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.