When Niels turned 8 months we had a heart to heart. We needed to figure out how to go to sleep and stay asleep at night. We needed to do better than waking up three to four times a night (or his personal best: every 45 minutes). By 8 months, Margaret was sleeping 11 hours straight. Were we lucky with her? Hell, yes! Having Niels was a rude awakening (pun intended). Not all babies are good sleepers, and Niels seemed to be out to win some kind of sadistic poor-sleeping challenge in which he sometimes sleeps well, but then seemingly forgets that sleep exists. It was maddening. We were on a quest to figure out the magic trick to help Niels sleep better, but we got nowhere. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we started kicking around the idea of sleep training and letting him cry it out. While I was lamenting about Niels’s sleep struggles and what we were thinking of doing, someone spouted off the, “They’re only little once. It goes by so fast. Just enjoy him!” guilt-inducing bullshit, and I wanted to kick her in the taco. Thanks!! Yes, I know. I am painfully aware of this. Niels will be 1 in less than 4 months. An entire year will have passed, and I will still feel like we just brought him home from the hospital. I do enjoy him. I KNOW he’s growing up quickly. But bedtime: it’s a bitch.
To be blunt, I need down time to recharge my battery and to keep me from losing my shit left and right. And sleep, so much sleep. On paper, Niels is living the dream. He’s on a good nap schedule and has a consistent bedtime. He has cozy PJs and a comfy sleep sack. His room is dark, and he has a noise machine to drowned out any disruptive noises (Margaret loud-talking in the hallway). I nurse him to sleep and hold him to make sure he’s really, truly asleep. However, he’ll wake up the minute I lay him in his crib. Or he’ll sleep for a solid 3 hours and then wake up and stay awake for another 3. It makes no sense. Some nights I’m stuck, hopefully and then begrudgingly, pacing the floor humming lullabies while he wiggles and cries in my arms until he finally gives into exhaustion.
About 3 weeks ago at bedtime, I had had enough. I put Niels in his crib awake when pacing and humming weren’t helping. I rubbed his back and told him what I always say to both he and Margaret at bedtime: “Good night. I love you. Sleep well. Have good dreams. I’ll see you in the morning.” And then I walked out of his room. As I pulled the door closed, he started to cry. I calmly walked downstairs to the kitchen to watch him on the video monitor. He was standing in his crib and squawking at the door. He knew I was there. He wanted me, but I just couldn’t be there for him because I was on empty. I can hear the pearl clutchers saying, “He’s just a baby. How could you let him cry?” I know. Trust me, I know. I felt guilty every second he cried. The fact is: I didn’t know what to do. Another fact: if he wakes up after nursing at bedtime, he cries whether I’m holding him or if he’s in his crib.
It took 45 minutes for Niels to fall asleep, which may as well have been an eternity. Every time he stood up, Henning and I said to the monitor, “Niels, just lay down, Buddy. You can do it!” Every time he laid down and was clearly trying to fall asleep, we said, “You got this. That’s how you do it!” And the cherry on the shitty cry-it-out sundae? HE SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT. Eleven fucking hours! I never thought that would happen. The prospect of more sleep made crying it out not seem so bad. I never thought we’d be cry-it-out parents, but Henning and I like to subscribe to the parenting method of “we’ll never do that, until we do.”
After the first night, I felt cautiously emboldened. But after a few nights, I started second guessing myself. I knew Niels could fall asleep on his own if he had to, but it wasn’t without stress for him. A few nights he fell asleep easily and a few were rough. My stomach felt raw with worry, and I kept looking to Niels to see if he trusted me less or thought I was abandoning him. During the day, Niels and I are attached. He nurses and falls asleep on me for naps. He hangs out in the ring sling. For me to just walk away from him at night felt barbaric.
I consulted the internet to see if I was completely destroying him and his baby brain. Turns out, I am, maybe. The internet is confusing. But not wanting to ruin Niels, I decided that was it. No more crying it out. I’ll hold him all night if I have to. I sent Henning this text:
Because we also subscribe to the parenting method of “maybe we’re wrong; let’s do something different.”
For a few nights, however, it was a nonissue. Niels fell asleep nursing at bedtime and stayed asleep. But then he had a bad night, and it was decision time: to cry it out or not to cry it out. I hopped back on the internet to make sure I wasn’t overreacting about destroying him. Turns out, I might be. The internet is still confusing. I still don’t know what the best approach is. We still sometimes let him cry it out, but sometimes he clearly needs help, and we oblige. Is it a consistent approach? Nope. Is it the best approach? I have no idea. My point is, we’re all getting more sleep and I can count on downtime in the evening, and it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know what the right thing to do is all the time…or ever. And Niels is no longer in the running for the worst sleeper ever.