The following is a true and honest account of the process of sleep training from a wonderful mom, Elizabeth Carey, I had the opportunity to work with. She sent me this beautiful piece she wrote on the second day of sleep training and I knew I had to share it with all of you. The words are raw, real, and so heart-warming.
Tired Mama, there is an in between.
Sleep Training. Two words that I have dreaded saying, or hearing since I brought my precious newborn baby girl home. As a first time mom, I learned a lot that first year. Most surprisingly and shocking was that babies don’t just sleep! People warned me when I was pregnant to enjoy all the sleep I was getting. I felt like telling them off, as I was up every hour to pee those last few months of pregnancy. Sleep was not happening those last few months of pregnancy and once the baby was here and I got my “body back”-haha, I could finally get some rest. (This thought is laughable to me now )
But to all those giving me unwelcomed warnings, you were right.
I won’t go on and on about my entire first year experience, but what I want to say is-I was sleep deprived and not sure how to help my baby sleep without holding her.
I read countless articles. Half the articles said that if I didn’t teach her to sleep on her own I would be rocking her at college, the other half stating there was medical evidence that babies who cry themselves to sleep have raised stress hormones in their little bodies for days after the incident and were impacted negatively into adulthood.
There was no winning either way.
I bought the book- “No Cry Sleep Solutions” and hoped and prayed that my baby girl would just “get it” and finally go to sleep on her own. My daughter’s pediatrician asked how she was sleeping on every visit, and as a tired mama who hadn’t slept through the night in months, I would try to be positive but said, she still wakes up during the night. Her pediatrician told me-“Just lay her in the crib, shut the door and see her in the morning.” I smiled, said “Okay” and then lied to her about any sleep habits in all the future visits-no way was I taking that advice. There was absolutely no way I was abandoning my baby. The thought of her being alone and crying herself to sleep literally broke my heart. I got countless warnings from other parents and unsolicited advice-“if you don’t let her just cry, she will never learn” which both broke my heart and filled me with a type of anxiety that was new to me. Being someone with anxiety since I was little-this was even more overwhelming. To hear my baby crying and panicked and not being able to sooth her? It was beyond torture to me and something I could not emotionally handle.
So I closed the book on the whole sleep training idea and rocked my baby to sleep every single night. Every single night, every single nap, every single night waking, I went to her and I comforted her. As soon as I had her in my arms, she would settle and get back to dreamland. I was comforted by being the source of her calm. But at the same time, overwhelmed with fear. What if something happened to me? I wasn’t worried about me-I was worried how my baby would get to sleep? No one could possible comfort her to sleep like her mama. I prayed to God for strength every night and even on some of the toughest nights, where I thought my body might physically fail me as I walked her around her room to soothe her back to sleep-I felt weak, I felt exhausted, but I just prayed that He gave me the strength to hold her and give her what she “needed.”
To say the last year was tough is a gross understatement.
My entire world has revolved around meeting her needs. I would get home from work at 4:30 with her and between 4:30 and 6 had to “get everything done” so that I was able to get my baby to sleep.
Sometimes it took her an hour to fall asleep in my arms, sometimes three.
Every parent knows how terrifying it is to place a sleeping baby in their crib and get out of the room without a sound-that was me every night-and sometimes as soon as you set them down-the crying begins and you have to start all over.
Regardless, it was my job as her mama to give her what she needed.
This is how I lived my first year of teaching as a new mom.
My sleep deprivation was an afterthought because frankly I didn’t see another way-so why put more pressure on myself to sleep when I had to meet my baby’s needs.
My friends pulled an intervention on me towards the end of May. I was really annoyed by their need to tell me what a bad friend I was. I already felt like a failing mom, teacher, and wife. I already had enough on my plate and having more people tell me how I was failing them was more than I could emotionally handle.
But that intervention was not them telling me I suck. The intervention was two of my best friends telling me they were worried about me. That my own self-care was being sacrificed to the point where it had impacted every aspect of my life. It was a good talk-but I shut them both down when they mentioned my daughter’s sleeping habits. I told them for now, I didn’t know what else to do and she was sleep deprived enough from not napping at daycare. I also said, that subject was not open for discussion at the moment. They respected it, but most importantly-I HEARD them. As the weeks went by, I thought more about what they said.
As the weeks went on, I also noticed my daughter-who has grown into a big one-year-old was not as comfortable in my arms. It was more awkward for me to hold her, she was getting really sweaty. She would push off of me and try to get out of my arms but as soon as I laid her down scream even harder and last of my worries but still one-my back was on the point of going out from hours of holding my one year old and rocking her to sleep.
I knew something had to change. My friend was nice enough to share her daughter’s sleep plan with me that she had gotten from a sleep consultant years ago.
My husband and I talked a lot about the pros and cons of sleep training.
My biggest concern and hang-up with the whole idea was her emotional state and her feelings of abandonment.
I decided that I needed more support in this if I was going to actually try. I had too many questions about what could go wrong or what to do if A, B, C, or D occurred (overthinking at it’s finest-another one of my personal traits 😉 )
I reached out to Anet Danielyan to help get me through this. We had a phone consultation and then she sent me a questionnaire about my daughter’s sleep habits and schedule.
From that point on we scheduled a call where she went over our new plan with my husband and I.
To say I was a nonbeliever is putting it lightly. I truly did not think my daughter would ever sleep without her mama rocking her to bed. She is smart, she is stubborn-she is going to make this impossible.
Again-the emotional agony this was for me turned physical. I was sick for a week leading up to this night. I lost my appetite and I was crying at the thought of not soothing my baby as she cried in a panicked state wondering where her mama was.
Because of my emotional state, my husband and I decided it would be best for him to start this whole process-for us it made sense, since she was used to me holding her, if I was not in the room, it may help a bit. And lets be honest, I also may have failed the process haha.
The only way this was even possible for me to allow was that Anet made me feel that although I am not holding her-she will not feel abandoned or alone because the parent is able to stay with the baby and gradually become less and less a part of the baby’s sleep process.
I had to leave the house as hearing her cry was literally torture to my soul.
I thought to myself-she will be screaming until 4 am. This will never work.
I went to Target and walked around like a miserable lost soul. If sadness had a look-it was me-yikes.
My daughter went into her crib at 6:15 that night. At 7:10 my husband text me that he was out of the room and she was asleep!
I came home and warned him. “It’s crazy that she is actual asleep, but just wait, she will wake up tonight and be pissed, so please be ready for that.”
He calmed and reassured me that it was okay, as he always does and we went over the process Anet had given us and what to do for night wakings.
She never woke up that first night. I didn’t sleep great, as I kept checking the monitor and waiting, but she just slept. I was shocked, I thought for sure that first night there would be protest and that she would be pissed at me.
Okay she slept through the night, but she will wake up pissed at me.
Nope. She woke up refreshed and something I noticed day one-happier.
Several times throughout the day, she crawled or toddled over to me and hugged me. She seemed to be in a much better mood and she was looking at me different.
It is strange to say-but it almost seemed like she was admiring me-not depending on me. (No she isn’t ready to move out and buy her first house-but seriously-I had never seen her look at me like she was)
I was shocked!
I was comforted to know that no matter what happens in the future, maybe more rough nights or nap time issues-we at least new she COULD do this.
That changes everything.
I cannot express the weight that has been lifted off my shoulders.
I didn’t feel the usual panic or anxiety of getting everything done “on time” because I wasn’t going to be in her room for hours on end. I am only on day two of this whole process and recognize we still have time to put into this.
But that being said, I cannot express my gratitude enough to my friends for their push, my husband for having the guts to sit with her while she cries, and Anet for giving us the tools to change our entire life.
Instead of eating dinner by 5, having my pajamas and teeth brushed by six and rocking my daughter to sleep for hours-I was out in the daylight, walking my dog-which I haven’t really done since my daughter was born.
This is life changing.
Parents there is a middle ground-and I am so thankful to have tried it!!
And if you parent like me and fill everyone’s cup before your own-just know that what has comforted me the most –is knowing that SHE is better off not needing me to fall asleep.
She will sleep better and feel better in the morning because of what I used to think of as a selfish two words-sleep training.
It is clear to me now-
I may have been the one who needed training more than her.