To sleep train our puppy boy, Husband and I decided on the extinction method, which sounds like a cruel torture tactic inflicted on prisoners before they confess their sins and pay a visit to the guillotine. In reality, the extinction method is simply explained: place baby in crib and leave the room and don’t go back in until a pre-determined time, even if baby cries. So, pretty much a cruel torture tactic, says my heart. My much more rational head shushes my heart, telling it to calm down the melodrama, because baby is fed, warm, dry, and safe, and any crying he does during sleep training is in protest of the change in how he gets to sleep.
So, we begin.
At 6:30pm I give the bubs a bath, and we splash and play like the loving friends we are. Bubba does that hilarious thing where he clenches all his muscles and straightens his legs and arms at his sides, which is my signal to tickle his belly, and he screeches in delight, and I laugh and Eskimo kiss his nose and feel guilty over what is about to happen. I get that babe out of the tub and dry his pink skin. I massage lotion into his baby chub and sweetly sing “Baby Beluga,” and he gives me gummy grins as he sleepily coos along. Bubba yawns. I sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as I dress that adorable boy in jammies, but I do not zip him into his swaddle sack, as, on advice of a sleep expert, we have decided to do away with all “sleep associations” at once. I feed the baby his bottle, and gently rock him as he drowsily lays his head on my chest. As I move towards the crib my heart leaps and I silently apologize as I place the baby in his crib, awake. I pat his belly, tell Bubba night night and that I love him, and I watch confusion register on that sweet cherub face. As I leave the room I immediately lose all will to sleep train because the boy begins to cry.
Husband hugs me, and I bury my face into his shoulder and try not to sob. We head downstairs where I try not to stare at the baby monitor while Husband distracts me with stories from his workday and makes me a grilled cheese. I smile weakly and nod when it’s story-appropriate, but I’m not actually listening, because I’m breaking my first self-imposed rule and watching the baby cry and flail his tiny arms on the video monitor. I was secretly hoping Bubba would be a champion self-soother in disguise, and the physical pain in my body becomes too much as we hit the 20-minutes-of-crying mark with no end in sight, and I choke on the lump in my throat and begin to cry. Husband steers me to the couch and hands me earplugs and earbuds, and I block the sound of my crying baby out, and I sit and watch Netflix on my phone.
Miraculously, after 8 more minutes, Bubs settles down and smacks his adorable lips, as he has done so many times in my lap, and I love him so much that I miss him, and I eat my grilled cheese and hope that he is as ready to sleep as he looks. I watch the monitor, enthralled, while the puppy’s entire body begins to relax, and I feel my own tension beginning to release, until Bubba’s startle reflex triggers and his little arms flail again, and he is at once wide awake and upset. I cry buckets of tears and nearly choke on my grilled cheese. I pass the monitor to Husband and try to focus on Netflix. When puppy repeats this settle-then-startle pattern two more times, I throw my hands up, angry at the sleep expert who insisted we remove baby’s swaddle, and I retreat to my bathroom and step into the shower. It has been one hour.
After about 20 minutes, Husband comes in to tell me that Bubs startled himself two more times but has now fallen asleep. I sob softly at the relief that fills me, and my body feels weary and heavy and then elated. The baby is asleep! On his own! He fussed for 35 more minutes than he does when I bounce him, but he’s sleeping!
Husband comes back in to tell me the baby has startled awake again. Anger pings from my head to my toes like a pinball, and I let out a roar from the depths of my soul, hoping that the stupid “sleep expert” feels the intensity of my rage from across town, and I think about the scathing Yelp review I plan to leave. I calmly ask Husband to sneak into Bubba’s room and zip him into his swaddle sack. He does, and baby is asleep within ten minutes. Stupid, stupid sleep expert. It’s been one hour & 40 minutes of crying, fussing, settling, startling, and crying again, and mama is so tired.
This time I don’t dare trust that the baby will remain asleep, so I crawl into bed with my laptop and a book of Sudoku puzzles. I wake up 4 hours later to Bubba crying & I nudge Husband awake. The baby just slept 4 hours!! That’s the longest he has slept since birth!! And we slept too!! Husband and I are giddy, and I pump some breastmilk as Daddy heads in to feed the baby his bottle. I watch the monitor while Husband puts the baby back in his crib, and I brace for more crying, but to my astonishment, Bubs smacks his lips and turns his head and dreamily drifts off to sleep. I cry with pride and love and almighty relief, and when Husband comes back into the room he chuckles and holds my face in his hands and kisses my tears. Husband jokes that I’m going to need to be hospitalized for dehydration from all the crying. I laugh and squeeze him and settle in to get some rest.
I wake up and it’s morning. I look over at Husband playing video games on the iPad. He shakes his head and grins, pointing to the monitor. That puppy boy is still asleep!!! I seize the monitor and zoom in, watching closely for signs of breath. Husband laughs and tells me he did the same thing when he woke up. Not two seconds later the baby stirs. I sit up straight and wait the appropriate 10 minutes to allow the boy some alone time in his crib, then I run into his room and cheerily greet him. Bubba blinks sleep from his eyes and gives me a gummy grin that dimples his cheeks. He clenches his muscles and straightens his legs and arms at his sides, and I tickle his belly, and we both laugh. I scoop that baby boy up into my arms and kiss him all over, and I thank him for trusting and loving me, and he grabs a fistful of my hair and screeches in my ear with delight.
It took one hour and 40 minutes on night 1 of sleep training for baby to fall & stay asleep. I never did write the sleep expert a bad Yelp review, but I firmly believe that my baby would have had a much easier time getting to sleep had we put him in his swaddle sack as usual. We continued sleep training that next day, with swaddle sack, and it took another 2 naps before Bubs took to independent sleeping completely. That’s it – one night and two naps. Though the extinction method sounds like a torture tactic, it caused my boy no more than 3 hours of crying and fussing in total, as opposed to the 45 minutes of crying and fussing he was experiencing every single nap and bedtime as I bounced all 16 pounds of him to sleep. Now when we do our bedtime routine, Bubba bucks in my arms when he’s ready to be put in his crib. I kiss his forehead and try not to laugh, then I set him down in his crib and pat his belly and tell him I love him, then Bubs smacks his little lips and turns on his side and goes to sleep. He is my favorite little boy in the world, and sleep training is the best parenting decision we’ve made so far, and I am now a happily well-rested, really good boy mom.