The no-sleep cry solution

When the small one was born, the hospital sent us home with a whack of information: pamphlets on everything from breastfeeding, to post-partum exercise, to lists of mum and baby drop-ins across our region. They even gave us a DVD: the “purple crying video”, which they emphasized we should watch right away. We were excited, thinking it’d explain what different cries mean and what to do about each one. Imagine – a baby coming with an actual manual! We were adorably naive.

The day after we came home, we dutifully sat down to watch the video. Those of you who are familiar with PURPLE crying, or have seen the DVD, know what’s coming. Essentially, the content can be summarized as follows:

  1. Babies cry.
  2. Sometimes babies cry a lot.
  3. Your baby might go through a phase called PURPLE crying from the age of about 2 weeks to about 5 months. This is not because the baby turns purple from crying so hard (although it’s possible, if they are a tiny psychopath who prioritizes crying over breathing). PURPLE is actually an acronym, w stands for “Pyour Ulife Risgoing Ptosuck Lsohard Eyou’lllongforthesweetreleaseofdeath”.
  4. You shouldn’t shake your baby.
  5. Do not shake your baby.
  6. Shaking your baby is bad for her. Please don’t do it.
  7. Shake. Baby. You. NO.
  8. All of the above, once again in Mandarin.

Our hopes dashed, we settled into life as clueless, sleepless parents.

And oh, did she ever cry. She cried when she was hungry. She cried when she was sleepy (but, in a move that shocked no one but us, refused to actually go to sleep). She cried when we put her down. She cried when we held her without walking around. She cried when we held her facing inward, or cradled her on her back. She cried when we wore her in a carrier (God forbid anyone should have a free hand, EVER). She cried, she cried, she cried.

Bedtime was the worst. I was adamantly against any method that incorporated letting her cry for even a minute. I just couldn’t. So, I did what the experts caution against and got her to sleep the only way that worked: I nursed her until she was good and passed out. But where she slept proved to be a stumbling block, too: she went from the cradle (she hated it) to our bed (hated it) to her crib (which worked for one blissful week before the transfer started waking her) back to our bed (SO MUCH BACK PAIN) to the crib mattress on the floor (also a good week, until she started rolling off at 2am) to the crib again. And eventually, nursing stopped working – after eating she was wide awake, completely exhausted, and still unable to fall asleep. Any attempts to calm her (rocking, bouncing, singing, rubbing her back, stroking her forehead and eyelids, yelling “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE GO TO SLEEP” at the top of my lungs*) seemed to make it even harder for her to drift off. Add to that the fact that she was waking up four or five times nightly, and you can imagine my state by the three-month mark. I’ll admit to having a low threshold, though, since I know many mums who are still gamely bouncing, singing, and rocking their wee ones off to sleep for as many hours as it takes.

Then one day, I was driving home from Vancouver, and she cried the entire way. That’s when I realized she was crying it out in the car, and although it was hard to listen to for half an hour, the world did not end. A crying baby is better than one who’s been thrown out the window (especially at 110 km/h), so I thought what the hell. The next time I put her to bed, I rubbed her back for a few minutes, and although she kept fussing, I sucked up the courage and did it – I just left. I set a timer for five minutes.

Before it went off, she was fast asleep.

So that’s our routine now. Sometimes she goes to sleep right when I put her down, and sometimes she cries. Sometimes it takes ten minutes instead of five, and sometimes I’ll let her go for fifteen if I’m really at the end of my tether. Sometimes I’ll go in after two minutes if she’s really going wild, pick her up, and try again later. Sometimes I nurse her to sleep, experts be damned. I’m not terribly consistent – another sleep-training faux pas. But she always, always goes to sleep. Yes, she still wakes up every two or three hours from 11 to 6. No, I don’t just leave her to cry for those wakings – I nurse her back down, because it’s the quickest way to settle her (and get me back to bed). Yes, I know that’s probably creating some horrible sleep association which she will never break and she’ll be nursing to sleep at 25 with my boobs flopping down to the floor. We’re still working some kinks out, is all I’m saying.

But those first few hours after she goes to bed are bliss. We eat dinner, have a glass of wine, and talk about our day, just like normal people. I’m not afraid of the crying anymore, because sometimes I think she needs to expend that last bit of energy before drifting off, without the stimulation of my presence in the room. Also, I haven’t thrown her out the window yet so I’m calling that a win.

Oh, and PS? She naps like a freaking champ.

Looks relatively unscathed to me...
Relatively unscathed, and not currently purple.

*I didn’t actually do that, even if maybe I felt like it.

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