Confessions of a Cry-It-Out Dropout (Or, How I Broke My Baby)

This isn’t one of those you should/shouldn’t let your baby cry it out posts.

This isn’t an advice-seeking post.

This is a post about how making an emotional decision during an emotionally-charged situation is a supremely bad idea.

I’m a terrible mother.

I know I’m not a terrible mother.

But I feel like a terrible mother.

Because I’m pretty sure I broke my baby. Psychologically, anyway. Physically, she’s just fine. (More importantly, just so we’re clear, I have no desire to harm my baby in any way. And I’m not making light of those who feel those urges, either. This is just my perhaps-not-so-clever way of saying I feel responsible for making my baby feel and act a certain way that is contrary to how she was before… in other words, broken.)

C is not a great sleeper. At 9 months, she still wakes up anywhere from 2-6 times each night, unable to get back to sleep on her own. Parental fail #1: I never let her fall asleep on her own. Instead, I’ve always nursed her to sleep. Furthermore, even when I lay her down fully asleep, she often wakes the moment I set her in her crib. Of course she does! I would, too. And she isn’t just awake… She cries, hard, until I pick her up and help her fall asleep again.

At C’s 9 month check up, her doctor asked me if she sleeps through the night. Nope. She frowned at me, as if to say, Tsk tsk! This is no good! Bad mom! Her only advice: “I wonder what would happen if you just let her cry for a while.” I made light of the situation and said I didn’t mind getting up a few times a night. The truth is, I mind it. I mind it a lot.

So, one night early last week, when C just wouldn’t stay asleep, in a sleep-deprived state of physical and emotional exhaustion, and with the doctor’s words in my head, I said “Fuck it! If you don’t want to stay asleep, you can figure this out on your own.” And I left her to cry in her crib.

I decided right then that we would Ferberize the baby. Parental fail #2: decided, not weI didn’t ask my husband for his opinion. I just did it. I decided I would check on her and console her after 5 minutes. Then 10. Then 15. That night, she eventually fell asleep, sitting up, after about 2 hours of total crying. But she slept for 4 hours straight! I let her cry it out in the middle of the night, and after just 20 minutes, she fell asleep on her own.

I didn’t think that was so bad, so I decided to keep going. Night #2, I decided that consoling her wasn’t helping any, as she would just start up crying again as soon as I put her down. So, I just let her cry. Fail #3: I didn’t research cry it out enough to know how to do it properly. After about an hour, she fell asleep, sitting up, this time with her face against the side of the crib. Again, she slept for about 4 hours, at which time I nursed her, and she fell asleep immediately for another 4 hours.

Again, not so bad, right? The part I haven’t told you is that she didn’t just cry… She was hysterical, nearly hyperventilating, standing up in her crib and falling down over and over again.

So why did I keep going? Because I’m a cold, heartless bitch. That’s the only explanation, right? Don’t feel bad. I agree with you.

Actually, I kept going, because everything I read said that I would see improvement soon. I couldn’t give up, because that would be unfair to her. She needs to learn to fall asleep on her own, just as much as I need her to fall asleep on her own.

Night #3…. M has a panic attack, because he can’t stand to hear her crying. I tell him to put on his headphones or leave. Fail #4: Not listening to my husband’s gut. An hour of crying, maybe, before she falls asleep, again – you guessed it – with her face against the side of the crib.

The next day, C clung to me as if her life depended on it. When we went into her room to change her diaper or nurse, she started whimpering. The longer we stayed in her room, the more upset she got. That’s when I realized I had damaged my baby.

She continued to be super clingy all day, and would not nap, except if I held her. But even then, it wasn’t a deep sleep. I decided then that what I had been doing was wrong – not morally wrong, just wrong for her. It wasn’t helping. If anything, it was hurting.

So, I went back to my old ways of nursing and rocking her to sleep. Except now she didn’t trust me. Even when I nursed her to sleep, she would wail the moment she felt my muscles tense up before lowering her into her crib. She continued to be clingy during the day, and nap time was impossible. For two days, I worked hard to regain her trust by rocking her to sleep and consoling her immediately when she began to cry. By the end of day two, we were nowhere near back to normal, but there was some improvement.

I feel just awful for breaking her trust in me. That’s not how it was supposed to go, and it wasn’t my intention. But that’s what happened. And now I have to fix it before we can truly address her sleep issues… this time with a rational, well-thought-out plan. To that end, I’m actually reading Dr. Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems cover to cover before we implement any new sleep plan.

So, whether you decide to let your baby cry it out or not, I don’t care – just be sure it’s right for you and your baby, and don’t do it out of a moment of weakness like I did. I’ll probably feel guilty about this for the rest of my life.

(For the record, I’m not opposed to cry it out techniques for all babies. It works like a charm for many, just not for my baby.)


15 thoughts on “Confessions of a Cry-It-Out Dropout (Or, How I Broke My Baby)

  1. Hey hon my 9 month old is fed to sleep and wakes twice in t.he night for a feed. I mean this as gentle advice you can take or leave: They don’t have to sleep through. Its not compulsory. I fed my daughter to sleep for over a year. She just wanted cuddles one night rather than boob and that was it. I cried. She’s now 5 And sleeps like a dream. These sleepless nights won’t be forever. Xx

    • I’m glad things worked out so well for your daughter. I completely agree that she doesn’t need to sleep completely through the night, in fact, I’m totally fine with getting up with her twice. The problem is she rarely wakes ONLY twice, and when she does, she’s awake for at least an hour, usually two. Most nights she’s awake at least four times, and each time I have to nurse her to sleep, which means I never sleep for more than 2 hours at a time. It’s beginning to be a real problem, especially because I drive a lot for my job. I’m legitimately afraid of falling asleep at the wheel. So, even though I know it’s not going to be forever, we can’t continue like this now.

  2. oh my gosh! this sounds so tough. But I totally get the desperation. Last night baby was up from 3-5 am crying in my arms. teething i am guessing. BTW, you didn’t damage her, She’ll bounce back 🙂

  3. This sounds so very familiar, and it’s so hard. A baby that doesn’t sleep well is hard. Listening to her cry is hard. Feeling like you’re failing is hard. I totally get this and have experienced a very similar situation with my baby girl. Hang in there, mama. You’re doing your best, and she will bounce back. Hugs!

  4. 9 months is hard! You in no way damaged your baby. Over the last week G has turned into this crazy clingy boy. It was like, turn 9 months = I can not be put down for a second! And we did our sleep training quite a while ago so maybe it’s also somewhat just part of the age? Either way you’re an amazing mother and I know that you both will get to where you want to be soon. Big, big hugs!! xo

  5. Ugh. That was really painful to read, I can only imagine how hard it was for each of you to live through. FWIW, we never did CIO because I couldn’t take, my son still woke up 2-4 times per night at the same age as your daughter and had to nurse to fall back asleep, co-slept because hysterical crying ensued with depositing him into his crib, and yet eventually (at a later age) he almost always slept through the night and didn’t need to nurse to fall asleep. Nothing changed except him. So of Ferber is not for your baby even when read cover to cover, I would encourage you to find your own way through compassion and C’s gut or your own to help your little girl sleep with fewer interruptions at night. In the meantime, hang in there and don’t beat yourself up anymore than you may already have done.

  6. 9 months old was a really, really rough time for us in terms of sleep. Separation anxiety was peaking and the only solution that worked for us was bed-sharing. I think the clinginess could really be in huge part due to separation anxiety. Being a mom is the toughest job in the world, and you never know if you’re doing the right thing. Hugs to you.

  7. Pingback: Reflections and Resolutions | Forever Infertile

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