My mother-in-law likes to tell me that she rocked her children to sleep every night and never laid them down crying. I cannot confess the same. At some point before my son’s first birthday I laid him down awake on his crib mattress and walked out of the room.
It may very well have been the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. After holding my son so closely for so long, after rocking and bouncing him to sleep for months on end, after never letting him cry or fuss at night or in the daytime, I laid him in his crib and shut the door behind me.
I sat on the couch with my husband and watched the baby monitor without blinking. I was anxious and fearful. Was I ruining my child? What if he cried for hours on end? What if he remembered this event for the rest of his life? What if I caused permanent psychological damage?
My son was never a rock in your arms type of baby. When he was small he nursed himself to sleep, but once he outgrew that stage it took quite a lot of work to convince him to close his eyes. My husband and I would bounce him ever so gently, we’d dance around the room with him, sing songs to him and turn on colorful nightlights for him. We tried everything and anything to get him to sleep. I once turned on the shower and sat beside the tub thinking the sound of the water and the steam might soothe him.
What worked one night rarely worked the next. And although our son laid in our arms he did not do so peacefully. He cried and whimpered on his way to dreamland. Eventually he would give in to sleep, but it was certainly not an easy process.
I exclusively nursed him for the first 20 months of his life. He took only one or two bottles very early on and then rejected those plastic nipples. I stayed home with him, and for the most part, didn’t mind being at his beckon call all hours of the day and night. I began to love waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning when the world is silent and dark and it felt like we were the only two people left in the world.
As I shut the door that night I remember thinking what if he rejects me? What if he hates me? What if he refuses to nurse again? But in the back of my mind I kept thinking that he really wasn’t happy. He wasn’t quietly drifting off to sleep in our arms, he often cried as we tried to soothe him.
My husband stood beside me every time we laid him down awake and crying. If it was not for his support and urging I would have rushed back in and scooped him up every evening.
Lucky for me he fussed for just a bit those first few nights and then quickly began to put himself to sleep without any problem. He didn’t scream in his crib for hours on end or throw up from the trauma of being left in there. In the beginning we went to check on him every few minutes and eventually he realized that he could put himself to sleep without us.
Once he learned to put himself to sleep my son stopped waking every few hours. He went to sleep in his crib all alone and woke only once or twice to nurse in the wee hours of the morning. Eventually he dropped his nighttime feed entirely on his own.
I sometimes miss those middle-of-the-night feedings. I certainly don’t wish to start them back up again, but it was in the silence of the night that I took note of how much I love him. I would slide my fingers along the side of his face, I would outline his cheeks and nose. I would rub circles across his little belly and drop kisses on his forehead. I would admire the miracle of having him in our lives and tell him over and over how much I loved him.
I cannot claim that I never put my child in his crib without crying. I can tell you that I love that child with every part of my being and hope above all else that he knows I always wanted the best for him and made every decision with that very thought in mind.