Dear Sleep-Deprived Mama: Here’s the Story I Was Too Scared to Tell

sleep

Warning: this post is longer than the longest thing in the world. I should have split it up, but I didn’t want to. You’ve been forewarned.

Hey Pretty Mama, in your yoga pants and ponytail, slamming back the coffee like it’s magic (which it totally is). I’m terrified to write this letter, if I’m being honest. I have been wanting to share my story with you for so long, but have been much too scared to speak, for many reasons.

There are so many wars fought in the name of The Best Way in baby-rearing.

When you become a parent for the first time you generally catch on pretty quickly that you’re supposed to stake your flag into one side or the other. Pick a side, join a camp, wear team colours proudly. Follow your instincts, they say at first! And also… our Ten Convincing Reasons We’re Right! handout, these biased pamphlets, and this expert… and that one, too.

I arrived at this fork in the road while pregnant with my first child, reading everything I could get my hands on. Mostly on the internet, because hello: 21st century, right? Message boards, blog posts, websites of psychologists and child development theorists, friends and family, and around and around again like a never-ending merry-go-round of opinions and information, until I fell off in a dizzy heap. Instincts? I thought to myself. You mean this glassy-eyed feeling of confusion and panic is not normal? Huh.

So, I read stuff. I collected information and shoved it into my over-crowded brain like a clown car at a circus. I talked it out with my husband regularly. Of course, it was all still theory at this point. Our only child was still relatively easy, being still in the womb and stuff. One day while driving somewhere I gave him the introduction, 3 point argument, and conclusion for why I had decided to shack up with Camp A. Then, the next day I’d read something else equally convincing for the other side and become my own devil’s advocate, convinced that Camp B was, in fact, the way to go.

I flip-flopped back and forth like that for weeks. Months, actually. Struggling back and forth constantly with this decision is one of the biggest defining memories from my first pregnancy, and in the end I never felt completely settled one way or another.

4

The decision that plagued me most and caused me the most anguish was sleep-training. The idea of crying it out versus, well… not crying-it-out. It seemed to be all parents talked about: the fact that they were so freaking exhausted, and how to deal.

I had several great friends at the time who offered advice and recommendations for books and resources. So I nabbed one of the books and started reading. It explained the scientific basis of the importance of sleep. Basically, your child must get enough sleep or he will morph into a tiny evil frankenstein at night, murder your every hope of happiness, and then probably end up in prison or dead.

Ok, it may not have outlined it exactly like that, but I do recall becoming quite terrified about the number of hours in which my kid was snoozing, and thus quite willing to do whatever the book told me to do in order for him to sleep the appropriate amount of time. The book advocated the cry-it-out method if establishing a strict schedule did not “work” first.

Then, one sunny September afternoon, I gave birth. I am sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the earth hung in limbo for a tiny second as he came into it. There was before, and then there was after. I was profoundly and irrevocably changed in a cosmic and mysterious way.

We were exhausted, of course. We had missed a night of sleep while labouring, then, you know, I did the whole giving birth thing, and here was this shiny and plump little red-faced creature with teeny whisps of dark hair all over his head. I held his bare body on my bare chest and wrapped my hospital gown around us both, unsure of what to do now that I could no longer shield him from the world with just my body.

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We spent a night at the hospital, then came home, thrilled and terrified. That first night was hell. We spent every minute of the whole night getting him to sleep – nursing, rocking, diapering… and laying him in his cradle a foot from my head. He took a solid fifteen-second nap each time, then woke up and wanted to snuggle again. I bet you missed me, didn’t you, mama? Here I am!

My mom had said to call in the morning if we needed anything, so at 6:01am, I phoned her, choking back sniffling sobs of sheer wall-slammed exhaustion as I mumbled something not-really coherent. She came over that day, and I remember falling into her arms as she hugged me, and I choked back weeping tears as despair flooded over me. I had never been so exhausted in my entire life, and little did I know it was going to get worse before it got better.

It continued like that for months as the little brown-eyed treasure – with whom we were hopelessly in love – proved himself to be a spirited child right from the start. He would not sleep in his crib, in a carseat, in a cradle, in a swing, or on anything other than a warm and snuggly body, for more than an hour, maybe? I question that because it’s mostly a horrific blur of panicked survival.

I don’t recall specifics, but I do recall the terror. Wondering if I was going to actually survive. Wondering if you could die of sleep deprivation, or if I’d be the mom that went off the deep end and actually ended up harming her child. I was probably dealing with some undiagnosed postpartum depression as well: I remember an evening when he was 9 months and I was more or less just as exhausted as ever, and as I sat there in that yellow room bathed in the glow of a nightlight, rocking him to sleep yet again. I thought about what it would be like to toss him out the bedroom window. I pictured it happening in my mind, and pictured the scenario in a somewhat detached mindset.

I somehow knew that there was no real danger at hand, but I do recall vividly the feeling of despair and hopelessness. One night at small group Bible study (where we were the only ones with a baby) someone asked me a basic question (nothing hard – it was something inane and simple) and I struggled to make the words come out of my mouth beyond nonsensical syllables. The sentence was formed in my head, but the gears in my brain were so exhausted that they were not even able to get my mouth to form a coherent sentence. I remember feeling humiliated and stupid after muddling through the answer, before clamming up the rest of the evening. There was a constant haze that surrounded my brain, making me feel stupid and out of it, for most of that first year.

2

By the time he was 3.5 months, we were desperate. In fact, I think that’s putting it lightly. I was ill-equipped to deal with the level of exhaustion that we experienced. In fact, I recall many a time using that as the basis of a light joke when people would ask the awful question, “So, is he sleeping through the night yet?”. I’d respond with “No, not really. We’re pretty tired these days. Now we know why they use sleep deprivation as a torture tactic in terrorism!” Ha ha, how cute – so hyperbolic and witty! Except that I was so serious…

Slowly but surely, the flag that my instincts had led me to plant in Camp A became uprooted as we began the trek over to the other side. The instincts that told me that my baby’s desire to be with me was completely natural and healthy were told to shut up the eff up, and sit down. The instinct for survival was greater, and I thought that the only way to do that was to change camps. So we did.

To this day, as he is 5.5 years old, my heart is utterly broken and grieved by what we did next. At 3.5 months old, we let him “cry it out”. According to the cry-it-out experts, most babies will need to cry for just a short while – 10 minutes or so – before falling asleep and sleeping for the longest stretch of their lives thus far. The SUPER important issue, however, is to never, ever, EVER give in and go to him. Because then he’ll think he’s won, he can manipulate you, and you’re sunk.

1

The books I read encouraged parents to let the baby cry for as long as it needed to, and one of the books even said that if the baby vomited, to leave it, and change the sheets the next morning.

This is the number one biggest regret of my entire life, for which I am sick and ashamed of myself: In desperation, we let that sweet baby boy scream and wail and cry for for three hours. He screamed hysterically for three hours as we played board games in the basement to get away from the sound, with the baby monitor turned down. I’m not sure which ached more: my full breasts or my heart weeping with sorrow. This went for several nights and then the length began to shorten ever so slightly. I thought I had no choice. I thought it was our last resort.

Eventually, something happened and we stopped, because it so clearly was not working the way it was “supposed to”. We tried so hard to obey the advice, to do it “right”, to find relief from our desperate exhaustion and become better parents in the process. That didn’t happen. I don’t recall the specifics of how and when and where from then on, with regard to his sleeping habits. It has mostly been blocked from my memory. I just know that no benefit whatsoever came from that decision, and I will regret it to the very core of my being, until the day I die.

As I type this, sitting in bed late at night, he’s asleep beside me, between his Daddy and I. He has his own bed, but always ends up in ours in the middle of the night. We don’t mind a single bit, and we cherish the moments that he sleeps beside us as we get to kiss his soft head and cheeks, while the last bits of his babyhood rapidly fade away for good.

3

He struggles with falling asleep on his own now. He prefers to have us close by in the same room. If you ask me, I’ll tell you straight up that yes, I do think that’s a residual effect of what he went through as a baby. The high levels of stress and panic that flooded his infant brain were not healthy, and have likely affected him in ways we’ll never fully understand. I sit in his darkened room as he falls asleep, sometimes right on my lap, and I cradle his gangly limbs as they hang off my lap in all directions, and I kiss his head and face, and whisper lovey-doveys in his ears. I will do it every night of my life until he says he doesn’t need it anymore – when he decides he’s ready to take that next step of independence.

I want you to know, dear sweet sleep-deprived mama, that I get it. I so get the exhaustion, the desperation, the feeling like the fog will never, ever lift, and the despair. I also want you to know that it will get better. One day, down the road, that sweet baby will sleep a little longer, then a little longer, and then on and on it goes, until you wake up one day and marvel that a new stage is at hand, and look – you survived after all.

And here: I’ll tell you some facts I wish someone had told me back then:

— Babies are biologically designed to be near their caregivers for survival, and as such aren’t usually super fond of sleeping all alone in the dark.
— Sleeping through the night is defined as a 5-hour stretch, and the whole sleeping 12 hours thing doesn’t  happen until toddlerhood or later, for the majority of healthy and normal children.
— Co-sleeping can be done safely and effectively, and has been shown to decrease the rate of SIDS as well as getting better sleep for both mother and baby.
— Letting a baby CIO can have long-lasting negative effects on a child’s brain chemistry.
— The CIO method will also likely not “work” at all for a certain subset of children who are defined as “spirited children” (such as our sweet boy.) Their brains are just wired differently, and CIO will probably not work at all.

So why was this such a terrifying story to tell? I guess for fear of being condemned (God knows I’ve done that enough for myself). I also don’t want you to read this as a judgment or pronouncement on an entire camp or way of thinking. I have my opinions, of course, but that’s not the story I wanted to tell.

I simply share because I want the mama who feels that pressure to sleep-train to know that’s it’s ok to choose not to do it. It’s ok to listen to your instincts to go to your baby when he cries. It’s ok to cry from exhaustion and not know how you’re going to survive the day ahead. It’s ok to try new things and read books and think and pray and agonize and muddle through it all like a couple of total dummies. At the end of the day you have a tiny creature who depends on you for their very life. Your bond is unstoppable and your love is all-consuming. Let that be your guide.

Trust that mama-heart that God gave you, and snuggle your sweet little baby. Rock him to sleep and kiss his soft head. Drink an extra cup of coffee and call a friend. Make it through another day, one single hour at a time. You can and you will survive.

So much love to you, dear one.

xo,

B.

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Comments

  1. Angelina says

    This is the best post I have ever read.. I swear I could have wrote this as it was my situation with our daughter. Our story is identical and she is now 2.5 yrs and she still likes to be near us… We are expecting our 2nd this June (sleeping arrangements will be interesting) but I always kid that we can just build a bigger bed. LOL no, I am serious… I am going to share this with my husband. I never thought that the CIO could have made her need to be near us more to rest.

    Thank you for sharing your story because it was very real for us <

    • says

      I’m so glad it was helpful to you. Thanks for sharing your story as well – it’s so important for us mamas to be transparent and genuine with one another. xo.

  2. says

    Thank you.
    Just…thank you.
    My sweet boy is 6 months old and is not sleeping through the night. I have just had an exhausting day at work and was literally going to just give in and do CIO when I got home. I tried it once – only for an hour – and I still feel guilty. But it’s hard, in the middle of an exhausted stretch, to remember that it will get better and that you do not, in fact, *have* to do CIO. It seemed so wrong to me – and, for once, I’d like to just trust my instincts. He’s my son. And no amount of sleep is worth that hysteria.
    Thank you. Seriously.

    • says

      Rachel – I want to thank YOU for commenting here. You are exactly the reason I wrote this post, and I’m so blessed to know that it encouraged you. I know it’s hard in these days. I know it. Trust your instincts – I promise you that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. xoxo.

  3. Kourtney says

    When the sleep deprived leave blog comments, it can get interesting! Thank you for sharing your story. I would like to hear more of your thoughts about safe co-sleeping. My pediatrician is quite against it, as she states it raises the SIDS risk.

  4. says

    I am sympathetic to the AP-style of parenting, but this sort of story makes me think that perhaps there is a tendency within the AP community to be overly concerned and think how one mothers is directly related to how children see the world and how they turn out. Cortisol levels would have to rise repeatedly, over the course of numerous instances, for a child’s brain to be negatively affected. Like serious, repeated neglect. There’s much more at work within these little people than how we parent them, specifically sleep training or not. I’ve read one too many of these “I tried CIO and it was AWFUL and I damaged my kid, so now I’m better because I just embraced what is NATURAL, you should too” posts. I wish we women good wrap our minds around living a “quiet life, keeping to our own business” and stop evaluating, comparing, boasting in our parenting “successes” to the subtle condemnation of others and the exultation of self. It is a hard balance to strike as a lifestyle blogger, but much needed.

    • says

      I think you’ve completely mischaracterized my post, and you’ve put words in my mouth that I never said. I shared my story and my thoughts. That’s it. I even stated outright: “I also don’t want you to read this as a judgment or pronouncement on an entire camp or way of thinking.”

      I’m terribly sorry that you were not able to understand the point of what I wrote.

      PS. living a “quiet life, keeping to our own business” is not my goal in life, nor should it be. We all need each other’s stories… and I wish that instead of condemning me for mine, you had considered simply sharing your own.

      • Leslie says

        I’m sorry, Beth. I do characterize or judge this post to be similar to others I’ve read recently and I stand by the hyperbole that I used (not to directly quote you, but you know that), but to make a point. Your opinions about CIO, though not stated, came clear in your voice, and perhaps that struck a chord with me (though I don’t have any hard and fast rules about sleep training, I do not believe that babies are so negatively affected as you described in your experience). I am sorry for leaving a critical comment, though. I always feel passionately about something in the moment but do regret after seeing my words at a later time. And the quite life thing…I don’t assume everyone feels the same way I do, and that Scripture isn’t talking about NOT sharing our stories, so that’s not what I meant either. Blessings to you.

  5. says

    Thank you for being so courageous to share your story, Beth, I pray it helps many a mom who has been told that the CIO method is the “right” way. I am so thankful for having a mom who co-slept with us and so when I was pregnant, I knew I was going to co-sleep with my babies. It was so hard because I had to keep silent about it for the most part because it would evoke such strong negative reactions from people when I spoke about how I slept with my newborns. I even had to change pediatricians because my first one gave me such an angry lecture and shamed me to thinking I was a bad, irresponsible mother for “endangering” my child. It’s so sad to me that people do not know all the facts about co-sleeping and it’s positive impact for both mother and baby. I’m glad you mentioned a few of them here. I was blessed to find Dr. Sears (who way back then was still practicing with his sons here in Southern CA). He has many books on attachment parenting that are quite helpful in explaining the benefits of co-sleeping. We had our newborns in bed with us from day one. And we had an exit plan in place too that helped them to slowly transition to their own beds. At age one, we began with a mattress on the floor next to our bed and then when baby number two was one and a half, we transitioned both into their room together on two mattresses side-by-side. Despite all the warnings from well-meaning relatives and others who said our kids would be in bed with us forever (LOL) they happily transitioned to their shared room. Today, my 14 year old has his own room, but still invites his 12 year old brother in many a night to sleep on the trundle. They are so close. And the two always come jump in bed with us first thing in the morning – I LOVE this tradition of how we start our day. And when Dad is out of town, I always have a little man that snuggles up with me and keeps me company. It’s such a JOY!!! I really am SO very happy that we co-slept with our babies. I know it’s not for everyone, but it truly was a real blessing (and still is) for us. Thank you again for sharing your beautiful story. (And sorry my comment is almost as long as your post. As you can tell, I am a huge supporter of co-sleeping!) xoxo

    • says

      Thank-you SO much for sharing your story as a mama of older kids – I love, love, LOVE hearing that! What an encouragement. xo.

  6. Moggie says

    Oh my. I can just imagine that poor thing crying his heart out. And I really, really don’t know which books you’ve read that recommended letting a child sleep in their own vomit, but something like that should be criminal.

    I know there are a lot of books and each one of them says something different, but for me, and for many, many moms that I know, the CIO method worked – but if it should work, it has to be DONE RIGHT. That doesn’t mean letting the baby wail for three hours straight.

    Anyone interested in the how-to, check here http://www.itsbedtimeapp.com/, or google “Estivill method”.

    Basically, you never really let the baby CIO, but you stretch the intervals. So, if a baby cries and can’t fall asleep, you come IMMEDIATELY, hold them, snuggle them, whatever, to calm them down. The next time they start crying, you come immediately, but you DON’T take them out of the crib/bed/whatever, just stroke them and talk to them and let them know you’re there, but now it’s time to sleep. Next time the baby starts wailing, you wait ONE MINUTE and then repeat process. Then two minutes. Never, ever, do you go over fifteen minutes or so.

    For most moms that I know who have tried Estivill, it took a few nights and no more than, say, ten intervals, for their baby to start falling asleep peacefully and sleeping longer than a few hours.

    It really works. I promise. And there’s no trauma for the baby.

  7. Maria says

    My claim to fame is I still haven’t gotten a good night sleep in seven years and I have no regrets on how I raised or put my kids to sleep. My oldest who is seven now, didn’t sleep in her own bed until she was three. My youngest, who is four now, still sleeps with me, she is a very hyper child. I work full time out of the home and we get up and out of the house at 7:00 am. If I want to be an effective and functioning human being, I do what I have to get some sleep. Every circumstance is different. I live in an apartment, so I can’t have my child crying herself to sleep for hours at a time. The neighbors would report me to child services. So I say whatever works for you and your family, no one has a right to question. My kids are happy and very healthy, not all attached to me when I take them to school and daycare everyday of the workweek. I know one day in the near future when neither one needs me as much, I’m going to miss these nights together.

  8. says

    Beautifully written, Beth!

    I’m sure those who’ve had similar stories feel they’ve received a verbal hug from someone who understands where they are. The rest of us who’ve walked a different path can appreciate your honesty and bravery, and send a verbal hug your way {huuuug}. :)

    A dear friend of mine had an experience similar to yours with her first. My first was an easy sleeper, and I felt so helpless having to just listen and pray for she and her husband as they felt their way through a somewhat dark season of sheer exhaustion and emotional trauma – Thankfully, they prayerfully sought God’s wisdom and strength, and had a testimony of His provision to share on the other side! I’m certain she would have soaked up a post like this had she read it back then!

    • says

      Thank-you so much for sharing your encouragement and your story. It took me a while to process and respond to comments here, but I appreciate that you understand and heard my heart in this. xo.

  9. says

    love love love you for writing this!!!! so often i read posts that go the other way….that CIO isn’t as bad as people think it is, etc. thank you for writing the truth!!!

  10. says

    Wow, I’m weeping. We went a similar route with our daughter, but couldn’t go through with it. I think I stood crying next to her door for twenty minutes and then went to pick her up.
    This and the many mainstream mistakes we made when she was tiny…
    Big love to you… Hopefully we suffer more from these mistakes than they do

  11. Tiffany K says

    This is just like my story! You wrote honestly and from the heart and by doing so you will help another momma in the bumpy beginnings of her journey. Thank you so much for this. So beautifully written! Hugs & God Bless!

  12. says

    Aw, man….tears. I wasn’t sure where this was going….and either way, I was in support. I thank you for sharing your story, I wish more women could bravely tell their stories of how they felt, what they decided and how it all turned out–in all aspects of life and motherhood! Bless you for sharing. Thank you for your bravery.

    All mamas and babies are different. Every situation is different. You did the best you could, as we all do. We all have to take it one day at a time–that’s all I’m doing now and my boys are 4 and 8!

    I could write more but it doesn’t matter, really….I’m a big fan of moms following their heart, so thank you for encouraging us to do so.

  13. Sonita Lewis says

    Do NOT beat yourself up! Let go of that mam guilt!

    Son #1 (now 10 years old) was super laid back, slept in his crib from day one, we also did the CIO thing (BROKE my HEART!). But he’s my good sleeper. He slept through the night (8-10 hours) at 3 months old and exclusively breastfed.

    Son #2 (now 7) was a high needs baby with reflux and is to this day my strong-willed one. He co-slept or slept while I wore him most of the time until around 16 months(when he weaned off the breast), the one that to this day will sometimes cry for us to lay with him at night, he’s the one who had bad nightmares, he’s the one who isn’t a superstar sleeper.

    The point is, kids are unique individuals. Maybe your son would still end up in your bed most nights even if he had co-slept from day one, maybe he would still do that if you hadn’t let him CIO. There is no way to know. Let go of the mama guilt, you don’t need it anymore :)

    • says

      Thanks Sonita. Writing this was cathartic for me, and I’ve been working on doing exactly that. xoxo. Thanks for sharing your story too.

  14. says

    Oh Beth, this is my story too. I didn’t know what I was doing–an only child without any practice with babies–when I became a Mama.

    I read the book (title rhymes with Baby Cries) and let J-man cry it out. It was horrible. Thankfully, by the time Little Peanut came along I had changed my tune. We co-slept and it worked astoundingly well.

    Know that you did your best and none of us know all the answers. I was exclusively formula-fed and in the crib from Day 1–and am a reasonably normal, functioning human being! Give yourself grace. <3

  15. says

    I’m glad you shared your story – one of the best things mamas can do for each other is share our stories and listen to others, isn’t it? I did lots of crunchy reading before and during my pregnancy so I was all ready to co-sleep and nurse on demand, and when a friend of mine recommended a book on sleep-training I brushed her off because I honestly didn’t mind waking up a few times each night to nurse… but eventually what HAD worked for us stopped working for us, and I read a book that described my life and my child and prescribed CIO as an option to bring things around because my son was in a cycle of being over-tired and not falling asleep well.
    I found it helpful to distinguish between protest crying and actual crying – the first being my baby not wanting to take a nap or go to bed even though he was obviously tired and needed rest. It was a hard couple of days when we were adjusting to having a consistent routine, but life is so much the better now that we are all getting more sleep, and I am much better at recognizing when he is tired, when he’s crying because he woke up too soon and he’ll go back to sleep on his own if I leave him be, and when he’s calling for me to come get him.
    It is such a privilege to be a parent and to have our child(ren)’s trust. Maybe that’s part of where the shame comes from, feeling like we have mishandled such helpless vulnerability.
    I’ll echo what a few commenters have already said though – there is no need for shame in having made an honest mistake. Don’t sweep it under the rug, but don’t be afraid of it either; God is big enough to use all things.

    • says

      I’m glad you found something that works for you. I too thought that CIO was my ticket to more sleep… but it didn’t work out that way. I just wish it hadn’t been presented to me as the ultimate no-fail solution, as it was. :(

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  16. says

    Beth, I experienced a similar feeling of heavy guilt and despair over the way we handled our first-born. Very rigid, scheduled, no mercy, no giving in to the cries. I still feel sick over it sometimes, but when I posted about it, my sister-in-law reminded me that there is grace and forgiveness. And God has given grace for our children to not be harmed or affected by that now. I truly believe it, and pray you can be freed from the guilt! You are a fantastic mother and were only doing what you thought was best at the time. There’s something to be said about that :0)

  17. Tiffany says

    I am glad that you wrote the last paragraph for us mamas who do sit in the camp of CIO. My sweet girls have both been great sleepers and did their first 12 hour night by 10 weeks. I was very blessed, I know that. However, my kids are not the same kind of kids as Isaac. I think the longest that my girls have ever cried was 10 mins. I have the stereotypical child that is perfect for CIO. I do know, however, that if my beautiful girls were not decent sleepers I probably would have had a psychotic break. I had a hard enough time with them as it was. Throw on not sleeping and they probably wouldn’t be here now. God knew that. He knew me. He knew what I needed to get through. I know that the underlying message to all these mamas is to do what you feel is the right thing to do and to not ignore your instincts. Each person has a different story and a different tolerance level and a different child. I am very thankful that you shared your story and that you do live very strongly in “camp A” but this “camp B” mama wants To make sure that each mama can have her own way of doing things. And we all make mistakes am we all learn from those mistakes. What I would share with you , Red, is that you should not feel guilty for your mistakes. If you didn’t learn and tried it again with either one of your other beautiful children then you wouldn’t have retained the lesson. Be encouraged, beautiful mama, because that one instance with your sweet boy will not haunt him for the rest of his life. He will not remember and he will get over it. Love you sweet Red!

    • says

      Tiffany, thank-you for your graciousness and understanding that each kid is so different. Thanks for hearing my story and not claiming that I’m judging you just because I think and choose differently. We are all just mamas who love our kiddos. Thanks for hearing me on that. xo.

  18. says

    That is a hard story to tell and I am so glad you shared. I had a beautiful crib set up in the baby room for my first child. He never ever slept in it! He slept with us from the first day in the hospital. We loved sharing our bed. Five years passed and his little sister came and I didn’t even set up the crib. We loved co-sleeping. We bought a king sized bed to fit the whole family. SO many people warned against this and I just never really listened. It worked well for us. My now 9 year old sleeps by himself in his room except two days a week one night he sleeps with me and one night he sleeps with dad. I know it is a mater of time and he won’t want to sleep with us ever again so I am loving it while it last!

  19. Shellon says

    I love the message that you just need to follow your heart. I have been given so much well meaning advice and books, and some not so well meaning. But when it comes down to it, you have to do what is best for your little one. My daughter sleeps sooooo much better in her own room. But to get her to sleep any longer than six hours is a miracle, and that’s total, not just in a stretch. She is most definitely a spirited child! We have never tried CIO, but mostly because I am a SAHM and just rest when she does so I am not overly sleep deprived. Let people say what they will,this mothering stuff is hard enough without letting someone else between you and your baby.

  20. JC says

    My son is now 7 and we still have trouble getting him to go asleep in his own room by himself. Someone has to stay with him while he falls asleep and even then he will sometimes come into our room at 2-4 am upset because he woke up alone. He’s now too big to fit in a Queen size bed with us so he gets a pallet on the floor with a warm comforter and pillow. I hope one day he will sleep in his own bed all night every night but for now I’m doing what is best for him. Its too heartbreaking to hear him cry in loneliness and fear alone in his bed. For now the floor will do until he’s ready.

    I never tried the CIO method because he was a very difficult baby when it came to sleeping from day 1. He would only sleep in somebodies arms. He had allergies, eczema, and I think even Acid reflux that went undiagnosed.. He was also very colicky. It just seemed to me that if he really needed comfort to be able to sleep then the least I could do was be there for him. Please understand I know for a lot of kids the CIO method works great and if it does then I don’t see why not do it. If in just a week of short 10 minute fussing sessions you can get them to learn how to sleep on their own then it makes sense to do it. For some babies though letting them cry for several hours every night in the hope it will someday work to me isn’t a solution. It teaches them they cannot trust you to meet their needs. I think for the majority of babies this isn’t necessary but when it is you will find you have a much better relationship with them if you meet the need. You will sleep better and so will they. We all have to do what works best for each of our kids and thankfully that may not be the same for each one. Thank you for sharing your experience. Many moms out there feel such pressure to let them CIO even when they don’t feel good about it. They need to know its OK to do what feels right and natural. You will not spoil them by meeting their needs. Again…no judgement for those who do CIO…some babies just don’t have that same need.

  21. April says

    Thank you so much for writing this! As a new mom I am right in the thick of things with my son. I was feeling badly because I could not get him to go to sleep for much longer than a couple of hours and feeling pressure when my friends babies ( who are younger) were already sleeping through the night. I was feeling like bringing my baby into our bed to sleep was giving up or that I was being a lazy parent. Reading your story brought tears to my eyes and helped me feel normal again. My husband and I love our baby so much and pray for him as well as ourselves that God will help us be the best parents we can be. God used you this morning to encourage me so much! Praise God and bless you!!

    • says

      Mamas like you are the reason I wrote this. Hope you are doing well… this is a season, and it shall pass. xoxo. Thanks for hearing and for getting it.

  22. says

    Oh, sweet friend. I just want to wrap my arms around you and hug you. I hope and pray that you can extend grace to your First Time Mama self. Sleep deprivation is truly THE WORST. The desperation to make a change, to get some freaking SLEEP, it’s overwhelming. I say that with the deepest empathy possible. And when the culture around you encourages you to do something that they assure you will WORK, you do it. Girl, I KNOW.

    Thank you for sharing your family’s experience with such passion and principle. This was the whole intention of Laura and I when we wrote Spirit-Led Parenting – to say, hey. It’s okay. There’s another way.

    I just want you to know I’m hearing you and your heart for new mamas. Thank you for spreading the message that sleeping through the night at such a very young age is not developmentally appropriate. Do some babies do so on their own or with very little fussing? Sure, of course they do. But some babies like your oldest and mine just simply cannot and will not without hysteria. Every baby comes with his/her own set of instructions, and thankfully, we have the work of the Creator through the Holy Spirit to help us figure them out. Sort of.

    I love you, dear one.

    • says

      Late to respond, but can’t help but say THANK-YOU, dear one, for this beautiful response you gave to me at a time of vulnerability in sharing my story. You are such an encouragement to me. Your friendship means the world to me. xoxoxo. I love you, too.

  23. Emily says

    This post exemplifies the school of thought in moms right now that we control our child’s destiny. We don’t. We do our best and if we did our best at that time there’s no need for us to panic with regret. I think your post is going to make a lot of moms feel bad about themselves which isn’t overly helpful. I know that wasn’t your intent, but I think that’s what happened. As a mother of a one-year-old (and hopefully more babies in the future) I know I’ve made so many mistakes and sometimes I’m tempted to beat myself up, but, I’m so thankful for the grace of God and that he’s going to care for my child in ways that I can’t and shouldn’t try to.

  24. says

    Oh, the first half of this story was me exactly with my youngest son. He was an very hour and a half waker, and we tried everything to get him to sleep a little longer. We kept him in a pack n play next to our bed (moving him into our bed sometime in the middle of the night) until a little over 3 months when he reached the 15 lb weight limit on the top part of his pack n play. We’ve now moved him into his crib (which stinks for me, because it’s way easier to nurse lying in bed), but it has really been great for him. Sure it takes me anywhere from 10-45 minutes of rocking and shushing everynight to get him to sleep, but his stretches have grown longer – I actually got a 5 hour stretch last night for the first time!! I’ve never let this baby CIO – heck, I barely let him cry, but I did try CIO a couple of nights with my first son, and hated it, so we stopped. I just couldn’t bear to leave him in there like that, which was a sign to me that it was the wrong choice for us. He’s now 7 and still sneaks into our bed sometimes in the middle of the night, but honestly, who cares? We love the snuggles and at 3 am we’re not doing anything but sleeping anyway, so we cherish it. :)

  25. Kathy says

    Thank you for posting! Your description of the first months home with the first baby are so similar to my experience. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one to feel that. We also “switched camps” which was horrible for me to let my baby cry. In all of the sleep deprivation, I don’t remember the exact details of the transition, but my oldest (who cried at least some) is my best sleeper at this point. Thankfully, because his two younger brothers seem to keep me in my sleep deprived state. I appreciate your honest posts and enjoy reading your blog.

    • says

      Thank-you for reading and understanding – sounds like we have similar stories. And thanks for reading my blog… I appreciate that so much! xo.

  26. Rachel Hurst says

    You have to do what is right for your family, BUT cio is what worked for us… and you know what, both of our kids fall asleep on their own. We tuck them in with ritual cuddles, kisses, and prayers… then they sleep. They only come to our room in the night to go to the bathroom (even though they have their own.) There has been no trauma. In fact even when sick, they sleep in their beds. If they need me (with the rare nightmare or sickness,) I go to them. I let them lead me in what they need, whether it is a drink, praying, singing, cuddles, pillow talk in bed, or just me to sit on the end of the bed. The cio methods you mentioned seemed extreme. I had a rocking chair in the nursery beside the crib. After rocking and a song, I would lay them down this sit back down and rock. If they cried I would reassure them I was near. If that failed I might even lay my hand on their back. I would pray over them… not just for them to sleep, but for their future, for our family, for my prayer list. And then as they got better at sleeping, I was able to leave earlier and earlier until I could just put them down and leave. Our daughter later deceloped bad asthma after a double skin infection and had to start steriods. She now takes steriods and singulair and has difficulty sleeping. Her pediatrician recommended using melatonin. It doesn’t put her to sleep, but it does help her settledown enough to eventually fall asleep. Sometimes she stays up later and plays quietly in bed or occasionally I will let her come into our room until 9pm (bedtime is 7.)
    I doubt your son’s sleep issues are due to trauma, but more likely due to conditioning. You have conditioned him tk become dependent on you to fall asleep. I have friends who refused the ciobmethod thinking her children would outgrow it. She has been one of my biggest supporters. Her children are now preteen and teen. They still want to sleep in her bed. Her son if left to fall asleep on his on will stay up until 2am and bedtime is always a battle with her daughter. She feels horrible because now her children remeber when she loses her temper and feel rejected if she doesn’t let them sleep with her. I personally think itt is better to have your child learn how tonsleep when they are little and aren’t going to remember it. What they will remember is the hugs and kisses, the lullabies, and the fact that although you might not be right there, you are always near. Neither of mine have fmgone through separation anxiety or anxiety going to school. They both are confident and loving. We cuddle in the evenings and throughout the day, but they also appreciate having their own private time.
    Finally, I worry about the message you are sending to those mothers past the breaking point. Where as something kept you from throwing your baby out the window, shaken baby syndrome is serious. So are feeling of resentment. So where as it all turned out peachy for you- it might not for someone else. Whatbif in your sleep deprived state, you had driven off the road or had an accident. Sleep is important and you can’t provide the best for your children if your body is in power save mode.
    My advise: if you are having negative thoughts about your child, set your child down in a crib and walk away. GO outside. Call someone. They will NOT think bad of you or that you are weak or that you do not love your child. They will think you are a mither who loves her child and knows when to ask for help. :) Talk to your pediatrician and ask for ideas to help. Ther are good holistic methods that can help both you and baby. Research, but in the end… just do what works for both you and baby. Maybe it’s a combination. Last of all, pray. Just in general ;)

  27. says

    Oh you poor thing! :( I’m sorry you had such a rough time. I did too. (mmm okay I still am). I honestly thought that I was going to die. I actually sobbed those words to my husband a few times. “This is going to kill me.”

    I’m alive so far. (Though he’s started to crawl so we shall see… lol)

    And I’m so glad that you found a method that works for you! That’s awesome!!

    But I do want to throw out there that crying itself within reason is not going to damage every child. And co-sleeping, etc doesn’t work for every family. We need to stop mommy shaming both ways. Because co-sleeping is not perfect. My son will not sleep with us – he sleeps better in a dark room alone (he seems super independent). He’ll actually go 12 hrs (at 6 mos) but it took us a long time to get there. The vast majority of our sleep problems ended when I set him up in his own room at 3 months. And he started sleeping better. Who knew? I missed him and brought him in bed with us for a few nights and nope. Did not work at all. He thought it was play time and squirmed and wiggled and touched our faces and laughed. Which is cute unless you’re sleep deprived haha.

    The point of it is, good for you for posting. I am so sorry you went through that!! I’ve been there too and I know how hard it is. I’ve fantasized about just driving away before. Just leave baby with daddy and driving. Anywhere. We all have times like that, i think. But we keep soldiering on. So carry on, mama! You’re doing what’s best for you and your family and that’s what’s important!

    • says

      Yes, I agree, and that is why I was so careful so use words like “babies USUALLY prefer to sleep with us” and “The CIO method MAY cause damage…” etc. I didn’t make absolute claims precisely for that reason. :)

      Thanks for sharing your story and your encouragement!

  28. Katie says

    Yes, you’re so very against shaming new mothers, which is why you shame those who do cio or don’t co-sleep. I so sick of all the crunchy mamas making me feel like dirt because my son sleeps in his own room and occasionally cries himself to sleep.

    News alert: some babies hate snuggling. Some babies won’t sleep if they’re near you. Some babies can cry for a little bit and it doesn’t cause them lasting trauma.

    Sure, that wasn’t your experience. Apparently it’s not the experience of ANYONE who is otherwise crunchy-minded. But how many times am I going to read blog posts whose titles promise grace for tired mamas and instead find yet another shaming story about how I’m going against biology and ruining my child’s psyche for life? Thanks so much.

    • says

      Right! There’s enough evidence and experts on both sides – you know, by people who spend their lives doing this – that I think we can all just chill out. I agree that I get a *lot* of shaming from the all-natural crowd about going against biology and ruining my child and stuff. But as my comment above says… well, my son just didn’t want to be with us. He cries until I put him in his own bed. Am I bad mom? Heck to the no!!

      However, I don’t think this was Beth’s intent. But I agree that the end definitely came across as shaming anyone who tries to sleep train or doesn’t sleep with baby – even though that isn’t what she meant.

    • Jill says

      You aren’t alone Katie. My baby is a cuddle bear when she is awake but when she is ready to sleep, she wants to be left the heck alone, much like her momma. I am so very sick of the mommy wars…perpetuated by posts such as this. The author claims to give grace to the ‘tired mamas’ (please show me a mama who isn’t tired?!?!?!) yet totally judges and condemns those that have used CIO method. I am a super crunchy mom…but I am not an attachment parent. You know why? It doesn’t work for our family. It’s not my personality, it’s not my babies personality. AP works for YOUR family? Awesome. Stop stop STOP with judging others how they raise their children. No one is winning, everyone is losing. I truly hope it wasn’t the authors intent to shame ANY parents.

      Additionally…the author claims she is still riddled with guilt and shame for letting her babe CIO five years ago. jesus died on the cross to bear your guilt and shame sister. you need to give that to Him and move on.

    • says

      I’m confused about how there is shaming in this post? Sharing a personal story is not shaming. She is sharing her story and what didn’t work for her and giving an alternative. In fact she specifically says, “I also don’t want you to read this as a judgment or pronouncement on an entire camp or way of thinking.”

      I know plenty of new mamas who really feel like CIO is the ONLY way, but can’t figure out why it isn’t working for them or their babies. That’s who this post was written to. Because if CIO is working for a family and their baby is sleeping well then that would imply that they are sleeping well and not really the tired mama in need of grace that this post is written for. No one is making anyone feel like dirt – if you’ve figured out something that works well for both you and your baby then you should feel good and secure in your decision and not worry about another mama sharing her very personal story about how that didn’t happen to work for her and her baby.

    • Amber says

      I agree with you too Katie. This is just another blog post shaming parents who don’t follow AP. I usually really like the things that Beth writes about but this one just made me angry.

      I used the Ferber method and my family is happier for it.

    • Andi says

      The confusion about whether she was actually “shaming” is that some people FELT shamed, despite the fact that was not her intention. There is evidently not any one definitive “Cry It Out” method, as some of the books she got a hold of advocated extreme forms of the method, whereas the mamas I hear who swear by it used a method that I would personally call “Gradual Withdrawal”, which does involve some crying, but not to a degree that seems to leave any lasting problems.

      Anyone who felt shamed by this post was taking personally a rejection that was aimed at a method that, evidently, most of you weren’t even REALLY using, as Gradual Withdrawal has been shoved under the same umbrella with extreme CIO. IMHO, the two are very different methods, and we need to start recognizing the semantic problems that come with slapping the same label on essentially dissimilar things.

      A lot of what is perceived as “shaming” is really that people can’t handle it when someone stands up and says “I tried this, it didn’t work for me, and I can’t imagine why/how anyone could do that.” All “I” statements. The only thing Beth said about YOU was that she doesn’t judge you. Rejecting methods you embrace (especially when it’s actually a rejection that is only LABELED like something you’ve done) is NOT a rejection of YOU. Dear mamas, PLEASE learn the difference!

      The fact that you took offense is not the same as someone actively shaming.

      • says

        This is probably the absolute best comment I’ve ever received on a post. I don’t know how to thank you for sharing this so brilliantly. Everything you said was just perfect, and makes so much sense. I love how you differentiated me shaming someone versus them feeling shame. Those two things are miles apart… unfortunately some people seem to have equated them. :(

        Your comment was a breath of fresh air, and I thank you. xoxo.

  29. says

    Oh Beth! Thank you for sharing your story sweet friend!! You are brave and you are an amazing mama! I type this as my 20 month old naps in my arms. We are struggling with a seriously ROUGH time of her sleeping, and we do let her do a bit of crying now, at her age. But we are also taking different steps like moving her out of her crib onto a twin mattress on the floor – partially because she learned to climb out of her crib, but also so that we can lay next to her in her bed to help her go to sleep and stay asleep. And she still makes it into our bed at some point during the night or wee morning hours. And while it’s HARD and we are SO TIRED, we know this is a stage and she will eventually sleep better and be more secure because of the way we handled her sleeping when it was hard. Our older two kiddos are awesome sleepers now, and we did not let them CIO as babies (or oldest we did some when she was older – like 15-16 months, not as a little baby) although they still like us to be near them as they fall asleep too. I’m totally okay with that. I mean, seriously – we as adults don’t usually sleep alone! And if my hubs is gone and I have to go to sleep by myself it is HARD for me, why do we expect different of our sweet babies?!

    • says

      Yes, we are so totally on the same wavelength here!! Thanks for commenting and for understanding and hearing my heart. Love you, dear friend. xo.

  30. Christy says

    Since I’m guessing you’re going to get a lot of strong opinions on either side, I just wanted to offer up a rather middle-of-the-road comment. I just had my fourth baby in 5 years, so I know a little (ha) something about exhaustion. I have not let any of my kids CIO for extended periods of time. BUT, I also sleep horribly with a baby in my room, so I’ve not co-slept extensively either (though the last two babies usually ended up in bed with me around 5am). My first two cried — not screamed, but more than a whimper sometimes — for 15-20 minutes at every single nap and bedtime for most of the first year. I don’t feel ashamed about that whatsoever. If I went in to them, they’d fuss for an hour or more. If I let them go, they’d be asleep for a good nap within 20 minutes. Both of them were sleeping 12-13 hours by a year old, and still do (at 3 and 4 years old).

    I guess I just want to say, within reason, there’s no reason to feel ashamed for trying something. Like I said, I never let it go for hours and hours, so maybe that’s why I don’t feel so bad about it. It might turn out, like it did with my first two, that 15 minutes of settling down is what they need to sleep. (Number 2 STILL talks himself to sleep every night, though it’s not crying anymore.)

    Also, randomly — my 2nd and 3rd both preferred to sleep with the light on. So even if I was letting them work it out a bit, it wasn’t in the dark. I didn’t start turning the light off until a few months old.

    • says

      Honestly, if whimpering for 20 minutes had worked… I would probably feel ZERO regrets. Seriously – the sleep deprivation was basically the worst experience of my life. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and the hours of screaming will forever be in my memory. :(

  31. Belle says

    What a beautiful story of a momma doing what her baby needs! The mommy-wars need to stop. Seriously. No woman can make a decision for another woman. I’m so glad that you did what your heart was telling you.

    Just so that the “other side” can be shared for all of the new moms out there that might feel led a different way, I’d like to tell my story. I have 5 living children. For some reason, God blessed me with good sleepers. I didn’t say “perfect” sleepers mind you! Most were preemies and I was blessed to be able to nurse(after much arguing with the NICU people. They started the 3 hr routine for me)… some every 3 hrs and some every 2 hours. My non-preemies gave me a 5 hr night rather soon (my girls wanted to snuggle with me the first night… loved it) and all but one were giving me an 8 hr night by their due dates. My oldest living 4 are 18 months apart and I was stuck in an abusive marriage…. sleep helped me survive. Because I had also buried babies during these years, I did a lot of watching them sleep…. which meant I got no sleep some nights. I never really had to let them CIO except a few times and then only for less than 15 min depending on which one it was….. I was very gradual about it though. I had a gentle routine to get them to sleep and I started at birth and they took to it rather easily. No CIO until they were newborns. They are now teenagers and I can honestly say that there is NO residual damage from their infancy. I have a loving, close, tender relationship with all of them. I had a flexible schedule that they could depend on and I could predict. It could deviate with need. For us, it worked.

    Having said that, I FULLY recognize that not every baby and family has the same personality make-up or emotional needs. People need different things and that’s OKAY. Just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for everyone else…. and just because it didn’t work for you doesn’t mean that it can’t work for me (and I don’t believe that’s what you were saying at all!). This is why parenting has so many choices…. so we can do what our own family needs.

    Hehehe, in the interest of full disclosure lest you think I’m trying to say life is golden over here (um, SO NOT!), I have a kiddo that is 3 years behind in math and none of mine are good spellers without spell check. And we’re homeschoolers so this is a big deal. And we have to have the same character development conversations that everyone else has to have (well…. I DO know some families that don’t have to have these talks. But we do.)

    Anyway, respecting our differences and loving in other BECAUSE of our differences is the first step toward ending this ridiculous war between different styles and needs. God created us unique… not cookie-cutter!

  32. Mary says

    Been there, done that. My one night of letting my son CIO was twenty years ago. Yes, TWENTY YEARS AGO. He was a co-sleeper until he eventually outgrew it at about four. Except for that one night, I learned not to go against his need to be close while he was sleeping. He grew up to be a wonderful person who sleeps like a log now, in spite of one very long and horrible night 20 years ago.

  33. Tierra says

    I haven’t read everything in the article yet, but I am so encouraged by what little I have read toward the end, because I had a traumatic experience when one night for just 15 or 20 min. we tried something to the effect of CIO and it was truly devastating for me. Nothing like I have ever felt before. That’s when my daughter was about 9 or 10 months. She is now 20 months and we are still co-sleeping. I believe that it is my personal conviction and it feels right to respond to the cry of our baby. I want to truly follow my motherly instincts that God has given me as a mother. It’s so precious. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. It makes me want to share my story too to encourage others that it’s ok to do what you feel is right even if everyone says differently. #Trailblazer

  34. Nichole says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure it was difficult – there’s often a lot of “mommy-shaming” these days, perhaps more pronounced because of the internet. And I’m sure you, writing a blog with such honesty, can feel that.

    We have co-slept with our babies from the day they were born but with our first born we did try the CIO method. For the first 6+ months of her life we had simply co-slept. It felt right, was simple (especially since I breastfed and could easily fall asleep next to her while she took a midnight feeding) and, to be completely honest, it was just easy. I did not have the energy to stay up and rock a baby to sleep each time she awoke. Starting in the hospital we just slept with her (beside us, on our chest) and never looked back. But, at around 6 months I thought (garnered from the myriad of parenting insights a new mom is bombarded with) I needed to start getting her to sleep on her own so I gave in to CIO. My fiance was on second shift (3-11pm) so putting her to sleep was my responsibility. Lucky for me she took to it quickly. Barely really crying before she fell asleep for a few nights, and then, if she didn’t fall asleep on her own I would just transfer her to her crib after she fell asleep with me.

    This went on for a few months. She never slept through the night in her crib. I would just bring her to bed with me (again easier, more relaxing for the both of us) when she woke up after a few hours in the crib. I assumed she’d just start sleeping more on her own over time. Then around 8 months her father, my fiance, had to have knee surgery. Our schedule, with him home, totally changed and her sleeping at all on her own in her crib stopped. Once he went back to work I tried CIO one night on my own but by that time she was pulling herself up and standing. I couldn’t stand for her standing in bed, desperately crying at the door for me when I knew sleeping together just made so much sense. So, she came back to bed with us.

    She’s 2 now and still sleeps in our bed. We’re fine with that. Our newest (6 months) sleeps with us as well. Since our schedules are still different (fiance working 2nd shift) I usually fall asleep with the girls in our bed (feeding the baby while reading to our toddler). We all fall asleep that way. Both girls will sleep through the night (8-10 hours) with me in bed (with the exception of the baby waking to eat every now and then).

    It’s honestly been wonderful for us. I feel much more energized sleeping with them because they sleep and I know they both feel secure. I know that they will eventually move to their own room and beds when they’re ready but there’s no feeling that we need to rush. (They won’t be little forever!)

    I, too, feel ashamed for trying the CIO, especially the second time around. The unnecessary stress and perhaps trauma she faced in the dark, on her own without knowing why… But I try to reassure myself (and I’m sure you know it too) that we do the best we can with the information and experience we have at the time and there is simply no going back – just continuing to do our best from here on out is all we can do.

    Thank you again for sharing!

    • says

      Sounds like we had similar journeys. Thank-you for sharing your story in return, Nichole. Being heard and loved is so powerful, isn’t it? Thank-you. xo.

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