At two months old Emmalee began sleeping through the night. And I don’t mean sleeping through the night according to the books which state that a 5-6 hour stretch is normal. I mean sleeping from 9 pm to 7 am every night. I would rock her to sleep (and here is where the veteran moms begin shaking their heads, I know), lay her down, and not hear from her again until morning. It was bliss.
But then Emmalee hit 6 months old and things began to change. I started having to rock her back to sleep in the middle of the night. That in itself probably doesn’t sound so bad, but it would sometimes take up to two hours before I would be able to lay her down and leave the room without her screaming the second her head hit the sheets as if I were laying her on hot coals instead of the expensive Sealy mattress with the picture of the peacefully dreaming baby on it. And from here it escalated until she literally woke up every hour like clockwork and I was lucky to doze for 20-30 minutes at a time before she’d wake up screaming again. There were times when I would lay her down and tiptoe down the hall, in my head desperately chanting “please stay asleep, please stay asleep, please stay asleep,” but just as I reached the corner she’d wail, and in turn I would crumble to the floor with my head in my hands and wail right back. I began to think of the glider in Emma’s room where I spent countless hours each night as my “torture chair.” As the sky darkened each evening I would grow more and more anxious, dreading the impending torment my not-so-precious-anymore baby would cause me. Clearly, this was not working.
Back when Emma was a wonderful sleeper I was able to hold on to the belief that “cry it out” sleep methods, in which a baby is left alone in her crib to cry herself to sleep, were sinister and something I would never in a million years consider. It is amazing how a few weeks without sleep can make you rethink every belief you once held dear. So I bought a couple of books on the subject and poured over them in my sleep deprived haze, and then in a state of pure desperation Emma and I began to cry it out. According to the books, the first night should be the worst but by night 3 I should see a dramatic reduction in the amount of time spent crying. The goal, after all, is not to have your baby cry but to teach your baby to fall asleep without you. After a week it was clear that the experts who wrote the books have never met Emmalee. Emmalee didn’t just cry… she screamed as if she were being beaten. And she did this consistently, night after night, for at least 20 minutes. The bright side was that once she finally fell asleep she slept, meaning I slept. The not so bright side was that every night I had to listen to her scream and worry about the possibility that I might be causing long term psychological damage to my precious baby (precious again, because like I said, I was getting some sleep).
After six weeks of this, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Clearly, this wasn’t working either. So one night I decided to rock Emma until she was good and drowsy and just starting to doze. I did this, and when I laid her in her crib amazingly she opened her eyes, turned onto her side, and fell right back to sleep… and slept the entire night. So I am back to rocking her to sleep again. More often than not she wakes up in the night at least once. Sometimes she falls asleep again on her own after only a few minutes of crying and fussing, and sometimes I have to go rock her. When I do have to rock her I tell myself that she won’t be little forever and someday I’ll miss this time with her. Of course, I’m able to think this way because I never have to rock her back to sleep more than once anymore. So “cry it out” did not work for us in the traditional sense, but it did help us to reach a sort of agreement. I like to think that Emma has decided that as long as I don’t make her cry alone in her crib then she will not insist I rock her the entire night while she sleeps. And while neither of us finds the situation to be completely ideal, we can live with it. Emma’s first lesson in compromise.