Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Cry baby cry, make your mother sigh

Sunday’s Washington Post had a long, long article about the latest must-have – a baby sleep coach. It is a window onto the busy lifestyles of assorted TV correspondents and other DC-area haute bourgeoisie:

It's bath time in the Schneider household in Falls Church and Abigail is fussy. "Fussy" is that word people use as a euphemism for babies who won't stop crying or wailing or expressing some endless sense of frustration.

"I think maybe she's had some gas today," Abigail's mom, Donna Schneider, explains to Giordano. Abigail and her twin sister, Elizabeth, are 4 months old.

Giordano's work is essentially finished here, and the Schneiders will soon be sent off gently into slumber. For the first 11 weeks of their lives, Giordano -- or one of the extended family members or friends she has trained to help manage her burgeoning business -- spent four nights a week with the Schneiders (Donna is a producer at NBC; her husband, Paul, is a chef), working with the babies from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

That is not a cheap proposition -- Giordano's prices were $25 per hour for twins, $22 for singletons, but with increasing demand, she's planning to offer consulting or overnight care packages that can range as high as $2,910 per week. But even though Paul Schneider recently left his restaurant position to start his own home chef business, the couple believed it would be money well spent.

Now that all the stages of child care from conception to Ivy League applications are outsourced to experts so that parents and kids can keep accumulating achievement chits without distractions, this development isn’t surprising. Baby sleep is a battlefield where the overwhelming emotions and responsibilities of early parenthood ram into brutal biological contingencies – the baby’s bottomless needs to eat, sleep and be close, and the parents’ need to remain conscious and perform tasks requiring abstract thought or hand-eye coordination. A little outside help - or a lot in this case - can't hurt.

We wrestled with sleep issues. Both kids slept with us, in a crib flush with our bed, until they were about six months old, breast-feeding at will during night. Then we moved them into their own rooms and, tapping into every book available on sleep issues, tried to get them to sleep through the night with a modified Ferber approach, where you just let them cry until you can’t stand to listen anymore, then go in. (I actually didn’t mind letting them cry, but my wife couldn’t stand it.) It took months, though through the lens of memory I may be exaggerating. Later on, when my daughter was about two she started having night terrors – she would start screaming and I’d go into her room and try to hold her, which only made it worse, at least at the beginning. She would writhe in my arms her eyes open, in a waking dream, for ten minutes or more.

But this is why this baby sleep coach thing bothers me. It assumes that convenience is the highest aim of family life, and that the most intimate and challenging issues can simply be made to go away by throwing money at them.

And did we really need to define "fussy"?