I failed at sleep training.
On my third child no less. As though somehow having two humans before this one some how made me more knowledgeable or qualified. Ha. This experience has been resounding proof that every child is different. So different, in fact, that we might as well be first time parents all over again with each new offspring.
The first two children slept. Not perfectly and not all the time, but enough for me to keep some sanity. Enough for me to believe in “sleep training”.
I should probably clarify, however, that “sleep training” gurus might not totally accept my version of their methods. I was never able to let the “cry it out” method last for more than 5-10 minutes at a time before going back in to comfort and try again. But somehow, it worked. My two oldest two took a couple of days to adjust to the “self-soothing” trend and have mostly slept like rockstars since then.
So why would it ever occur to me that it wouldn’t work with offspring number three?
Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t even worried about it. My older two sleep trained earlier, though I can’t remember why. Probably some book told me it was the “right” time. But with this one, sleep training wasn’t even on my radar. She’s my last baby, was born early so she is small for her age, and she is just so darn snuggly that I was fine to cuddle a lot.
But then the mystical “four month sleep regression” hit.
And suddenly my snuggly sleeper woke up every time I set her down. It didn’t take long for sleep deprivation, both hers and mine, to escalate. So I decided it was time she learned to self-sooth, because how else would she fall back asleep? With a toddler around I couldn’t always spend hours being her comfort object so she could get a good nap. Even if I wanted to, it just wasn’t possible.
So I did what had always worked in the past. Set her down awake and left the room. When she cried I would go back and comfort her. And then I would leave and let her fuss. And then I would go back again.
Sometimes it worked. Just enough for me to think I just needed to buckle down and stick with it. But a lot of times it didn’t work. A lot of times she battled me longer than I had the energy for. Or she would fall asleep only to wake up twenty minutes later. Most of the time it left me feeling defeated, to the point where the sound of her crying would trigger a hormonal response that made me feel like I was drowning in my own body.
After a month of this, after days of hope and even more days of despair, I’ve given up.
It was not an easy concession. Not following through on my goal, not sticking with the plan, feels like a failure. Like I’ve not only failed at my own goal but I’ve failed my child.
By my the third child I should know how to do this, right?
The good news is, I’m too emotionally exhausted to give these feelings of failure much energy. I spent the weekend holding the baby for her naps, or letting her nap in the rock-n-play next to my chair. Instead of taking her upstairs and battling with her about bedtime, I nurse her in the rocking chair in the living room and hold her until she is sound asleep before I take her up to bed. Sometimes she wakes up once I lay her down but it’s not a struggle like before.
It doesn’t feel great to set a goal, to believe that I need to help my child achieve this sleep milestone, and then abandon it when it doesn’t work.
But it also doesn’t feel good to keep burning myself out on something that clearly isn’t working.
The final nail in the sleep training coffin came to me in an article from a friend. It’s called “To the Losers Who Haven’t Sleep Trained Their Babies” and you can read it here. And also another article that crossed my feed this morning from Scary Mommy, which you can read here.
I like to believe that the universe sends us what we need, and today I needed those articles. Because they gave me the permission I didn’t need to scrap my idea of what sleep training was supposed to look like. Baby number three is a different kiddo than the first two, and quite frankly, I’m a different mother than I was with the first two. So it only makes sense that, rather than following the same cookie-cutter rules for sleep training, we need to find what works for us.
So that’s what we’re going to do.