2.20.2006

A Picture Of The Indescribable

Recently, we've been trying to get our 7-month old boy to sleep on his own in the crib. He's used to being fed at night and sleeping with mommy for the last half of the night. We felt that it was about time that he transitioned to sleeping through the night. It's just too tiring to keep this up but convincing a baby to change his sleeping habits is not a trivial task.

We started by no longer picking him up put of his crib to quieten him (what a mistake!), we've eliminating the sleeping with mommy part and now we're no longer staying in the room with him as he falls asleep. He has let us know at each step that it does not meet with his approval. He pulls himself up to the crib bars, standing, and shrieks unless you pick him up. When I say "shriek", imagine the tormented spirits from your nightmares who reside in the anguished depths of Hades. Now, imagine that whenever those tortured souls cried out their infinite agony, a thousand ear-seeking needles flew out of their mouths. Got that? Ok. I would prefer that to the sound my son makes. He not only has the power but the endurance. His record? One hour, forty-five minutes of timpani-shattering, mind-flaying, soul-rending, sleep-eradicating audible death. Ended only by his becoming hoarse. If this were an isolated incident, you could get through it though the memory might haunt your every waking moment. No, this happens everytime he wakes up. And since his routine is disrupted. He wakes up often. I don't recall how many days ago we started all this. A week? Two weeks?

This course of action on his part is totally reasonable. His loving, nuturing parents have abandoned him because of their selfish need for a continuous block of sleep. I don't want to make it sound like we have him sealed in a sound-proof booth while we sleep on a bed of rose petals for three days straight. We've been moving gradually towards our goal (perhaps too gradually?; the second-guessing is but a part of this hellish experience). We started by patting him, rubbing his tummy, rubbing his back, humming to him, giving him white-noise (through shush-ing), staying in the room with him, always careful not to take him out of the crib unless he needed to be changed or fed (we'll wean him off night feedings later). We've slowly been reducing our presence in his room at night, and gradually making it clear that calling for us will only get a visit to check on him.

Last night, we started a routine where if he wakes, we go in to check on him and try to calm him. If he resists calming and wants to fight, we leave and don't return for 5 minutes. We return and try again. If he still fights it, leave and wait 10 minutes. Repeat adding 5 minutes at each step. We had to leave the room for one 5 minute period and then another incident that made it to a 10 minute wait. During this time, our son issues the unholy fury of the devil, cries that pale the trumpeting screeches of a wounded banshee. The pain of hearing your son cry out for you, desperately pleading with you to come and comfort him with you knowing full well that doing so goes against what you're trying to do, cannot even be hinted at by my hyperbole.

For certain, you will find a host of people who will say that this is unneccessary, barbaric, inhumane. There are a myriad of ways to attain that holy grail of a baby that sleeps through the night. We've tried a few but, sadly, this appears to be the most successful. For the first time, last night, our son went to sleep on his own. Ok. He cried himself to sleep because of what we did to him. There is all manner of doubt running through your mind as your child rages into his night-light for his parents's return. We're doing this too early. We're being selfish. We're doing this the wrong way. Our baby, our wonderful baby, is suffering. But at the same time, you know that the line between comforting and indulging is a fine one. Do not be fooled. Babies learn to manipulate very, very quickly.

So, as you lay in bed at 5 am listening, for the fifth time that night, to the opening aria from the opera-of-the-damned, "Infanta Anali (Baby Tears You A New One)", you're at war with yourself because you feel like you're teaching him how to sleep on his own, you're not relenting to his manipulative cries and you're giving him some independence. On the other hand, he is screaming like Luke at the end of Jedi, as though fiery, blue bolts of lightining are coursing through his body, ripping through his brain. Except you're not playing the role of Vader, you're the Emperor. "Now, young Skywalker... you will sleep."