Falling Short

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By A Mama’s Blog

Last month I wrote about a sweet moment I had with Cole, when I responded to his cries, and did not allow him to cry it out. I wish I could say that was our “happily ever after,” regarding sleep with Cole, but it wasn’t.

I suspected a few hours after Cole’s birth that he might be a high needs/fussy baby. Within a few days, I knew we had our own high needs baby. One of the characteristics Cole displayed, was I could not put him down without him instantly starting to cry. This of course, carried over to sleep time as well.

For the first six or so months of Cole’s life, he literally slept ON me. I would lie down, and he would instantly fall asleep on me. Any other method I tried to get him to go to sleep resulted in intense screaming.

Needless to say, this was exhausting. I never slept that well with him on me, but at least this allowed me to doze and snooze, and was the better alternative to being up all night with a screaming baby. As Cole continued to grow, his laying on me was not working anymore. I knew it was time to come up with a different sleeping arrangement.

Having Cole sleep in the bed with us didn’t work. The moment we moved, he woke up and started crying. We were also getting midnight visits from Ryan too (who was three at the time), and he would just jump in the bed, half asleep. Obviously, this wasn’t a safe situation, because Ryan could have jumped on Cole and hurt him.

We finally decided to move Cole’s crib into our room, and place it next to our bed. At least he could still hear me breathe and would know I was near him, even though he wasn’t sleeping on me. I figured this was going to take some adjustment, but I was determined out of sheer desperation, to get Cole to sleep in his crib.

The first night, after nursing Cole, I placed him in the crib. I sat on the edge of my bed and patted his back, while I softly whispered to him. He fussed for about a minute, and then went to sleep. As I tried to leave the room, he would notice that my hand was no longer on his back, and he’d start crying. As long as I sat on the edge of the bed, haunched over the crib, with my hand on his back, he was fine and would sleep. Even after an hour, when I thought he had to be asleep, as soon as I took my hand off his back, the screaming started. After a few nights of this, Cole finally got to the point where I could get him to sleep, take my hand off his back, and leave the room.

The only thing that was predictable with Cole was he was unpredictable. Some nights he loved the crib and would fall asleep instantly, and other nights sleeping just didn’t happen – for him or for me. I would not be honest if I didn’t say that some nights I was so incredibly frustrated with Cole. I could not understand why my baby would not sleep, even though I was doing everything I could think of for him.

The nights I sat up with him in the living room at 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am, crying because I was beyond sleep deprived, were countless. My husband, Joe, helped out a lot too, despite having to be up every morning at 6am, so he could go to work. I honestly don’t know how he managed to only get a few hours of sleep, and then go for ten plus hours a day at work, with no naps. At least I was able to take a nap during the day.

Shortly before Cole turned one, we were having a particularly bad night. Nothing was working to get Cole to sleep, and he had been crying for hours. I was so incredibly frustrated, exhausted, and the end of my rope. I wanted to make Cole stop crying, so I could go to sleep. That exhausted and drained part of me wondered what would happen if I just gave him a shake to see if he would stop crying. Instantly, I felt like the worse mother on the earth.

Thank goodness that was just a fleeing thought that did not manifest itself, but it scared me. That night I put Cole in his crib, where he was safe, sat on the floor in the room and let him cry. I think that was the hardest night ever for me a mother, because I was totally out of options and was completely and utterly burned out.

After 30 minutes, Cole finally fell asleep. It was hard to listen to him cry, but in the state we were in, it was the only thing left to do. As I sat on the floor in his room, I thought about how close I had been to ‘losing’ it with Cole, and realized he was safe in his crib, and this is what we needed to do to get through the night.

After that night, it was still hit or miss with getting Cole to sleep, but around 18 months, it was like a switch just went off in him where he finally turned the corner. Instead of a baby who never slept, and was constantly waking up, he was sleeping, and staying asleep.

Cole just turned two, and his sleep issues are gone. I nurse him for a few minutes before bed, and then place him in the crib, still awake. He smiles at me, pulls me in for a hug, rolls over and goes to sleep on his own. It is a rare night now if he wakes up, not the rule. I never thought we would get to this point.

I thought long and hard about how to write this post, because having your baby cry-it-out, isn’t generally accepted as AP parenting. However, I wanted to be honest, and relay a true experience. I have realized for me that it is OK to admit that I am not a perfect mother, nor will I ever be. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try, but sometimes I fall short of the ideals that I want to raise my children with. When that happens, I have learned that it serves no useful purpose to beat myself up and tell myself I’m a bad mother.

Being the parent of a high needs baby tests you in ways you never dreamed of. Most of the time you pass the tests successfully. But, sometimes as any parent – high needs baby or not – can tell you, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes in the moment you do the best you can, so you can get through the day or the night. Then all you can do is continue on, learning from the experience.

If everyone practiced all the AP ideals all the time perfectly, we wouldn’t have much to write or talk about, and be able to offer support to others. “Failing” at an AP ideal, doesn’t make us “bad” or non-AP parents – it makes us human parents.

When we don’t parent quite the way we want to at times, it is disheartening, but it also is a good learning experience, and it helps us grow. These experiences help us grow into the kind of parents we want to be.

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Author: API Blog

APtly Said, Formerly API Speaks launched in April of 2008 as part of Attachment Parenting International's larger effort to offer interactive content through their newly-redesigned web site: http://www.attachmentparenting.org. All contributors to APtly Said, as with so many of API's staff, are volunteers who donate their time and energy to promote Attachment Parenting world wide.

15 thoughts on “Falling Short”

  1. Well said. I’m the mom of a 2-year-old who was never high needs, but who cannot sleep at all unless someone is in the bed with him, so I definitely relate.

  2. We have all been here, momma! Thank you for sharing your story so that other’s know they are not alone. It is okay (and very common) to become furiously frustrated with a baby… anyone who says they haven’t is probably lying. Choosing not to act on it is what makes the difference!

    Choosing to stay with Cole through his nighttime needs DOES make you the best kind of Attachment Parent…the kind who uses love to guide them! The high needs children are the ones who have the most to gain from AP. Thank goodness you are his momma and could work through these issues in a way that was supportive and healthy for you both.

    My high-needs child turned 5 today (she was our third baby) and still is very high-needs (she was in our bed last night!) and i thank my lucky stars that i was able to use AP with her (in whatever way worked best for us at the time) i can only assume that she may have been even harder to deal with if we had chosen to be different parents. There were nights that I had to go sit in the car just so I could cry and re-set without waking everyone up!

    You have not fallen short at all! As a matter of fact, you are someone to look up to as an example of how to embrace all that our children have to teach us about ourselves.

    Hugs to you!

  3. I think it’s especially important for us as AP parents to admit to each other that we aren’t perfect all of the time and cut ourselves some slack, otherwise we build up unattainable goals for ourselves and feel like failures when we don’t achieve them. Like you said, we are all human. We learn and grow and move on. Tomorrow is another day for us to try our best.

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂 You are not alone.

  4. Thanks for your support everyone, and the nice comments. Justine, your comment made me tear up. It was so kind! I have also sat in the car, just trying re-set, as you said.

    I was a little nervous about submitting a post like this- I wasn’t sure how it would be taken. I’m glad Amy (the editor) accepted it as is, and thank her for letting me be honest.

    Being an AP parent is hard at times, and at times I have felt like I am failing at it. It is SO nice to know that I’m not the only one who has felt like this, and other feel like this from time to time.

  5. Every child is different. My dd, who is 17 months, is also high need and has slept in my arms or on my body since the day she was born. While I think it is fair to say that we have all been there in moments of despair with our baby, “crying it out” was not an option for our family. We read the No Cry Sleep Solution, which still permits “fussing” or crying, if you will. We allowed our daughter to cry for thirty minutes and she kept going. I realize that your child’s needs were different; he did not want to share sleep. Our dd insists on sleep sharing, and I’m glad for it. She now falls asleep in her crib (most nights) and joins us in bed during the night. At the beginning she fussed a little bit. Now, she falls to sleep and says “bye, bye” to signal she is ready to go to sleep.

    What is most important though, is that each family makes decisions that are best for everyone in the family. Also, it’s never easy to make informed decisions or parent well when we are sleep deprived.

  6. Green Mamma,

    I haven’t read NCSS, but I am happy to hear it allows for fussing and crying a bit, b/c somtimes it seemed like Cole just needed to fuss for a few minutes, and then he would sleep.

    This one night I did let Cole cry for more than a few minutes, I think the total amount of time he cried was 3o minutes. It could have been a few minutes shorter or longer, but even in the state I was in, I doubt I would have had the stomach to allow him to cry for more than that.

    It is such a challange at times to figure out what will work for high needs babies- I’m glad you are doing well with your DD. 🙂

  7. Hi Heather,
    I think your piece should be called “Standing Tall,” because that is what we do after we fall short. We pick ourselves up and try again.

    You knew your limits and you did the best you could to maintain and regain your compassion.

    Thanks for your honesty in this piece.


  8. Hi Heather,

    Please don’t berate yourself too much about a one-off incident like this – leaving Cole to his own devices in a safe place when you are that frustrated is probably the best (and safest) thing you can do. It’s the repetition and continued lack of sensitivity of controlling crying that causes all those long term problems!

    I am sure everyone has one of these days. I had one this week after 2 days of bad sleep and NO NAPS thanks to visiting relatives. It was much safer to put my 6 month old in her cot (usually just used for storing toys as she sleeps with us) for 30 minutes while I had some time to calm down.

    Thanks for posting, it puts everyone else’s experiences in perspective!


  9. Good for you for writing this post. It sounds like you are a wonderful, devoted mama. You may have let Cole cry, but he was not crying alone, you were in the room with him. He knew you were there.

    You did not fall short. Period. You are being too hard on yourself. Be as good to yourself as you are to your children 🙂

  10. First of all, congratulations on your bravery in writing this!

    It seems to me that there are two touchstones we can use when situations like this arise.

    First of all, we can ask ourselves, “does it seem likely that this experience was harmful to my child or to the relationship between me and my child?” If we can honestly answer “no,” then I see no reason to feel bad about it.

    Secondly, we can ask ourselves, “why did I do this?”

    If the answer is along the lines of, “because I think it’s important for my baby to learn to fall asleep on his own,” or “because my baby needs to learn that he can’t manipulate me,” then we need to carefully consider our motivations.

    But if the answer is, “because it was the only thing that seemed to help my baby,” “because I had tried everything and couldn’t think of anything else to try,” “because it really seemed like this is what my baby needed in order to feel better,” or even, “because if I didn’t do this, I was going to lose my mind,” then our motivations aren’t a problem. We might think of other techniques that would have been better in retrospect, and we might do something else the next time the situation arises, but we don’t need to question whether we are thinking about the problems we encounter as parents with the right mind-set.

  11. Heather, I completely relate to how you felt, being an AP-style parent can feel very full-on sometimes and it’s good to know that we’re not alone in feeling completely overwhelmed at times. As other commenters have said it’s how you act when you get to the end of your tether that’s the important thing. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, it means a lot to read such an honest post!

  12. What’s with all the controversy surrounding The Baby Borrowers? Hopefully it will help to educate young people about the responsibilities of parenthood.

  13. Thank You for this. I really appreciate you writing this and your honesty. Some days/nights are so hard. I have been awake frequently through the night for a year now, and sometimes it is very tiring and very trying. It really plays with your nerves. Sometimes, I feel very overwhelmed and/or frustrated. It helps to know you are not alone. I am able to contain it, because I want the best, loving atmosphere for my daughter, but like others, I have had to leave and cry/get angry alone. Sleep deprivation is an odd feeling. Yet, it is all worth it and she is a beautiful, magical girl. Than you for your openess!!

  14. Without a doubt, you did the right thing. Period. You realized and admitted you had reached your limit…and you walked away for a bit to calm down. You are an amazing Mama and regardless of what parenting style you practice, feeling exhausted and frustrated with a high needs baby is a UNIVERSAL emotion! We are not perfect but when we make tough choices for our babies that are out of love-that makes us Mothers! You go girl!

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