We did sleep training with J when she was about nine months old, after a rough couple of months when it became evident that sleeping with us wasn't working for anyone and she was way too big for the co-sleeper. It was one of those things I swore I'd never do that ended up being the right thing for us. We tried to do it gently, coming in every few minutes to reassure her - but at nine months old our bean was way too smart. She was very clear on what she wanted, and one of us reappearing every five minutes just increased her clarity. So we ended up biting the bullet and letting her "cry it out". We have a video monitor that was a lifesaver - I could look at her face and see that she was not scared, sad, or in pain. Just pissed off and trying to figure out what to do about this whole going to sleep by herself thing.
The weeks leading up to the first night of sleep training were super rough. J was too big for the co-sleeper and unable to go to sleep or stay that way unless she was physically in contact with me. It had to be me, and since she needed to go to sleep at 6:30pm this was a problem. All night she would wind her little fists into my hair, clutch at my neck, wake up several times to pat my face with varying intensity, and start to scream if I left the bed for any reason. Bedtime was a battle, every night. I had a bloody lip from her accidentally headbutting me while shifting position, scratches from her fingernails, and bags under my eyes from sleep deprivation. Finally I realized what was going on - I had become J's lovey, her security object, and I wasn't very good at it.
So we did it. Everybody says it takes three days and the child will go to sleep on her own. This was not our experience. We never had a night as long as the first one (it took her almost two hours to go to sleep) but it took two weeks for J to really get the hang of going to sleep on her own without any yelling or tears. However, she started sleeping through the night once she was down - twelve hours at a time - from the first night. That felt like a win. She had more energy and a calmer attitude during the daytime as well, confirmation to me that I wasn't the only one not getting the sleep I needed before. After two weeks we high-fived each other, bought a murphy bed for the living room and reveled in being one of those "lucky" couples who got a good sleeper. It had taken a little longer than the mythical "everyone" claimed, but we had finally arrived. We would never have another disturbed night of sleep again.
Which wasn't exactly true. Every time J is close to a developmental jump she hits a rough patch sleep-wise, and we are up in the night for a stretch of a few days. Changes in schedule are rough, too -Christmas completely screwed her up. I'm learning that is normal. And she doesn't always sleep only in her crib - if she is sick, or especially tired or we are on a trip she sleeps with us.
She has a new lovey now - Lamby the stuffed lamb. He is so much better at it than I ever was. Lamby goes to bed with J every night, and never leaves her to go do grown-up things because it's not even 7pm yet or in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She can sleep with him on her face, headbutt him, use him as a pillow, throw him over the side, whatever. He is hers to control, reliably, which is part of what security objects are for. Mothers, I have decided, should have a different role.
A few nights ago at 1:30 my baby girl woke up crying- a painful sound that is nothing like the way she cries when she is having a hard time putting herself to sleep. She had gas, I think, and after two long frustrating hours that involved pacing, trying to sleep with her, hysterical upset and finally a long warm shower together she loudly passed gas and then passed out on my chest. I had already pulled out the bed in her room, we were in it, so I called an exception and we stayed there 'til morning. I marveled at how much I loved getting to sleep with her, now that it was a treat instead of the only option. I didn't sleep as well as I do in my own bed. But only because I was too busy savoring the weight of her against me, the way her hair smells like cookies, and how even with habit broken and fast asleep two small hands found their way, gently, to my face, my neck, my hair.