Sleep, baby, sleep / Sobbing

How sacrifice dulls reason, prevents sleep-training

I confirmed this morning that I’ve been, as Patsy Cline put it, “so wrong for sooo long.” I mean, it’s been SIXTEEN YEARS since Alton Brown debunked the mushroom washing myth on Good Eats.

Sixteen years, people.mushroom

Do you know what I’ve been doing during those sixteen years? I have been dutifully, meticulously wiping my off my every mushroom, one by one, top to bottom, with a clean, dry cloth.

Because I thought that once in the kitchen, mushrooms shouldn’t touch water. Conventional wisdom insists that they absorb extra water when you rinse them, right? And we wouldn’t want that, mercy no.

Turns out that’s not even true. And, you know? Now that I examine the matter, IT NEVER MADE ANY SENSE! Think about it, where do mushrooms thrive? In deserts? NO. In damp, dewy crevices during rainy seasons.

And anyway, I cook them, during which, they’d release any extra moisture anyway.

This is a bit hard for me. This feeling I have right now, it’s… confusing. Because on one hand, I’ve just saved myself a lot of prep time. And that means more yummy mushroom dishes, because I won’t avoid them during times when I feel rushed or lazy (that’s a lot of times).

But I also feel the sting of wounded pride, because I enjoyed a lofty chef-ish feeling when I’d see people running mushrooms under water. And now, I’ll… never have that feeling again. *snif*

This pride, of course, was fed by sacrifice. Like most humans, when I suffer for a cause, I like my suffering not to be in vain. In fact, ever wonder why the word that means on one hand: having an inflated sense of self-worth, also means: ineffectual and useless?

In vain I wiped my mushrooms off with a towel. And vainly.

The whole thing reminds me of sleep training. (Stay with me.)

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Hooray! The child let her sit!

Before giving birth, and immediately afterward, I was skeptical of the sleep-training method popularly known as cry-it-out. Babies shouldn’t be left alone to cry! It’s awful listening to a baby cry. Our brains snap to attention (mostly women’s brains, sexistly) and activate emotional processing centers, our heart rate and blood pressure heighten, and our muscles tense.

We instinctively respond to a baby’s cry because we’re supposed to.

A quick Google search on the cry-it-out (CIO) method is enough to scare anyone away from it. Mostly because of this woman: Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. In Psychology Today (which sounds like, but is not a peer-reviewed journal), Narvaez has railed against it, first in 2011, then again in 2014, in response to evidence that babies whose parents did CIO are fine. Narvaez’s articles, which are, in fact, glorified blog posts, have been cited again, and again, and again, in popular media outlets.

Narvaez warns that leaving a baby over the age of six months (the earliest recommended age to start CIO) to cry for a few hours, over the span of a few days, can lead to permanent, irreversible brain damage. Because see, when they cry, their cortisol levels increase, and that kills brain cells. And also, the parent-child bond weakens, and the whole thing is just morally suspect. Which is why Narvaez writes about it in her Moral Landscapes blog. (Really! Her Psychology Today articles are literal blog posts, a bit like this random, decidedly non-peer-reviewed thing you are reading right now.)

And upon what does she base this shocking assertion of brain damage? A clinical neurological study in which babies in stable, loving households who undergo CIO are compared to babies in a similar context who do not? Nope! Instead, she points to studies (like Dawson et. al., 2000), which, as she admits, deal with “the long-term effects of under-care or need-neglect in babies.

Those studies deal with chronic stress. Chronic stress. You know, like neglected children in understaffed Romanian orphanages before the turn of the millenium.

When we did CIO with our then-nine-month-old daughter, she cried maybe 45 minutes the first night. And that a long time, and it was indeed hard to hear. I felt tense and had to busy myself with housework to avoid rushing in. The next night, she cried about 15 minutes. Then it was over.8ff9f-sleeping-baby-vintage-postc

And then we all started getting sleep at night. You, know: sleep. Which helps babies grow, and learn, and improves their mood. And which helps mothers to avoid post-partum depression, a thing that does seem to strain the parent-child bond.

If you want to compare a few hour’s stress over a span of less than a week (followed by improved sleep by all involved) to a Romanian f***ing orphanage, be my guest. But please don’t use it to shame desperate, sleep-deprived mothers who are doing the best they can for the babies they love, and their own sanity.

Wow.

We’ve gotten pretty far away from mushroom cleaning, haven’t we?

If you’re still with me, please know that I’m not trying to use mushroom cleaning as some kind of crazy one-to-one analogy for CIO sleep training. Personally, I believe that babies are much more complicated than mushrooms. And rather more important, too. And I don’t think the issue is as (ahem) cut-and-dried as the mushroom one. Not enough to reference that Patsy Cline song anyway.

But I also think that the kind of fear-mongering used by Narvaez (not to mention our dear Dr. Sears, whom I’ve written about before), strikes a distinctly vain note. There’s a righteousness to the scientifically vague, yet somehow still unequivocal conclusions they draw. As writer Melinda Wenner Moyer put it, they sound dogmatic: “more like people who had decided that crying-it-out was a bad idea and then looked for science to back up their belief.”

And you know what? I am almost 100 percent certain that I would feel that way too if I’d slogged through several more months (or years) of waking up multiple times a night to nurse or rock or otherwise soothe my baby. (And let me tell you, co-sleeping does not always help. I brought our son into bed from around five to seven months of age, and far from helping, night awakenings got exponentially worse.)

Now some women may not consider this suffering. For one thing, some people can sacrifice without much misery, and I admire them and wish I could be more like that. For these parents, CIO serves no purpose, because they’re doing fine just as they are. They’ll exchange the uninterrupted sleep for the peace of mind that they are doing everything they can to meet the needs of their child during her most vulnerable stages. For such parents, the stress of listening to their babies cry just isn’t worth it. Or maybe their babies aren’t waking up that much, or a gentler sleep training system works for them. Or maybe they’re apprehensive about this controversy and a ridiculous little blog post by some random stay-at-home mom (SAHM) rambling about mushrooms certainly does nothing to put their minds at ease

Granted.

But if it were me… if I had continued not-sleep-training, I’m pretty sure I’d feel a distinct pride, fed by my sacrifice. I’d almost certainly be quoting Narvaez and Sears right now to vindicate my struggles. And in fact, there might even be a dark, deep-down part of me that secretly almost wants the claims that CIO is akin to child abuse to be true. Because damnit, I had a really hard time before we sleep-trained those babies.

Like, much harder than wiping off mushrooms with a towel.

And when I suffer for a cause, I like my suffering not to be in vain.

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One thought on “How sacrifice dulls reason, prevents sleep-training

  1. If you wash mushrooms and then don't use them straight away they get very scuzzy very quickly. If it's for immediate consumption, not such a problem.

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