The Sleep Wars, Round Two

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, November 15, 2005 |

When last we informed you of the status of the savage ideological fisticuffs going on between our favorite pugilistic pediatricians Dr. Sears v. Dr. Weissbluth, we were poised to give Weissbluth's cry-it-out method a second look and really buckle down and let her cry. The results?

Miserable failure. Weissbluth has hit the mat face first every time we've tried to cry it out. This kid has the endurance of Prefontaine when it comes to crying.

One of the things I loathe most about Weissbluth's theory is the draconian rigor by which he expects his readers to schedule and standardize their babies' sleep patterns, to the extent that parents risk screwing up their babies forever by letting them sleep in slings or in arms or in a car seat or anywhere other than in their own beds at the same times every day. "Screw it up once and he sure as shit won't get into Choate," Weissbluth writes (p. 191). "Screw it up twice and he won't even get into Swarthmore. Three times? You'll be supporting him for twenty-eight years while he gets his MFA from a diploma mill in the Midwest."

Why is it that Attachment Parents are so often portrayed as freaks with their 4-year olds breastfeeding and still riding in hip slings, when it is the strict Weissbluthians who apparently never leave their homes during the first six months of each child's life? That's some serious Boo Radley shit. We just couldn't do that. We had to be out and about and if that meant Juniper took many a nap slumped against my chest in the baby bjorn like that guy who'd get drunk and pass out on our attic steps at parties in our ramshackle college house, so be it.

And with both Wood and I working, Juniper spends a good part of each day in day care, where she takes 2-3 naps a day. They can't let her cry it out in the crib room full of other babies trying to sleep. They rock her and bounce her and sing to her, just like we'd like to do before we set her into her crib for the night. We realized after a few harrowing nights of crying it out that our efforts were being undermined at day care. We were not presenting a unified front, forcing her to cry it out at night for an hour and forty-five minutes, and the next day having her day care provide snuggles and singing and rocking her to sleep like we wanted to, like we oh so wanted to with our hearts dragging across the floor and our ears on the door to the bedroom, analyzing the timbre of her screams and the daggerlike stabs of rollicky, billowing choking and phlegm-heavy coughing, knowing full well that her cheeks were glistening with tears and that her head was full of the vague pain of abandonment and cold. For an hour and forty-five minutes every night we tried, Wood fled outdoors to walk halfway from the Ocean to the Bay and I paced through our one-bedroom apartment, searching for some audial deadspot to escape her screams but I couldn't. It's just too small. Her screams were everywhere. And they didn't stop like Weissbluth said they eventually would. They just never stopped.

We love this lifestyle, this city life a block from the coffee shop and the mom & pop supermarket and the sushi restaurant; we love this apartment. We're not complaining. We chose to live somewhere where extra bedrooms are an unknown luxury. We chose to live underneath an obsessive compulsive South African woman who within 12 hours of my moving in complained about the noise of my guitar, telling me she kept hearing this incessant, unmelodic droning through the floor. She does a freakin' tap dance on the hardwood every time Juniper wakes up during the night, just to let us know she's woken her up too. Because so many of you had so many good things to say about crying it out in the comments to our last post, I'd really wanted to give Weissbluth the full treatment, but I just don't think we can do it with this life we've chosen. Maybe with the next baby. The bottom line is Weissbluth may work great for people with real houses, but it simply can't apply to everyone's situation. What does Weissbluth suggest for people who live in one-room apartments? He suggests you drag your bed into the living room and sleep in there until the baby has cried it out.

[ding, ding] Weissbluth down on a Technical Knockout [okay, I tried to make him look like he was all beat up, but instead he just looks like a one-eyed Muslin cleric with a Selleck-stache] There's just no way we're sleeping in the living room. Let Weissbluth deal with the tap dancing South African upstairs who won't tolerate a full night of crying it out.

So Dr. Sears is sitting down over there in the corner, getting spritzed with water and rubbing a t-bone on his head wounds, cocky, a prizefighter who has come to town and just knocked out the local heavyweight, his barker roaming the crowd to see if there's any burly hero who'd be willing to take Sears on in his weakened state.

Well, we've watched him take on a few new competitors only to knock them down easily in the first round. A friend gave us "The Baby Whisperer" before Juniper was born saying she'd wished she'd had it for her first baby, but I had my doubts right away. Who does this Baby Whisperer woman think she is? What are her credentials? Why would I take parenting advice from a woman who writes her text with the voice of a toothless old hag selling cabbages at a London street market? "Aye, luv, I pull'd this 'ere babbit from tha cabbage patch meself, I did. She's sweet, an ripe, an moist, she is. Aye, luv, you'll ne'er fin' yerself a sweeter, mor' gentle babbit than the uns Tracey Hogg be whisperin' to, no Guv-nuh, 'tis not bloody likely anyhow. I speak in a babbit language only we understan', I do." (p. 23)

I don't mean to speak too ill of the dead (I didn't realize that she died last year until after I'd photoshopped her into that bikini), but Hogg's program just wasn't for us. The scheduling program she calls, "E.A.S.Y"--- (eat, activity, sleep, your time), is actually pretty fucking H.A.R.D. to implement. Hogg talks about "taming" babies like you're actually dealing with wild stallions or cape buffalo or something. We read it, tried it, picked up a few tricks and gave up. We looked into the No Cry Sleep Solution and same thing. Why isn't this baby responding like the hypothetical babies in these books? Why doesn't she fit neatly into someone else's theory? Wood has nearly had it. Coffee is the only thing keeping her sane, triple espressos every morning on her way to work. Juniper is still waking up to feed 3-4 times a night, and waking up for good at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. At night Wood falls asleep on the couch early, exhausted. Juniper wakes up a couple times and I go to her from the computer. We've deflated our yoga ball and given up on the bouncing, which we see as a small victory. When she wakes crying, I usually just bend over her crib and sing to her loosely-swaddled form, her tiny voice crying out for a few seconds then merely whimpering as I rhythmically pat her backside to let her know I am there, that I am touching her and that she is safe and warm. I like to think the feel of that rhythm reminds her of that safe place she first knew, her mother's heart and glistening viscera pounding down upon her with that same rhythm, the drifting in and out of my song like the thousand muffled conversations she heard while we touched Wood's belly in the excitement of waiting for her. Eventually I stop the tapping and my voice lowers to a mere whisper, and I sneak away from the crib and back to the computer. Sometimes it only takes few moments to get her to sleep, but sometimes it can take the greater part of an hour.

We can't keep going like this. But we just don't know what to do.