Sleep Training Is A Privileged Choice — Let's Face It
I've only been a mother for three years, but I feel confident in saying I've engaged in nearly every "controversial" parenting topic imaginable. I've defended my choice to breastfeed in public and, later, wean after seven months. I have dodged judgmental eyebrow raises when wearing my child and when pushing him in a stroller. I've survived sharing a picture of my crying child on Santa's lap, and traversed the minefield that is the comment section of any article pertaining to medicated births. But I've never had to argue for sleep-training, because sleep-training is a privileged choice that has never been afforded to me. And like anything else pertaining to motherhood, I've come to realize that I'm not the only parent who has been spared the "co-sleeping versus sleep training" battle royale due to a lack of options and limited living space.
There are a few things you need in order to make sleep-training work, depending on who you talk to. First and foremost, you need a safe sleeping space — preferably a crib, devoid of any blankets, pillows, and any unnecessary trinkets — to ensure the risk of suffocation is minimal. You need some patience, I'm assuming, and depending on the method you use, a watch to countdown the seconds until you're allowed to enter the room and console your unhappy spawn. But what you definitely need, no matter which sleep-training method you choose, is space.
Not everyone has the space to put their child in a separate room, let alone the space to facilitate 'crying it out.'
According to the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), 35 percent of households are single-family, meaning the other 65 percent are apartments or mobile homes. Of all households, 9 percent are occupied by married couples with children, and 13 percent by single parents, while 23 percent of all occupants are children under the age of 18 — so a lot of children to cram into the nation’s housing stock, which is disproportionately scattered between standalone houses with multiple bedrooms and apartments occupied by families. And since 31 percent of occupants make less than $20,000 a year, the ability to move into a larger living space before and/or after a baby arrives isn't always an option. For example, if you lived in New York City in 2017, you needed a wage of $28 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. And that's if you have a home: families accounted for 37 percent of the homeless population and 50 percent of the sheltered population in 2014, per HUD data.
In other words, not everyone has the space to put their child in a separate room, let alone the space to facilitate "crying it out" or any other sleep-training method that would require a baby to claim another bedroom as their dormitory.
My partner and I were living in a single-bedroom apartment, approximately 600 square feet in size, when I found out I was expecting twins. Initially we considered upgrading our residence, in preparation for a double dose of all things baby. We were both employed, both financially stable, and, together, had no doubts about being able to maintain financial obligations like credit-card payments, cell-phone plans, grocery bills, and car payments after an increase in monthly rent payments. But after pregnancy complications that included a blood infection, a week-long hospital stay, and, at 19 weeks, the loss of one of the twins, I lost my job. My employer deemed my "condition" too "unpredictable," and since I was employed by a family business that had less than 15 workers, there was nothing I could do, legally, to maintain my employment status.
Recently, Gloria De Piero, the shadow minister for women and equality in the U.K., completed an analysis of labor data that found as many as 50,000 women had been forced out of their jobs due to "pregnancy discrimination," with many more experiencing "soft discrimination." And in the U.K., the remedy for women who have suffered discrimination is lacking — they currently must pay for the right to take their employer to a workplace tribunal. As she wrote in The Guardian, "It's time to call time on maternity discrimination once and for all."
We would be a co-sleeping family, because that was our only option.
Down a steady income and attempting to navigate the mental, emotional, and physical ramifications of a 19-week fetal loss, my partner and I knew we were staying put. If I could bring my son to term and birth him into this world, I would be bringing him home to a tiny one-bedroom apartment filled to the brim with diapers, wipes, baby clothes, toys, a swing, and a small bassinet and crib positioned right next to our bed. We would be a co-sleeping family, because that was our only option.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the reasonable restriction of the number of occupants in an apartment is two people per bedroom plus one additional occupant. But Forrent.com reports that many landlords, "in order to not discriminate based on family status," have chosen to go with the following guidelines: two people per bedroom + one other person or two people per bedroom, not counting children under a certain age. In other words, if the children are young there's rarely, if ever, a legal reason for a family to vacate their home and/or upgrade to a larger living space. My partner and I weren't asked to leave after the birth of our son, thank the rental gods, and our landlord was accommodating as landlords come. In so many ways, we were lucky. We had a home.
But the undeniable prosperity of our living situation didn't mean it was easy. As a new, exhausted, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, breastfeeding mother who spent her days alone with what could only be described as a 6-pound, 14-ounce sack of skin and spit-up, the walls of our already tiny living space seemed to be closing in by the minute. I was touched out, bored and stressed simultaneously, and frequently daydreaming about an actual dining room and a separate bedroom and a kitchen that didn't bleed into our living room.
I was jealous of my friends with houses and multi-bedroom apartments.
Before I knew it I was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), unsure of my decision to become a mother and resentful of the safe home I knew I was lucky to call my own. After all, it was a loving, warm, inviting, comforting place. But holy hell was it small, and the obligations of new-mom life, the weight of depression, the difficulties associated with breastfeeding, and not a single part of the apartment that I could call my own made it seem, at times, like more of a cage than a condo.
I wanted space, and it was never afforded to me, especially at night. While there's an undeniable convenience in simply rolling to one side and grabbing your fussy child in the middle of the night, popping a boob in their mouth while you're half-asleep, I would be lying if I claimed I didn't consider a weary walk from my bedroom to my child's non-existent nursery to be a perk. I was jealous of my friends with houses and multi-bedroom apartments. I frequently lusted over carefully planned baby-room decors and changing tables and rocking chairs because that meant someone actually owned the space to house them and decorate them and present them to the world via carefully crafted social media posts that made me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon.
I would watch new mothers and seasoned parents argue online, discussing bed-sharing versus co-sleeping versus sleep-training and the virtues and perceived failings of each. And it took all the limited strength I had to keep myself from saying, "At least you had a choice." In so many situations, mothers aren't afforded the ability to weigh their options and make their own, personal decisions. Instead, one choice is thrust upon them and they must learn to adjust accordingly and at a rate that is nothing if not unforgiving.
Now that my son is a defiant three-year-old toddler with an affinity for all toys related to Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and Baby Alive dolls, I'm thankful my partner and I were finally able to move into a two-bedroom apartment about a year and a half ago. I was able to secure full-time employment shortly after my son's first birthday and after a little over a year of somewhat steady freelance work, positioning my family in a financial situation that would allow us to afford more space.
But as the years go by and my son continues to grow and, with him, the accumulation of toys, books, and clothes, I am reminded of our previous living situation and the parenting choices it forced my partner and I to make. We were lucky. We had a warm, loving home. We had our own area, as cramped as it may have been. We had each other. But we didn't always have the space, or the freedom that space affords, to make the choices other parents seem so hellbent on arguing with one another about. And like almost every other parenting experience under the sun, I know we aren't alone.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.