Cry it out

By Published On: April 2nd, 2012

Written by: Suzanna Palmer April 01 2012 Note: Regular readers […]

Written by: Suzanna Palmer

Note: Regular readers will notice a departure from my usual tongue-in-cheek style in this post. I realize it may come across as overly dramatic, but, hey, overly dramatic is what I was feeling. (Actually, “traumatic” is what I was feeling, but at least they rhyme). If this post makes you feel tense and nervous–and, hopefully, it does since that's just how I felt and, as we all know, misery loves company–don't worry. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled light-hearted approach to mamahood next week.

A month or two ago, Tom and I experimented with sleeping training. We let Jacob cry himself to sleep, following Ferber’s method, checking on him every few minutes. The first time, it was easy peasy. The next night? Not so much. Due to scheduling conflicts, we found it difficult to follow through with any kind of consistency. So, we gave up the idea and resigned ourselves to walking or nursing him to sleep.

This wasn’t so bad when he was just a little guy of 16 pounds. But now that our little chunker has tipped the scale at 20-pounds, I can’t physically walk him for as long as he requires to fall asleep without my back being wracked with pain.

So, last week we decided to try the Ferber “Cry It Out” method once again. This time, we agreed that doing it once or twice defeats the purpose of helping Jacob learn what to expect and is actually probably more confusing than helpful. We decide we’ll stick it out this time no matter what, for his sake and ours.

I had plenty of reservations about letting my precious baby go to sleep in a dark room …. alone, sad and angry. But my aching back had no reservations, so we plunged in again. We gave Jacob a bath, put on his jammies, fed him, then laid him down while he was still drowsy but not asleep.

Immediately, the waling began.

This is going to be even tougher than I remembered, I thought.

We settled down in front of the door with a deck of playing cards and started a round of our favorite game, Spite and Malice.

At first, his little banshee yell was almost funny. “It’s hard to believe there can be so much anger in such a little body,” I tell Tom. Pretty soon, it’s not funny anymore.

We try to focus on the game. It’s a lost cause.

Whose turn is it again?

Tom lays down his cards…1, 4… Wait, that’s not right. I consider letting it slide. Who cares about winning right now anyway?

Tom realizes his mistake. I guess the crying is getting to him, too.

“Is this as sad for you as it is for me?” I ask him

“Yeah, but I think it’s the worst for Jacob,” he says.

I hold back the tears and stare hard at my cards.

Finally, our stopwatch reaches the three minute mark.

I’m surprised I don’t tear the door off the hinges going in. I stroke Jacob’s forehead—sweaty from all the crying—sing to him and give him a kiss. Tom lets me know my minute is almost up.

Not already? It can’t be.

I settle back into our card game. That minute went by so fast, how come they’re stretching out endlessly now? This, time we have to wait five minutes.

We finish our first game, as the time winds down.

I return to our little boy with the lungs and voice box of steel. I repeat the singing, stroking and give him a kiss. He is obviously relieved. This time, I linger a few seconds after Tom has told me my time is up.

I sit back down, my mind racing. What is wrong with having to walk him or nurse him to sleep again? It’s much better than this. Maybe we should give up?

“It’s your turn,” says Tom.

I snap back to reality.

“Gosh, I never knew sixty seconds could be so short and so long,” I say.

Seven minutes later—a total of fifteen minutes—Jacob’s cries are still going strong.

As Tom counts down the seconds to when I can go back in, 5…4…3…2…, I start to tear up.

When I lean over J’s crib to soothe him, one of my tears drips onto his cheek, mingling with his tears.

This is so sad. Richard Ferber wasn’t a mother, no wonder he thought this was such a great method.

As I close the door, I already can’t wait for the next ten minutes to pass. I hope he’ll be asleep before then.

He’s not.

Ten minutes later, I return to his room, feeling overwhelmed by sadness and guilt and trying to remember why this is good for him. I can’t remember anymore.

Those baby experts say it’s okay for a baby to cry, but I’ll bet none of them are mothers. When Jacob cries that means he’s upset, and in my book, that’s never okay.

I sing and pat his back, he falls to sleep immediately. Tom tells me my time is up. As soon as I step away from the crib, Jacob begins to cry again.

I head back out to the hall, and rest my head on Tom’s chest.

“This is awful,” I whisper.

We wait a few minutes longer. It’s been half an hour. I can tell the struggle is nearly over. His voice is quivering as he yells. There are longer pauses now. I check the watch.

Just as I think, Will this ever end?


We wonder aloud if he went hoarse or if he’s actually sleeping. A quick glimpse into his crib reveals the answer. He’s sleeping like a baby, sweet, peaceful and tear-stained.

I wonder whether I can go through this even once more, let alone every night until he gets the hang of it. Then, Tom and I join Jacob in sweet sleep.

I wake up the next morning. The clock says 7:30. I do a double-take. I can’t believe it. Jacob slept through the entire night, for the first time in ages.

Okay, so maybe this Ferber guy knows a thing or two after all.

Maybe. But he’s still not a mother.