It will come as a surprise to precisely no-one that, often mums and dads have very different opinions as to how their little one is growing up. This was clearly illustrated in our house one day, back when our Hazel was about six months old, when my wife Ev arrived from town carrying a book entitled How to solve your child’s sleep problem.
“Um, she has a sleep problem?” I asked.
Her response was that, yes, Hazel did have a sleep problem. Didn’t she need the dummy to go to sleep? And didn’t this mean that, if she woke up in the middle of the night, one of us would have to get up and restore the soother (which always popped out when she fell asleep) so she could get return to the land of nod?
Yes, that was all true. But did it mean that she had a “problem”?
I wasn’t so sure. In fact, if my wife wasn’t flat-out addicted to sleep herself, I’d suggest that she wouldn’t have viewed that state of affairs as problematic either. However, in the interest of a happy household, I acquiesced. We would use the methods of Dr Richard Ferber, for it was he who wrote the above book, to “cure” Hazel.
That said, neither of us was in a rush to be cruel to our baby so the start date for the plan’s implementation kept being put back. Our hand was eventually forced by Hazel. She developed a love of sleep crawling. Yes, sleep crawling. She’d start to wake up but, while still not fully conscious, would set off crawling around the cot. I guess she was looking for her dummy. This would generally end with her banging her head into the side of the cot! It sounds funny but it did mean that not only would she now be awake but she’d also have a sore head. This signalled the end of us bringing her into our bed to get her back to sleep – what if she woke up before us and crawled off the bed?
Finally, as she approached her first birthday (D-Day in the world of Dr Ferber), we took some deep breaths and gave it a go.
For little Hazel, it must have been quite a shock. With no warning that anything was afoot, apart from the fact that she was given her bedtime bottle 30 minutes beforehand (because Dr Ferber had told us to), we simply put her into her cot and left the room. I’m sure her state of mind could, at that instant, have been summed up using a bit of text lingo: “WTF?”
So she cried. She cried because she was tired. She cried because she wanted her dummy. She cried because she wanted her parents back in here right now with an explanation and IT BETTER BE GOOD. But we couldn’t go back in. At least not until Dr Ferber told us we could. The delightful Dr Ferber’s method is basically a cold turkey programme to get a baby off their soother addiction. The plan only allows the parents to re-enter the room at specified intervals. For example, on that first night, we had to wait for three minutes before we could go back in.
Ev was first up for this tour of duty and went back in after those long 180 seconds had passed. Even when you go in to see your baby, you’ve got to restrain yourself to just reassuring the little one that you’re still there but you must not (under all but one circumstance, more on that later) take the child up, or help them to get to sleep, and Ev did what she was told. She was back out in about 10 seconds and the clock was started again. This time we were to wait for five minutes.
After that visit, the next interval set was for 10 minutes but, I’m glad to say, it wasn’t needed as she nodded off before then. So she’d fallen asleep in about 12 minutes. That wasn’t bad for a first night, we decided. Maybe Dr Ferber was on to something!
Alas, were it so simple.
The following day was a nightmare. For a start, Dr Ferber tells you that, if the child wakes at any time after 6am, they are up for the day. Our little lady woke up at 5:55am and, while I was tempted to take the good doctor exactly at his word and let her go back to sleep, Ev decided we were getting up.
The surely sadistic Dr Ferber also told us that we weren’t to alter Hazel’s nap schedule, even if she did get up at 5:55am. Theoretically, this should have meant that she was really tired by bedtime that night but, in actuality, it meant we had to deal with a cranky zombie all day. A cranky zombie who couldn’t even enjoy her naps because, of course, there were no soothers to be seen there either.
By the arrival of that night’s bedtime, the cranky zombie was, if anything, over-tired. She found it very hard to get to sleep and was crying well after we’d waited five minutes, then eight minutes and even another 12 minutes. As bad luck would have it, a pair of family friends called in for a visit that evening and so we had to explain that we weren’t really being callous, as we ignored the screams coming from the baby monitor. Their opinion of us can’t have been helped, either, when Hazel cried so hard that she vomited.
And thus we arrive at the one circumstance in which Dr Ferber will allow you to lift your child out of the cot. He even has a section on it in his book so it must be one of the risks you run when using this plan. So we changed her, and the sheets, “quickly and matter-of-factly” and put her back into the cot. Thankfully for all concerned, she fell asleep quite quickly after that.
We took it one day at a time after that, sometimes stretching Dr Ferber’s rules a bit here and there, doing whatever it took to help Hazel through this change. Thankfully, the plan did work, although it was a gradual process.
There were a few blips. We’ll never forget one particularly bad night when, all excited after playing with her visiting cousins, it took her over 40 minutes to stop fighting the tiredness. By the end, she wasn’t the only female crying in our house.
Our experience that night was one of the low points. It’s a bit tough going through a process that you believe is good for your child only to end up being emotionally flipped around, feeling like you’re actually being selfish and cruel to them.
However, night by night, the time it took her to get to sleep did diminish and now, about six weeks on, she falls asleep within 90 seconds of being put into her cot! Dr Ferber told us it would take a fortnight at most. In this he was wrong. In a lot of other ways though, we feel he is right. Hazel never wakes us during the night any more as, presumably if she does wake up, she simply rolls over and goes back to sleep herself. My wife is particularly happy with this fact.
So was it all worth it? It was tough but, yes, I think so. I’m also hoping that listening to that much crying now will immunise us against the tantrums she’ll undoubtedly be throwing for the next, what, 15 years.