A Womb of One's Own

A Womb of One’s Own: Cry It Out

We’ve reached the hard part of parenting. Instead of jumping to make everything perfect for Gabe, we’re making him learn how to help himself the hard way. And it’s no fun for anyone.

This is the third day of our “Ferberizing” experience. My darling precious son can’t put himself to sleep without the help of (pick any combination of these): car rides, rocking, singing, white noise, nursing, the TV, swaddling, and a pacifier. Every night, the combinations grow more elaborate and the time it takes to get him to sleep gets longer. All three of us are sleep-deprived and cranky. On the advice of our pediatrician (and with support from friends who’ve done this as well), we’re attempting to help him “cry it out.”

Richard Ferber wrote a book called Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems, in which he advocates an incremental cry-it-out routine. The theory behind CIO is simple: an infant needs to learn how to soothe themselves, both for their own good (when parents can’t get to them immediately), and the good of their parents (we need some time when we aren’t dancing attendance upon the small dictator). We worked out a bedtime routine and a naptime routine, and we follow them at similar times of the day. Once the routine is done (each routine culminates in our shaky and hopeful rendition of “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” from O Brother Where Art Thou), we tell him we love him and to get some sleep so he can become a big healthy boy. We then leave the room.

Then the crying starts. We set a timer in gradually-increasing increments, and when each is up, we go in to soothe him and tell him we love him. Thus far, we’ve only used the suggested first day increments: three minutes, five minutes, then ten minute increments as long as necessary. We sit anxiously in the living room and try to go about our evenings as we listen to our perfect and beloved baby sob and scream on the monitor. As soon as the timer goes off, one of us rushes in to soothe him, and we both feel like terrible people.

But there’s hope. He cried for less than an hour the first night, and then slept for ten hours straight. It was from exhaustion, but it meant that he was happy the next day, and went down for his naps with less than ten minutes of crying each, and slept for an hour. To parents with babies who routinely took or take two-hour naps, this sounds terrible. To the mother of a child who thinks that ten minutes napping on the boob is an acceptable nap, this sounds like heaven. I ate lunch with both hands! I did homework during the day! I can function (sort of)!

Today is the third day of his trial by fire, and my sixth round of forcing myself to not rush in and try to fix it all. This is the part of parenting that sucks, the part where you have to watch your kid learn the hard way. We keep telling ourselves that it gets better, that we’ll once again be able to have an hour or two each night where we’re a couple and not just parents. What makes it bearable is that every time he wakes up from that hard-won sleep, he gives me the best, gummiest, happiest smile in the whole world. He still loves us, and we can’t stop loving him.

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

9 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Cry It Out”

Some babies respond well to attachment parenting, some do not.  My child, at 21 months, will stay latched on for the entire night if she is in bed with us, which means that nobody gets any sleep.  None.  Not me because I’m being sucked on, not Tiny because she is sucking on me, not my husband because we are tossing and turning.  It is awful for everybody, and not just me because I don’t like it – Tiny is MISERABLE the next day.  My husband would love to have her sleep in our bed with us, as would I, but it simply will not work.  Ipomoea’s child was not thriving on the method that they were using – a child that cannot sleep for more than half an hour at a stretch is not happy and cannot develop properly.  A mother that is not sleeping for more than half an hour at a stretch is not in the best place to take care of a child, mentally.

You have to figure out what is going to work best for that particular child – and Ipomoea’s baby needed more sleep.

Any parent feels guilt if their kid isn’t perfectly happy.  You know why I did it?  Because he cried for three nights totaling less than three hours, and now he’s getting the sleep he’s supposed to get– 10+ hours a night, as opposed to 7, with a minimum of fuss (five minutes of humming to himself).  Pre-Ferber, our bedtimes involved our routine and then literally hours of crying, frustrated, overtired baby and crying, frustrated, overwhelmed mama and dad.  We’d bathe him at 7pm and plan for bed by 8pm, but often he’d be awake until 12 or 1am, and crying even more.  He was so dependent upon me (not daddy, only THE BOOB) to soothe him that it got to the point where he was waking every hour and needing me to get back to sleep.  So we’d have 7 hours in bed total, minus six 20-minute wakings for me, meaning I’d have five hours of sleep a night.  For four months.  Up until Ferber, I was getting maybe one full sleep cycle a week, which exacerbates my depression and contributed to me generally hating everything– parenting, grad school, my marriage, etc.  Now?  I’m getting my sleep cycle in, as well as one or two hours a night where my husband and I can be partners and not just parents (aka the sex is back).  I’m catching up on studying, I’m feeling like maybe I can handle everything on my plate.

And he wakes up and loves me every day.

I BF on demand 22/7 (mama gets a wine break once a day), but I am not co-sleeping because a) I sprawl b) it’s a queen bed c) my husband sprawls, and d) the baby’s a kicker.  He’s in a co-sleeper near our bed, but he’s almost outgrown it, so we’ll be helping him shift to the crib soon.  I love having him in bed when I nurse, but the bed is primarily mama-daddy land, just as it was when I was growing up.  You can visit, but you don’t live there.

You say you’re supporting her decisions, but every other word you typed here read like a criticism of her parenting choices.

I think that if Ipo was saying, “Gosh, the doctor told me my baby was supposed to sleep for 10 or more hours but he’s only sleeping seven. He seems fine but I’m SOOOOOOOO worried!” then your comments would be totally valid and helpful. But she’s read up on a number of parenting methods and participates in a parenting group that has moms coming from a lot of different perspectives (this column’s been around for a while, so most of us are privy to the research and questioning Ipo’s done), and her concern stemmed not just from the data available that suggests that children around her child’s age generally do better with a certain number of hours of sleep, but also that her son was unhappy and everyone else was miserable too. Her depression/conditions weren’t exacerbated because baby wasn’t meeting expectations, as you suggested. Her depression/conditions were exacerbated because everyone in the house was fucking exhausted. To be really supportive of others’ parenting choices, don’t you think it would be better to offer advice only when moms are saying, “Hey, the things I’ve tried really aren’t working for me, and I don’t know what to do,” rather than wait for them to say, “Hey, this thing I tried finally worked for us and everyone’s getting slowly happier!” and then say, “Oh, do what you want, but here’s why what you’re doing is totally wrong.” It’s just not really, sincerely, you know… supportive.

Kudos to you. Hang in there- your own version of what works will emerge! One tip that helped me when we were doing this with my daughter was to find something to do during that agonizing 5-10minute window- play an online game, get to work doing the dishes or whatever…it makes the time go a little faster than just watching the clock.

And keep telling yourself, this too shall pass, this too shall pass :)


I baked the first three nights– cherry crisp, zucchini bread, zucchini bread.  And I made myself the first mixed drink I’ve had since August 2010 the first night.  The apartment is small, so we heard it very, very clearly.  But it did motivate me in the kitchen like whoa.

While I wasn’t sleep-trained on any kind of system, my parents left me with my Iron Lady grandma when I was very very young because my mother had emergency surgery after my sister’s birth, so we were taught to cry it out from a young age. We’re both normal, functioning adults now (except being too broke to move out), so even though the mommy-guilt may continue to be crushing, I’m in your corner. GO IPO GO.

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