photo courtesy of Critical Moss
It doesn't happen often, but every now and again my brain fights hard against my body and refuses to go to sleep on time. The 5 o'clock wake-up call is cruel when you were still tossing and turning at 1:30 AM. That was me yesterday, stumbling through the day on just a few hours of sleep, walking through molasses to get through the day.
The upside of the no-more-naps season of parenting is that everyone sleeps at night pretty wonderfully now. Sure, sometimes one of the girls will appear at my bedside, shaken from sleep by a bad dream and needing a gentle tucking-in redux, but mostly we enjoy uninterrupted snoozing hours.
Yesterday's walk through a not enough sleep haze brought a tangible reminder of those groggy new baby days.
A few weeks ago on Twitter, someone I follow was recounting the story of visiting friends who had just brought home a newborn. This mama told of how upset she was to try to sit and visit with her friends as they allowed their five day old infant to cry it out to go to sleep.
I can completely empathize with her reaction: I have an almost visceral response to hearing the cries of a baby left on its own, particularly newborns. I can feel my heart pounding in my throat and the hair starts tingling on my head. I'm pretty sensitive to the emotional vibes of other people, and when it comes to wee ones, I can hardly bear to hear the distress.
Typically, even the most enthusiastic proponents of cry it out sleep training would say that expecting a five day old infant to self-soothe to sleep is, at best, developmentally inappropriate. At worst? For the sake of polite conversation, let's just stick with the at best.
When we begin to talk about two month olds, four month olds, six month olds, the conversation becomes much more heated. For those of us who are anti-CIO, we have the responsibility to remember the toll the lack of sleep takes on the human body. Night after night after night of lost and broken sleep creates day after day after day of heightened emotional responses to situations that would normally not be a big deal, lethargy that frustrates any hopes or plans of accomplishing daily tasks, and mental fogginess that cause mistakes and missteps of both the insignificant and the dangerous variety.
In the no-CIO camp, we can easily lose sight of the realities of losing much sleep over a long period of time. In conversation online and in person, we murmur to each other, "How can people do that? It's so cruel!" and we shake our heads in bewilderment.
We would all do well to remember that sleep deprivation is no joke.
Sure, there are some parents who turn to CIO sleep training on sheer principle alone. They strongly believe in creating (some might say forcing) independence in their babies, and this is a practical application of that philosophy. For every one of those parents, I would say there are dozens more who are simply desperate to feel healthy and whole again.
Long-time readers know that I am a fierce advocate of gentle nighttime parenting that avoids babies crying it out at all costs. I am not suggesting that any of us change our positions on CIO. I'm merely suggesting that we up the empathy level for the parents we encounter who are choosing practices with which we vehemently disagree.
Instead of shaking our heads in bewilderment, perhaps we could try nodding with compassion and reaching out and holding hands and confiding that we can relate.
And how do we proceed from there?
I've received good responses from saying things like, "Gosh, I remember those days. It is so hard. I never could listen to my babies cry for me, but I did find books like The No-Cry Sleep Solution to be helpful." Maybe we could be better about being proactive and offering to care for little ones for a few hours a week so Mama can nap. We tend to do well when parents first bring new babies home, but if we are all being honest, don't we need more help and support at the four month mark then we do at the four day mark?
If we are going to choose gentle parenting practices, then we have to live up to the responsibility of being gentle to all around us - tiny babies and fellow grown-ups alike. On hot topics like cry it out sleep training, let's take the lead by speaking from a place of helpful compassion and loving response.