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Attachment parenting didn’t work for me. And, probably more importantly, attachment parenting didn’t work for my firstborn son.
Here is our story:
Honestly, it started before he was even born…with his tendency for hanging out in a horrible birthing position and his late night parties in the womb.
His bad positioning and size left me with a scar on my abdomen, severe recovery complications, broken dreams of “doing things right” in his birth, postpartum depression, and breastfeeding difficulties. His late night parties (including the night he was born) were just a slight indication of the sleeplessness that was to come.
Ezra refused to nurse for the first 2 1/2 weeks of his life. Four lactation consultants, a lot of pumping and finger feeding, countless tears and prayers, and a few miracles later, somehow it just clicked for him. We are still nursing at 28 months, but I am no stranger to the confusion and heartbreak that comes when your baby refuses to do the “natural” thing no matter how hard you try.
Us with one of our four lactation consultants:
Unfortunately, that pain led me down a road for the next year that I sometimes wish I had never gone down. Instead of giving myself grace for everything that had gone wrong in his birth and breastfeeding experience, I strove to find answers…boxes I could check “next time” to make sure that those things never ever happened to me again. While the research I did in those months was valuable for sure, it’s “empowerment” became “entitlement.” I got puffed up with everything I knew and internally (and even externally) cast judgment toward other moms who were making different choices.
It was during this time that I first heard the term “attachment parenting.” And I was convinced that it was the perfection I had been seeking. I wanted what was best for my child, and of course, AP was it!!!
I was already doing a lot right. I had finally gotten breastfeeding down, and Ezra even refused bottles and pacifiers! (Way to go me!)
He slept in a bassinet in my room and often slept in my bed.
Cloth diapering had actually been my husband’s idea…but boy, I was doing that right too!!
I spent my free hours surfing the Internet, reading blogs and articles of what else I could do right. I even drove over an hour on multiple occasions to meet with natural birth advocates and attend attachment parenting mothers meet ups.
But over time, exhaustion set in. Teething happened. Nursing every hour (night AND day) happened. Ezra refusing to sleep without being rocked and nursed and butt-patted for hours happened.
My husband was deployed. I had no husband to pass the baby off to. No family nearby. No mom or mother-in-law to come over and hold the baby for a while while I slept. No childcare options available because Ezra nursed so frequently and refused a bottle (although by this point I had desperately tried to get him to take one and had tried every kind on the market).
With the exhaustion came the depression, the anxiety, the guilt that I was doing something wrong because my baby wouldn’t sleep. His pediatrician told me when he was four months old that he was manipulating me if he was nursing more frequently than every three hours. Yet everything I read online from the AP crowd told me that refusing his cries was damaging, harmful, and could leave my child with trust issues or even brain developmental issues. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
But when he was four months old, I joined MOPS, where I realized that my son actually COULD go for 2 1/2 hours without nursing.
And when he was seven months old after some gentle suggestions from my mom, I discovered that Ezra slept better on his tummy…in a crib…in his own room. He woke up less, cried less, and slept more.
He still woke up multiple times a night, so I was still exhausted, but I felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I started back up at therapy for my depression and started leaving him at childcare for 2-3 hour stretches…and he always survived.
But I was still…so….tired. The long months of sleeplessness and frustration about Ezra’s sleep habits wore me down day in and day out. I came to dread bed time, where it would take me several hours of nursing, rocking, and patting to get him to sleep. And once I got him to sleep and laid him down, he would wake up crying again. I had tried everything. I had tried letting him cry-it-out, but he would never cry himself to sleep. He just kept crying until I went in to get him. I tried co-sleeping, but ended up being unable to sleep with him in the bed with me. I even tried the No Cry Sleep Solution, which didn’t get us anywhere closer to getting sleep. We followed the rigid bath-before-bedtime-then-nightlight-and-music routine…and every night it was the same thing. And then the next day we would start all over again, nursing every 2 hours and dreading bedtime.
In desperation, when he was 11 months old, I tried, once again, to see if letting him cry would work. I gave myself fifteen minutes, where I sat in the dark in another room just waiting, listening, and watching the clock.
At minute 12 he fell silent.
Did he really just fall asleep?
From that night on, that’s what we have done. Oh there’s still the warm bath, the stars night light, the lullaby music, the nursing, the rocking, the shushing, and the patting…but when that’s all done, I confine him safely, walk out of the room, and let him cry.
He’s 28 months and we still have to do it this way. Every. Single. Night.
Over time I’ve slowly walked away from some of the other tenants of attachment parenting. I quit baby-wearing Ezra around the time he got up to 18 pounds, because it hurt my back too badly. I never did find out how to make a ring-sling work, and my mei tai made my shoulders ache and throb every time I wore it.
I had started losing Facebook friends over the judgmental tone of some of the articles I was posting. I hurt people very close to me because of it all. And then when he started solids, I was the one being hurt and judged. Because the “baby led weaning” (BLW) approach to starting solids didn’t work for us either. I tried to reach out to my AP friends to see what I could do to “fix” the fact that my son wouldn’t eat solid food unless it was pureed, and there was no response from them, other than to keep posting articles that BLW was the right way to feed a baby.
Then there was an issue of car-seat safety that I was ignorant about where I was accused of wanting my child dead and bullied by ladies who ganged up on me over Facebook. That night in November of 2011, I unfriended them all and unliked every page that promoted attachment parenting.
I told myself that if that’s what THEY had, then I didn’t want it anymore.
I stopped feeling guilty for the Gerber baby food, the disposable diapers that I used when I got behind on laundry, the coat-wearing in the carseat, and the 10 minutes of crying that my child went through at naptime and bedtime. I started taking care of myself, purposely nursing less, utilizing childcare, and seeking more professional help for my depression.
Then Russ came home and there was an extra set of hands to help, an extra body to entertain Ezra, an extra being to help with bedtime. Things calmed down a bit. Ezra was still waking up multiple times a night until his last molars broke through at 19 months, but I was handling it better, with a lot of self-care and extra sleep.
From 19-26 months, things were pretty great as far as parenting. There was the beginning of the “terrible twos”, the fits, the occassional cold, and all of that…and he still cried himself to sleep every night, but he was going to bed at 8PM and sleeping until 7 almost every morning.
About 6 weeks ago, all of that stopped.
For some reason, he started waking up between 0430 and 0630 every morning.
I got up with him, turned on the TV, and tried to make it through one exhausting day after another. Then we both got the flu. And my exhaustion, anxiety, and depression really reared it’s ugly head. I could not function. At one point in early January, I turned on Little Einsteins on repeat during the middle of the day, put Ezra in the play yard, and slept for two hours. That’s definitely not my proudest mothering moment.
I had some very very dark days, and I knew something had to change. And so, I did what I do when I get desperate for sleep…confine him and let him cry. As Ezra has figured out how to get off door covers, and is now in a toddler bed, the only option I really have to confine him is to lock his bedroom door.
And it’s been working. He’s still waking up in the wee hours of the morning, but within 5-15 minutes is going back to sleep. I’m feeling the sanity return and the depression and exhaustion skulk back to the shadows. But when I tried to rejoice over this fact via this blog’s Facebook page, I was met with judgment and accusations about my decision. Accusations that I’m putting my needs before his because it’s “earlier than what’s convenient.” That I’m sending some sort of horrible message to him that I’m not “there to protect him,” and that he can’t trust me.
I will say here what I said there. Sleep is not just some luxury that I like and feel like my son is an inconvenience to. No, sleep is a necessity. I have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression…and when I don’t get sleep, those things hit me with a force.
When I don’t get sleep, I do a lot of yelling.
When I don’t get sleep, I’m too tired to get off the couch.
When I don’t get sleep, my son will watch as much as 5 hours of TV in a day.
When I don’t get sleep, my son eats Spaghettios and hot dogs and will go a week without eating vegetables.
When I don’t get sleep, I’m a pretty crappy mother.
And so, I chose to lock my son in a safe place, give him 10-15 minutes to cry himself to back to sleep while I hold my breath and listen over the baby monitor, and then we both drift back to sleep for another few hours. When he wakes up (happily I might add), I hug him, kiss him, nurse him, and tell him that Mommy couldn’t come get him because she was sleeping in so she could be a happy Mommy for him. We go about our day with much more ease, we eat healthy meals together, play happily instead of watching (too much) TV, and most of the time I even get through the day without yelling at him.
The thing I learned about attachment parenting is that, while there is a lot of great things about its tenants, there has to be a balance to it all. And sometimes, something has to give. Sometimes you have to use the stroller, the bouncy seat, or the swing so that you have the strength to lift your child the rest of the day. Sometimes you have to move your child out of your own room so that you don’t wake them up unintentionally when they need sleep. Sometimes you have to breastfeed less (or quit completely) so that you can be less depressed. Sometimes, you have to use disposable diapers so you don’t get so overwhelmed with laundry. Sometimes, you have to let your child cry so you get the sleep you need to take care of him the rest of the day.
I’m not saying that attachment parenting is bad. In fact I think it’s probably more good than it is bad. But attachment parenting is ONE parenting method (out of many). And it’s a method that doesn’t work for every baby and momma. There is no one-size-fits-all method for parenting.
If you are an “attached” parent…if you had an unmedicated childbirth, if you have never used formula, if your baby has never cried without being immediately picked up, if you accomplished cloth diapering and baby-led-weaning with ease and wore your baby while doing it, then kudos to you. I truly think you are amazing. (Honestly, I think you are superwoman and must have been given some superpower that I somehow missed when I gave birth.)
But if you are like me, and like the “ideal” of attachment parenting, but struggle to see how it can work for you and feel sorely judged when it doesn’t, well…join the crowd of “detached” mommies with me. You are not alone. And it’s okay. It’s okay to be less than perfect. It’s okay to sacrifice one area of “being a good mom” so you can be better in another. Parenting is all about balance…give and take.
Choose what works for you. And everything else? Say “that’s not for me” and move on.
You will be a better mother for it.
Click here to read about how I am parenting my second baby because of my experience with attachment parenting.
Click here to read more of Ezra’s story.