I know, I know, I know. I’ve been promising a post about what adaptations we’ve made to the sleep scheduling method that my friend Corrie told us about, and what kind of success we’re having with it. But, the more I think about it, the more I feel it’s on my heart to take a “time-out” and devote an entire post to the one thing most parents hate the most: crying.
Phoebe typically is really emotional about falling asleep, so she tends to cry herself to sleep a lot. This has always been true. It was true when we snuggled in bed. It was true when we nursed to sleep. It was true when I walked her to sleep while wearing her in the ring sling. It was true when I sang, when I talked to her, when I was quiet. She would cry if I tried to rock her or adjust her. She would cry if I simply laid my hand on her and focused on being the calm in the center of her emotional storm.
For a baby, I don’t think she cried all that much. She just had her little baby woes and had to get them off her chest. I was always convicted that I would be there for her, but that I wouldn’t try to “fix” her problem. Sure: I’d check her diaper, make sure she was well-fed, and check her temperature to make sure she wasn’t overheated or overdressed. Beyond that, if she was crying, I’d try to decrease stimuli, breathe deeply, and calmly stand by her. I would always remind myself: “This is all new for her. She’s never been outside the womb before, and the world can be a startling place. I’d cry in her shoes, too.” And I’m sure I did.
Phoebe would cry herself to sleep, or nurse and cry herself to sleep, or nurse herself to sleep and wake up with a startle and cry. I would always have her fall asleep cuddled with me on our bed, on my lap or in the ring sling. It would take her a long while to drift off, but she eventually would. If I was on the bed, I’d try to extract myself. Sometimes this would wake her back up (and she’d cry); sometimes it wouldn’t.
Over the last 7 weeks, Phoebe has gotten better at falling asleep. She’s not as overwhelmed by her environment; in fact, she is getting more and more curious and engaging. She cries less overall. My baby girl is growing up.
When we started trying Corrie’s sleep schedule, I laid Phoebe to sleep on the bed, said a cueing phrase, “Time to go to sleep, baby girl,” and instead of cuddling with her, I simply sat next to her with my hand resting lightly on her bum and lower back. And she cried.
That first “cuddle-free” nap, I wanted Phoebe to still know I was there. I kept my hand on her. Every once in a while I would say to her in a calm voice, “Your Mama’s here,” or “Your Mama loves you.” But she cried. And cried. And cried. And I felt like crap.
After 34 minutes, Phoebe finally fell asleep…for 20 minutes. The next nap, she only cried for a minute or two, then slept for 45 minutes. That night, though, she cried for 45 minutes. I decided to throw the stupid scheduling business out the window, picked her up, cuddled her, and nursed her to sleep that night.
That evening, I spent a lot of time talking with Mr. Wetzel about the scheduling idea; I didn’t like how I felt at that moment, and I was really overtaxed from the afternoon and evening of listening to my baby cry. I was through with this scheduling business, I decided; it just wasn’t the right fit for us.
We went to bed. Then we awoke at 7:15 am. And we realized: all three of us just slept through the night. Phoebe slept 10 hours and 37 minutes without interruption.
This stopped me in my tracks. My goal was never to get Phoebe to sleep through the night, but this seemed like a rather miraculous occurrence. When I started considering a sleep schedule, it was to add more flexibility to my days; not give us more rest at night. But being well rested felt good for all three of us, and I decided to give this scheduling thing another go.
“Maybe we could do an adapted version,” I mentioned to Mr. Wetzel. “Or maybe this just isn’t for us. It’s not for us. Ok; it’s decided.”
We’d start watching TV. Pause, “I think this might be good for Phoebe; but, I don’t know if it’s good for Phoebe. What do you think?”
Dinner time, “The crying just kills me. I shouldn’t just let her cry. I want her to know I’m always there for her.”
It’s time to go to bed. “I don’t know what to do. What do you think? What do you think is a healthy way to help her sleep.”
Kudos to Mr. Wetzel for good listening skills and patience, because I finally realized few things.
(1) Yes. Phoebe is crying right now. But do you remember back a couple weeks ago? When she cried every time we’d try to get her to sleep? Yeah, this is not any worse than that. Actually, it’s a bit better.
(2) I really believed it was best for Phoebe if I could withdraw a little in order to teach her how to fall asleep on her own and how to stay asleep by herself.
(3) I was reluctant to make changes to our schedule because of my own issues. (My own issues. Ack, that’s messy stuff.)
The thing I kept saying over and over and over to Mr. Wetzel was, “I don’t want her to feel abandoned. I want her to know that I’m always there for her. I refuse to leave her alone if she’s upset.” In talking it out, I came to realize the reason I felt this so strongly was because I wanted to be there for her in a way others hadn’t been there for me. In my life, I have experienced abandonment from people I had trusted and held close to my heart. I thought that I had worked through the issues I had from those relationships, so I didn’t expect the emotions to present themselves at such a time as this, while I’m trying to parent and make decisions that are in the best interest of my baby.
I believe that my fear of Phoebe feeling the abandonment I once knew was clouding my judgment and making me overcompensate. I can be present with her when she cries. If she is upset, I can pick her up and cuddle her. But I don’t need to suffocate her with my presence every time she’s tired and cranky. I can make my presence known and take a step back to allow her the opportunity to learn how to fall asleep without crying. Within the context of my love and protection, I want to give my little girl the chance to grow and mature. Even if that means a little crying along the way.
We’ve been doing a modified version of Corrie’s scheduling for a little over a week now. Either I or Mr. Wetzel is present in the room with Phoebe when she falls asleep. And the crying is getting better all the time. This last nap, for instance, she simply whimpered for two minutes off and on, then stared at a picture of a skunk till she dozed off. Sometimes she cries longer, and I pick her up. Sometimes she cries harder, and I know something is genuinely wrong. And sometimes I can tell it’s just a tired cry, and she gets herself to sleep.
(I know it would be customary to add a picture of Phoebe crying to this post, but I don’t take pictures of her crying. Not for any particular reason. I just don’t find crying moments to be “picture worthy” I guess. There is only 1 picture of her crying in my phone, and I used it on the last post.)