Friday, February 6

the day I allowed my baby to cry

Firstly, I want to say thank you to everyone who offered their support/tips/own experiences regarding the Wildflower's sleep and related issues. It means a lot to have other voices say, we understand.

Now, down to this main post. It has taken me a little while to come back here and share this with you. Mostly because it's been emotional and it has needed my focus, and also because I wanted some time to see how it all panned out.

After the day that I came to a new understanding and acceptance of the 'stuff' between the Wildflower and I, I felt SO much more at peace, and no longer sad. That was a good day, a great day really. I am thankful for the experience.

That new peace gave us another gift. The opportunity for me to view the challenges and issues with a clearer mind and lighter heart - all the better to see things m'dear.

A quick recap:

The Wildflower has serious sleep issues (waking every 45min on average, never sleeping for longer than 2hrs, light sleep predominating, waking fitfully, suddenly and agitated).

She is a very smiley gleeful baby. A lot of the time. Ready to be happy. very easy to get her laughing. But spends most of her day irritable. At first, I put it down to her personality. I accepted her whatever she was like. At around 6-7mths of age I started to realise that it was likely due to lack of sleep. And as she has grown I have become convinced of it.

This irritability has been turning into mild aggression recently. Again, something I first put down to personality (being a strong, willful Aries girl). Hitting toys, hitting herself, and finally pinching me.

Also, she is never still. Even when feeding she is kicking her legs or waving her arms about. She has never played alone for longer than 5 minutes. What many people refer to as a 'high-needs baby'.


Okay, so......

On Wednesday morning, we woke up as usual. We normally cuddle and have a Moment together before starting our day. This morning she woke with a smile as usual, but then started to pinch and squeeze my face. I react to this by simply pulling my face away, then returning to her. She kept at it, really hurting me. So we got out of bed and carried on with our day.

As I was at an emotionally better place, I was able to not become upset about this. I fed her and then we sat together on her mat to play. Her calmness lasted about 30 minutes and then she started on her irritable sounds. I thought to myself, this isn't right.

She has been like this for so long. Her days consist of tiny periods of peace (usually after a sleep) and then are filled with irritability. Poor baby. It's not enough that I accept her and accept our situation. I have never wanted to run away or have more time to myself or whatever. But she isn't happy, so it needs looking into.

So we sat there and I watched her play and it's impossible to describe the thought process. It's like when one tiny thought bounces off others and one leads to another and another, you know. But somehow I was thinking about my last blog post and about how I cried and felt better, and then one thought to another, I got to thinking about her lack of tears.

You see, as an attachment parent, I have responded to her every need. Whether it was hunger, thirst, frustration, discomfort, whatever, I have always actly promptly. So promptly that in 9.5 months, I have only seen tears from my baby 2 or 3 times. Not because she isn't a crier you understand, because she has had ample desire to cry what with so much irritability. But because I have soothed her every time.

And this got me wondering about whether she needed a good cry. At first I thought I was just grasping at straws, but as I allowed the idea to take root, it began to make some sense to me. Not in a - I have found the answer to all her problems - type of way, but just in a - it might be something she needs, way.

So the laptop was right there and as she seemed focused on her current game, I started googling. Lots of 'cry it out' stuff came up, which I wasn't interested in of course. Then somehow I landed on a page mentioning aware parenting and I followed it just because it sounded like something I would be interested in and lo and behold, there was a whole thing about crying!

I mean, it is a theory people! You all probably know all about it and I am the last to discover it, but there it is.

So the digest version is that crying is a necesity that we all need including babies. Yes, we know this for ourselves (and crazily, I know this about toddlers too!). Crying releases stress hormones which is why having a good cry makes us feel calmer. We have literally released the stress.

When a parent soothes a baby's cry that is NOT a call for food or other basics needs, we are stopping our child from releasing stress.

It wasn't that I didn't accept my baby's tears. or that I couldn't bare to hear her cry (although I couldn't), but simply that I thought that was my job as a parent - to sooth her. When the crying stopped I took this as a sign that she was better. Never thinking of the crying as HER way of healing HERSELF. Crying is healing and I was not allowing a vital healing to take place.

Holy cow!

So there I was. I had come to a vague thought intuitively, now there were experts as well as many parents saying how this worked for them. Was I game to give it a try?

So many questions. When do we stop? Do I let her go purple in the face? Do I let her rage?

She was moving towards her first nap, was very irritable by now and it was time for a diaper change. These changes have become increasingly difficult. Not staying still for a second wasn't a problem for me, but when she started protesting and seemingly hating it, I couldn't understand and felt bad for her. So as I knew she was likely to start becoming upset, I figured that this was the time.

DEEEEEEEEP BREATH.....

I changed her, she become upset. I didn't distract her with a toy, singing or anything else. I allowed her to become upset. I finished and placed her in the middle of the bed rather than scooping her up into my arms as usual, which always stops the upset.

Oh dear me. She started wailing, screaming, and then crying. I lay beside her as she kicked about. Then I hugged her. She protested and pushed away. I persisted. Hugging firmly but letting her go if she wanted. Then when I knew holding her up would not quieten her as it normally does, I picked her up and sat back against a couple of pillows. She sat on my lap sideways. And she cried.

When she stopped for a moment I gave her the gentlest kisses on her forehead. I focused on remaining relaxed and sending out thoughts of love to her. And so she alternated between crying and wailing and quietly offering her forehead up for kisses.

When she was at that point, oh my, how can I express to you how right it felt? It felt so right. I wasn't freaked out by her crying, I felt she needed it, I felt her release.

Then after an eternity (okay, probably 5 minutes) she threw herself backwards and I felt that she might have been done with it. Either way, I didn't have the courage to continue or allow it to worsen. It was our first time and it had gone well enough.

So I stood up and went out of the bedroom and just held her. She had stopped crying. I didn't sing, just rocked her gently now. And within 5 minutes, with not a peep, she was sound asleep. She slept for 1hr 40mins (40mins longer than usaul at that time), and woke with a beaming smile.

Be still my heart.

Since that time, I allowed her to have a cry when going to bed. I normally ply her with water or milk as well as offering her favourite soft toy. So she wasn't hppy. I offered only my hugs. I held her firmly and with my arms enveloping her. She cried, and she grabbed me back and snuggled up close, and cried, and and then she slept. Yesterday, I gave her the opportunity for a cry and she had only a little cry and yell.

So, you're wondering, what are the changes? They are subtle. But knowing my baby girl as I do, I see them.

The most noticeable is the lack of her 'going to sleep sound'. It's this protesting sound, not really a whine but like a mild groaning, that she makes when she is working up to a sleep. Instead, I have picked her up when I think she's ready and walked her and she has fallen asleep quietly in my arms. This is amazing. She has done it every time since her first cry. In 9 months, she had only done this a few times.

I have seen a dramatic decrease in aggresion.

She still wakes often during the night. However, her sleep feels a lot deeper. And when she has woken, it hasn't been fitfully, but a slow awakening.

We haven't had much of a chance to see if she is happier playing on her own, but I will be able to test that today.


The theory says that babies can hold within their little bodies, the stress from a traumatic birth experience or even from a mother who was stressed during her pregnancy. Both issues of ours. So there is deeply-rooted stress. Then there are the everyday stresses, such as developmental milestones, or just being unable to work a toy correctly. If the stress isn't released, well, it remains stored in the body of course. And so the Wildflower is carrying all this stress around with her all day, and then taking it all to bed with her.

DIY Dad and I had sensed that she needed to release energy. So we always gave her some time in her bouncy swing every evening. The problem with that, is that it isn't an emotional release. We had sensed something intuitively, just hadn't made the needed leap to crying.

It's totally common sense. When I nannied toddlers, I stood beside them or hugged them when they had a melt-down. I understood that 'tantrums' were their way of coping with pent up frustrations. I knew they needed the tantrum to release. But I had somehow managed to break that connection for babies. I just saw babies as vulnerable and totally dependent on us and therefore needed soothing always.

Just needing comforting for a baby IS a legitimate need. But I can see now how stopping a baby from crying, when all their basic needs have been met and they just need to cry, is NOT comforting at all. I may as well stop her from sweating because it's somewhat unpleasant. Crying is a physiological tool for releasing stress. But for babies, it is their MAIN tool. What do we do when we see a crying baby? We rock, talk, sing, make cooing sounds, offer a toy, food, everything to stop the crying. If a friend of ours did the same to us when we were upset, wouldn't we just feel more frustrated?

The fantastic thing about this, is that lack of crying can be made up. Apparently. So although I've stopped her from crying all these months, future crying can make up for it.

And although it is somewhat a miracle 'cure', it isn't the end to all problems. New frustrations and issues will arise. But the point is, that once a baby feels safe to cry, they are able to regularly release tension and thereby deal with new problems.

I don't mean to sound like I have it all figured out or that I'm 100% confident about this. I'm not. I still wonder about how far to go with it, if I will always know whether she just needs to cry, and so on. I also know that this is just one piece of the puzzle. But I feel it's the piece I've been reaching out for.

34 comments:

  1. This is such a beautiful learning and growing experience for both you and Wildflower. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  2. Thank you, Mon. I think one of the hardest thing for a parent is to realize that we are not responsible for our children always being happy. To accept them and love them, even in their darker moods, is such a healing practice, for us and for them.

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  3. Wow, Mon, that is one of the best things I've read in a long time. When my kids were little, I was so wrapped up in trying to be the perfect attachment parent that I totally stressed out at any crying from them. My son was fussy but easily placated by nursing. My daughter wasn't "placated" by nursing very often, and it was my husband who figured out she just needed to cry it out for a bit every night. I couldn't handle that, so he took her out walking for the 1/2 hour each evening. I was very stressed during my pregnancy with her, and I know she absorbed all that into her body. The crying was release for her, and thank goodness I had my husband to help with that.

    I know so many moms who wouldn't let their baby hardly peep without going to them and offering the breast. I did that much of the time, too, but it did bother me to see it sometimes in others. Maybe since we know we need to cry once in a while, why can't our babies cry it out in a loving environment too? Great post and good find on the information about aware parenting!

    LisaZ

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  4. Thanks Mon! I came in a little too late on the other post, but am now following this with great interest. What a great and beautiful realisation you have come to! Mummy instinct at its finest! I wish you and the Wildflower all the best on this remarkable journey.

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  5. Hi Amy, hope you're feeling well and prepared!

    Nettlejuice - yes, i felt and I admit still do, feel responsible for her ahppiness. It' now I have let a lot of that go. I guess what remains is a natural thing for any parent.
    But as for the crying, I just no longe see it as a matter of happiness or not. I can now view it as a release. BIG difference.

    Hey Lisa - wow, how fortunate to have a hubby who worked that out.
    DIY Dad would mention letting her cry, but it was based in the concern that we might be spoiling her. So of course, this just made me more steadfast in my approach.

    Good to see you Carin!

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  6. Wow! What an amazing post! And you're right, it all makes sense.
    I practice attachment parenting with my daughter (also an Aries -yikes!), and as a baby, it was the exact same thing - she never cried because she never had reason to. I was always right there meeting her needs the instant she expressed them. I never, ever thought she needed a good cry.
    (which will start to come more often and more naturally, when she starts walking and falling down, getting hurt or frustrated, etc.)
    I'm so happy for you that you're on the right track.
    Way to go mama!

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  7. Mon, You just put into words something I now realize I also came to with my own firstborn, but never fully conceptualized as well as you have here. I thought of it more as 'transition time' than as a release, but I think your insight is more accurate. Mine also happened around 9 months, so I am wondering if really, around then (or a little earlier) is when some crying starts to arise that is truly emotional/stress, rather than need-based, i.e. maybe their inner world is hitting a new level of development from 6 months on.

    Your approach to this, in terms of trusting your intuition, and the details you provide on the process, is so valuable. So much parenting literature has become so polarized when it comes to certain things, especially crying - you are either indulgent if you don't let them cry according to some, or selfish and cruel if you do, according to others. Few people show how to really listen to, and experiment with, your own insights. I hope you are keeping all this for a book:-)

    Anyway, just as an aside, in my own eldest daughter's case - not an Aries, but a Scorpio with a Leo moon - as she got older I think her stress release became more oriented around physical exercise. Now at 4 1/2 as long as she gets lots of physical release, she is balanced. Problems (including aggression) arise when she is cooped up for too long (thank goodness we live in southern CA!)

    Lisa

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  8. Hey, I just realized, my fussy son is an Aries too! My daughter is a Pisces, though.

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  9. Great post, and lots of food for thought. I agree that a good cry is a stress releaser, and Wildflower would be way beyond the stage where it is dangerous to have a good cry (with fontanelles being so open still as a new born). And by now she would feel secure and confident in your love for it not to hurt her psychologically.

    From personal experience, I found that although my own philosophies align with attachment parenting, I prefer a moderated version of this, mainly because of the fact that it never felt right to me (except in the very little baby stage) to not let a child feel a range of emotions including stress and friction (and I don't mean out-and-out stress or fear that causes awful distress or harm). I think those lines get a bit blurred at the expense of common sense.

    We naturally don't wish our children to suffer any form of discomfort, but it is the everyday challenges and stresses of life - like boredom, tiredness and frustration that they need to learn to manage, and if they are constantly insulated from feeling these and from having the opportunity to express these emotions, they may not develop skills they need to independently manage them, always needing a prop of some kind to do it for them.

    At about 7 months of age we transitioned from 45 minutes of sleep at a time with a very irritable baby, to 11 hours straight a night (I kid you not) with a very, very happy baby as a result of doing exactly what you're doing here. After all, she knows you're there and that you love her. And you clearly have strong intuition and are tuned into her needs.

    All the best with everything, and good on you for having the strength and clarity to follow your intuition.

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  10. Oh Mon, I'm a little teary-eyed reading this. It is just so heart-warming how observant you are of Wildflower, and how truly caring you are. I'm thrilled that you encountered this idea and tried it out, and that you have seen positive results! That image of you holding her while she cried and then giving her little kisses, and her stopping to be kissed...I can just feel your loving bond through the computer!

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  11. This is really interesting and thought-provoking. It definitely make sense, although I can imagine how difficult it must be to put into practice.

    I'm sure you've alredy thought about this, but have you looked into cranial-sacral therapy and other energy and body work with her?

    ~Tara

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  12. Thanks for sharing this perspective. I vaguely remember reading something like this in Mothering a while back. My 2 yo cries a lot. She was quite colicky those first few months. Sometimes at the end of a long day, when she's fussing at me, I just let her wail for a minute or two before rushing to her aid, for 2 reasons. One, I'm tired, too. ;) Two, she seems to be able to settle down better once she's vented a bit. I was feeling a little conflicted about that, but I'm reconsidering now. Thanks. :)

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  13. Hi & welcome, although please note that allowing to cry in this theory is in a loving environment, NEVER alone, but in your arms or at least your presence.

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  14. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have heard of this practice (and Aletha Solter). It is encouraging to see how your intuition has led you here.

    It is such a gift create that space for full existence and connection. Being Together.

    What a blessing.

    Namaste,
    Stacy

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  15. This has to be one of the best things I have ever read on parenting. There is so much here to think about.

    Thank you...

    (And if it's ok I have emailed the link to all my friends!)

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  16. Welcome Ciara, thank you for such lovely words. Sure it's okay! lol

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  17. wow very interesting....also thanks for stopping by my blog! u should put your email address in your profile for comment responses :)

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  18. I'm really glad I came across this post. This is a helpful reminder about the purpose of crying, and I will surely remember reading this when our next little baby comes in September.

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  19. Mon, this is a very interesting post. My husband tries to "distract" our son when he cries, but I almost never do. I think it's important to *let* them feel what they feel. I'm curious because Michael experiences a milder version of what Wildflower was experiencing...a little irritable sometimes and about half the time going to sleep will make those "going to sleep noises." So I am going to pay more attention to what he might need. Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Mon, I have to thank you. You having given me a gift. Over the last 10 days I have allowed Michael to cry in my arms, 4 or 5 "crying sessions" and then some shorter spurts of crying here and there. At first it seemed I had opened the flood gates, and he was very weepy after the first cry. He actually seems calmer lately! He has been falling asleep a number of times without nursing (he might nurse and still be awake) or walked in the mei tai. The best part is that I am so much more relaxed about his crying. I used to feel guilty whenever he cried, but now I accept the fact that modern life is stressful and I'll never be able to take all the stresses out of it, so he is going to need a release now and again. Thank you for helping me see that my son had the need to cry.

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  21. Oh Lisa, I feel so happy for you. I know the difference it has made to our lives so I understand how wonderful the change can be. THIS is one of the reasons I blog - sharing simple stories of our lives can help.

    The Wildflower was also weepy and sobbed quiet deeply at first, then it tapered off. It doesn't mean there won't be huge sobbing at some point in the future, but it's an indication of the pent up stress.
    I'm also at a whole different place with the crying. it used to kill me, now I know just how much good it's doing her. Of course, being mama, there are still moments, it's not always 100% easy. But having the knowledge keeps me strong.

    Thank you so much for letting me and others know.

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  22. Parenting can be so surprising sometimes. The answers (if there are indeed any) aren't always what we expect them to be.

    I parent my second child much differently than I did with my first. I think it was the confidence knowing that crying is inevitable, normal and healthy. He sleeps much better, can soothe without always needing to breastfeed etc.

    Congratulations on learning this with your first!

    (I also second OrgSister's recommendation of cranio-sacral therapy.)

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  23. Hi flowers!

    yes, I've wanted to do that CST. We had planned on returning to Uk in January and that was on our list of To Dos. but the trip neve came to be. I can't get CST here :(
    Whenever we get the chance we'll do it.

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  24. There is a flower remedy called "Cauliflower" that may help clear the preg/ birth neg. energy faster. I still occasionally give it to my 8 month old. Read Sacred Birthing- http://www.sacredbirthing.com/ for more info and info on rebirthing to rid neg birth energy. Great blog, by the way. This is my first visit and I'm here to stay!

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  25. This is very similar.

    http://www.rc.org/

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  26. hi

    went into the website you mentioned after readimg your post. Thank you it was a great help as sometimes my littleone cries for what it seems like no reason....

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  27. I read Aletha Solter's book when my now three year old was a newborn. I read it while nursing her. And sure enough, every evening, she cried. I timed them (don't new mothers time everything? :)). A long cry lasted 15 minutes. I held her, loved her while she cried. I found it emotionally draining. But it worked for us also. The only thing I didn't like was the breastfeeding information. I feel that comfort nursing is a valuable tool of a nursing mother, and I was insecure with it at first. Eventually, she stopped having those evening cries. But she still gets a responsive response when she cries, at three.

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  28. I just came across your blog and this post...very interesting indeed. However, I wonder if this has changed your views on attachment parenting at all. I agree that there are VERY distinct views on tending to children's every need and letting them do what they need to do so to speak....I think it really comes down to the fact that each child-parent team and situation is different and certain things that work well for some do not work well for others. (Basically...we shouldn't judge...isn't that the premise of everything really? lol) But I was wondering if this brought you a bit further away from the attachment parenting style/philosophy.

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  29. Great post! I had a similar experience with my son just last year when he was 9. It seemed he always did better after having a good cry. It cleared his mind and calmed his energy. The days he didn't have a cry were very challenging. I didn't want to make him cry and I knew he needed to do it almost daily so he could get clear. So I went within to ask what I could do to help him. Since most of his tears at that age were angry, I felt like there might be too much negative energy around him. So I asked, "What's the opposite of crying?" I immediately got, "Laughing." Of course! The next day I tickled him as I woke him up. I tickled him off his bed and chased him around the house trying to get him. I chased him and tickled him until he was exhausted. It took less than 5 minutes, but saved us a lot of time and negative energy with the morning routine. It was an amazing insight. I tickled him for months. Thanks for your post and reminding me of that great tool I have in my toolbox.

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  30. Hi Anon. Yes! Laughter is a brilliant release mechanism. We do that too now that she's older. Especially when her irritan=bility is only slight, or I simply sense tension, but nowhere near crying. And of course, we just love laughing together and she does enjoy tickling.

    But we do it in bursts, and wait for her signals, because tickling can become uncomfortable, and MANY people hate it with a passion. So anyone else, do respect that in your kids, and make certain they actually want it.

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  31. Reading the above sounded just like a description of my little girl..also an Aries baby and fitting the description of what some call a 'high needs baby'. Your story really struck a chord. I was given Aletha Solter's book when she was a few months old and as a psychologist it made a lot of sense to me but I could never bring myself to follow the recommendations, I just wasn't sure enough.

    But my little one has the same difficulties sleeping that you describe and eventually falls asleep either breastfeeding when she's exhausted or emitting a low keening sound in my arms until she drifts off. She's very cheerful during the day but is easily frustrated and always reacts with intense emotions. I'm sure she carries lots of pent up frustrations with her.

    You've given me the courage to give it a try allowing her to release all her feelings. I'm going to really listen to her over the next few days and trust my instincts to know when she needs soothing and when she just needs to be held and contained while she has a good cry.

    I was also struck by your description of fitful sleep and waking. I was thinking about the theory of dreams as wish fulfillment and imagining my baby dreaming about each dropped toy and each time I pull her away from some forbidden sought after object. If she can't cry out these frustrations during the day they are bound to be released at night during dreaming with the accompanying upsetting feelings and fitful sleep

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  32. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences Anon. I would love to hear back from you how it panned out.

    Just last night, I knew she needed a cry, but I forgot just how much... and she had a horribly restless sleep. I'm convinced if I had helped her along some more it would have been better. I will write more about this for toddler years.

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  33. yeah, this posting rocked my day! amazing how you describe the process and how gentle you are feeling and doing with everything around this theme! so well done! i LOVE this posting! can i link it to my blog?

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  34. Thank you for speaking out about this. I'm a new AP mama of an incredibly high needs baby and have been pulling my hair trying to find some perspective from the AP community about tears. It seems like if you let your baby cry at all you seem like this horrendous parent but having walked a mile in your shoes with a high needs baby, we both know it isn't so. Thank you for being brave enough to speak about this in a bit of a clannish community.

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