“Has your baby started sleeping through the night?”
“Do you know that if you don’t teach your baby to sleep, he will never be able to fall asleep on his own? He will never be able to have a good rest!”
“All babies cry before they sleep. They are releasing their stress. It is okay to not check on them unless it is something urgent. You would be able to identify his cry.”
So armed with statements like these, as a first-time mother, I tried to sleep-train my baby. If you have ever encountered this before, the cries of a baby undergoing sleep training is very painful. Yet, as experts describe, the cries will hit a plateau and he will be able to have a good rest after that. On hindsight, this seemed to be an experience that I don’t think God will subject me through.
Before giving birth, my friend highly recommended attending an Ezzo’s Babywise course that taught routines and advocated crying-it-out. He had let his baby undergo sleep training and his baby was sleeping well now. Another friend, who gave birth before me, warned me about the four month sleep regression and regaled tales of how her baby needed to be rocked for 4 hours and couldn’t sleep longer than 30 minutes. All these gnawed at my fears and worries… Even though my baby did not exhibit any sleep problems (I now follow the guidelines set out here by evolutionaryparenting).
I was worried – worried about the future, worried about not doing the right thing for my son, worried that he will become worse. Yet when I prayed, God kept saying “Focus on now.”
I am nursing my baby to sleep and it has been a very loving experience for me. Just leaning back against the pillow and holding him close to my bosom, I experience a sense of peace and joy that I am able to provide comfort and a sense of security for him to sleep to. Everything just felt so right and so warm – just him and me. As a friend has said, “Have boobs, will use!” There are times when he fusses and will get upset even while nursing. But ultimately, he still falls asleep at the breast.
Yet, my past was threatening this very image of love. What-ifs and fears of failure kept me up and persuaded me to stop nursing him to sleep. He cried buckets of tears, I cried buckets of tears. Anger and frustration permeated sleep times as I refused to nurse him to sleep; I refused to hold him and just let him cry. There was even one dark night when I even screamed at him, which resulted in my husband rushing into the room and taking my son. Letting him cry it out was destroying the relationship I had with him.
But I persisted because this was the “right” thing to do.
How wrong I was.
It was irony that hit me hard – the irony that I would let my son cry-it-out and refuse to comfort him while I received healing consolation from God and let Him comfort my tears. This all transpired from my old memories of me remembering how my mother would beat me. I have found that becoming a mother has surfaced old wounds from the past, especially from my own infant years and my Spiritual Director (SD) recommended that I sit with God and let Him love me. Hah! Right after a long battle with my son that finally saw me conceding to nurse him to sleep (and resolving the very next day to leave him to cry), I sat in the quiet room and started my prayer.
I saw myself as a very young girl, crying and hugging my favourite whale doll. I was sobbing as I felt unloved and rejected by my mother. At that moment, God gave me a hug and held me so close that I felt His immense love for me; that He wanted me. I remained there happily, basking in the love of my Father and cried from the sheer gratitude of feeling His calm presence and comforting touch.
After my quiet meditation, I looked at my baby and a “WTF” dawned on me. What was I doing to my baby?! Here I am receiving love from God and yet, I am not giving love to my baby. God did not let me cry it out but I’m letting the very person I love so much cry it out. How can I be so two-faced about it? That experience promptly extinguished any desire I had to sleep train him.
If I am supposed to make visible who God is, who will my baby think God is? A God who dishes out conditional love? A God who will withdraw His love? A God who will let him cry it out because it is good for him? Do I really want my baby to see God differently from who He really is?
And that is what happens when the cries of a baby hit a plateau. He realises that his needs are not met and he stops crying and communicating. He learns that his parents (and by extension God) won’t be there for him, especially when he most needs it.
According to the book “Healing the Eight Stages of Life” by Linn, Fabricant and Linn (1988, p. 36-37),
If a child does receive the love and nurturing it needs during the stage of infancy, then it will decide… that the world is good and can be trusted. Perhaps that’s why a universal image of trust in painting and sculpture is a child nursing at its mother’s breast… It’s as if the child says,”Something good happens when I express my needs. My needs must be good. I must be good.”…
If the infant’s needs for love and care are not met, it will mistrust and probably withdraw into itself, perhaps from all relationships. It will distrust the world and also itself, feeling that it is empty and no good.
Having gone through a childhood where I experienced rejection and yes, being left to cry it out even up till adulthood, it hit me really hard that I was perpetuating the same thing to my son. I, who suffered from depression and was an angry bitter person, should have known better. I was seized by guilt and pain but God’s constanr reassurance was “Focus on the now.”.
Well, my 5-month old baby goes to sleep easily when I nurse him to sleep. I need to catch his sleepy cues (yawning, rubbing eyes, zoning out) or it takes a longer time to nurse him to sleep (over tiredness does create more active babies). He can sleep up to 2 hrs for a nap when he needs it but he usually settles for 40 minutes. He goes to bed at 7.30pm and has just started sleeping for longer hours with only 2 wakeups. He can go back to sleep by himself. I can almost hear God saying, “And you were worried about? When Michael is ready to do these things, he will do it. Just like you.” *haha* My SD put it more bluntly, “Well Mother Mary nursed Jesus to sleep and he turned out fine!”
With the focus on now, I am then learning to appreciate every moment I have with him. I am learning to be present with him.I am becoming more mindful of how my past is hurting my present and my son. I truly desire to prevent intergenerational wounds of anger and depression and change myself towards Love and Joy. He always gently asks me to choose Love. I really want to be like Him to my son and that my relationship with him will mirror my relationship with God.
P/S If you want to read a scientific argument against sleep training and crying it out, please read this article. I hope to talk next about why I chose evolutionary parenting and how it aligns closely to my healing journey!