I have a conspiracy theory that as things started to get easier for mothers in recent history (read: dishwashers and being allowed to climb in the work world, two great inventions of our time), we made up some extra things to make it super hard for mothers (read: making women feel like they should be able to juggle all of these roles at once without extra help, and convincing women that their babies would be traumatized if they cried at all without their mama around to reassure them).
When my first baby was born, I couldn’t bring myself to hear any of her cries. A slight squeak and my body went into fight or flight, knees and feet hitting the floor, arms swinging wildly to get to her crib in time. And at night, at night. She liked to cryyyyy. I came up with a special method–I would hold her and shush her in complete darkness, singing song after song, while she would cry and cry and cry on my shoulder. Sometimes, half way through, my husband and I would switch off. It took usually around three hours every night. And usually an hour before each day nap. Without exaggeration.
My girl was AWAKE the minute she was born and was not the type to fall asleep in the stroller. I would stare longingly at all of the Jerusalemite mamas with their babies dozing in the carriage, and everyday, hope that Today Is the Day that Tanya would stop staring enchantedly at the world, and just close her precious eyes so I didn’t have to do another shushing episode that day.
I tried methods. I read books. I tried to be home precisely when she would get drowsy. I would see all the signs and sometimes I could get it down to 20 minutes shushing during the day, but at night… at night…my three hour minimum dark singing marathons wailed on.
It got to be a full-time job, literally. I shushed Tanya for five hours a day minimum, seven days a week–35 hours of dark shushing. It was, without saying, a nightmare. Add in being in a foreign country with a husband gone from 5:30 a.m. to 9 at night and no close friends around and…a recipe for disaster.
We ended up moving back to America. Once we were settled, we decided we would try to do cry-it-out, but it was hard to actually pull go through with it. We just need to be fair to her, we thought. I tried patting and pick-up-put-down, to no avail.
Finally, when she was 9 months old, it was officially too much. My full-time shushing job just was too heavy of a load. The time had come.
I put her down. I left the room. She wailed. I stood outside the door, disturbed, frozen. My husband, nodded, himself a little shaken but determined to see this through. We sat there, together at the dining room table, staring at the door from which behind our precious child was first encountering abandonment.
Suddenly, the terror peaked within me, rising. “Maybe she’s caught under the sheets!” I shrieked to my husband. “I need to go, I need to make sure.”
He raised his eyebrows. “It’s just going to make it worse…”
“I need to.”
I went in. She was not caught under the sheets. She was standing with her face streaming in tears, her nose running. I took a sharp breath and started to turn around. Overcome in frustration and confusion, she threw up.
Luckily, as traumatic as it felt, I was prepared for this. “If your child throws up,” a cry-it-out booklet had taught me, “just clean it up and continue on with the plan.”
I cleaned it up and left. She wailed for an hour and a half, while I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling.
After an hour and a half, my husband and I glanced at each other, in silence. It was silent. The deal was done. She had, for the first time in her life, gone to sleep on her own.
I lay in bed for a long time afterwards, my body still shaking with nerves. I didn’t know what to do with myself, with my new free time. Five extra hours of free time a day.
The next day, she cried, just a little, maybe 20 minutes, and that was it. I would put in her bed, and at night, instead of crying for three hours straight, we would hear her talking to herself, laughing, for an hour and a half, before the beauty of children-sleeping-silence would fill the home.
Her sleep improved tremendously. She would sleep through the whole night 12 hours, waking up once, and take two two-hour naps a day.
“Teach your child according to his way,” King Solomon famously instructed. And standing in the midst of the explosive conversation regarding sleep training, I understand on an intellectual level the anger and skepticism that the cry-it-out method brings forth from others. Yet none of them ever gave birth to, or attempted to raise, a Tanya.
Now, three years later, knowing and understanding her, it’s pretty clear. Those nighttime battles and daytime resistance were not only against sleep, but against us, too, for trying to force her to do something.
Perhaps had we not been so resistant to the wisdom of those Israeli bubbes, who insisted with clucking tongues that we implement a simpler method, to just put down our newborn infant in a dark room, drowsy but awake, to nod off to sleep on her own, we would have skipped nine laboriously long, sleep-deprived months.
For Tanya, our strong-willed, adventurous, independent child, just wanted to be left alone.
In the end, crying it out was her wish.