The first thing you should know about this post is that the title is kind of a big fat lie.
When my daughter was just about a year old, I finally admitted to myself that I could no longer deal with her waking up 8,000 times a night and also exist as a functioning, sane adult.
The time had come to turn to what I’d always known would be the absolute last resort – the dreaded sleep training. You know, the thing I swore I’d never, ever do.
Before I had a baby, I obviously knew that most of them sucked at sleeping, but I sort of figured that with half of my nap-loving DNA, any kid of mine would be a champion sleeper.
I. Was. So. Wrong.
During those first few weeks at home with my brand new baby, like any first-time parent, I was simply running on adrenaline. I woke up automatically, even cheerfully, at the slightest peep from my daughter. I figured I was in for a tough couple of months, but that before long she’d sort out the whole daytime vs. nighttime thing and start sleeping for longer and longer stretches.
It seemed that most of the fellow parents in my life saw their babies finally end the struggle against sleep somewhere around three months, maybe six for the especially stubborn ones. I eagerly awaited each of those milestones for my girl, confident that sleep would finally come.
There was this one time when she was around five months old when she slept through a night. It was not duplicated the next night, or the next, or the next. I eventually came to believe that I must have sleepwalked through all of her wake ups that night.
I kept telling myself that someday she’d figured it out on her own, and that I would just have to soldier on until then. I kept getting up, but I was definitely no longer cheerful. Picture a zombie clawing their way out of a grave and you’ll have a pretty good idea of me tearing myself out of my bed every hour or two night after night. I was never not tired and never without my latest accessories – two dark bags under my eyes.
Right around the time my baby turned 11 months old, I started working part-time. It wasn’t explicitly stated in the job description, but I was pretty sure I’d need to have a passable level of energy and brain power – two things I sorely lacked in my sleep deprived state – to get it done.
I tried to make it work for a couple of weeks, and it just…didn’t. I loved my job, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep doing it unless I got a lot more sleep. I couldn’t just wait for my daughter to figure it out any more, and I’d been avoiding the only option available: sleep training.
Sleep training is one of the most controversial and most debated topics in the parenting world, especially the methods that involve some level of “crying it out.” For every article you see saying it’s totally fine, you’ll find another declaring it’ll pretty much ruin your kid forever. I never actually believed sleep training would harm my daughter, but I guess I also didn’t want to chance it until I absolutely had to.
And I did have to, because I’d reached the end of my rope.
On the night I finally decided the time had come, my husband and I gave our daughter a bath and a bottle, cuddled and kissed her goodnight, and laid her down to sleep in her crib. Then we left. When she inevitably woke up, we didn’t rush to her side right away. We checked on her every few minutes, but added another minute or two every time. Each time we left her nursery, we told her we loved her, that she needed her sleep, and we needed ours, too.
It wasn’t a fun night, and that’s where the lie about not feeling guilty comes in. Of course I felt terrible listening to her cries. What mother wouldn’t? My heart ached, and I shed more than a few tears myself. I felt selfish, and I’m sure plenty of people will tell me I was.
But you know what? Being a mom doesn’t mean I have to be a martyr. I did my absolute best to cope with the situation for as long as I could, but it simply wasn’t sustainable. My health, happiness, and sanity are vital to my family, and the decision to sleep train was in all of our best interests.
So here’s the truth about sleep training for me: I feel a little guilty about it. But I refuse to let anyone shame me for it, because I absolutely do not regret it. By the third night, my daughter barely fussed when we said goodnight to her, and she slept straight through until the morning. I was so scared that she’d be distant or angry with me, but in fact, she was more energetic and cheerful than ever, and her appetite vastly improved.
Maybe it’s a coincidence. Or maybe a good night’s sleep was as wonderful for her as it was for me.