Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Seven Stages of Crying

You’re probably familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ theory of the seven stages of grief. Her theory states that someone who suffers a loss goes through seven different states of mind during the grieving process: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and finally, acceptance. I have discovered that a crying baby goes through seven very similar stages.

This theory occurred to me last night as I lay in my bed, listening to Katie protesting being put to bed. We are trying to settle her into a routine, much to her chagrin. She’s been sleeping 6 hours a night often enough that we know she has it in her to sleep that long all the time, and now we just need to get her to put those 6 hours into a time slot that works for us. Midnight to 6am would work nicely for me. I’d love to go to bed closer to 11pm, but since I occasionally want to stay up till midnight but I NEVER want to get up at 5am, midnight to 6 it is.

Which means that when we put her to bed last night, it wasn’t because she was falling asleep, but because it was bedtime. So as soon as she realized she was alone in her crib with the lights out, she began her Shock Cry. The Shock Cry is distinctive because of its overtones of outrage and personal offense. The baby expresses her disbelief that her parents would abuse her so, by abandoning her in her crib, with only her cozy blanket, half a dozen stuffed animals, a rattle, and a lullaby to keep her company. The Shock Cry is an attempt to convince the parents that they have made a horrible mistake and should return to her immediately.

The next stage, the Denial Cry, is a quieter stage that often lulls the parent into thinking that the baby has fallen asleep. Not so! The Denial Cry – more of a soft sigh or a whimper, really – merely serves for the baby to gather her energy for the next several stages.

The Denial Cry leads gently into the Bargaining Cry, which again is not so much a cry as it is a soft, charming plea. It may include pathetic coos and chirps calculated to remind the parent how adorable the baby is and convince them that they are missing cuteness and should immediately come and play with this adorable thing. The Bargaining Cry rarely lasts for more than a few minutes before crashing into the Guilt and Anger Cries.

Unlike the Guilt stage of grief, the Guilt Cry is not a sign of a feeling of personal guilt, but rather is intended to bring on a sense of guilt in the parent. The Guilt Cry is similar to the Shock Cry in that it expresses a sense of outrage and even betrayal. The baby is intent on convincing the parents that they have made a horrible parenting mistake in putting her to bed, and her dramatic Guilt Cry is often successful in making them think exactly that.

If the Guilt Cry is unsuccessful, the baby will quickly transition into the Anger Cry, which is easily identified by its loud, high-pitched shrieks. It may be accompanied by kicking feet, pounding fists, and thrashing around in the crib. It may also be punctuated by moments of silence which are, in fact, open-mouthed silent cries during which the baby is gathering strength for a furious scream about to follow. The Anger Cry is, by far, the loudest Crying Stage. And if it does not, in fact, last the longest, it certainly seems like it does.

If the parents are able to withstand the onslaught of the Anger Cry, the baby will eventually lose steam and fall back into the Depression Cry. The Depression Cry is more of a whimper or a whine. The baby is coming to realize that its cries have come to naught. Like the Anger Cry, it is punctuated by moments of silence; however, unlike the Anger Cry, these moments are not indicative that the cries are about to escalate, but rather that the baby is losing energy as she progresses to the final stage, Acceptance.

To call this stage an Acceptance Cry would be something of a misnomer, as the Acceptance Stage is actually the lack of a cry. The baby has either succumbed to sleep or has accepted that no-one is coming to play with her and has found a way to amuse herself. In either circumstance, it is distinctive by its silence or, at least, its quiet coos and murmurs. And in the best of circumstances, it is marked by slow breathing and light snoring.

Like the Stages of Grief, it is possible for the sufferer to move back and forth among the stages, and even to skip some stages. One baby might never utter a Denial Cry, another might reverse the Anger Cry and the Guilt Cry, yet another might go through all stages one night and only two or three the next. But once a parent is able to identify his own child’s distinctive cries for each stage, he will be better prepared to withstand the progression until at last it reaches Acceptance.

And with Acceptance comes sleep. Blessed, blessed sleep for all parties. The best Stage of all!

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