That night we began her bedtime routine early. I had heard warm water was soothing, so I gave her a bath. We went through the routine I had begun establishing a week or so prior, and she was tired but happy. I nursed her, took her off before she was asleep, sung her a lullaby, laid her in her crib, and left.
For a few minutes, silence. But then, soon, crying. I tried picking her up and soothing her, but within a few repetitions she would start screaming as I went to lower her in the crib. I was afraid if I kept picking her up every time she cried and putting her down every time she was calm I would teach her the crib was a punishment. She used to cry in her carseat, and usually within 10 minutes of crying would fall asleep. I figured I needed to give her a chance.
I put her down.
I waited 3 minutes. The cries had risen to the level of screaming. I went in, picked her up, soothed her. She was confused and distraught. It took me a long time to comfort her as she clung to me and kept crying in my arms. Once she was calm I braced myself, lowered her in her crib, and left.
The screams began before I hit the door.
That time, I waited 5 minutes. The next, 10. Then 5 again, then 10. And so on.
For an hour and a half.
I thought I would be OK. I had left my baby to cry before. In her carseat, when I couldn’t pull over. In her bouncer, when I needed to shower. I am not a mother who feels her baby can never cry. Sometimes life is hard, and you have to learn to deal with it because the simple fact is it won’t always go your way.
But this was not crying. This was screaming.
This was not my baby being upset about something.
This was her feeling utterly confused. Hurt. Betrayed for reasons she couldn’t fathom. Her pain rang in her voice as she screamed herself hoarse.
She had never, ever cried like this. This was a level of pain far beyond anything she had ever expressed before.
I would go into her room and she would desperately grab on and cling to me, sniffling as she tried to choke down the sobs she no longer felt the need to let out but the pain of which had taken her over, making it hard to stop. She would bury her face in my neck and wrap her arms around me, taking hold of my hair in both her little fists and gripping desperately. While she loved being in my arms and I wore her regularly, she had never clung to me like this. I didn’t even have to do anything to quiet her anymore, the cries would stop as soon as she was in my arms. All she wanted was the comfort of my love and presence.
And after she was calm, I would go against every instinct my mommy brain was screaming at me, walk her back to the crib, lay her down, and leave.
The screaming would start as I would lower her in. She couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Why I was abandoning her. Why I wouldn’t respond to her cries, her only way to communicate, like I always had. Why I wouldn’t allow her the simple comfort of my arms, which I had always surrounded her with while she fell asleep before.
She was not manipulating me. She was not angry. She was not stubborn.
She was bewildered and betrayed and she screamed her confusion and her desperation to the world that had abandoned her.
Finally, finally, after more than an hour and a half, she slept.
And, in a sense, it “worked”.
She slept 3 hours. Then she woke, ate, went back down easily, and slept another 5 hours.
Of course, most people sleep hard and long after experiencing a trauma. So the fact that she slept so “well” wasn’t really remarkable. It wasn’t a sign that she had learned self-sufficiency. It was a sign of how hard the experience had been on her.
After those 8 hours she woke again, and, with more energy, began a repeat of the screaming as I lowered her into the crib. I took her into our room, tears running down both our faces as she cried at the idea of repeating the experience while awake enough to recognize it happening, and I cried at the thought of doing it, and said to my husband I didn’t know what to do. Could I have done it? Yes. The reason I was such a fantastic dog trainer is that I can out-stubborn anyone. My problem wasn’t that it was hard. My problem was that it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. He told me it was OK to nurse her to sleep in our room like we had been doing. We could work on it again the next night. We could just move her in the middle of the night, when she seemed to do better, for a week or so, and make the crib a not-horrible place to her again.
I crawled into bed and nursed my sweet baby to sleep.
Nothing had ever felt so right.
She went down easily and slept the several hours until morning.
Do I think she was permanently scarred by her hour and a half of screaming it out? No. But something doesn’t have to leave permanent scars to be wrong.
There had to be a way to teach my baby to sleep without causing her this much pain. The day wore on, and even though the crying it out had “worked”, I couldn’t stop feeling…wrong…about it. I refused to do it again.
I looked for other answers.
[Please note, I do not think CIO is wrong for every baby or every family, and I do not judge others who choose to use it. I simply mean it was wrong for ME and it was wrong for MY BABY. I think like most “negative” training techniques (as opposed to positive training techniques), it tends to have an extreme effect, either working very, very well, or working very, very poorly and causing negative side effects you then have to deal with. I have never been a fan of that kind of technique in most situations, and I decided this was one where I wasn’t willing to use it unless I had exhausted every other option.]