Tuesday, July 15, 2008


If you have been reading this blog for more than, oh, a week, you will know that Sleep and the Lack of It figures right at the forefront of our daily concerns. Barak, since birth, has been The Worst Sleeper Ever. Iyyar, when he was born, was better, but that didn't last long; by eight weeks or so he was as sleep-resistant as Barak.

But Avtalyon, right from the start, was different. He slept. He slept happily in his carseat, woke up to eat, and went right back to sleep, for the first month or possibly even two of his life. He did wake up to nurse at night, many times, but mostly you could nurse him and put him back down. Yes, he cried, because all babies cry, but I just never got anywhere close to the levels of sleep deprivation and exhaustion I hit with both Barak and Iyyar. I remember when Barak was four or five weeks old waking my husband up at 4 am in tears, literally sobbing, and saying to him, "You have to take the baby. You have to. If I don't sleep, I'm going to die." And I meant it.

With Iyyar, things didn't get really seriously bad until I went back to work. That was when the nightly screamfests began; from around 4 pm until at least midnight, he would scream and scream and scream and if I did finally get him to go to sleep, five minutes after I put him down he'd be up again.

Now, I do not live on a remote Internet-less island off the coast of Pitcairn, so I have indeed heard of that whole crying-it-out thing. I have read and heard a very great deal. And even though I will admit that I am both morally and emotionally opposed, desperation is a wonderful motivator and I tried it with both Iyyar and Barak. With Barak, I closed his door, went into my room, closed the door, turned on a fan right next to my bed, and went to sleep. I don't remember how old he was when I first did this--at least one, I think. Certainly he was standing, because when I went back into his room at 7 am and saw him, covered with snot to the knees, swaying perilously with exhaustion and misery as he gripped the side of his crib, face unrecognizeably swollen, and failing to scream any more because he had lost his voice--he was old enough to stand.

I've felt pretty bad about my mothing, but just the memory of that picture, and the realization of what that one night's sleep had cost, makes my stomach clench. Barak literally cried all night long. He cried through the dark and right through the dawn and about an hour past it. It's possible he slept somewhat, but I doubt it, because when I picked him up and cuddled him in the rocking chair he went right to sleep and I think slept almost the whole morning. He'd been up screaming for me long enough and hard enough to lose his voice, and it stayed lost for a couple of days.

It was a pretty strong disincentive to try that again.

Iyyar's screamy phase lasted from around 8 weeks or whenever it was to six months, when I tried a combination of swaddling him with a small stuffed dog inside and playing a noise machine that sounded like our dishwasher. (I'd tried everything else already. Can you tell?) Like magic, he suddenly started sleeping, and by about 10 months you could just stick him in his crib, wide awake, and he'd go to sleep on his own. No problem. But prior to that, I had tried crying it out, despite what had happened earlier (cf. "desperation," above) and it was a disaster; he'd cry for hours and hours (with me listening the whole time, crying myself, of course) and once he fell asleep he'd wake right back up again crying even harder ten minutes later. Awful.

Anyway, so when Avtalyon launched his own screamy phase when we got here, I didn't think it would last. It just wasn't his personality. So I thought, maybe it's jet lag. Maybe it's gas. Maybe he's teething. But whatever it was, it wasn't stopping, and I was spending most of my days holding a hysterical screaming baby who was kicking me and flailing at me and grabbing every part of me he could find, hard, and no matter how short you keep those little fingernails, that hurts. Up till then, he would do that, but it was like holding the Whomping Willow--you had to find a way to push in the secret knot that turns off the tree (in this case, pushing the pacifier into the mouth for long enough for him to start sucking it) and all was well. No more; the very notion of the pacifier was a horrible insult and enough to start the screaming going.

Yesterday, when I got frustrated enough to hit a wall with my hand without stopping to consider construction of said wall (steel-reinforced concrete) I decided it was time to try that whole crying-it-out thing. I nursed the baby. I changed him. I cuddled him. And when he was calm and very very tired, I put him in his crib and walked away.

He cried for an hour and twenty minutes, and then he fell asleep, and slept for three hours. Then he woke up to nurse, and I fell asleep nursing him, so we had our usual nighttime routine, but that was my fault really.

I did it again at naptime today. He cried for forty minutes, and slept for two and a half hours.

And I did it tonight. He cried for fifteen minutes. He's still asleep. Not only that, he didn't even object to being put in his crib, and played in there for a while before he even started to cry.

I'm pretty stunned. And while I'm not ready to give up nursing him at night, if this keeps up I'm about to become a much better-rested Imma. Stay tuned.


shanna said...

It's amazing how different children are from each other. At about 14 months old, we tried a variation on Ferber's check-and-console method for Devora (for nighttime wakings, not bedtime, which has generally been good). Once she'd wake up, if she didn't go back to sleep after a one- or two-minute-ish cuddle from one of us (what I consider appropriate for a toddler who wakes up disoriented and scared), we brought her to the Pack N Play in our room. Reassurances, a blankie to cuddle, and whichever of us was up got into bed ourselves. She'd cry and scream for a while, but eventually the noise would be spaced out as she also sucked her thumb intermittently. All while standing. Every 8-10 minutes, one of us would go over, give her a kiss, lay her down again, and then get back into bed. I think the first time it took nearly two hours for her to go back to sleep. By the third night she was down to needing one resettling, and within a week we could just leave her in her crib with a quick hug to reassure her we were still there. (This is one nightwaking, not five.) When we all got nasty-sick, she started sleeping in our bed the second half of the night, so there were a few nights of "retraining" (icky word), but now she generally sleeps through for 10 hours, no problem, with one or two nights a week of waking up startled (I'm guessing nightmares) and needing a hug or quick cuddle.

Eliezer, on the other hand...I would not be at all surprised if he pulled a Barak if we tried leaving him in his crib all night. Until about three weeks ago, I'd have said bedtime was fine for him, but middle of the night wakings not so much. He needs to be picked up, have his water cup held for him, rocked for a few minutes, tucked back in, and shushed and patted until he is almost sleeping again. And if it is after 4 AM, he must nurse, or else he's up for the day (at which point he must nurse anyway). Nightweaning him just to that point was hell for Julian, and no fun for me either (trying to sleep through the screaming), and probably not great for Devora (who was also trying to sleep through the screaming), so I'm hoping he just drops 4-4:30 AM on his own (some nights it doesn't happen).

Oh, there was the one night when Julian decided we should try the crying thing with Eliezer in our room, because it worked for Devora. That experience is what has me convinced that he and Barak are cut from the same sleeping cloth. bad, bad, very bad. And I think it's what led to...

Just these past few weeks, he's started fighting bedtime. The rest of the routine is fine, and in fact he usually initiates evening nursing, even though he knows what comes next (bath, pajamas, books, bed). Put him down, and he happily takes his pacifier and blankie. As long as we stay in the room, he's usually okay, but the minute we walk out the door...he bounces up, throws all the blankets out of the crib, tosses his pacifier defiantly to the floor, and screams. We've tried soothing him while returning everything to the crib, we've tried perfunctory returns with a quick, "Good night, go to sleep," and in almost every case there's a 10-time repeat of this little game before he finally goes to sleep. Last night I got it down tot three times, but only by hovering near the door and popping my head in every time I heard him start to stand up: "Eliezer, lie down and go to sleep." He GIGGLES sometimes - he knows it's a game. But he also knows he can scream and make us cry, and when he screams too much he gets all worked up and won't resettle no matter what. I wish I knew how to fix it, but letting him cry is not the answer.

I sincerely hope, for your sake, that this letting Avtalyon cry deal works now and sticks for the future. And, even better, that all your future children are excellent sleepers, no crying needed.

LC said...

It's amazing how different children are from each other.
Oh, yes!

My little one mastered the scream-into-a-vomiting-fit (after only 2 tries, at just under a year, isn't he talented - argh!) when put in the crib tired (trying to put himself to sleep on the kitchen floor, for example). I only tried it 4x: (1)fell asleep after an hour, (2)threw up after 1.5 hours, (3)went in half-asleep and rolled over, and (4)threw up after 5 minutes!!! NO more.

But the next one up started *asking* for bed somewhere around this age - would put his head on his own shoulder, and when asked if that meant 'go to bed', said "uh-huh". And *meant* it. As long as I didn't take more than 5-10 minutes getting to it, it worked like a charm for months, even Shabbat, with no set bedime for anyone.

Deborah said...

Is it not interesting how each child is an individual?
They are like puzzles we are given to figure out how to raise correctly. And there are lots of different answers.

At least sometimes I think that way.