11.09.2008

Zzzzz's (Or Lack Thereof)

Before we found out our baby's gender, people would ask if we wanted a boy or girl. And I would invariably say I was hoping for a sleeper. Apparently I was not knocking on wood, because one thing is certain: this girl is not a sleeper.

One time, many months ago, Juliette slept seven hours in a row. I thought it was a sign that sleeping through the night was imminent, but it was a fluke that has never again been replicated. When Juliette was four months old - the weekend of her blessing - I lost my ability to stay up for the ten to thirty minutes it took to nurse her back to sleep and put her back in the crib. Maybe if it had been once or twice a night I could have kept it up, but it was more like three or four times a night. So we did what we needed to do: we started co-sleeping, which is Attachment Parentingese for letting the kid sleep in your bed. The new drill was heavenly; I hardly woke up when Juliette needed me.

I assumed that the night wakings would taper off... but they haven't. According to our pediatrician and a handful of baby books, I reinforced Juliette's night waking by responding to her every time. Juliette doesn't really need to eat throughout the night, but she hasn't learned to soothe herself back to sleep on her own.

So we now find ourselves in the middle of an ideological battlefield. On the one hand, we have our "sleep trainers," pediatricians who believe that learning to self-soothe and sleep through the night is tantamount. Sleep training inevitably involves some level of "crying it out" - i.e., allowing the baby to cry when she wakes up but doesn't need food or a diaper change, so as to condition her to put herself back to sleep. The sleep trainers promise that letting your baby cry it out doesn't harm her in any way - psychologically, physically, etc. Dr. Weissbluth, a sleep researcher, assures parents that not sleep training is more harmful than a few nights of crying.

On the other hand, we have our attachment parenting folks. While there's a lot more to AP than just co-sleeping (it's one of eight principles), the whole concept of crying it out and sleep training is anathema to this crowd. The AP philosophy teaches that nurturing a close parent-child attachment early in life leads to greater empathy and independence later in life. The attachment theorists have their own cache of research; not only in support of co-sleeping, but also against letting babies cry themselves to sleep (like this). Even more disconcerting than the research, though, is the lack of research about crying it out; a 2006 article in the Sleep Journal pointed out that despite some pediatricians' and psychologists' assurances that no harm is done, there are no studies researching the long term effects of sleep training on a child's physiological stress response, attachment relationship with parents, emotional development, personality development, or expression of physical affection (discussed here... if you're still reading, that is!)

In the final days of the election, I heard a pundit question how anyone could possibly be undecided between the radically different Barack Obama and John McCain. At the time, I concurred. But come to think of it, my inability to decide between sleep training and attachment parenting is comparable. I've heard both sides, and my contradictory preferences keep calling the debate a draw.

Ben and I have both ridden the pendulum between the two schools of thought. For a long time, I vaguely wanted to adopt some Weissbluthian principles, but Ben wasn't having it. Then a talk with the pediatrician led him to believe we had to try some sleep training. We did, for four nights. And they were four of the most miserable nights of my life, and I can say with conviction that they were definitely the most miserable nights of Juliette's life. The days were just as bad; our sweet Little Miss Giggles was grumpy, clingy, and screamy. My maternal instincts were staging protests, and we called it quits.

Juliette is back in bed with us for most of the night. Sometimes it downright sucks; in addition to the night waking, she's at a stage where she is beginning to roll around in her sleep, and sometimes she rolls (rather rudely) onto my face. But sometimes its downright my favorite part of parenting, to wake up with a baby under my arm. She obviously feels happiest and safest with us, and she certainly sleeps better here than there. If I were she, I would certainly prefer nights with Mama and Pops than hours of being on my own. In the dark. With no milk. Or cuddles.

This sleep conundrum is, right now, such a microcosm of my parenting anxiety. I haven't managed to develop the confidence to trust my instincts and believe that our best is more than enough for Juliette.

This I know for sure: I may not have the sleeper I thought I wanted, but I love the giggler just the way she is.

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