It’s 9:30 pm and my 7-month-old daughter is beside me, awake and curious. A wind up ladybug is turning to the sound of “Someday Over the Rainbow” as she reaches for the keys on my laptop. I tried holding her, rocking with her, breastfeeding, to no avail. Last night she went to bed at 10 pm, and it looks like another night of the same. Hold on, I have to take care of some crying.
Yep, she fell asleep at 10 on the nose. She was so cranky, that as soon as she latched on to my breast she fell asleep. The times when she is asleep in front of me are some of my most treasured moments. I hold her there, on the boppy, and if I could, I would hold her there all night. If I didn’t need sleep and had infinite time and didn’t have to do anything else, I would hold her there all night. It’s funny, but that’s the closeness I feel when she is asleep.
I just finished reading a book about ways to get your child to sleep. I was surprised that one of the supposed professional recommendations was letting your child cry themselves out until they fall asleep. This has the unappealing distinction of being called the “extinction” method. The logic behind this plan is to force children to learn how to fall asleep by themselves. If you help them by attending to them, the argument goes, your child will need you to help them fall asleep again if they wake up during the night or to fall asleep on subsequent nights. With regard to the former, that has not been my experience. My daughter wakes up about 6 hours after falling asleep to nurse and usually goes right back to sleep. If she’s not asleep, I put her back in her crib and go back to sleep myself. She does manage to fall asleep by herself, because when I get up in the morning, she is asleep. However, each night, we go through the same rituals of going to sleep- nursing, rocking, stand and hold, repeat. When the crying continues, we let her stay up with us, as we did tonight, until she gets tired. This is so much easier than letting her cry and cry and cry. We live in an apartment, so that’s not really an option for us. Secondly, and more importantly, I do not think this is good for her neurological development. God knows why we have such loud babies compared to other animals. While most animals try to protect their young from predators, a human baby’s cry would certainly attract them. On the flip side, maybe it forces families to attend to their kin. Maybe it’s a test of loyalty or perseverance. Hey, it could be worse. Salmon, for example, die after spawning.
Whatever the reason, nature has endowed humans, most of us anyway, with a sense of compassion for crying babies. While I can understand how someone can become fed up with a crying baby (they are, after all, self-centered), it seems unethical and immoral to let a baby cry and cry and cry. I don’t profess to be an expert on baby’s sleep. I guess I am lucky that while my child becomes fussy and cries in our nightly ritual, my husband can attend to her while I regroup. It would be a lot harder for a single mother, or a woman without that kind of support.
The best part about this experience is the last part. When she does fall asleep, it’s the result of a hard won effort, the icing on the cake, so to speak, which makes the moment sweeter. The weight of her body on my lap, her chubby cheeks turned to one side, her eyes peacefully closed. All I want to do is be with her at that moment, to feel her breathing and the dynamic energy of her presence. At some time in the future, this will end. She won’t need me to hold her anymore. She won’t latch on to my breast for comfort. So I’m cherishing these moments that we have together. Caring for an infant seems like a long time because it’s the only thing I know now, but in the timeline that is life, it is a short period. It’s not always easy, but I find ways to treasure it now.