For reasons that have nothing to do with marital disharmony, and everything to do with dysfunctional sleep habits (of BigBear's), low-level illness (of BigBear) and an impending half-marathon (for BigBear) I slept in the spare bedroom last night. Usually when there's a separation of sleeping habitats, it's BigBear who banishes himself, but since he's the one putting himself through a half marathon, and he's the one who's a bit peaky, and the spare bed is considerably less comfortable than our own bed, I nobly volunteered on this occasion. The funny thing is, it used to be our room, and our bed, until we rearranged the house, walls and all, and decided to move room. So it's utterly familiar and known. But the last few occasions I've slept there have all got terrible memories associated with them.
Back when LittleBear was BabyBear, and doing that baby-thing of wanting feeding at intolerable hours of the night, BigBear regularly slept in the spare room. I figured one of us might as well be vaguely human the next day, and since I was going to have to wake up to feed the mewling, puking infant, it wasn't going to be me. But there were nights I crept in to join BigBear, for reassurance, for another human presence, to make sure I wasn't going mad, for comfort. So basically, when I was feeling at my utter worst and unable to even lie in bed alone without weeping desperately to myself.
And the utter, hands-down, indisputable worst point was when LittleBear was about one and we were tired of him not going to sleep without me sitting beside him with my hand on his body and thought we'd try "Crying It Out". Now, I'm not here to start a debate on the pros and cons of controlled crying, and whether it did or didn't work for you, your sister, your dog-sitter's best friend's aunt or the woman you met in the dentist's waiting room. All I can say is that leaving my son to cry is not something I'm cut out for. We tried it for three evenings, and it bloody nearly broke me. I'd recently come off anti-depressants having emerged from the far side of post-natal depression. After letting my precious, vulnerable, loving little boy cry for three evenings I ended up back on anti-depressants for another year.
And even now three years later I still torture myself with wondering how much lasting damage I did to him. How much his fears and insecurities are because I abandoned him. How much he needs me now, and clings to me now because he remembers the time I left him to cry. I don't even wonder if I've hurt him. I only wonder how much. It hurts me. It hurts me every time I think about it. It hurts me every time I read about controlled crying. It hurts me deeply, viscerally and fundamentally. I have not forgiven myself for not going to him the moment he cried, not enfolding him in my arms and whispering into his soft hair that I love him and always will. Why did I ever think that I could train him not to want me, not to need me, not to expect my unwavering love? Maybe other mothers can do this. Maybe other children accept it. I can't. He didn't.
The first night, BabyBear woke in the night, and we, in our sleep-deprived, desperate state, thought that we should continue the controlled crying. I checked that he was OK, and tucked him back in, following all the "rules", but he didn't go back to sleep. Every time we thought he had, there'd suddenly be a piteous wail again. And I clung to BigBear, in the spare bed, crying myself until finally I couldn't take it any more and I went and retrieved my baby, took him into our bed with me and cuddled him all night. And we both slept.
The three-night experiment collapsed with my nerves, heart and mind and instead I reverted to sitting with my baby as he went to sleep, further and further from the edge of his cot each night, then in the doorway, then outside the door, with just an occasional word of reassurance. It seemed to take a long time, but now it seems a lifetime ago, and just a brief phase in our lives with our LittleBear.
Back to last night...
As I lay in that bed, the associations were too strong, and I was immediately transported back to that night when I left my baby to cry. I could almost hear his wailing. I could feel my heart clenching as I desperately wanted to go to him. The fact that I did go to him didn't change the hurt. Tears welled up in my own eyes again and I couldn't force my mind to escape from reliving not just that night but every mistake I have ever made with me son, every angry word I've regretted, every raised voice that he didn't deserve, every vision of a tear-stained reproachful face. I nearly crept into LittleBear's room as midnight approached, just to hold him and whisper to him that I love him. I nearly crept back into our own bed, to find a warm pair of arms and a sleepy voice to tell me that I haven't failed, that I am not a bad mother, that LittleBear will be OK. But then I remembered that the whole point of me being in that room was to let BigBear sleep, to let his mind and body recover enough that he could punish them again, for fun. So I stayed on my own, sleepless and overcome with all the worst memories from the last four years. I don't think I like that bedroom any more.