I have written here many times before about my bond to "attached" parenting, and it's true - every fibre of my being strives towards it. And as part of that philosophy I absolutely cannot allow my babies to "cry it out". But, I confess, I am only human, and my human mama body will only cope with so much. This is the confession of an "attached" mama who does not always stand by her principles as firmly as she wishes or as much as she evangelises.
We learned with our first, boy Earthly, that we just had to let him cry sometimes. Because he cried ALL the time - that's just who he was. And as much as we would try and comfort him and rock him, sing to him, stick him on the boob endlessly, oh and all the other little tricks that you pick up rapidly as new parents - he often still just needed to cry himself to sleep. We used to worry that he was in terrible pain (and indeed blamed the first three months to colic, and thereafter teething), but soon realised that it was just his way. Just as he would never fall asleep on his back - if he wasn't asleep before going in his hammock we had to put him down on the bed on his front, and stroke his back until he settled. And yes, we felt like terrible parents, because we are told as a society that tummy sleeping is wrong and your baby will die. What they don't tell you is that some babies much prefer to sleep on their tummies - like some adults - and it's also a relief for colic.
With girl Earthly, I am reliving the pain of having to let her cry sometimes. It's not a decision I have made, and it's certainly not something I feel at all wonderful about. Ordinarily I wake up the second baby starts to whimper, sometimes even just before. But I confess that there have been occasions where I have been so exhausted that my senses have not roused until mid-wail, and by the time I've dragged my weary parts together enough to pick baby up, she has been screaming her lungs out for some few minutes. At other times I've actually fallen asleep while she continued to cry, my arm encircling her in a pathetically feeble attempt at comfort.
My mum said to me whilst on holiday that "you don't need to run to them the moment they start to cry", and whilst I disagree with her fundamental meaning, in other ways she's right. We've learned that our babies will often cry a little - sometimes even copiously - when self-settling. In fact they can sound horrendously upset for 2 whole minutes before completely zonking out. It's heart-renching and emotionally and physically exhausting, but necessary. If we interrupt and attempt to soothe, the wails become hysterical and we simply prolong the agony for all of us. Equally, when one starts to wake and whimper, I will listen intently for a few moments to determine whether I am actually needed. Tensed, senses sharpened, I await the change in tone from slightly disgruntled/discomfited to the beginnings of distress. At that point I sigh, my shoulders droop, and I stir my limbs from the warm bed for the nth time that night.
I read a wonderful blog post a little while ago, by Alternative Mama, entitled "Crying it Out vs Allowing Crying - A Big Difference". I urge you all to head over there and read it NOW (and browse her vast archives of other mother-worldly experience and take on natural parenting). She explains much more eloquently than I can right now, just what I struggled with:
"I always felt like, as an attached parent, I had to ignore my own needs. I was trying to pull patience and energy out of the bag when I had none to give, and therefore was feeling like an utter failure as a mother. I felt like I was missing something that the other gentle mothers had all discovered. However, there is no way to summon energy when you have none. You simply cannot give when there is nothing left. Despite what many online parenting communities would have me believe, I am not a bad mother for needing to get some god-damned sleep."On reading this, all the guilt and feelings of failure I felt at allowing my babies to cry at times, melted away. And she reiterated what we had already discovered about recognising different types of cry, and determining what those different cries required from us. Often it was some kind of comfort, or a mixture of comfort and food/change/burping etc. But sometimes, we knew that we just had to leave baby alone to cry for a short period. After months and months of agonising and hair tearing and floods of tears, the relief just washed over us.
Help break the great taboos of parenting: join in and share this post and those below as part of Lucy's Blogging Carnival of Emotions:
- Knowing Anger, by Rachael at The Variegated Life
- PND, by Laura at Nestled Under Rainbows
- Isolation: Knowing You are Not Alone, by The New Mommy Files
- It's Not All Bloody, by Earthenwitch
- The White Heat of Mama Anger and Is the Silencing of Mama Anger a Feminist Issue, by Lucy at Dreaming Aloud
- Mama Rage, by Apron Stringz
- Forgetting Connection, by Code Name Mama