Poor sick baby. Whiny whimpering cry. Hurting, uncomfortable and feverish. Coughy, nose-running. Two teeth ripping through her bottom gums and the top gums bulging. She tosses and turns and squirms close then pushes away. Her feet kick and her hands move. Her eyes open half-way looking miserable.
Her cry is not an angry cry. It is not a demanding cry. It is not an escalating cry. It is soft and quiet and very little soothes it away. Not play, not nursing. It only silences as I tuck her into the wrap. There she rests her head against my collarbone and her legs stop kicking, her fingers twiddle the heart charm on my necklace, and she falls into a deep and restful sleep.
Yes. She has some strong sleep associations. These are not things that she needs in order to sleep, she can sleep in other ways too. These strong sleep associations are the things that make it so that she can sleep when she is sick, uncomfortable, and in pain. These associations free her up to sleep when acetaminophen or ibuprofen simply take the edge off the hurting and leave behind intolerable discomfort.
She is not crying now. She is nestled head to heart. She is quiet and still. Her fever has cooled against my skin. Her chest rises and falls with slow and peaceful breathing.
Far from being a “bad habit” these sleep associations are a powerful good that ease her hurting and her discomfort and that relax her into the sleep she needs to repair her little body. They are reducing her stress, calming her upset, and transforming her illness from an uncomfortable tear filled place to a quiet place for healing.
She is not “spoiled” with “bad habits”. She is comforted by powerful tools that we built together from her first day of life. Tools that will stay with us for as long as she is small. Tools that will help her through any pain or illness. Tools that she can internalize the peace of, and carry with her for the rest of her life.
This is why I choose to take it slow and mellow. This is why I choose to wait it out. This is why I choose not to sleep train. The associations themselves will fade over time just as crawling turns to walking and baby talk turns to words. The habit that I’m seeking to build is the lifetime habit of calm, and the understanding that our family is a safe place where needs are met and comfort is freely offered at all times of the day and night.
We do not judge the merit of your sadness or the weight of your need. for comfort and closeness. We understand you to be someone with a strong heart and mind who is small for the briefest of times. And we understand that smallness comes with need and vulnerability.
When you are hurting I say “I would do anything to make you feel better.” The “anything” that I do is comforting you during all those other moments and all those other little things, and all those bedtimes and all those night wakings that happen before you are ready to sleep through the night. The “anything” that I do is making it your deepest habit to seek comfort when you are uncomfortable. This is a habit that will internalize as you grow and learn your own tools to comfort yourself to this place of calm and peace.