I remember the first time I cared for an infant.
As a “new mom” to our first foster child, a baby, I was reporting in detail every little quirk in his sleeping habits to our social worker. What sticks out in my mind is her kind eyes looking at me with a hint of amusement as she said gently, “You know you may eventually just need to let him cry it out!”
Fast forward four years and I’m dragging myself out of bed to go comfort my five month old for the fourth time in one night.
No fever or signs of pain.
No diaper change needed.
Just wanting to be snuggled and preferably offered a breast for extra comfort!
As much as I absolutely adore
my baby, and have learned sometimes it’s not worth the battle, sleep is something I know I need and this particular night I knew I needed to put on my big girl pants and get him back to sleep without my help. This was becoming a pattern.
After attempts to rock him, cuddle him and sing him back to sleep I tucked him back in his crib, turned on the singing seahorse and stood beside his crib watching him cry in the warm glow of the night light. I thought of leaving, but couldn’t bear to leave the room and instead propped my head on the rail inches from him and tried to calm him with my whispered words of comfort.
His poor little eyes filled with big tears and he cried his little heart out. He’d never experienced anything like this before! Being such a content little guy, at the slightest whimper he is used to being scooped up. I thought to myself that this was probably one of the first big moments of stress in his life!
He cried and cried, big shuddering sobs.
Just when I’d think he was almost calm again, he’d start all over again.
At these moments it is really unfortunate to be an adoptive parent who has spent the last three years focusing on attachment, brain development and healing kids from trauma. As I stroked his cheeks and listened to his mournful cries my heart broke and I felt my chest tighten with anxiety.
All the stories I’d read of babies left screaming for hours on end and the resulting brain trauma flew through my mind. I was sure he was going to think I was abandoning him and all I could picture was the diagram of the brain in attachment classes with the prefontal cortex all lit up in bright red!
What kind of mother just stands there and lets her child cry?!
At the same time the logical side of me knew this was an age old, tried-and-true method that most mothers use at some point with most babies. I also knew that tomorrow would not be forgiving of me after a night of fitful, interrupted sleep. Thirty minutes, an hour, forty-five minutes, or two hours at a time is not a way to feel rested and energetic the next morning! I would still have to get up and take care of my baby. I would still need to home school my daughter. I would still need to get to the grocery store with my two children and do the shopping. I would still need to get to the appointments and make dinner for my family. I would still need to do the laundry so my girls had clean clothes for the weekend. Life would still be there, and I would be a much better mother with a little more sleep.
This pattern needed to stop.
I realize there are all kinds of ideas surrounding babies and sleep.
But every baby is different, and every mother is different.
At the end of the day you have to find whatever works for you.
After almost 45 minutes of on and off, broken-hearted crying my baby gripped the finger I offered and drifted off to sleep, still sniffling as his tears dried on his pink cheeks.
The funny thing is, as I felt his body relax and go off to blissful dreamland,
instead of heading back to my bed,
I stayed and stroked his soft head.
I whispered to him all my dreams for him,
My prayers for him,
And my apologies for being only mortal when I wish to be so much more.
My arms ached to hold him,
now still and quiet in sleep.
I desperately wanted to cuddle him close and let him feel my skin against his.
I wanted him to know just how very much he is adored.
But of course I couldn’t.
I told my husband later that the worst part was not watching him cry and have his eyes beg mine pleadingly, though that was torturous.
The worst part was that eventually he was okay.
Eventually he gave up.
And that broke me.
I don’t know if I’ll do it again.
I probably should, and probably will.
It really does work most times from what I hear.
But I hate it.
I’m designed to be his everything, and that is what I thrive on.
frustrated minutes pacing the floor,
those are really just par for the course.
I’m a mother, after all.