Sunday, December 05, 2010

I'm Gonna Ferberize You, Baby

Alex has really come into his own over the last several weeks. At nine and a half months, he's crawling all over the house, his smile now includes four top front teeth and his expressions are increasingly those of a little boy rather than an infant.

The one problem we've run into is sleep. For months, Alex would wake up a couple of times a night and we'd go into his room to rock him back to sleep. Each wake-up took about 10 minutes. This wasn't ideal, but it was manageable between two people.

Then he started cutting teeth. The resulting soreness dramatically increased the amount of time Kate and I had to spend walking and rocking him. Even if he appeared to be sound asleep after 45 minutes, he would often start crying again within a minute after we placed him back in the crib.

We figured this would only happen when he had new teeth coming in. We were wrong. In spending such a long time getting him to sleep in our arms, we unintentionally created a new sleep habit that wasn't serving any of us well.

The prolonged sleep deprivation took a toll. My back was killing me and it became more difficult for me to fight off background anxieties. Even after Alex got to sleep, I'd lay awake in bed, playing worst-case scenarios of all sorts on an endless loop in my head. My waking attitude toward life in general became more dour and cynical.

Both Kate and I started forgetting things. Until I read Kate's blog post from yesterday, I'd totally forgotten the following episode of extreme forgetfulness even happened:

One afternoon this fall, Greg and I took Alex out somewhere. I think it was the Farmer's Market. We had a lovely time, and congratulated ourselves on making it out of the house and participating in one of the many, many activities that Austin has to offer. That self-satisfaction wore right off when we returned home to find that we'd left the door open. By "open" I don't mean unlocked - I mean we'd left the front door wide open. Luckily, everything in our house was intact and where we'd left it. But wow, did we feel stupid.

Visiting my family in Houston for Thanksgiving was a blast, but the change of scenery only compounded Alex's inability to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time. We arrived back in Austin last Sunday hoping against our better judgment that being back home would help get Alex back on his pre-teething sleep schedule. It did not.

Around 4am on Wednesday morning, Kate and I came to an agreement that the current situation was no longer sustainable. I'd mentioned the idea of using the Ferber Method of sleep training to Kate before, but the idea of walking away from a crying baby - even for a few minutes - was completely counter-intuitive to her maternal instincts.

However, the more we learned about the Ferber Method, the more it made sense to us. In holding Alex in our arms until he was completely asleep, we made it inevitable that he would be completely confused and disoriented any time he woke up in the crib. Who could blame him? I'd freak out too if I woke up someplace other than where I went to sleep.

While putting him down in his crib right before he went to sleep as Ferber recommends would definitely involve a crying jag of unknown length, we would be checking on him and reassuring him at gradually increasing intervals. This was not just letting him "cry it out."

Once we decided to try the Ferber Method, we decided to delay implementation for one more day so we could mentally prepare and be totally sure about it. Alex responded with another night of frequent wake-ups. Nevertheless, as Kate and I took turns trying to get him back to sleep, I felt a slight twinge of sadness knowing this phase of Alex's life was about to be phased out.

On Thursday, Kate put Alex to bed just as his eyelids got heavy and left the room. He immediately started crying. The crying intensified once he realized Kate wasn't coming right back in. Three minutes passed. Kate went in to comfort him without picking him up. The crying subsided momentarily, then picked up as she left the room. Six minutes passed. I went into the room, stroked his chest and told him everything was going to be all right. Then I left and the crying picked up again.

We girded ourselves for another 10 minutes of listening to Alex cry, but then his sobs started losing steam. Then they stopped altogether. After a minute or two, Kate peeked into his room. He was sound asleep. He woke up a couple of times during the night, but even without being rocked, neither wake-up was drawn out more than 10 minutes. This was bliss.

Alex hasn't woken up at all during the past two nights, which I believe is only the second or third time we've had two consecutive no-wake nights since his birth. When you consider all the crying Alex did by waking up every two hours, the total amount of sleep-related crying is a fraction of what it was.

The Ferber Method isn't for everyone. Some parents have strong philosophical objections to it and some babies don't respond to it. Moreover, we're going to have to re-Ferberize Alex every time something funky happens to his sleep schedule, but that's a small price to pay compared to what we were facing. As far as we're concerned, the good Dr. Ferber is a real American hero.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great entry. Whatsisname Chabon's essays on parenthood are not as good by a long stretch.