A mother of two speaks on her family’s experience with sleep deprivation and working on improving their sleep with Taking Cara Babies sleep training, commenting on what it taught her about children, sleep, and herself.
No one prepared me for the exhaustion of motherhood. Before I had a child, I thought I knew what being tired meant, but it wasn’t until baby number one that I experienced the pain and suffering that exhaustion could bring. Waking up hour after hour for months at a time affected every area of my life. My days became a slew of moments linked together by diaper changes, pumping sessions, and tears. I was supposed to be in love, I was supposed to be happy, but I was anxious, miserable, and passively existing through life in the depths of despair. My marriage, career, and mental health struggled – and that’s saying it nicely – so when, after almost two years my little man “figured out” how to sleep, we were determined that when and if we ever had another child we would do whatever it takes to make sure sleep was a priority.
When we did build up the courage to try for baby number two, years later than we expected due to the fear of exhaustion, we knew things would be different. I found Taking Cara Babies sleep training on Instagram and was immediately drawn to her kind voice, patient way of explaining things, and wealth of knowledge about children. Cara is a neonatal nurse, and her husband is a pediatrician; this offered the credibility I was looking for and gave me confidence in her offering. The day after my little guy turned five months old, I purchased her “ABC’S of Sleep” training plan. I was committed and ready to go. I even remember choosing not to nap when the baby did that day (on me, of course – crib naps were not a thing) so I could watch her video tutorials to prepare for the night.
“By the twelfth night, there were hardly any more tears”
Cara did a great job of explaining the method and preparing me emotionally for the crying that would take place. I knew it would be hard, but I was ready to do the hard things. My child needed good sleep, but more importantly, my child needed a healthy mother, and I knew from experience that I couldn’t be without sleep. Night one was tough. I remember putting my baby in the crib in his dark room and just walking out while he looked at me, confused. He had always been put to bed in my arms so obviously, this change was a lot for him. As a teacher, I reminded myself what I always tell parents: growth is not always easy. My baby expressing his emotion is okay, even if it’s uncomfortable. I will check in on him every fifteen minutes, and he will know I am here and he is safe.
That first night, he cried for two hours until he finally fell asleep. Hearing his screams and not being able to comfort him was torture, but all along, I kept telling myself that this is what he needed, what our family needed, and that this was an investment in our family’s overall health. During those two hours, the most challenging part was the “pop-ins,” whose purpose was to show your child that you are still there and they are not alone. For me though, seeing him slowly start to calm down when I opened the door only to wail again when I left seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. By night two I told my husband we were giving up, and he informed me that we were not. He reminded me of how hard baby number one was and the toll it took on our whole family, including our relationship. He reminded me that our son was strong and capable and that growth isn’t always easy but that he could do it. We decided that I would sleep in the guest room so I did not have to endure the screams, and my husband would take over.
Sitting in my guest room, hearing the faint sounds from across the house got me thinking about how it didn’t seem fair that I got to avoid the situation because it was too emotionally tough on me, yet I expected my five-month-old to endure it. Those were some of the hardest nights of my life. I would pace the guest room while hearing my baby’s screams questioning how this could be the right thing to do, and the right way to go about this. But one thing I knew for sure was that the hell we were all experiencing was an investment in our family. I did not know of any other options or any other way to teach him to sleep, so I forged through – despite every part of my mama’s heart and soul feeling and knowing that this could not possibly be the best way to teach him to sleep.
“I tried to wrap my head around how he could just “unlearn” this amazing new skill”
I spent a week in the guest room while my husband spent a week sleep-training our son. When I was with my baby during the day I would look him up and down almost assuming he must have some physical scars from the night, but he always seemed fine and was his usual happy self. By the twelfth night, there were hardly any more tears and I happily returned to my bedroom. We slept ten glorious hours that night and I woke up feeling absolutely thrilled and proud of us – that is, after I ran to his room to make sure he was still breathing! The next few weeks were blissful, as we experienced easy bedtimes and full nights of sleep.
A couple of weeks into our bliss though, my baby came down with a double ear infection and was running a fever. He was miserable; not eating, seeking constant comfort. There was no chance I was going to allow him to sleep in his room alone feeling that sick. I wanted to comfort him, but more importantly, I wanted to be near him to keep an eye on him throughout the night. My husband and I disagreed that night because he was worried that all the work we did sleep training would be for nothing if I allowed the baby to spend one night in my bed with me. Though I feared this too, I reminded him that this person lived in my body less than six months ago and this was a non-negotiable. I set up my bed to make it as safe as possible for the baby that night and sent my husband off to the guest room. It was my turn now.
“It no longer felt right for me to take care of my mental health at the potential expense of his.”
I spent the next two nights in bed with my baby giving him all the love and care that he needed. Once his fever broke and the medicine did its thing, we prepared to put him back in his crib and get back on track with our sleep. It did not take long for us to realize though, that it was game over and our baby was having absolutely none of it. He screamed for three hours straight that first night, as I tried to wrap my head around how he could just “unlearn” this amazing new skill he had just mastered from just a couple of days of sleeping in a different environment.
It was then I allowed all the cognitive dissonance I had been carrying close for the past few weeks to rear its head. I allowed myself to accept that I had not taught my son a new skill by using the cry-it-out method, I had only shown him that no one was picking him up out of bed, and with enough consistency on our part, he gave up trying. The moment he had us “back,” he had “forgotten” everything he learned. I now know, it’s because he had actually learned nothing at all.
At this point, “crying it out” was no longer an option for us as I could not bear the thought of going through the next months or even years of his life where the response to any sleep regression was forcing my baby to cry it out for hours on end. It no longer felt right for me to take care of my mental health at the potential expense of his.
The above account is what I wrote in my cover letter to Batelle when I applied for a job here, a few years later when it was time for me to leave the classroom. I told them about my journey with sleep with each of my children and how I was fascinated by (but also a bit suspicious of) their no-cry-it-out approach. I was curious, as a mom but also a teacher, how they managed to pull this off as they claimed.
What I learned in Batelle is quite simple: our children require so much extra assistance in getting to bed and staying asleep because they do not trust sleep itself. While a child is sleeping, it is dark, they are removed from their parents, no one is engaging with them, and it is for an extended period of time. This environmental shift often makes our children feel vulnerable, leading them to seek out some sense of safety and security. This “something” that gives them that feeling of safety and security, more commonly understood as a sleep association, is simply what our children think they need for sleep. The fact that our children are perfectly safe and not vulnerable at all is entirely irrelevant if they do not recognize that for themselves.
At Batelle, we teach you how to teach your child that nighttime is a safe time, that they are not vulnerable, and that they do not need to anchor their sense of safety to anything but sleep itself. This is the explanation I give to parents every day as they wonder out loud why their child can’t just sleep. During these consultations, where we talk about safety and associations, parents often ask what the “secret sauce” is to our success and how we can really solve these issues in just a few short weeks. My response is always the same: there is no secret sauce. Our children need love and predictability because that is how they learn. Through the reassurance that our presence brings them and the pattern they can recognize in a predictable process, they begin to learn to trust sleep. This program is not easy and certainly not a “quick fix,” but the parents that are ready to do the work to build a deeper understanding of what their child is experiencing will see sustainable and meaningful results.
“Our children need love and predictability because that is how they learn.”
I once read an article that asked parents to list every quality they thought their children would need to become successful adults. The answers were a combination of resilience, commitment, grind, and grit. Next, the author challenged us to consider what life experiences our children need to have to gain those skills. Her point was that our kids must work through hard things to learn how to stay committed, persevere, and be resilient. Those qualities do not develop themselves but are mastered as a natural consequence of their experiences. As my children grow and develop and work through challenges and fears, I will not be there to “save” them from those challenges, as “saving” them will only serve to inhibit their development. Rather, I will be by their side, at every moment, guiding them through as they learn and develop those skills for themselves.
At Batelle, we believe that our children have to walk their journey, even the hard parts, but there is not a moment they need to be walking it alone.