The Pacifier Wars

pacifier

It was all NICU’s fault.

To be honest, it was a relief. My baby had to spend four days in the NICU and among the magic that NICU nurses possess, it is getting a baby to easily take a pacifier. And for that, my husband and I were thankful. When we took our barely six pound bundle home, admitting I was terrified didn’t adequately describe the half of it. I was downright fearful that I had no clue about parenthood and somehow I was going to lead my baby to injury. Trying to throw breastfeeding in there, figure out a sleeping schedule — it was all so overwhelming.

But at least we had the pacifier. It was like a mute button for crying, with the bonus of instantly comforting my daughter, soothing her to calmness and relief.

At first, I think we were more attached to the pacifier. When she was crying not from hunger or other needs, we relied on it to sooth her, while doing our part of rocking or engaging with her. As she grew, it was the must-need item for road trips, or even just a 20 minute drive to town. Bringing enough milk for her was as much of a priority as bringing a pacifier. Slowly, she started to become more attached. After she turned one and would start having her pre-toddler meltdowns, many times she would cry out for “Papi” (her attempting to say paci). If I told her that no, for instance, she couldn’t yank the cat’s tail, she would descend into tears and nothing could make her stop her emotional outburst, like “Papi” could.

I noticed it was starting to get worse, than better. I distinctly remember around 18 months, we were doing a really good job of taking it away after nap and first thing in the morning. We tried to last the rest of the day without it. But somehow, as if Charlotte was in a conspiracy of her own, she would end up with the pacifier for hours after sleeping. Some days even the whole day. I think I knew we hit rocked bottom when she started to collect each pacifier, carrying a bundle of five pacifiers at one time. Soon she wanted a pacifier in her hand and her mouth. Is this what addiction is?

I wish I could say that I was the one who determined for us to cut the cord, but it was my husband who had his own countdown. Once our child would become two, the pacifiers would be gone. I secretly — no — openly dreaded it. Millions of excuses came in my head on why should we avoid this milestone. One look at my husband’s face, and I knew better than to suggest such a thing. Instead, I turned to the internet to figure out the best way to cross this lethal milestone.

Of course everyone suggested the “cut the tip” trick. The general idea is you cut the tip of the pacifier a little every day, which will prevent your child from having a satisfying sucking motion. Somehow your little one would magically not want it anymore, give it back, and all their pacifier addictions would be solved. You would just happen to skip the withdrawal stage.

Yeah, right.

Whoever came up with this plan has not met my daughter. She would see through me so fast and know I was the culprit. She’s too smart for this. But these thoughts were affirmed when we visited our pediatrician one day after her second birthday, when he took one look inside of her mouth and said we needed to get off the pacifier stat. And we should just do it cold turkey.

So cold turkey it was. Our first action step was to collect every single pacifier in existence at our home and discard them. If she would find one while we tried to detox, I knew we would be in trouble. I tried to mentally prepare myself, but there was no way to prepare for this moment. There would be tears and heartbreak and sobbing. I also envisioned weeks of no sleep. The good news is I was completely wrong about the no sleep. The bad news is the tears were worse than I could have imagined.

When she realized that first night I wasn’t giving her a pacifier, I have never seen such betrayal mirrored in her eyes.

It was like she realized the one person who sought to every need and gave such comfort, was purposefully letting her suffer. It may sound dramatic, but I have never heard my daughter cry like her heart was breaking. That first night of a non-pacifier life, I did. As she wept and wept in my arms, calling for “papi,” I was cursing my doctor. She obviously wasn’t ready. Why can’t we try again at three? I’m not strong enough for this heartbreak! Needless to say my husband refused to leave the bedroom during this entire episode; it’s like he knew I would give in. And truthfully if he wasn’t there, I would have.

Later, when I confessed to my husband that I didn’t think she would be so heartbroken, he casually told me I was taking away a friend that she has known since birth. Thanks. I feel so much better now.

Unfortunately, and it pains me to admit this, he was right. I was shocked beyond reason when the next night she asked for “Papi,” I told her I lost it, she shrugged her shoulders and went to sleep. Was it this easy? Surely this must have been a fluke. However, the next night she didn’t even ask! All I could do was step back from the situation and try to remember why I waited so long to do this? I quickly remembered it was due to the total terror of having a newborn baby sleeping schedule again, so I let it slide.

That’s not to say that things are completely perfect when it comes to her moving on from soothing behaviors involved her mouth. I think she may have a slight oral fixation due to living her whole life with a pacifier. When she cries, she frequently will put a couple of fingers in her mouth to suck. Daycare had to tell me that they caught her sucking skin on her arm, although she hasn’t done it again. And she does randomly still ask for it, but we’re only a couple of weeks in.

Moral of the story is … it’s super hard, but then incredibly easy.

Giving your child other items of comfort during the process helps (cup of milk or a lovey). You probably will want to give in, but this will be your greatest regret. If they learn that if they cry and scream hard enough you’ll succumb, you will probably have a lot of rough days in your future. As far as how we’re doing, it’s been great. But we haven’t made the two hour trip to see Granny and Paw-Paw yet. I’m sure it will be a struggle, but as we have learned in the the first two years of parenthood, we will learn, we will adapt. Babies, and now toddlers, are so much stronger than we think.

Katie Templet
A kid at heart, Katie loves all things writing, Harry Potter and musicals. At any moment, she is down for either a cup of coffee or margarita. Her passions are building and improving her community of Lafayette, where she was born and raised, and teaching her one daughter to have a British accent. (Not so successful at that last part yet). She spends her day as a credit union storyteller, believing that building strong personal finance habits can be the secret to a fulfilled life. She also contributes to the local finance and community-centric blog, the Meri-tea Community.

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