Friday, November 16, 2007


If love is a battlefield, parenting is an IUD*-laced Shiite/Sunni turf war in Iraq. While the best advice I've ever received about parenting is to simply trust your instincts, I've somehow made it my mission to read every forum on natural vs. drugs, co-sleeping vs. cribs, crying it out vs. attachment parenting et cetera ad nauseum, and anything my gut is trying to tell me is silenced under the deafening roar of furious, outraged, self- righteous parents on either side of the fence. It's like wading into unmoderated presidential debate that doesn't have the grace to stop the bickering when the election is over. Parents are mad as hell and clearly not going to take it anymore online.

One side berates the other for being too fringe for the sake of the trend while the other sniffs back about being right with such a certainty that it makes me awed and not a little jealous. I have been urged by my family, friends and my own inner voice to stop reading, stop seeking out information and its resulting tug-of-war as it usually sends me spiraling into depression and uncertainty. But I can't stop. Knowledge has always equalled power in my book, and I think that maybe if I just look up one more thing online or read between the parenting lines in this forum, I will find that little holy grail that will exonerate me of my shame, free me of my guilt over letting her cry or feeding her constantly throughout the night or one of the myriad other offenses we've committed as clueless, desperate parents.

See - Harlow was ramping up to be a great sleeper. We live in the US of A, and it's our god given right to have babies that sleep through the night at 12 weeks. For us, it was down at 8 up at 4 or 5to eat and then right back to sleep. Every morning I said a thank you to the god of babies for being merciful. Breastfed babies are notorious light sleepers and lactating moms are hormonally altered not to enter the deep sleep cycle, a funfact I learned somewhere online - but Harlow hadn't gotten the memo. We had a few weeks of baby girl blissfully asleep in her crib with a 5 AM visit to the bed where we'd all wake happy and refreshed. And then we took a trip out of town and the schedule changed permanently. She quickly went from waking once to an average four times at night, and nothing would soothe her. Not dad, not mom. Only the boob. So I went back to the books and the internet. She was waking like clockwork, and according to the Baby Whisperer, this was the result of "accidental parenting," one of the more insulting, potentially damaging expressions to ever be levied on a parent. We had been given a perfectly easy child but through our repeated fuck-ups, we now had a needy, desperately panicked child who could no longer soothe herself. Way to go, mom.

We tried for a couple of nights to let her cry it out in a "controlled" method as advocated by our pediatrician. We let her go balls-out crying with no intervention for 40 minutes. This resulted in frayed nerves all around and more self-flagellation when we discovered she now skipped the whine and went straight to blood curdling scream if I was 2 seconds late popping a boob into her mouth. Then there was the "pick up/put down" method of Dad soothing the baby by picking her up and holding her until she stopped crying. Then she was put back in her crib - never, never the bed according to this one expert - and picked right back up if she cried. This actually went over ok - I mean, I got to sleep for once at Caleb's expense. In fact, I was so refreshed I actually got to read a little before I went to sleep the next night. I read all about how incredibly damaging it is to an infant's central nervous system to let her cry it out and how babies are truly designed to co-sleep for at least the first year. I mean, it should be obvious to anyone who does some research and actually gives birth that a itty bitty baby needs to be curled up with their parents at least in those early months, but she was actually sleeping really peacefully in her crib. Why shake things up? Unless I was supposed to keep her in the bed even though she was happy in the crib.

I read on. When western society became prosperous, bigger houses with additional rooms were built. For the first time since the dawn of civilization, babies were being scooted down the hall to sleep in their own room. As time marched on, the nursery design business boomed, moms went back to work and were coached that their independence was of the utmost importance. The baby needed to be taught from an early age to be independent, too, so none of that co-sleeping nonsense. Do you want your kid sleeping with you until they get their drivers license? The writer was horrified at what she had observed. Terrified, vulnerable parents were being taught to ignore their child's biological needs in exchange for a gleaming convertible crib and 8 hours of sleep.

I wanted to shoot myself. How dare I want sleep? 11:30 came and baby girl started screaming. I couldn't get her in the bed with me fast enough. She slept wonderfully that night, except when she'd wake and immediately scream for the boob. I slept on the edge of the bed, awakening every couple of hours with her to Elvis Costello's This is Hell in my head. Sure, lots of parents have it worse. Particularly those who have chosen to breastfeed and co-sleep. The other day I hung out with friends who have rigorously scheduled their children's sleep schedules, let them cry and bottle-fed them from birth, and everyone in that club sleeps really well. Their kids are well adjusted and happy. I see them and wonder why all the drama. And then I look at myself. I was bottle fed and left to cry it out and I am an anxious, perpetually nervous mess. Is my sleep worth my daughter's mental health? Parenting is supposed to be, always has been hard. But it's getting hard to cherish the rewards when all I want is my daughter to go to sleep so I can read more and find more answers.

I'd love to hear what my gut is saying but its staying mum.

* edited to say that I was going to change IUD out of its current Freudian-slippy form to IED, but I really like the mental image a battlefield littered with birth control options brings to mind.


natalie said...

Indeed. I'm going through a similar struggle right now - the Critter will only nap when he's ON us, in the sling, or if he's fallen asleep in my lap while nursing. If I put him down, he wakes up immediatey. If it's Dave, then he might sleep for half an hour. And I keep reading. Because, like you, I don't trust my gut. Can we blame it on Rhodes and a liberal arts education? Probably not... Good luck to you in figuring this out.

Stephanie said...

I read everything I could- not to guide my future decisions, but in order to find someone who would justify the stuff I'd already done. You just gotta do what works for your kid and your family. There's always someone out there who has done the same and advocates it, and someone else who thinks you're an idiot.

Beverly said...

Well at least something is staying quiet, right? (the gut)...I have always told new moms to listen to what everyone is preaching, nod your head as if in agreement and then do what feel right for you and your baby. But, you say, you don't know what feels right?? Trust yourself and your baby, and do what you need to bring peace and harmony to your night. Trust me, our behavior is not based upon how our parents let us sleep, or cry. Babies love being close to mama, but usually can sleep in their own bed, but if they don't, take them to bed with you. Start out the night in her bed and see how it goes. The fact that you worry so, shows how much you love her. And, that is the most important thing. Hope you and baby sleep well tonight.

Stacey Greenberg said...

we had a really nice time at your house friday--thanks so much for hosting! i hope the kids didn't trash it too much!

Sweet Sassy Molassy said...

I started typing a comment to this, but decided to put up a whole post of my own instead!

Secret Agent Mom said...

I'd love to offer words of wisdom, but pretty much everything that I pass off as my own parenting insight has been ripped off from Kristy, so just read her post.