I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure people have been taking care of babies for at least a few hundred years. During that time, the human race has demonstrated many impressive achievements, like walking around on the moon and inventing rollerblades and such. So why have we not figured out the perfect formula for putting babies to sleep?
The stock answer I hear from other parents is “every baby is different.” I think we give ourselves too much credit. I’m sure Hazel has her own little quirks, and I would assume she has an infantile version of a personality. But I have a hard time believing she’s so incredibly different from every other baby on the planet that she needs her own unique sleep plan, completely tailored to her individual specifications. Here’s my scientific way of knowing that all babies are basically the same: take one baby and set it next to another baby. Observe such things as their looks and their behavior. Now set one of those babies next to any other item in existence. A sandwich, say, or a mylar balloon. I can guarantee the baby has more properties in common with the other baby than with the sandwich or the balloon. You see? Science.
Yet baby sleep remains one of the biggest mysteries in the parenting realm. There are a gazillion books on the subject and they all offer totally conflicting advice. Of the parents I’ve talked to who seem to have it worked out, the most common bit of advice they give us is, “don’t read any books.” Which would be great advice, if we’d ever gone through this before. But at this point we are literally without a single clue. Not that we’re having trouble; compared to many horror stories I’ve heard, our baby is a sleep genius. Last night she went from 10:30 until 4 in the morning with nary a peep. That is a pretty impressive stretch for a 6 week old, if I do say so myself.
But I recognize that eventually we’re going to have to put her on some sort of program. Right now it is just anarchy. She eats, she sleeps. We put her in the crib at night and hope she doesn’t wake up. That is our program: pure faith.
The hardest part of being a parent so far is striking that fine balance between instant gratification and delayed gratification. That is, figuring out what is going to pacify the baby momentarily, and what is going to teach her valuable life skills. If my baby is crying her eyes out, I assume that’s a sign that she is not very happy with the way things are going. And my job as a parent is to keep her happy, right? But what if that momentary sadness is going to make her a happier, more well-functioning human being in the long run?
Somewhere along the line, we learned the interesting fact that nothing really matters in baby world until three months. We are supposed to respond to the baby’s every whim until she’s three months old, and then we can start teaching her things. Until that point, the baby is a molten lump of pure stupidity. Baby doctors refer to this period as “the fourth trimester.” Because evolution somehow decided human babies should be born 3 months before they’re technically able to exist. I feel like this is a bit of hogwash. It doesn’t seem like a very practical stance for evolution to take, and if there’s one thing evolution is, it’s practical. We’re born when we’re born, and in my opinion, the minute you are alive is the minute you start learning.
Which brings me to the story, which is that a few nights ago, we tried to let Zellie cry it out. We set her down in her crib nice and sleepy and then went into the other room. She started crying immediately. And crying. And crying. 30 minutes went by as we listened to her crying on the monitor. It was insanely intense. Over in the other room, a creature I have been tasked with caring for was miserable and confused and pissed. And not being very polite about it, for that matter.
30 minutes was all we could take before we broke down and rescued her from her misery. When I got her out of her crib, she could barely breathe, she was choking so hard on her own tears. It took her another 1/2 hour to calm down, at which point she collapsed from exhaustion.
So the question is, have we now planted the seed in her tiny reptilian brain that we will always come in and rescue her after half an hour? And next time, we’ll have to wait longer than half an hour? And so on, and so forth, until she’s finally just crying nonstop around the clock? No question, she’s a stubborn little beast. Which, you have to admire in some ways. I know some very successful people who are stubborn as all get out. Interestingly, they’re all insomniacs.