by Abigail Flavin
My husband and I learned about Attachment Parenting when, after reading many, many reviews of various baby books, we selected one by William Sears, MD. We found the principles and practices intriguing. They offered us clarity for our own thoughts and hopes for ourselves as parents. Repeatedly, we discussed the principles, sharing anecdotes from our own childhoods and from what we were reading about parenting. We thought we were completely ready for our son’s arrival, since we had acquired a car seat, clothing, diapers, and parenting ideas. We were unprepared for our spirited son, Thomas, who has proven that babies can get by just fine on less than the required range of sleep time so often touted by experts.
The first month was about what we expected. Then, he stopped sleeping well and began fussing more. He never wanted to be put down, and even the sling and constant nursing never seemed to provide enough contact. Our pediatrician diagnosed him as having Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which became quite serious between his third and fourth months, requiring medication. At that point, we could understand the irregular habits and the inability to sleep well, even with cosleeping and constant nursing. By his seventh month, however, his sleep problems could no longer be linked to GERD nor did they correlate to introducing solids. As he began sleeping less often and less regularly, we became progressively more frantic.
We were always asked by others, how is he sleeping? Is he sleeping through the night yet? Honestly, these questions need to stop. They imply that either the parent is a bad parent or that the baby is a bad baby. They amp up the pressure that already tired and insecure first-time parents feel. Let us banish these questions to the realm of etiquette hell, where they belong.
When nothing else worked, we fell off the AP wagon and tried the graduated extinction sleep-training method. Three days in, he was down to sleeping six out of 24 hours, the worst he’d ever slept. We were all exhausted and miserable. I saw a long, bleak tunnel ahead, and I am sure our son only saw pain and confusion. Where was Mommy? Her warmth? Her food? Her snuggles? Why am I alone in a crib, in the dark, and nobody is coming to me? What is wrong with me that they won’t come to me? I cannot find the words to describe how I imagine my child must have felt, for it is far darker than that. We gave up and gave up ourselves completely to our son so that he could reestablish his trust in us. We kissed and snuggled him constantly, providing one favorite activity after another: reading, peek-a-boo, snuggles, bath time, walks in the garden, singing, and of course, co-sleeping. Of course, he recovered; our little ones are far more resilient than we can imagine. And in the meantime, he taught us the value of patience.
What many sleep methods bank on is that parents want results now; we are exhausted, we sometimes miss our “old lives,” we wonder when we will have space and time to enjoy some of our independent activities, we long for a few hours where we do not have to decide whether to take an uninterrupted shower or call an old friend. What we must learn from our children is the value of patience, of delayed gratification. They teach us these lessons so that we may, in turn, teach them as they grow older.