After you give birth to your first child, make sure that you've prearranged with an older experienced mother ( preferably in her 50's or above, before society condemned anything less than nursing and rocking a child to sleep for all time) who is trained in a simple method:
"Just put your baby down, while they are fed, nappy cleaned, and drowsy, in a dark room, but awake. She might make a little squeak, and then she will just go to sleep."
Sounds crazy to us rockers and nursers, right? But time and time again, I'll meet these women who are convinced that this is how they taught their children to go to sleep on their own and their children barely cried at all .
I also have a conspiracy theory that as things started to get easier for mothers in recent history ( read: dishwashers and being allowed to climb in the work world, two great inventions of our time), we made up some extra things to make it super hard for mothers (read: making women feel like they should be able to juggle all of these roles at once without extra extra help and convincing women that their babies would be traumatized if they cried at all without their mama around to reassure them).
When my first angel was born, I couldn't bring myself to hear any cries. A slight squeak and my body went into fight or flight, knees and feet hitting the floor, arms swinging wildly to get to her crib in time. And at night, at night. She liked to cryyyyy. I came up with a special method- I would hold her and shush her in complete darkness, singing song after song, while she would cry and cry and cry. On my shoulder. Sometimes, half way through, my husband and I would switch off. It took usually around three hours every night. And usually an hour before each day nap. Without exaggeration. It got to be a little meditative, actually.
My girl was AWAKE the minute she was born and was not the type to fall asleep in the stroller. I would stare longingly at all of the Yerushalmite mamas with their babies dozing in the carriage, and everyday, hope that Today Is the Day that Tanya would stop staring enchantedly at the world, and just close her precious eyes so I didn't have to do another shushing episode that day.
I tried methods. I read books. I tried to be home precisely when she would get drowsy, I would see all the signs and.... sometimes I could get it down to 20 minutes shushing during the day but at night..... at night.... my three hour minimum dark singing marathons.
It got to be a full time job, literally. I shushed Tanya for 5 hours a day minimum, seven days a week. 35 hours of dark shushing. My shushing to prevent any crying-without-mama. It was, without saying, a nightmare. Add in being in a foreign country with a husband gone from 530 am to 9 at night and no close friends around and... a recipe for disaster.
We ended up moving back to America. Once we are settled, we kept on chanting, we will do cry-it-out. We just need to be fair to her. I tried patting and pick-up-put-down. To no avail.
Finally, when she was nine months old, it was officially Too Much. My full-time shushing job just was too heavy of a load. The night had come.
I put her down. I left the room. She wailed. I stood outside the door, disturbed, frozen. My husband, nodded, himself a little shaken but determined to see this through. We sat there, together at the dining room table, staring at the door from which behind our precious child was first encountering abandonment.
Suddenly, the terror peaked within me, rising. "Maybe she's caught under the sheets!" I shrieked to my husband. " I need to go, I need to make sure."
He raised his eyebrows. " It's just going to make it worse..."
" I need to. "
I went in. She was not caught under the sheets. She was standing with her face streaming in tears, her nose running. I took a sharp breath and started to turn around.
She, overcome in frustration and confusion, threw up.
Luckily, as traumatic as it felt, I was prepared for this. " If your child throws up", a CIO booklet had taught me , " Just clean it up and continue on with the plan."
I cleaned it up, and left. She wailed bloody murder for an hour and half, while I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling.
After an hour and a half, my husband and I glanced at each other, in silence. It was silent. The deal was done. She had, for the first time in her life, gone to sleep on her own.
I lay in bed for a long time afterwards, my body still shaking with nerves. I didn't know what to do with myself, with my free time.
The next day, she cried, just a little, maybe twenty minutes, and that was it. I would just put in her bed, and at night, instead of crying for three hours straight, we would hear her talking to herself, laughing, for an hour and half, before the beauty of children-sleeping silence would fill the home.
Her sleep improved tremendously. She would sleep through the whole night 12 hours, waking up once, and take 2 2 hour naps a day.
Now, knowing and understanding her, it's pretty clear. Those night- time battles and day- resistance were also against us, to us trying to force her to do something. Tanya, our strong-willed, adventurous, independent child, just wanted to be left alone. In the end, crying it out was her wish.
So find that woman, who knows about the whole put-the-child-in-the-dark-when-drowsy method and skip all other steps. I say we've shushed enough in this generation to tikkun the world three times over.