Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Becoming a Ferber Family

I'm up at 2am thinking about all the babies that aren't being held. All the babies that won't be held. The crying most babies do as if no one loves them. But someone, most likely, does love them. They just aren't being shown. I remember my parents thinking they were doing the right thing by letting my baby brother and sister cry themselves to sleep. I remember the hysterics. I turned my radio up it was so sad to hear. Sometimes I'd sneak in their room though and rub their backs. Sometimes the screaming was during dinner. And nobody seemed to notice.

So I hold my children for a year straight, and then some. So they sleep in my room, often in my bed. So they need a soft warm body to snuggle against. So you think I'm a super mom for having the time -for taking the time. A year, or two, or three is a small, tiny, fraction of my whole life. If I didn't take the time to hold and comfort the treasures I birthed from my own being then what is the point of doing anything? Or loving anything that much.

The story below makes me choke up and feel so much empathy.

Guilty as charged

Guilty. We did it. We lay in bed one night and let our eight-month-old son cry. We had no plans to implement the Ferber Method. In fact my husband and I both strongly believed it was cruel to leave an infant sobbing in the dark. We plead temporary insanity, or maybe self-defense.

Everyone has heard about the Ferber method. You teach your baby to fall asleep on his own by making incrementally spaced trips in to comfort him as he cries. You do not pick him up or touch him, but you let him know you are there. It is a behavior modification program that teaches your child to comfort himself. I never dreamed I would experience it first hand.

We certainly did not have the patience to rock our second child each night as we foolishly did with our now seven-year-old daughter. Bedtime was an undertaking with her -- more complicated and delicate than stealing state secrets. After singing song after song, we would gently carry her to the crib, rocking, swaying and humming while checking for eyelid flutters. We would lower her inch by inch until her body touched the mattress. Very slowly, we would withdraw first one hand then another, leaving just fingertips to maintain contact. Then carefully the finger could be retracted as we glided ever so quietly backwards out of the room. At any step, the eyes might snap open to expose our treachery and then the whole process would begin again. Years later, we still yawn at the thought of that procedure. We agreed our second child was simply going to learn to go to sleep!

Becoming a Ferber family Fat chance. Our little boy required rocking, singing and swaying from the beginning. Gradually he became a tyrant, waking us up 10 times per night. The final straw was a vacation with my husband's family when we took turns rocking and singing in our tiny room, knowing the whole family was awakened by each frequent, demanding shriek of outrage. We came home from the trip certain things would improve once we were all sleeping in our own beds. The first night home, at 1 am after the third wake up call, in our sleep starved delirium we gave Dr. Ferber a chance. It took about an hour of screaming and carefully timed trips back and forth to the crib, but we all did eventually sleep that night. After two more nights of less and less frequent awakenings, we were a Ferber family.

Sounds pretty simple, right? But when you lay awake at 3 am and feel your heart, broken by the multiple stab wound wails that you just know you should be responding to, it seems simply inhumane. When you walk into that room and a face, red from screaming and coated with tears and mucous, confronts you accusingly, you simply want to gather your child into your arms and calm the hyperventilation with hugs and soothing clucks. Even when the Ferber method works, you can't help but believe that if you were a better parent you would be willing to rock and sing all night, or to make room in your bed for an extra little body.

We beat ourselves up, even after we discovered that the method worked. Nothing about it seemed right -- except for the fact that it did work. Soon we could just put our son in bed and he would drift off on his own. But I missed those rocking chair times. I missed that soft little head in the crook of my arm and the quiet breathing against my skin. Now our little Ferber success story goes to the bottom of the stairs each night and asks to go to bed. If you try to rock him or cuddle him at bedtime, he squirms away. Even in the middle of the night, with a terrible cold, he refuses to be rocked or sung to. We taught him to comfort himself, not knowing we were taking away our own ability to do so for him.

About the author: Brette McWhorter Sember is the author of Repair Your Own Credit and Deal With Debt, and four other self-help law books. She writes frequently about law, parenting, books, food, travel and family life. She lives in western New York state with her husband and two children.

No comments: