Saturday, January 03, 2009

Don't give up, don't give in...and then the call to the baby whisperer

Given a lack of a babysitter, and perhaps more importantly a lack of anywhere compelling to go, we rang in the new year at home. Blake, never one to miss any of the action, disguised his normal bedtime as simply a nap and awoke at 11:00 p.m. to participate in the countdown to 2009 (and was then up until 1:00 a.m....certainly he won the award of having the most energy among the three of us). I was amused by a program called "Grumpy Old New Year's" where various middle-aged celebrities gave interviews about why they didn't like the particular date (commentaries on things like why fun has to be enforced on this particular night, why it's such a bad idea to go out and be surrounded by drunk strangers, how nobody actually knows the words to Auld Lang Syne, etc). Overall it was a very enjoyable evening.

The next day Blake trotted into our room and declared that his two resolutions for the new year were to get more exercise and to get more sleep - I certainly applauded the latter! (he didn't really trot into our room, nor is he yet speaking, but allow me my writer's imagination). Something about turning the page of the calendar turned over an emotion in me which was - definitively, we must solve this sleep issue. That night, I decided we would forego the usual routine of Blake falling asleep before we put him into his cot, seemingly the most critical step to getting a baby or child to fall asleep on his own [in case you have not explored this subject yet, or have never had to, or it's been several decades since you had any of these subjects on your mind, the theory is that if a child makes an association to getting to sleep (being held, rocked, fed, sung to), then when he wakes up alone in his own bed, he will instantly know that that was not the way he remembered things when he fell asleep, and will feel alarmed and call out for someone to come get him]. With Blake's now being 10 months old - well past the age of being able to sleep through the night - and perhaps more importantly with about a month to go before my return to work, I had decided it was time to take action. [nb: in this narrative, if I use the pronoun I, unless otherwise stated, you should interpret that to include Matt in the decision-making; however, since I have been the primary waker I will use I].

You may have heard of something called the Ferber method, or "controlled crying", or even simply "Ferberizing", a method described by the children's sleep doctor Richard Ferber which is where you leave the child in their cot or bed, and leave the room for a certain period before going back in to reassure him that he is fine and that he can go to sleep on their own. Gradually you increase the length of time you are away from the child so that he knows that you're there, but not coming back for a while, and give ups and falls asleep. His name for it is the "progressive-waiting" approach. Apparently we all actually may wake several times in the night but realizing it's still night most adults go right back to sleep, and babies need to learn this skill as well. Advocates of the method say that because babies are quick learners, they quickly can forget how they used to go to sleep (being rocked, fed, etc), and that usually the child sleeps well within 4-7 nights. Opponents think it's cruel and can cause emotional trauma and that what a baby needs is love and comfort. I used to think I would never be able to let Blake cry, but I now felt differently and thought this was the best way to get all of us to have a good night's sleep.

We tried controlled crying on Thursday night, to pretty remarkable success, I thought. Although getting Blake to go to sleep initially was difficult (about an hour and a half of this), when he woke in the middle of the night I was able to get him to go back to sleep within half an hour. I thought, hey, we are on to something here! I did a little bit of internet research on Friday to make sure I knew what I was doing (then decided I didn't fully so went out and bought Ferber's book Solve your Child's Sleep Problem), bought a few bottles of wine to hand out to the neighbours as peace-keeping tokens, and was ready to go. We put Blake to sleep, and he expectedly cried, but I was distracting myself by playing MarioKart on the Wii until the next time I needed to go in. The phone rang, and I took the call giving instructions to Matt to go in at 8:11. I took the call (more on that later) and when I was done I passed by Blake's room to find Blake asleep in his cot with Matt holding his hand on Blake's chest - this is not technically allowed with the Ferber method! Various discussions ensued about whether our approach was too extreme, too drastic, but before going to sleep I said to Matt, "Don't give up, don't give in" to which he replied, "That sounds like a line out of a movie." Going to sleep, I felt confident that the sleep issues would be resolved within a couple of nights.

At 2:00 a.m. the call rang out; Blake was awake. I went in and found him standing in his cot, so I patted him and told him we love him, and left the room for 3 minutes. Lying on the couch while he cried in his room, I thought to myself, I can handle it, in fact, his crying isn't even bothering me. After 3 minutes, I went in and patted him, but was out within a minute or two for another wait, this time of 5 minutes. Still smug, I thought, I wonder why people even bother with earplugs or muzak or white noise. It's just a little crying. Back in for a quick pat and then out again for a now 10-minute wait. While Blake cried - on and off at this point - I mentally drafted this blog post and thought about how strong one had to be to make this work. I wondered how many people were at that very moment doing the same thing as I was, and were they being more or less successful? The cries from Blake's room had started to taper off but would come every now and then. Occasionally I decided he was actually asleep and nearly headed off to bed myself, but then a cry would emerge from the room and I would then have to ready myself for the next going-in. On the third time I went in I could see that he was exhausted, and that he was actually near enough to falling asleep while standing up in the corner of the cot. At this point I decided I would need to perform a manoeuver that I wasn't sure was allowed, but that Blake needed - I would "swoop" him from the standing position to lying down so that he could then just carry on sleeping. And it worked!...for about 2 seconds before he realized what had happened and then bolted upright to cry. Still, I stayed strong. 3:02-3:12, 3:14-3:24, 3:25-3:35, and on it went. Things were getting impossibly hard. I couldn't any longer just lie on the couch so I just stood and paced in the dark of the living room, biting my nails, wondering whether in fact the theories that this sort of deprivation of parent does cause long-term psychological damage were true. It can't, I told myself, if millions of people have done it. Is it actually millions of people?! What if he wakes up and he's not the same baby?! How can I stand this crying any longer?! I'm going in - no, I can't!! People said it was hard but this is hell! If he doesn't fall asleep after this round, I'm going in - no, I can't - that will confuse him even more!! Oh God, what do I do?! were just a few of the thoughts going through my mind. He was definitely falling asleep while standing up, and when I laid him down his arms seemed to be frozen in the position they'd been in while he'd been leaning on the cot - oh my God, is this not only going to cause emotional damage but physical trauma as well?! Please still love me tomorrow, sweetie!

At around 4:00 I broke down and decided to check whether he was in fact hungry. He took 4 ounces of the bottle but then pushed it away; ok - definitely not starving. At around 4:25 there was finally silence and I looked in to see him asleep, parallel to the end of the cot where he'd obviously finally succumbed and fallen, to sleep.

This morning we woke up (Matt revealed he'd been awake the whole time and that it was very hard to listen to), and decided to enlist the services of a maternity nurse who has been used by some friends of mine for helping their babies get into better routines and get them sleeping better (that was the call I took, and after speaking with her we decided we would sleep on it. The 2.5 hour window in which we were awake from 2:00-4:30 a.m. confirmed that it would be much easier with professional help; Matt making various analogies to DIY projects and why you get contractors, and our both realizing that we did not want to go through this all to only find out we weren't doing it right and needing to start all over or something helped seal the deal). We did controlled crying this evening, and it was hard, but we think we'll feel better knowing that we're doing things that have been proven to work. We start with our "baby whisperer" on Tuesday...watch this space.

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