Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Conquering the crib (kind of)

This is one of those "a moment in time" posts. I wrote it the morning after my daughter spent her first-- and only, to date-- night in her crib. The next night I stared at her through the white bars as she shuddered with tears, and I took her back into bed and have kept her there (mostly happily) ever since. Our cats are relieved to have their 400 shekel cat bed to themselves again. An edited version of this was published on Offbeat Mama.

Last night, my four-and-a-half-month-old daughter slept in her crib for the first time. This was huge-- not because co-sleeping isn't working for us, and not because I even think that it's so important that she can sleep in her crib. This was huge because it reminded me how making decisions as a parent works for me.

We've been co-sleeping since our daughter was born, and it has worked beautifully for us. On her own terms (touching me, preferably with a boob in her mouth), Nitsah is a wonderful sleeper, even adjusting with ease to a seven-hour time difference when I visited my family in the US when she was two months old. Not on her own terms-- well, we got a taste of that each time we took Nitsah in the car, and she was not within reach of my boob (and sometimes not even within reach of me). As my niece eloquently put it, "she's roaring."

At the same time, we always knew that we didn't want to co-sleep forever-- at least in theory. In practice, I kept putting off deadlines to try out The Crib. We'd wait until after my trip to America; after all, we'd have to cosleep there. We'd wait until she was four months old. Until six months. Maybe longer. Secretly, I began to feel terror at the prospect. I didn't want bedtime to be like a car trip-- I didn't want to watch her scream, staring at me with quivering disbelief that I wouldn't just give her a boob and unbuckle her already. Even when she fell asleep in the carseat, she would wake up the moment the car stopped. In bed, too, she would usually wake up seconds after I moved away from her.

Doing research online wasn't comforting. Everything I read started with the suggestion to put the baby in her crib for naps. Nitsah was happy to play in her crib during the day, pushing herself off the rungs like monkey bars, but sleeping there? ALONE? No way. Cosleeping began to feel not like a beautiful choice but like something I did because I had no other choice. It also seemed to shunt me into a parenting orthodoxy-- even though nothing I read sounded exactly right for us long term, when it came to sleep it seemed like I had to be 100% attachment parenting or 100% cry-it-out, with no middle ground (unless I had a baby who would simply go to sleep when set down in a crib, which I certainly did not), and with both camps persuaded I would maim my child if I did anything other than what they proscribed. When I envisioned attempting to put Nitsah in her crib, I imagined frantic screaming, desperate sleep deprivation, brain damage from excessive crying, and rigid schedules and routine. But the only alternative I could imagine was a baby in bed with us well into preschool. Last night, I weighed the pros and cons of attempting the crib to my husband, and the number of times I said "on the other hand" rivaled Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof. Then my husband uttered the delicate words that he has had much reason to utter during the course of our relationship: "I think you might be overthinking this."

And then I remembered: parenting was going really well for us, actually. It was going well because we were approaching choices with a sense of humor and experimentation... we were figuring out what worked for us, and we were enjoying the process. We were sleeping pretty well. Our daughter was thriving. We didn't have a sleep problem, so I didn't need to worry about adopting someone else's sleep solution.

Then, as I was getting ready for bed, I put Nitsah down in the crib and was about to go brush my teeth when I looked down at her. She was rolling around, smiling happily at her beer coaster mobile (a post for another day) and then at me. Not one bit sleepy, but not one bit desperate or unhappy, either. I reached a sudden decision. We were having a sleepover. Here, in her nursery, where she had never slept for even a minute. Without a system, without a plan beyond this one night, without a parenting guide to tell me whether to let her cry or pick her up. Without a deadline or huge buildup. If I ended up sleeping with her on the day bed in the nursery, so be it. If I didn't get much sleep and ended up snacking, singing songs, and reading stories all night-- well, that's what a sleepover is for, right?

So I nursed her to sleep as we rocked in the rocking chair (also almost unused), telling her a long story. At 11 PM, when she was soundly asleep, I carefully put her down in the crib... and she stayed asleep! I stepped back, stunned this had been so easy. At 11:07 she woke up crying. I settled down on the daybed with the good book I've been trying to read for the past month, and nursed her back to sleep. I tried put her back in the crib, but she started crying instantly. I picked her back up. No rules. I rocked her, sang to her... not out of desperation to put her to sleep, but because I felt lucky to have this little, warm, stubborn baby all to myself. At 11:30, I put her back down, and she started to fuss. I glanced at my watch, not because I was going to let her cry for a certain time limit, but because I knew how time can slow when a baby is crying and wanted a reality check. Under two minutes later, she sighed and tightened her grip on my thumb through the crib bars. She turned her head to the side and relaxed. Then she slept-- for three whole hours. I know because I watched them all... apparently, I'm the one who can't fall asleep without nursing.

The rest of the night passed smoothly (though, to be honest, I have been to sleepovers that were more fun, and next time I need to make popcorn before the baby grabs my hand). When she started to get restless, I rested my free hand on her head, and she would relax again. I read several chapters in Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenies, with What to Expect Your Baby's First Year and The Baby Book by Dr. Sears safely lodged away in the office bookshelf. When Nitsah eventually woke up and wanted to nurse, I took her out of the crib and nursed her. When I put her back in, warm and content, she didn't even wake up. That time, I even slept a bit. About two hours later she woke up again, and this time I took her into bed with me, and that was fine too-- it was getting chilly in the room, and I felt too tired to safely sit up and nurse. We slept until 9, and the rest of the day today we've gone back to normal-- Nitsah has played on the floor, nursed in a sling, and naps now on my lap as I type this. The only way in which we're the worse for wear is the crick in my back from holding my baby's hand all night.

I don't know if Nitsah will sleep in her crib regularly from now on. I don't even know if I'll put her to sleep in it tonight. I don't know when she will sleep through the night, and I don't care, so long as we are both well-rested and happy. What I know now, though, is that we can navigate our sleep choices the way we've navigated everything else as parents. We can experiment. We can be inconsistent at times as we figure out what we want to be consistent about. I can go with my gut, but that doesn't mean that I should let fear control me. The crib is now an option, not an ultimatum.

Now, when I figure out how I'm ever going to sleep without a baby in my arms, I'll let you know.

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