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Abuse or Martyrdom?

On a side note to begin with:  I never got that post out that I wanted to.  Honestly it’s because some things changed.  I’ll put it out soon.

Here’s what’s happened.

After we got back from Cincy during the holidays Little J’s sleeping habits got worse.  I understand for the first week or so he was sick.  A couple of weeks after that I noticed that no matter how many times I would try to put him in the co-sleeper, he would not stay there.  He would wake up instantly, cry, and then I would pretty much have to spend the whole night nursing him.  I couldn’t even detach him and attempt to sleep in another position next to him.

Being kept in the side laying position all night was causing major pain in my hips and back.  I would try switching sides and having to move him every time (he was awake anyway), but nothing would help.  It eventually got to a point that I was always in pain, and was taking Tylenol to get through the day.

I was becoming more and more resentful of him.  I know he isn’t trying to hurt me or upset me, but I desperately needed rest.  I also could get nothing done.  I had to be attached to him, even as he slept.  I know that you don’t have to have a perfect house when you have a baby, but this was getting to be 6 months now and our house was in shambles.

The situation was really even chipping away at our rock hard marriage.  My husband is unwavering in his support, but 6 months of sleeping apart and being neglected was starting to get to him.  It was understandable.  Neither of us even had a sex drive anymore.  What could we do?

We’ve toyed with Crying It Out (CIO) before, but nothing that was ever to the full extent.  We always sort of had it in mind that we would wait until he was 6 months, and decided that the time had come.

This isn’t an easy decision for any mom to make these days.  Actually, nothing is.  The internet is inundated with all kinds of people voicing their (very strong) opinions about every aspect of parenthood.  You should have a natural birth, you should exclusively breastfeed, you shouldn’t circumcise,  you shouldn’t get immunizations, you should cloth diaper, you should babywear, you should, you should, you should.

There are few allowances that are forgiving enough for why you can’t.  It seems to be ok that I didn’t have a natural birth because J got his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and a C section was absolutely necessary.  Some women are just completely unable to breastfeed.  It is some people’s religious customs to be circumcised.  Although I’m sure there are those out there that will even debate against these reasons.

My own opinion is that we should strive to do what’s best for our children and I believe in natural and nurturing ways, but sometimes there are things beyond our control.  I shouldn’t judge how someone else parents because we do what works for us and our children, and we’re all different.  There are exclusions to this for those that abuse, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

So we finally got to the point that we knew it was time, and it wasn’t going to be easy.  We went through our normal bedtime routine.   Instead of going into our room to nurse and fall asleep though,  I nursed him in the glider until he was asleep and then got up to put him in his crib.  He woke up instantly and started crying.  I shushed him, turned on his glow seahorse, and left the room.

Now here’s where I’ll be strongly honest.  Yes it wasn’t easy, but was I in agony that my baby was crying?  No.  Now please understand, I”m not cold-hearted.  I don’t like to see or hear my baby cry, but my baby has cried and fussed A LOT since he was born.  My baby crying has been the soundtrack of my life for the past 6 months.  I know the difference between a cry and a “something is really wrong or needed” cry.  I’m not saying I like it or that I’m not riddled with anxiety as I sit waiting for him to go to sleep or for my time to go in and comfort him again.  I’m not trying to say I’m immune to it, I’m trying to say that it’s not something that would bother me as much as a mother who has a baby who’s hardly ever cried.

The first night he cried for at least an hour, woke up about 3 times during the night, took 30 minutes to an hour to go back asleep every time after that, and we finally got up at 6 am.  I nursed him once during the night.  I was happy to have him smile up at me the next morning.

I was feeling bad enough about the whole situation, but then I read a FB post on my High Needs board that was something to the effect of “I’m starting a group for parents who don’t do things like circumcise or CIO because hearing about anyone doing it is emotionally damaging me”.  Um, WTF?!?  I’m already riddled with enough guilt, and now I’m responsible for your emotional scarring because of my parenting choices?

I was such a mess.  I’m all for trying to learn new ways and being open to discussions and choices.  What I found from those opposed to CIO though was becoming disturbing. “It’s child abuse!”, “You are emotionally and physically damaging your child!”, and “you have destroyed the bond you have with your child forever!” are their rallying cries.  They don’t understand how other parents would do it to their child, and they would never even think of doing it with theirs.  They co-sleep with their babies, some for years, some sleep like angels, some just went to their own beds in their own time, and so on.

I’ll start by saying I think co-sleeping is great.  When it works.  In fact after the second night when I realized that co-sleeping was truly over for us, I cried.  A lot.  I would miss that time with my baby.  I knew that it was a special time that we would never get back.  Even if we ever get to have another baby it won’t be the same.  He was my first.  I’ll miss his little body snuggled up to me.  Mother and child together, and trying to figure it out together.  It is a beautiful thing.

That being said though, it was being turned into nights of pain and resentment.  I have to think that a majority of those co-sleeping are not quite having the same experience I”m having. I had to make a painful choice.  What is better for my child?  Horrible sleep together, or better sleep apart?  Each having their own pros and cons.

Recent studies have shown that it may be best for babies 6 months and older to be allowed to self soothe, basically saying that there is no real difference between babies who were allowed to CIO and those who weren’t.

The children in the two groups showed very little to no significant differences in terms of emotional health, behavior or sleep problems. Mothers’ stress or depression levels were roughly the same, as were the parent-child bonds in both groups.

This however directly contradicts another study that the anti-CIO supporters throw around a lot that finds that babies left to CIO had higher levels of stress hormone, cortisol.  The anti supporters say this causes brain damage, although I can’t find an article that directly says that.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t or that having stress is good, but I just couldn’t find anything about it.

Ok, so really science is sort of on the fence on all of this.  Basically they leave it up to the parents saying do whatever works for you.

Easier said than done.  We had a few really hard nights, but CIO was working for us.  Hours of crying turned into a few minutes.  Sleeping for only an hour at a time is turning into 10 hours.  I don’t have pain anymore, and the house (and my sanity) were coming back together.  My husband and I were coming back together too.  He’s back in our bedroom, and we actually had a desire to have sex.

Even with all this though, I was still wracked with guilt.  Were these anti-CIOers right?  I spent so much time thinking about it.

First I addressed the “child abuse” claim.  As someone who went through mental, physical, and sexual child abuse I sort of found this insulting.  It’s hard to explain to people the difference who haven’t experienced it.  The person who abused me didn’t love me.  He loved only himself and what he wanted.  He wanted to control me.  You may argue that isn’t that what you’re doing to your child?  There may be a fine line, but it’s not.  I love my child, and would do anything for them.  We’ve tried other sleep training, but it doesn’t work.  None of us may like it, but its what works for all of us.  We’re all happier, more rested, and I just have to believe that a less depressed mommy is better for my child.

I’m not ignoring his needs.  He is not lying in a dirty diaper and he is not starving.  Yes, he wants to be comforted.  I’m trying to do that, but I know my child and I feel he is prepared to start doing that on his own as well.  We in no way believe a CIO routine is ok for a child younger than 6 months.  I feel he knows I’m here to comfort and love him, and I don’t think he’s able to manipulate me.  I feel he’s just mentally developed enough to learn to self soothe.

Honestly I think people like using the words “child abuse” because of the shock, but you can’t just throw those words around.  They really mean something to those who’ve gone through it.  I understand that it may seem like that to you, but it really hurtful for someone to say that I’m abusing my child when I know I’m not.

Ok, so am I emotionally and mentally damaging my child?  As I’ve noted above, science is torn on that.  Both my husband and I were left to CIO, and we’re both highly intelligent (him on a genius level).  We turned out fine.  I see that many people who were left to CIO and have some issue with it seem to have a story like this:  I remember when I was 3 and left to CIO.  I had to pee and my parents never came, so I wet myself and now I have all these issues.  This is a bit more than sleep training CIO.  I know my child and the difference between a cry and a “something is really wrong” cry.  If I knew they really needed something I wouldn’t leave them to just deal with it.  That is abuse.

I’ve even seen some make claims that we have all these problems with anxiety and depression because we were left to CIO as children.  With no scientific evidence I just have to roll my eyes at this.  Yes, I have anxiety and depression.  So did my mother, and her mother.  It’s something that is genetic and environmentally picked up.  Not because I was allowed to CIO.

Next, have I damaged the bond between my child and me?  This was the one I was most afraid of, but I’ve noticed absolutely no difference.  He still acts the same towards me, but he is gaining more independence.  Which is normal at this age.  I did have a bit of, “but he doesn’t always seem happy”.  Then I remembered that since birth I’ve thought, “but he doesn’t seem happy”.  He’s a fussy child.  Always has been.  He’s not always happy, and he won’t be.  Whether he CIO or not.

A lot of the anti-CIO supporters like to say that we only do it for our own good.  That we’re being selfish.  Like I’ve said before, I just have to believe that me being happier makes for a better, happier environment for him.  I tried to make co-sleeping work, and it just didn’t for us.

They also like to say that our bad feelings about CIO are proof that it’s “unnatural” and not to be done.  I don’t know about this.  I can just make the argument that it’s selfish of me to ignore everyone’s well being because I’ll miss sleeping with my child next to me.  That I’m making myself a martyr.

That’s when I began to think, do I have to make myself a martyr?  Do I really have to suffer physical pain and strain on my marriage because some people believe that making my baby CIO is abuse?

There is nothing wrong for feeling passion for or believing in any side.  I actually feel it’s just sad that we don’t support each other more.  We’re too concerned about what we feel is right and condemning those who don’t feel the same.

I’m not trying to knock those who don’t believe in CIO.  It’s ok if you are and that’s what you practice.  I’m just trying to explain my feelings and reasons why we did it.  I’ve heard all the arguments and points from each side, but I have to look at what works in practice.  For my family it’s CIO.  Not that you have to like it, but just please try to understand before condemning all that do.  I don’t mean to cause you emotional stress because of what I do.  I don’t mean this in a mean way, but if you really can’t get through life without emotionally surviving conflicting ideas you need to get some help.

Each family is different.  Each child is different.  Sometimes we just have to parent different and take different paths.  It’s not easy for any of us.  We try to do what’s right for our babies.  Nobody is perfect.  Pardon my French, but it’s really fucking hard and we should support each other more.

We did what worked for our family, and I don’t make apologies for that.  It’s fine if you don’t agree, and I don’t fault you for that.  I would just appreciate not being called a child abuser.  Thanks.


About babyandthegeeks

I'm just a 28 year old neurotic hippie/geek, and I'm just doing my thing.

4 responses »

  1. I never thought I would CIO but it is seriously the only way we could get Roo out of our bed.

    Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you abused your child….cause if you did than so did I and whole heck of a lot of other people!!

    You’re doing good mama and don’t let anyone let you think otherwise!!

  2. I’m glad you wrote this post and I hope many will get to read it! Especially those who are such self-righteous ‘fundamentalists’ about this and other aspects of parenting. And those who are left to feel guilty because of these normative ideologies. Because that’s what they are – NOT objective knowledge about what’s best for babies. There is very little science and what there is, is conflicting at best.
    Personally, I think that all this judgement on parents for wanting to teach their baby something so fundamental and important as being able to go to sleep and stay asleep, is part of the problem. Maybe CIO ends up becoming necessary for most in the end because babies have not been helped and taught to go to sleep by themselves much earlier. Because we are all afraid of doing it with all these crazy associations about ‘abuse’, damaging your child etc. Babies become set in their ways after some month, dependent on nursing, holding, rocking, being driven around in the car or whatever else it might be, in order to go to sleep.
    We never wanted to end up there, so we started very early with ‘sleep training’ as some like to call it. We co-slept the first month with our son, then slowly and gently started to insist on him sleeping in his moses basket from 7pm which we decided is his bedtime every night all the time. We never left him to cry by himself, because he was of course too young for that. We just kept going back in when he cried, picked him up, held him until he stopped crying and put him back when he was still awake but almost falling asleep. He would wake up fully and cry again of course and so we would do it again and again and again. Kept putting him back down, not fully but almost asleep. It would take hours in the beginning. We would do the same in the night after every feed. It was exhausting for a while, but he got better and better quickly. We could slowly move on to not picking him up when he cried, but just be there holding his arms still, singing to him. He became very good at falling asleep at around 2 month. We could just put him down and leave the room. He would chat and grizzle for maybe 5-10 minutes than he was off. Same after feeds in the night – he would go to sleep again easily. At 3 month he slept through the night for the first time – from 7pm till 6am. And he still does most of the time now at 5 month. Unless there is something wrong, i.e. he is ill, not feeling well after immunisations (yes he had all his immunisations!!), teething or whatever. Like you say, we as parents know his different cries very well and we know when we need to pick him up, when he needs something and when we can leave him to self-sooth completely by himself if he has woken up for some reason and when we can just help him a little with a gentle hand on his hands.
    For us it has worked and been a great success to do it this way, but the ironic thing is that as much as I still believe strongly that we did the right thing for him, I sometimes feel in doubt precisely when I read or hear these opinions you talk about. But I try to reassure myself… we cannot have damaged our child in any way, because we have always been there for him when he needed us. Even though we did a form of what some people would call ‘sleep training’ very early on, we never left him to cry by himself. We just helped him along gently, trying to teach him important life skills as early as possible. Why is this not ok in most peoples eyes? I have no idea… but it sure is extremely counterproductive to make parents feel guilty when they are only trying to do what they believe is best.

  3. I had really strong feelings about CIO until I ended up in the exact same situation as you…no one was sleeping, baby wasn’t learning how to put himself to sleep and was awake every 1-2 hours sucking on my boob to go back to sleep and we were all miserable. We started CIO last week..albeit a very gentle version…but it has helped us a lot and I now realize how judgmental I was of CIO proponents. It IS all about what works for each family and for us as much as I wanted to cosleep for a year…it wasn’t working anymore and something had to change and CIO was the only way to change it. To each his own…

  4. Thanks for the post. This sure is an intense topic. I’m pretty sure some moms would attack other moms if they were face to face talking about this! It’s interesting how so many people seem to be so passionate about this but they aren’t going nuts over things like divorce or bullying which obviously have a huge impact on kids. And there are all the negative effects of lack of sleep that seem to be often skipped over (you have to weigh both sides). I agree that CIO isn’t the best way for everyone, but sometimes that happens to be the best thing for some families which many parents, because they are not the said parent or child of the parent, will not understand. How can they? As much as they may think they understand people, they are not them. Everyone has different opinions and beliefs and abilities. A million different people are going to think a parent is a terrible parent for one thing or another. Just because your opinion differs from someone else doesn’t make it right. Hey, they may think you are just as bad for not cloth diapering or for feeding your child sugar (aka poison by some). Or they may think that a tired momma who is screaming at her kids all day with a fussy/crying overtired baby is a lot more harmful to a baby (and his whole family) than a baby that does cio (I’m not saying all moms do this without sleep, just pointing out one of the many possible side effects of little sleep).


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