So, about that time I ditched attachment parenting to be a better parent than I had been…
Most of my life I dreamed of being a mother. I played “mommy and baby” as a child with my dolls, I picked out my favorite names for future children as a teenager, as a newlywed I dreamed of what it would be like to announce pregnancy news when it was our turn. I could not wait to be a mommy!
Of course, bringing life into the world is more out of our control as humans that it is in our control. Even though I was deep into “baby fever” by our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I didn’t welcome our precious daughter for another seven years.
My sweet angel girl. Our amazing and very much unexpected little gift.
While pregnant I made sure to do everything “right.” I ate well (when I could actually eat anything), I avoided caffeine, I never lifted heavy things, I took every class available, I learned how to cloth diaper, I convinced myself to breastfeed in spite of my squeamishness about it, and I read all about natural childbirth. I would do all of that over again and recommend it all to any mother-to-be.
In my studies to become the best ever parent, I learned about “attachment parenting.” I memorized the “Baby B’s” and promised myself that I would keep my baby’s needs first by breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, baby wearing, and never ever sleep training.
CARISSA, MEET WILLOW
By the week before my perfect daughter arrived (or more accurately, was cut out of my not at all numb midsection… but more on that another time), I just knew I had it all figured out. We would be perfect parents armed with our depth of knowledge thanks to Dr Sears and The Happiest Baby On The Block.
I was fully prepared… then I met Willow.
My gorgeous baby slept through the night her first night outside of me. I stayed awake all night because I didn’t know what else to do. I would drift off to sleep and then wake feeling startled and thinking “stay awake! Someone has to watch this baby!” Ahhh, poor silly new mommy.
That night was the last night my little love would sleep through the night for what felt like an eternity.
I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS
C-section recovery is heinous.
Girls, if you had an easy breezy c-section experience, please do the rest of us a favor and keep yer mouth locked shut about it (unless your first experience was terrible and your second much better, then we need that comfort and hope!). As few and far between as these easy c-section stories are, it’s still too soon for me to hear them… too soon.
During the agony of my recovery I discovered that I could not lay down without bone crushing pain. And even if I could lay down, forget getting back up! Let me tell you, this just does not work with a newborn to take care of. So I set up camp on my couch and slept sitting up, holding my baby all night long for weeks. I used pillows to prop up my head to make it more comfortable and also to hold my arms up so I couldn’t drop the baby.
She slept wonderfully during this period! I nursed her to sleep around 11pm and then she slept for three hours before I would change her diaper and then nurse to sleep again. We repeated that cycle a few times a night getting in three 3-hour naps. Not bad at all! One major problem: this mama cannot do that long term. After about three weeks I was not handling the constant holding my baby thing well at all.
Postpartum depression had set in and I was desperately seeking alone time and uninterrupted sleep. As difficult as I thought the first three weeks were (and they were), that was nothing compared to what we were about to experience.
THE DARK NIGHTS
I knew I could no longer handle sitting up all night with my baby. Even though I was getting some sleep, I needed to lay down in my bed. So we transitioned upstairs to our bedroom and put baby Willow into a bassinet to sleep next to my bed. This did not go well.
Night after night we tried to get our baby to sleep without being held. Each night grew worse and worse.
By 6 weeks old my baby was no longer sleeping at night. This is not an exaggeration. She screamed and “growled” (the only way I can explain the awful noises she made) all.night.long. We tried everything to calm her: bouncing, humming, shushing, football holds, holding her upright, nursing, bottles, pacifiers, swaddling, un-swaddling, massage, baths, lotions, rocking, singing, music, laying her on her back, laying her on her tummy, white noise apps and machines, fans, warmer room, cooler room… EVERYTHING we could think of and it all failed.
She also slept very little during the day. I do not know how the child thrived on as little sleep as she was allowing herself.
I went back to work when my daughter was 6 weeks old. Most days I had less than 45 minutes of sleep before leaving for my office in the morning.
I knew this phase couldn’t last forever and I felt like I could have her sleeping better by 2 months old if I just continued to respond to her every need as my attachment parenting friends encouraged me to do. “Don’t worry, she’ll figure it out eventually.” “She won’t still be sleeping with you when she is 16, so enjoy this time!” “She just really must need you.”
One night as she was screaming violently for the fourth straight hour, I snapped. I stopped short of shaking her, but I will admit that I nearly did. I screamed at her to “shut up” then ran into her room (that she had never slept in), dropped her into her crib and ran back to my room sobbing hysterically. I was afraid of what I could do to her if I was near her. My husband came in to see what was wrong. He was really disturbed by what he heard and was rightfully angry. He got Willow from her crib and took her to the living room to try to soothe her.
When I had pulled myself together enough to breathe a little again, I grabbed my phone and through my tears I Googled “what if I don’t love my baby.”
Let me tell you, now on the other side, it breaks my heart to think about that. Not because I actually didn’t love my baby. I absolutely adore her. She is my whole life. I would have then and would today and always give my life for her. But it makes me sad because I found no support or sympathy out there. Sure, support and sympathy were there for me if I knew how to ask, but when you’re low enough to actually Google “what if I don’t love my baby” then you’ll find extreme judgement and angry words shared by strangers that somehow convince you that your child would be better off if you flung yourself from a cliff.
I survived that dark night. In the morning, after a couple hours of sleep, I began to think about attachment parenting and wondered to myself “but what about when I need to detach?”
NO TOUCHY MOMMY TIME
I wore my baby everywhere. I worked from home with her as often as possible. I slept with her next to me or on top of me. I nursed her alllllll the freaking time. I responded to her cries immediately. My dear baby was almost always attached to me. And yet she cried more than any baby I had ever known.
At four months old Willow was sleeping about an hour at a time at night and taking three 20-minute naps a day. She required nursing immediately at every waking and I always responded right away.
I was diligently and stubbornly practicing attachment parenting the best way I knew. I told myself, my friends, and my husband “I will NOT do any sort of cry it out!”
But let me tell you, dear friends, I am not a “touchy feely” person. Physical touch is not one of my Love Languages (unless it’s a back massage from my husband, then yes!) and I was quite literally being driven crazy by lack of sleep and constantly holding or wearing my baby. I have a strong need to NOT be touched every once in a while.
I was quite literally being driven crazy by lack of sleep and constantly holding or wearing my baby
Still in the back of my mind at all times was my question “but what about when I need to detach?” I just couldn’t figure this out.
At seven months old my daughter would no longer sleep anywhere but on top of me with my boob in her mouth. Yep, that’s right, I nursed my child all night long. From 11pm until 7am I was nursing. Yes, ouch.
Willow slept at most 45 minutes in one stretch. She woke no less than 12 times a night to nurse and if I didn’t respond immediately it triggered a scream fest that could last hours.
My sanity was hanging by a thread. I was having panic attacks nearly every day. These attacks involved hysterical crying, suicidal thoughts, inability to breathe, and irrational thoughts and actions.
My husband came with me to our daughters seven month check up and told me ahead of time that he insisted I speak with the doctor about Willows lack of sleep. I felt terrified. I felt like a failure. I felt overwhelmed.
At the end of the doctors visit she asked us if we had any questions. I was silent. My husband looked at me and nodded with raised eyebrows. I was frozen with fear and didn’t speak, so he explained what we were dealing with. The doctor turned to me with serious concern in her eyes and said to me “you can’t let this continue. You have to stop picking her up every time she cries.”
What? What are these words she is saying to me?! Does she not understand the psychological damage that will be inflicted on my beloved baby if I don’t respond to her immediately and consistently? I’m already a terrible mother; I cannot sleep train. I’ve heard what other mothers say about moms who are lazy and sleep train their babies. I can’t do that. I WON’T do that.
Before we left the doctors office she recommended a book to me: The Sleepeasy Solution. My husband immediately ordered it for us to read.
THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY
A few days later I was talking to a customer at work. She had her preschool age twin daughters with her. I commented on how adorable they were and told her I had a 7 month old baby girl. We made small talk about kids and she asked how my baby was sleeping. I said “oh, well… not really sleeping much yet.” She groaned and gave me a look of sympathy and told me “my twins didn’t sleep through the night until they were three years old. I’m still so tired!” Then I saw it, the deep, soul drained look of extreme fatigue in her eyes. My heart began to beat faster. I held back stinging hot tears thinking “I cannot survive that. I can’t do this any longer.”
I went right home and read The Sleepeasy Solution cover to cover.
They say that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting different results. I needed to make a change.
I made a plan for the most gentle sleep training I could come up with based on the knowledge I gained from The Sleepeasy Solution. When the day came that we had designated as Day 1, I was sick to my stomach all day. I felt numb and terrified.
My husband was so supportive. I couldn’t have done it without him.
We followed our plan exactly. A gentle, calm bedtime routine followed by nursing Willow almost to sleep and then laying her into her crib sleepy but awake, telling her “good-night” and then leaving the room for 2 minutes. She immediately began to wail.
Mamas, you’ll understand when I say that this broke my heart! I sat in the guest room with my back against the wall listening to my baby crying just two feet away on the other side of the wall. I held my phone and looked at pictures of her as I sobbed.
Every two minutes I checked on her to make sure she was safe. I never touched her (this is like a tease to a baby because she would think I was going to pick her up, so I never touched her), but spoke to her in a very soft and gentle voice, always saying exactly the same thing: “good-night, Willow. Mommy loves you.” I said that over and over for about 15 seconds before leaving the room again for another interval.
That first night it took Willow 55 minutes to fall asleep.
I felt mentally and emotionally drained, but decided to keep trying.
Night two we followed the same routine, but waited 5 minutes before checking on her until she fell asleep. It took about 45 minutes for her to go to sleep.
Night three was a total shocker.
Night three of sleep training and my baby fell asleep in only 15 minutes. Night four was just 5 minutes of crying and by night five she didn’t cry at all. She just laid down and peacefully went to sleep every night after that.
Another immediate change was that Willow began to sleep three full hours at a time again! Hallelujah!
I felt like a new person. I was slowly coming back to life.
Willow began to make a big changes as well. For her first seven months of life she was a miserable baby. She cried more than I thought a baby could. She never seemed to be comforted or soothed by anything consistently. I just felt like my baby hated me (not true, but that’s how it felt). After sleep training she began to seem more social and happy.
The difference in our lives was huge.
I have found every anti sleep training parent I’ve talked with to be mostly ignorant about how proper sleep training actually works. There seems to be a belief that sleep training is just a “lazy” mother sticking her baby into a crib and then leaving the room for the rest of the night. It’s assumed that the mom isn’t bothered by her baby’s cries and she just turns the TV up louder to drown out the cries. This is not what most parents mean when they talk about sleep training.
Side Note: from what I’ve read and other parents I’ve talked to on the topic of sleep training, the best age to begin seems to be between three and five months of age (my opinion). Sleep training too young is not a good idea, but a gentle and predictable schedule can be helpful for newborns. What I know for sure is that when my friends talk about attempting to sleep train an older baby, they report it being a total nightmare. Once a baby is old enough to pull himself up in his crib, sleep training is probably going to be a real challenge. I got super lucky and sleep trained my daughter at seven months old, just before she got to that stage. I have friends who have tried to sleep train their baby at 10, 12, 16, 18 months and they either faced a battle that lasted weeks, or they just gave up. Do yourself and your baby a favor and teach him/her how to sleep at night earlier rather than later. Always consult your doctor first and keep in mind that babies younger than 9 months old usually still need to eat at least once a night (several times a night for babies under 3 months old).
RECONSIDERING ATTACHMENT PARENTING
Now, my attachment parenting friends will say that you can “do Attachment Parenting” and not co-sleep or not breastfeed, etc. But “cry-it-out” seems to be where many draw the line.
After sleep training I could have continued to be a committed attachment parent-er, but I just ditched the parenting style altogether. That being said, I’m sure I still have a way of parenting that is very familiar to my AP friends. But I am no longer interested in identifying as an “Attachment Parenting Parent.” I am Carissa. My daughter is Willow. I love my girl more than life and I will figure this “mom” thing out somehow. “But that IS attachment parenting!” you may say and, believe me, I appreciate your desire to support a cause and parenting style that is working for you, but I’ve read enough Dr Sears and KellyMom.com to feel certain that I have a good grasp on Attachment Parenting. I’ll pass.
It turns out that sometimes I DO need to detach. I need to go to work. I need an occasional night out away from my child. I need to sleep independently. I need to not be touched and to have my own space for a few minutes every once in a while. Short periods of being physically detached from my daughter has created a calmer, happier, more balanced me which has dramatically affected my parenting for the good. Occasional much needed physical detachment has made us more emotionally connected.
Occasional much needed physical detachment has made us more emotionally connected.
WHAT WORKS FOR ME
What works for me may not always work for you.
I cloth diapered, except at night.
I breast fed and loved it (except for the first three weeks of sheer, soul-sucking torture).
I used formula to supplement because I sucked at pumping (haha!).
I trained my daughter to sleep when she was 7 months old and only regret not starting around 4 months.
I made my own organic baby food… and she refused to eat any of it.
I went back to co-sleeping at different times based on our need.
I bought an Ergo and hated it with a passion. I stopped wearing Willow by 13 months old.
I gave Willow a pacifier when she was three days old.
I began bottle feeding at two weeks old and also continued to breast feed.
My baby self weaned from breast feeding at 15 months old and although I felt a little sad, I was really happy to be done and had no desire for “extended breastfeeding.” No thank you.
You see, we all have different children, different homes, different families, different personalities, different experiences. It is no longer important to me to follow the “rules” and more important to follow my heart. My Attachment Parenting friends will again say that’s exactly what AP means, but sadly, I only find more rules there.
Articles come about about the “dangers” of “cry-it-out” and the mommy wars are fueled. Immature and self-righteous mothers everywhere take to social media and chat boards to voice their strong anti-CIO stance. These voices have been damaging to me personally. In my moments of deep despair, I was wounded by the words of the moms who have it all figured out.
In my moments of deep despair, I was wounded by the words of the moms who have it all figured out.
I turned to attachment parenting supporters for answers and help. I was given judgement and condemnation.
On so many occasions I felt the sting of angry words from mothers expressing concern for my baby, but all I needed was someone to love and support me.
I can love, protect, and support my child; I need other mothers to do the same for me.
When thinking about this post tonight, I decided to do a quick search of social media to see what moms are saying about sleep training. Here are actual, unedited quotes:
“Letting your baby “cry it out” is putting your baby through HELL!! How could people even do that?!!!! And smile the next morning because YOU went to sleep peacefully. How could people be such hypocrites to put their baby thru hell, screaming for their mom who doesn’t return their call and don’t meet their needs?! And yet, be all lovey the next day? PARENTING DOESNT STOP AT NIGHT!”
“If your sleep takes priority over your infant’s well being then maybe you shouldn’t be a parent. It’s so upsetting. How do you as a mother have the ability to hear your child scream and turn up the TV or take a shower to drown out the sound? Awful.”
“Cry it out is lazy parenting, if u chose to have kids, it’s a commitment. People use excuses “I went back to work, I need my sleep”.”
“If anyone understood human biology and instinct they would realize “crying it out” was literally idiotic at best.”
“We are not to ‘TRAIN’ our children. When they learn that you will answer their cries they will not need to ‘wail’ to get your attention.”
“All you supporters of CIO method should be ashamed and if you have the opportunity to correct it with a second child, think about it very seriously. We do not need any more selfish citizens in this county, which is what your children will grow to be. If you read a book ok self soothing and CIO, throw them away. Do yourself a favor by listening to your God-given maternal instincts. Your Your instincts will do a much better job than ignorant books.”
Dear attachment parenting community, if the above comments are in any way representative of your point of view and are the same as or similar to the words you put out into the world for other mothers to read, you are failing your cause.
Right now my four year old angel is enjoying a peaceful Sunday night at home. I just read her a story and then she went off to play with some toys. In a couple of hours she will get herself ready for bed and then come snuggle with me in my bed until she falls asleep. When my husband comes to bed he will gently carry Willow off to her own bed in her own room to sleep for the night (the whole night!).
Tomorrow morning I will leave very early for work and then my husband will wake Willow around 7:30 in the morning. She doesn’t enjoy waking up. She really loves to sleep! She will get breakfast and then work through her morning list of chores. My husband will take her to preschool for the morning, then my mom will pick her up around lunchtime and keep her for the afternoon. I’ll be on my way home from work when my husband picks Willow up from my mom. We’ll enjoy an evening together as a family until bedtime when it all starts over again.
My Willow is a bright, intelligent, caring, secure, little girl full of wit and personality. She wants to be a doctor, a fashion designer, and a mommy. She is healthy and happy and loved more than anything else. The best feeling in the world comes when Willow hugs me and says “mommy, you’re the best mommy in the whole world!” or when she kisses me and says “I just love you so much!” I think it would be impossible for me to count how many times a day I give her hugs and kisses. She is told over and over how much she is loved.
Don’t worry, attachment parenting friends; we are okay. We’re all going to be okay.
*Thank you SO much to the family and friends who were incredibly supportive of me during the early days of motherhood. My friend who insisted I was doing the right thing by teaching my baby to sleep, my friends who came and got me out of the bathroom at the restaurant where I was breastfeeding my baby and told me to not be ashamed to feed her right there in the restaurant, everyone who told me I was a good mommy, everyone who prayed for me… you were my lifeline.