wouldn't sleep during the day. Her night-time sleeps weren't bad — she wasn't sleeping through the night but she wasn't awake for hours on end — but nap time was horrible. Dramatic, traumatic, and sleepless. I'd spend an hour trying to get her to sleep only to have her sleep for half an hour, tops, and usually only if she was attached to my boob. This went on for almost a year.
I couldn't help but internalize my daughter's lack of sleep as my failure.
It got to the point that I wanted to talk to our pediatrician. Since our daughter has agenesis of the corpus callosum as well as three other birth defects effecting her brain, I worried that her lack of sleep was a symptom of this. I'd read on so many ACC discussion boards that sleep could be a potential problem for children who suffer from developmental delays or disorders. But our doctor wasn't concerned. Maybe if she'd also had trouble at night he would have been, but since her nighttime sleep patters were standard for her age, she didn't think we had anything to worry about. To be honest, I'd sort of hoped that my daughter's ACC was causing her to be unable to sleep. Because the only alternative was that it was my fault.
One of the first questions people ask new parents is: How does she sleep? Baby sleep is at the forefront of everyone's minds and for good reason. It's important. But every time I had to answer with, "She doesn't," my heart broke a little. Because it made me feel like the World's Worst Mom. Regardless of the fact that baby sleep is basically every parent's number one issue, I couldn't help but internalize my daughter's lack of sleep as my failure. And so many people, bless them, tried to help. Everyone had a remedy or a fool-proof trick that helped their baby sleep. I even had a friend come over, eight months pregnant, and try to help me put my baby to sleep (which really says more about the high caliber of my friends than anything else). Some of those suggestions even included Crying It Out, but at the time, I just wasn't ready.
A lot of people, when they offered tricks on my daughter's lack of sleep, suggested that maybe she just wasn't tired; maybe she only slept for half an hour because that's all the sleep she needed. And I did consider this; except I could see how tired she was. Anyone could see how tired she was, how frustrated she was with her own lack of sleep. And it frustrated me to no end because I wanted to help her, not just because she was tired, but because I needed the break, too. I needed that hour or two every day, too. To sleep, maybe. But also to work. To study. To relax. To shower. To cry. To go to the bathroom without an audience. To eat.
I needed those nap times just as badly as she did and we were both drowning without them.
I tried everything. I rocked her and soothed. I fed her and sang. I laid down beside her, slept with her. I sat beside her, rubbed her back. I cried with her. I cried on the phone to my partner. I scoured the internet for reasons why my baby wouldn't sleep. But nothing worked and still, if she slept, it was for half an hour. No more. We considered hiring a sleep consultant before finances made that decision for us. So, finally, I conceded defeat. I decided to try to let her Cry It Out. The first thing I did was research. I went all over the internet for reasons why I should and shouldn't let her Cry It Out. I bought a book. And returned it four days later because it just wasn't working for me. It was difficult for me to find one policy, one theory, one method to follow that worked for both her and me. But the general gist that I got from all of my reading was that my daughter needed to learn to figure it out for herself. And if this didn't work, well, I'd still be in the exact same place I was before; so, I gave it a try.
Was Crying It Out easy? Well, no. And yes. It was hard at first. It hurt to hear her cry. It made me feel cruel. Those feelings of being a bad mom didn't go away. And for the first little bit, it seemed like it wasn't going to work. She cried and despite my reassurances and support, she still wouldn't sleep. Until one day, she did. It was a day like any other. We snuggled before nap time. I breastfed her. I sang to her and kissed her. And then I put her down, told her I loved her, and walked away. And she cried for a few minutes. Then she stopped. And she slept. For two hours. And then at her next nap time, we did it all again, and guess what? She slept. For an hour and a half. I can't describe what that feeling was like. I was elated and scared at the same time. I texted my partner a running commentary while he was at work: She's still sleeping. And, should I check on her? And, Oh, I think she's awake... nope. Fell back asleep.
Best of all, my baby was happy. She smiled and giggled and laughed and played. She cried less. She finally started to get some sleep. She blossomed.
Finally, I felt like I was doing it right — this whole parenting thing. I was able to relax. And I don't mean the sit on the couch and eat Bon Bons kind of relaxing. I mean relax in my heart, my mind. I knew that my daughter was getting the sleep she needed. I had one less thing to worry about. And getting that time away from her, to work or shower or eat or poop, was invaluable for me. Her naps weren't just a reset for her, a time for her to rest her growing body and expanding mind. They were a much needed break for me, a time — even if it was just an hour long — where I could be myself again, instead of only her mother.
But best of all, my baby was happy. She smiled and giggled and laughed and played. She cried less. She finally started to get some sleep. She blossomed. My partner and I noticed the change almost immediately. But what was most telling was the reactions of our friends and family. They were the ones who commented the most on how happy she was, how her mood was brighter. Even strangers commented, as she beamed up at them, "what a happy baby" she was. And she is. Because she finally, thankfully, sleeps.
I want to be honest with you: I was scared to write this. Not because I am ashamed that I let my daughter Cry It Out. I will never be ashamed of allowing my daughter to sleep and be happier than she has ever been. I will never be ashamed to be a less-stressed parent. I'l never be ashamed to have found a method that works for us, because the results speak for themselves. But I was scared because the internet can be a vitriolic cesspool of negativity. And I knew that by writing about something as controversial as Crying It Out, I was opening myself up to that negativity.
But I'm not writing this to convince you to use the Cry It Out method. The Cry It Out method is just one of many different parenting styles and theories available to us in this age of information. It will work for some parents and children and it won't work for others. I am writing this because there is probably a parent out there right now who is at their wits end. Their baby won't sleep and they are tired. They feel like a failure. I am writing this to tell them that something can and will work. It might be Crying It Out, I don't know, that's something that they have to decide works for them and their children. But no matter what that parent chooses to do, I want them to know this: Do not be ashamed for the choices you make for your child and for yourself. As long as you have love in your heart, you are doing the best you can for your child, and your best is good enough. And, if you do choose to let your child Cry It Out, I promise you, you have nothing to be ashamed about.