December 1, 2008

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I haven’t slept in days.

Jasper is six months old. He doesn’t so much sleep at night as he does snooze and hang out between bouts of crying for mommy. He invariably ends up in bed with me, which is in some ways great, because he is as soft and snuggly as a cashmere pillow stuffed with kittens and dusted with baby powder and fairy farts, but also, in some very important ways, not great, because he inevitably kicks me in the boobs a few dozen times. I don’t sleep when he’s tucked up against me. I haven’t slept in days. Weeks even. I’ve lost track.

I have the dim sense that this is not quite right, that this is sub-optimal, that things really shouldn’t be this way. Emilia slept in her crib, swaddle-free, through the night, from about five months of age (of course, she didn’t sleep a wink during the day, but at least our nights were restful.) For the life of me, I have not been able to recall how or why she did this. I don’t remember doing anything special. Except for, you know, a little bit of crying it out now and again.


It finally sunk in last night – late, late last night – that we had been willing to let Emilia cry, a bit, at bedtime or during night wakings. Not very much, and not for very long – you could hardly call it Ferberizing; more like Ferber lite – but on those occasions when it seemed that she needed to fuss herself down and when it was clear that her cries were fussy tired cries and not desperate needy cries, we’d let her cry it out for a minutes on her own. And it worked, and she was fine, and we all slept, and it was good.

But I can’t bring myself to do it this time around, and I’m not even sure why. All of Jasper’s cries sound desperate to me; every whimper out of his throat yanks at my heart and rakes across my nerves. His sobs and shouts and grumbles ring in my ears – he needs me! My baby NEEDS me! – and every moment of tears passes like an eternity. My heart lodges itself in my throat and my blood thrums in my ears and my whole body tenses. I cannot let him cry.

And sure enough, when I hold him, he stops, and herein lays the problem, I think: he does need me. He needs me in a way that my spirited, independent baby girl never did. She never cried to be held or to be snuggled: she cried (as she still does) to be free, to stand alone, to have her way. She cried in resistance to shutting her eyes against the fascinations of the day; she cried from the exhaustion of having rolled/crawled/climbed/raced her way through every moment of her wee existence. She cried and raged against boredom, against constraint; she cried with the fury and spirit of a tiny Beat poet, shouting her rhythms into the shadows and demanding that world give way to her presence. Jasper, on the other hand, only cries for boobies and hugs and – in the event of an epic shit – a clean diaper. Those, I can provide. And so I do.

So it is that I cannot let him cry. I cannot let him cry because I know that it is within my power to soothe his cries. I cannot let him cry because he cries for me. Such is the vanity of motherhood, that I am weakened by his need for me, that I am weakened by any such need, that the needing – the feeling that I am necessary, that I am fundamentally necessary, in any given moment, that I am the only being in this world that can provide the desired comfort – becomes the focal point of all my motivation: gratify his need (indeed, their need, for my daughter knows well that she can have me wrapped around her finger only by uttering the words I need you, Mommy.) So it is that his need, my need, our need for sleep become secondary to the need that is articulated – that he articulates – most forcefully: the immediate need for comfort, the need to be held, the need for a hush to be wrapped in love.

But love cannot sustain the sleep-deprived mother, and the sleep-deprived mother is an impaired mother and all the hugs in the world aren’t going to help anyone if I’m passed out on the floor and the children have to crawl over my body and forage for sustenance.

So do I do this? Do I let him cry and hope that sleep comes and that my heart doesn’t explode? Or do I forge ahead on the fuel of love and hugs?


Toronto-area peeps – if you’re interested in joining me at a breastfeeding demonstration (to save breastfeeding clinics in Ontario) on Wednesday, let me know. Details are at this post; leave a comment or e-mail me if you wanna go. UPDATE: Mister Jasper is a very sick little baby, and I simply can’t go to this. E-mail me if you want details, to attend yourself. (And? Anyone local who wants to go and do a brief story on it for BlogHers Act Canada? I would LOVE you. E-mail me.)

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    litanyofbritt December 3, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    my daughter was such an angel baby. my son would crawl back in through my c-section scar if he could. he is currently gasping and sobbing from the pack n play 3 feet away while i have the nerve to eat a tuna sandwich without him on my lap. child looses his mind if i am not holding him.
    great. here come the dry heave of baby cry exhaustion.
    good times.

    p.s. if you learn how do un-co-sleep please share.

    ajillofalltrades December 3, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    I say give it a shot!! Try and let him cry it out a little. My son had that same desperate cry and still does some times at night, but within a couple of minutes, he is out again.

    I like the phrase,”…the need for a hush to be wrapped in love.” That is sweet and beautiful.

    And I’m a sappy turd.

    Cat December 3, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    I’m not sure that this helps, but you still write beautifully when you’re exhausted.

    pisceshanna December 3, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    She cried. I cried. I covered my head with a pillow and sobbed. We lived in a half-built cabin without doors. There was nothing to block her desperate wailing from piercing my ears at night. Her dad had to physically restrain me from getting up and going to her.

    It was hard. ReALLY Hard. But so is not sleeping. One day your body will just give out and you will finally sleep while he cries.

    Laura December 3, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    OK, so I say, as much as possible, to let him fall asleep in the crib, on his own, a little drowsy after the big booby.

    It has taken me to the FOURTH kid to not feel like my heart was being torn out when I heard my baby cry. But kids are like pancakes…you ruin the first one, and the rest get better.

    Here is something I was told that helped me: while our babies DO need us, they also need us to TEACH them how to sleep. YOU need to sleep, and JASPER needs to sleep.It is your job as his mommy to help him.

    I agree with anony way up above..this will NOT harm him in any way. It will not hurt HIM. It hurts YOU. I often wonder… perhaps we moms are the ones NEEDING in these situations.

    All I can say is first night of crying lasted an hour.
    Second night, 10 minutes.
    Third night, no crying at all.

    And this baby that NEVER slept is now 9 yrs old, and he is the first one down every night, at 7:30pm!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let him cry. He needs to learn how to do this. And you will be there for him, for all of his needs, when he wakes up. And you will be rested.


    Jessica December 3, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    I agree with so many comments here, but most importantly, please go with your gut.

    Your mama instinct – whatever that is telling you – is right on. Now, that’s not to say that it may not be hard (either way!).

    Crying it out didn’t work for my daughter, now 14 months. She would cry endlessly, crying herself into a hunger and exhaustion after hours of battling. But as she got older, she got better – day by day – and now she, too, goes to sleep on her own in her crib at 7:30 pm! (Of course, NAPS are NOT that simple.)

    We gradually started putting her down in her crib when she was drowsy, and I can’t remember what day it all fell together. It didn’t continue that smoothly, and we still have hiccups – but if you do recognize your role as a parent to teach, and balance that with your role as nurturer, you will make the right decision at the right time.

    HappyHourMom December 3, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    I have a feeling you are doing the right thing, whatever you do, it is the right thing. Mothers just know how to do right by their babies. My son was more like your daughter, (thanks to hubby) we him cry a little and fuss alot. He just needed to work out his busy day and unwind by fussing before he fell asleep in his very own bed (crib). Now that he’s 8, I can look at him and know I did what was right for him.

    kittenpie December 4, 2008 at 1:57 am

    My solution to this – and so far it seems to be working – is the cosleeper. Pumpkinpie slept in the curve of my arm for a good six months, me not truly sleeping, and I remember feeling just DESPERATE. Even once in her own room, I often enough climbed into her crib with her or slept on a futon on the floor beside her. It sucked. What I’m loving with this new solution is that he is right beside me, but not in my bed exactly, so I sleep better, but when he fusses, I reach over and pat him, rest my warm hand on his belly, and that weight seems enough to settle him. It might work with Jasper, depending on how muhc ocntact he needs. That’s all I can offer, because I could never stand to let my babies cry either, so I know well that feeling of being unable to let them be, no matter how much I might want to or think it’s theoretically okay.

    roz December 4, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    We’ve been having the exact same problem and I’ve discovered that my 6 mo. old sleeps more when he sleeps less during the day. That’s not necessarily the right approach, but it seems to work for my guy. He was doing a lot of day sleep before and now we’re having to transition him to different nap times. Good luck!

    Amo December 5, 2008 at 10:02 am

    I experienced the EXACT SAME THING with my two sons. The first was Mr. Independent and there was NO cuddling, no swaddling, no hugs longer than a few seconds. My second son was Mr. Collic. (Shoot me.) All I could do was hold him. He cried and cried and cried for me and there was no ‘cry it out little guy’ like there had been with the first. None of that at all.

    And you know what, at 5 and 2 1/2, they are the exact same way. “No Cuddles” and his brother “Snuggle Me Always” haven’t had a change of heart yet!

    Keep up the good work little mommy!

    katesaid December 9, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    I’m late because I’m depressed and sad and angsty and unemployed, and whatever. But I just wanted to say, my daughter responded to a “Ferber lite” thing at 4 months and has been a champion sleeper since then. She’s 8 now, and for all of the other challenges and insanities she presents, she is a Great Sleeper.

    My son… not so much. He is 4 years younger than Emily, and did not sleep through the night (I’m sorry if this is depressing, but hang in there) until he was 18 months old. We tried e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, and nothing worked. He just couldn’t sleep, he needed to be held more and more and more… exhausting. So, soooooo frustrating. The thoughts that would go through my head… not pretty. Not good.

    But finally, we hit a wall and stopped trying to get him to sleep. We worked out a schedule so that we knew which parent would get up on any given night, so that we could stop the half-asleep nonsensical arguing, and things went smoothly for a week or so. Just long enough, I think, for our son to figure out that we weren’t trying to make him sleep anymore – so he, immediately, started sleeping through the night.

    He remains more of a lovebug than his sister, and still comes to snuggle me more nights than not, but he walks himself there and I can walk him back to his own room if I don’t feel like having quite that much company on any given night.

    So. It gets better. One size does not fit all with kids. Fish in the sea, bull by the horns, whatever cliche works.

    gwendomama December 13, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    each child is different. hardest and most important lesson ever.

    howabout hearing people say ‘no baby ever died from crying’ as i refused to let my 1st cry it out….and then with my 2nd, we went to an endocrinologist (for he was a mystery child) who said ‘we have to do this cortisol test right now! if he has (insert potentially fatal illness) deficiency and he cries, he could die instantly!

    needless to say, it took nearly 2 years before i could let #3 cry it out. that was 2 years without sleep.
    i guess i am saying, if you have a non-sleeper, he’s probably not going to change unless you really push the issue.
    how many years would you like to be sleep-deprived?

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