Tough Love Take Two

Six weeks ago I tried to let Dominic “cry it out” for the first time. I was so tired that day that I decided to lie down next to him and see if he could calm down if I petted his belly instead of actually holding him. The experiment was not what exactly what you might call a success. It lasted a grand total of 4 minutes and netted me 29 more minutes of hysterical howling after I gave in and picked him up. I didn’t think I’d be trying controlled crying again anytime soon.

That was last month.

This is this month.

Until this month Dominic had been a relatively easy baby. I mean, I don’t have anything to compare him to, but I suspect that I don’t really have much to complain about (not that that’s ever stopped me). As long as someone stayed nearby to stick his pacifier back in whenever it fell out, Dominic would settle himself to sleep in his cot about 70% of the time. When he was about 10 weeks old he mostly started sleeping from about 10pm to 5am with only brief nocturnal wakeups to ask for his pacifier back.

Then he turned four months old.

Seemingly overnight, things changed. His Royal Babyness didn’t want to be put down anymore. Ever. He began insisting on being fed somewhere between midnight and 2am every night. He started to cry whenever Mike or I disappeared from his line of sight. He started to cry whenever we handed him to someone else (and sometimes even when other people merely looked at him). He started to cry whenever we tried to get him to go to sleep.

The hysteria at bedtime started around the time he caught his first cold, so we began walking him to sleep. We thought he’d settle back into his easier former patterns as soon as he felt better.

He didn’t. Two weeks later we were still walking him to sleep every night and for every daytime nap. He never napped for more than forty-five minutes at a time. Whenever I tried to get him down he’d wiggle and fuss and throw his head back and gaze around in the manner of a pudgy, horizontal meercat. He’d only drift off if I were singing to him.

When I got bored with Old MacDonald and his farm full of rabid roosters, starving kitties and mangy dogs I started singing Hush Little Baby. I don’t know anything past the first couple of lines, so my version goes something like this:

Hush little baby don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring,
And if that diamond ring don’t shine
Mama will buy you the whole diamond mine,
And if that diamond mine don’t produce
Mama will buy you a big fat moose,
And if that fat moose don’t taste fine
Mama will buy you a case of red wine…

I’d make up this sort of nonsense until his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp, then I’d wait a couple more minutes – the pain in my back and shoulders growing by the second – before easing him gently into his cot, unpeeling my hands from him finger by finger and praying that he stayed asleep.

One night last week though, after he’d gotten us up to feed him/walk him back to sleep at midnight and 2 AM and cried for his pacifier every forty five minutes until 5 AM when he decided that he was hungry again, I was done with this new normal. I was so done that I told Mike during the wee dark hours of that awful morning that I didn’t know why we’d decided to have children and that I wanted to leave the baby with him and get on a plane to Australia. I was scarily close to being serious.

Since being done with the whole motherhood thing wasn’t really a viable option, however, I decided that I was definitely done walking the floor with twenty pounds of grumpy baby when I was pretty sure he was neither sick nor teething. My emotions couldn’t take it and neither could my back. Despite the dread I felt at the prospect of letting him cry it out, it was time for tough love take two.

Operation tough love take two commenced that very morning with Dominic’s first nap. I put him in his cot and I gave him his pacifier, his cuddly toys, and his blanket. I sat down in a chair by his bed where he could see me. I told him that it was time he figured out how to go to sleep without being carried around the room.

He let me know he wasn’t a fan of this plan, and his crying quickly escalated to red-faced, hysterical thrashing. I held my ground. I sang to him. I patted him. I handed him back his pacifier, but I did not pick him up, and after twenty minutes of theatrics he fell asleep.

Then. Less than a minute after his eyes had closed…

Our neighbors decided to harvest coconuts and they started falling onto the tin roof right outside his bedroom window.

Here I must pause and address those of you who have suggested that it is good for babies to learn to sleep through loud noises. That might hold with regards to the sounds of voices, traffic, and even the occasional dog bark. It does not hold for the sound of a coconut falling on a tin roof. A baby’s brain is understandably hard-wired to interpret that sort of sudden, intense noise as danger. This is because only people who did wake up when they heard that sort of noise lived to pass on their genes – the happy slumberers were all eaten by coconut-wielding saber-tooth tigers.

Needless to say, Dominic woke up. Needless to say I was livid.

I moved him from his crib into the small travel cot in our bedroom and started all over again. This time it took forty minutes of crying/singing for him to go back to sleep.

But this story has a happy ending. After the first day of crying every time I put him down, Dominic started to go down again with only minimal fussing, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. He’s been happier and less clingy, and I’ve been feeling less exhausted, desperate, and tempted to leave him with Mike and head to the airport. For now, we’re good.

I have a nasty feeling, however, that when the time comes for Tough Love Take Three: Whereupon We Stop Handing Him His Pacifier When He Loses It For the Tenth Time in Two Minutes, all may not be such smooth sailing. Stay tuned.

Mamas and Papas, got any Tough Love stories to share?

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13 responses to “Tough Love Take Two

  1. I so feel your loud noise pain. Our landlord, who is wonderful, can be loud. Hardwood floors and an apartment with a sleeping baby downstairs do not always mix well. And even though we adore her I cannot help but be livid if she decides to vacuum during nap time. Coconuts on a tin roof? 100,000 times worse. So glad to hear the you wee one is sleeping better. It’s a hard road to get there but happy, well-rested babies are fun… the other kind? Not so much!

    • Noooo… the grumpy, clingy, needy, fussy baby. Not so much. And, yeah, much as I adore our dog, I could sometimes kill him with my bare hands when he decides to bark inside the house during naptime, too.

  2. hi Lis! we went through the same thing! Isaf was a great sleeper until she turned 4 months and she started waking up every 45 minutes and not even carrying her around and bringing her to our bed worked! It was in the middle of the semester, we were both teaching and exhausted! One night at 3 AM I decided this is it, I will start letting her cry and check on her every 5 minutes. I am happy to say it worked for a while, but then we went on vacation, she was teething, and she started waking up again and we had to start from zero again. It was hard, for a while I couldn’t let her cry (when they are older the 20 minutes crying becomes 2 hours…) so I would always give in, and settled for two wakings, then for one, and it was only when Isaf turned one year old and the holidays came that I decided this was the time to train her for the last time hopefully and make her sleep through the night. It took us a while since I had to stop nursing her at night which she didn’t like at all, but I am happy to tell you that she’s been sleeping 11 hours straight for the last two weeks. I really hope this is it, but who knows! good luck with Dominic, he’s so cute! I hope we can get to meet him some time! lots of love and happy new year! Cora

    • Hey Lisa– I could talk to you about sleep literally for days!! Days! But, it would take much too long to type, all I will say is do what works for you, but that may be different from week to week, month to month and I didn’t feel like the boys were good sleepers until they were two and four years old 🙂 I had a herniated disc when Seth was five months old…I’m sure you can empathize! Seth never slept through the night until he was 13 months old, but Sam was 6 months…there is hope!

      • It’s a constantly changing game, isn’t it? As for the back pain. Yes, total empathy, although mine hasn’t gotten to that stage yet and fingers crossed it won’t, because that would be a pretty pickle up here in Northern Laos.

      • It’s a constantly changing game, isn’t it? As for the back pain. Yes, total empathy, although mine hasn’t gotten to that stage yet and fingers crossed it won’t, because that would be a pretty pickle up here in Northern Laos.

    • Ah, Cora. Ugh. Yeah. He’s started wanting to nurse at night again too. Last night I was up with him at 1:30 and 4:30 to feed him and a couple of other times to stick the dummy back in, sigh. But overall things are improving. Knowing I can just put him down at naptime and don’t have to hold him/walk him is helping me a lot! And, yes, would love to connect. Can you believe it’s been a decade this year since we arrived at ND??

  3. You need to write a parenting book! This story is great. Any mom trying to put a baby to sleep will appreciate coconuts falling on a roof. Glad to hear the rest eventually worked out. BTW, I think the tough love thing gets progressively harder but easier. This might become your blog theme, especially around 18 months old.

    • So not qualified to write a parenting book (unless it’s the comedic “make fun of myself” type, that maybe I could tackle :)). Thanks for the vote of confidence though. And good point, I suspect there might be a number more installments in the tough love category in years to come. I could also apply the whole theme to Mike (if this were his blog, mike might argue that he’d be more justified in applying it to me but it’s not his blog now, is it).

  4. It sounds like you’re really toughening up D and he will be quite the persistent adult some day! I’m wondering, though, you also being a psych, doesn’t object permanency kick in @ around 10 mos? Unless D is just totally advanced, I wonder if it might be more restful for both of you if you walked out of the room when he’s supposed to be going to sleep? I don’t know, it’s been a long time and I was just the daddy even then. We were never big “structured baby” fans ourselves, but with twins we just wanted to…survive, and they were all three on bradycardia/sleep apnea monitors thru at least 5 months, longer for the first, and we NEVER had coconuts on the tin roof :-).

    • Yes, between 8 and 12 months of age. But that’s sort of why I want to stay nearby because (OK, maybe totally projecting here) but wouldn’t it be way scary to think that your mother has ceased to exist? I figure it’d be far better to know she’s nearby even if she’s not picking you up.

  5. We were like you with our first baby – the dummy (pacifier in NZ-speak!) fell out ALL the time, so I eventually found a couple of little teddy-bears who became the guardians of the dummy – they would get propped against it, which mostly kept it in. But I was still getting up in the middle of the night and searching under the cot for the dratted thing when I was enormously pregnant 16mths later! So when our 2nd baby started sucking his thumb (and sleeping through the night) at 4wks old, I was ecstatic! No more searching under the cot for dummies 🙂
    And then a few years later I discovered why dummies are better than thumbs even though they get lost… first, dummies are way more hygienic than thumbs. When you have seen what little boys get up to, and then put the thumb in the mouth – all I can say is that he has a strong immune system, lol!
    The other major downside is that it’s WAAAAY easier to break the dummy habit than the thumbsucking one. First baby, dummy completely gone by 2yrs (I was tough back then), third baby, dummy gone except for sleeps by 2yrs (he had reflux, so needed more sucking/comfort) and gone completely by 4yrs, fourth baby isn’t quite 2yrs yet and unless he’s unwell and needing extra comfort, and only has dummy for sleeps. Second thumbsucking baby is 6.5yrs, and has pretty much managed to break the habit a month ago, due to some intensive reward chart work (10c for every hour he didn’t suck – he ended up with $36!) and nasty tasting stuff painted on his thumb.
    All that to say that as painful as dummies are, they are FAR better than thumbs and far easier for parents to control..
    As for your noise issues, wow. That’s crazy loud!

    • Ugh, that’d be super annoying to actually have to get up to reach it (much less to have to get up pregnant). At least at the moment all I have to do is roll over, reach down, find it and stick it back in (because he’s sleeping in a travel cot by my bed so it can’t get very far). Also, you raise a very interesting point about the thumb. I will keep that in mind!

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