Monday, 20 June 2011

The Crying Game


Cry Babies

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.


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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for joining in!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, thanks so much for sharing my post here, I'm so glad that it spoke to you in some way.

    I think what a lot of people forget is that every mother knows her baby's cry better than anybody else. For example, I know when my 3 year old is genuinely upset about something, versus when he is regaling us all with that *wonderful* fake cry/whinge/whine (note the sarcasm, lol). However much my father would love me to believe that every cry he makes is "put on", as his mummy I know better.

    My 9mo, like your baby, is also a baby that generally needs to cry when going to sleep. Don't get me wrong, he never cries alone, but he will cry in the sling/in my arms/next to me in the bed as he goes off to sleep. Since I stopped driving myself crazy trying to stop the crying and accepted that this is just how he works, things have been a lot better.

    And furthermore, I think that allowing babies to cry whilst still supporting them through it is more respectful to them as human beings than trying to stop the crying at all costs. Of course, we need to determine WHY they are crying first - if they are crying because they need something, that's different. But they may be crying, like in Squishy's case, because they are simply exhausted and can't bear the uncomfortable feelings in their bodies and just want it all to stop. There's nothing I can do about that, other than be there for him and allow him to express how he is feeling and, despite how uncomfortable it makes me, allowing him to be heard and accepted for who he is and how he is feeling *right at that moment*.

    Fab post, thanks so much for sharing! I think it's SO important that us mummies (especially those of us who empty our heads into a blog on a regular basis) are HONEST with ourselves and with others about how we deal with issues such as this. You certainly aren't the first mum who felt horrendously guilty about having a crying baby. However much I love the online AP community, it often has a habit of making mothers feel like they aren't good enough if they simply cannot cope with too little sleep.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, thanks so much for sharing my post here, I'm so glad that it spoke to you in some way.

    I think what a lot of people forget is that every mother knows her baby's cry better than anybody else. For example, I know when my 3 year old is genuinely upset about something, versus when he is regaling us all with that *wonderful* fake cry/whinge/whine (note the sarcasm, lol). However much my father would love me to believe that every cry he makes is "put on", as his mummy I know better.

    My 9mo, like your baby, is also a baby that generally needs to cry when going to sleep. Don't get me wrong, he never cries alone, but he will cry in the sling/in my arms/next to me in the bed as he goes off to sleep. Since I stopped driving myself crazy trying to stop the crying and accepted that this is just how he works, things have been a lot better.

    And furthermore, I think that allowing babies to cry whilst still supporting them through it is more respectful to them as human beings than trying to stop the crying at all costs. Of course, we need to determine WHY they are crying first - if they are crying because they need something, that's different. But they may be crying, like in Squishy's case, because they are simply exhausted and can't bear the uncomfortable feelings in their bodies and just want it all to stop. There's nothing I can do about that, other than be there for him and allow him to express how he is feeling and, despite how uncomfortable it makes me, allowing him to be heard and accepted for who he is and how he is feeling *right at that moment*.

    Fab post, thanks so much for sharing! I think it's SO important that us mummies (especially those of us who empty our heads into a blog on a regular basis) are HONEST with ourselves and with others about how we deal with issues such as this. You certainly aren't the first mum who felt horrendously guilty about having a crying baby. However much I love the online AP community, it often has a habit of making mothers feel like they aren't good enough if they simply cannot cope with too little sleep.

    ReplyDelete

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