← back to the blog

Depression Lies: The Ugly Collusion of Motherhood, Social Pressure, and Mental Illness

I would let Miles scream for hours when he was six months old. I was desperate for him to fall asleep, and had been assured this would work if I just did it right. I would let him do it at nine months, and at 12, and at 24. I sobbed each time. When he was a baby I would sit outside of his door and try to keep it muffled so I wouldn’t wake him or his dad.

I hated Miles every time he wouldn’t go to sleep. I always caved, thinking myself too weak to handle even a baby. He held on to me so desperately when I picked him up, and I hated that he needed me.

Welcome to another post about mothers and depression.

* * *

I’ve stopped blogging about specific parenting issues for three reasons.

1. Most of the issues that interest me as a mother intersect with the things that interest me as a feminist. I fold these thoughts into my feminist rants (or repackage them as such). Anymore, my thoughts on parenting decisions alone begin and end thusly: “The most valuable thing you can offer parents is the choice and space to discover what works best for their family.”

2. I just do not care anymore what other parents are doing. I mean, I do, on an individual basis. I love sitting around and talking about parenting. One of my coworkers is breastfeeding, and I could die I was so excited to talk about breastfeeding again. It stops coming up when your youngest is in elementary school, as it turns out. (Spoilers: no one can tell if you breastfed or formula fed by that age unless they’re still doing it in public.)

3. Parenting communities online are bullshit. They turn toxic fast. It’s amazing how quickly well-meaning parents become “abusive” based on how they choose to raise their children. People are so eager to draw lines and put people in the box of “good” or “bad,” and I have no patience for that kind of nonsense anymore.

I tell you all of the above because I want you to understand how utterly annoyed I have to be to come here with a post about one parenting issue. Today, we’re going to talk about the “cry-it-out” method of sleep training. Sort of.

Attempting to let Miles cry-it-out was wrong for our family. Not only was it a poor fit for us, but my understanding of it was cobbled together from about 12 non-authoritative sources. A terrible storm of misinformation, untreated depression, and going against parental intuition lead to the situation we opened with.

The woman who makes the second-most upvoted comment in this Facebook thread over at The Leaky Boob would apparently dismiss me as a mother as this point: “getting so angry so fast generally means you have a guilty conscience” because “allowing your baby to cry on purpose? Why? Who really thinks it’s ok?!”

I’m being unfair, cobbling several points together for the sake of my narrative. She also says, “every child is different. Every situation has it’s own special circumstances. Unfortunately, some parents don’t understand that and try and apply a one-size fits all concept to every child.” She and I wholeheartedly agree in this regard. We’d also agree that a very real issue are the doctors and nurses and other guiding people in a new parent’s life who don’t offer them choices. Cry-it-out, like any parenting method, ought to be researched, vetted, and tested carefully if you decide you want to try it. (Okay, we probably don’t agree on the last part.)

My point being, this commenter and all the parents agreeing with her are not bad people. I’m sure they’re delightful. They probably read to their children and do their best to model good citizenship in their day-to-day lives.

And yet, they are being unequivocally hurtful by being so black-and-white and dismissive. You will never hear me condemn parents who choose this method of sleep training, not at this stage in my life. I will, in fact, offer a wholehearted “fuck you” to any person who condemns a person based on their parenting, without considering them or their circumstances as a whole.

So fuck you. Not because I’m guilty, but because comments like that take the ugliest and hardest part of my life, remind me of them, and act as though the only thing wrong was that I didn’t love my baby hard enough not to let him cry.

Miles sleeping, 12 months

I don’t remember when/how his dad and I decided we would try to cry-it-out, though I don’t think either of us ever felt like it was right. I knew his dad wanted to stop cosleeping. I also knew his dad didn’t know how to deal with me at my worst, and I felt like I was failing our entire family every time I asked him for help.

Really, we were adrift and out of ideas, each trying to appease what we thought the other wanted. This was a terrible theme in our marriage, and I feel like we were really showing the wear when we had a baby.

On top of this, we had nurses constantly asking if he was sleeping through the night yet. One in particular warned us at each appointment that if we didn’t cut out those night feedings, he would be up every night until he was two. (This turned out to be true. He was four, actually, still up even when he wasn’t nursing anymore.)

But nothing guided my decisions more than just being painfully depressed and unaware that something was wrong (a statement that basically sums up my 20s). I could tell you all terrible the ways I dealt with this, before I eventually settled on the go-to of “drinking until I felt like a normal person.” I cried a lot. Sometimes I called his dad at work just so he could tell me it would be okay. Sometimes I would just hold my sleeping baby and cry and assure him it would all be okay, because I had no idea if it was going to be okay. I lashed out. I screamed at the baby once, and his dad forcibly ejected me from the room.

I cried. A lot.

* * *

I’m not known for having a good memory, but I remember most of the morning we brought Miles home from the hospital. My ex-mother-in-law came with us, armed with food and fussing over the baby (as you do) before getting ready to go home. Upon saying her goodbyes, she cried and recalled that she had no help when my ex-husband was born. I didn’t know how to help, and I hope I tried to reassure her.

Looking back, this makes so much more sense to me. How you can remember the details of your child’s infancy with great joy, with heartbreaking nostalgia, and with intense pain. I can’t begin to describe how much I love Miles, but remembering how much I used to hurt and ignore that hurt because I assumed it was normal? I can’t describe how it feels to think you could actually hate your baby. I could cry right now, still, and Miles is almost six. This is a hard post to write.

Depression is fucking awful. It robs you of some of the most beautiful experiences of your life. It’ll forever darken parts of Miles’ infancy, and I hate that. And it does not help to have these islands of narrow-minded parenting communities that keep themselves in a circle and reflexively demonize families unlike them.

My story is awful; it is not an endorsement for cry-it-out, and it’s not meant to me. I would suggest anyone interesting in trying it do their research (from both sides of the spectrum) and follow their baby’s cues. I’ve known children who need that five or ten minute cry to mellow out; my son was not one of them. For the love of god, don’t let the voice in your head tell you that you’re failing if it feels wrong. I promise, your babies do not have to be night-long sleepers to grow up into intelligent, charming, independent little kids.

Really address your own health. Please, please, take care of yourself as you take care of your baby. Let other people take care of you.

If you’re on the outside — if you’re the sort of person who can talk about “the stress” of raising an infant and not mean “the bone-crushing feelings of inadequacy” or “the utter inability to function as a normal human being” — then be helpful. Be thoughtful. Don’t use your lofty vantage point to be a sanctimonious asshole because you disagree.

And I’m not sorry if that hurts your feelings.


  • Beth Donovan says:

    Oh, good Lord, Ashes. I wish I had been more helpful for you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything – Miles is awesome.

    • Ashley says:

      Oh no, you and John were always very helpful — you couldn’t have done more, there was no way you could’ve known. And Miles has turned out wonderfully; there’s nothing about him that I’d change. <3