Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Hardest Week of my far

Sleep training. Such a benign label for something that may literally be most parents' hell on earth. That may sound melodramatic, but there have been times this past week while "sleep training" my 8 month old that I felt like I was putting both her and myself through hell.

Now, I'll admit I've had a relatively blessed, easy life. It had its moments of loneliness, anxiety, depression, confusion. But for the most part I have never had to experience true grief. I have never lost a loved one. I have never been chronically ill. I have never been so humbled and purified by the refiner's fire as I have this past week while sleep training my sweet baby.

The truth is I loved sleeping with my baby for the first 8 months of her life. And if I were a single mom I might have continued to do it for as long as she would let me. I mean, what could be better than snuggling your little baby, nursing them to sleep, knowing they're safe and warm? For 8 months I told my lonely, somewhat neglected husband: "She's only this small and needy for a short time. I have my whole life to spend with you. But soon she won't need me anymore and I have to be there for her while she does."

You see, I was a staunch advocate of something called "attachment parenting," advocated by Dr. Sears that encourages baby wearing, baby led weaning, co-sleeping, nursing, etc. Anything and everything to keep babies as happy as can be and therefore parents too. And I still wholly advocate those strategies while babies are small and adjusting to life outside the womb. But at some point parents also have to be parents. They can't just be teddy bears or lifelong pals. They have to teach the hard lessons.

Now, sleep training is most definitely not for everyone. But neither is co-sleeping or getting up in the night to comfort baby or toddler for years. If a parent wants to sleep with their baby until he/she is 3 years old then that is their prerogative. But if a parent feels the need to sleep train their child than that is also their right. Neither method has been proven to cause psychological damage or sleep issues and those assumptions need to stop flying on both sides of the argument. Because in the end every parent and child is growing in their own unique situation, and a loving parent is a child's best advocate.

It was almost impossible for me to convince myself when Aria would cry - two times for an hour long off and on - that I was doing this out of love. But I was. I realized that she was chronically overtired and sleep is essential especially in infants. And I knew the only way for her to get the sleep she really needed was to learn how to sleep without me. I also realized that since she had started eating solids and was no longer exclusively breastfed I owed it to my husband to prioritize him over my biological mothering instincts.

And yet, when she cried I experienced the worst sort of mental and emotional torture - a kind of withdrawal and battering that I never could have anticipated. Quite honestly I believe I felt much like a heroine addict in withdrawal - every cell in my body cried out against it. There is nothing more heartbreaking that I have experienced than watching your child suffer. I prayed harder than I ever had that angels would be there to comfort her and that she would still love me in the morning. I experienced panic attacks, anxiety, depression, nausea and lonely longing for my baby. When she was finally quiet I would close my eyes to sleep but I would still hear her crying. I honestly wondered if I was losing my mind.

It was only after I asked my husband to give me a blessing that I finally realized in my darkest, sleepless hour I realized that my suffering and aching for my baby could hardly compare to the suffering our Heavenly Father must have felt in sacrificing His only, beloved and completely innocent Son for the good of the world. I can not even begin to imagine the terrible heartbreak that must have been His to bear when his Son asked that the terrible cup be removed, and yet willingly submitted to unimaginable pain and suffering. He could have stopped it. He could have saved Him. Christ was completely innocent. But He didn't, and because He let him suffer for the greater good we all have hope. Finally I understood, just a tiny bit more, the immense love God has for us that He would allow His innocent Son to be offered as a sacrifice. And yet, even He, our God, had to turn away at the end when Christ asked "Father, why hast thou forsaken me?" I've heard it postulated that God in His all knowing wisdom thought it a necessary part of the Atonement that Christ learn to experience the lowest of all - the complete withdrawal of God's spirit. But as a mother I would also postulate that He could not bear to even watch, so difficult was it for God to let Him suffer and suffer alone.

As is true with most of the difficult trials we experience or even choose to experience in life, I can say now that it was worth it. I did it out of love and our entire family is better for it. I imagine Heavenly Father would say the same about the Atonement. For all those who have felt forsaken by God, unloved and alone, left to endure their personal Gethsemane alone, never forget that just because God allows us to suffer does not mean He is not the loving, ever watchful Father of our spirit. Parenting means making sacrifices and teaching the hard lessons. He will send angels to comfort you, but He has to let you learn the hard way sometimes. And because He allowed his Son to suffer the pains of all Christ knows just how to comfort you if you will give your pain over to Him.

Aria finally sleeping peacefully in her own bed, with her ever trusty creeper by her side.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing!!!! You are an incredible mother...and daughter.
    Thanks for being so great to my sweet baby.