Heavily pregnant and blissfully ignorant, I sat chatting to my Mum about the practicalities, as I saw them, of having a baby. I was very clued up you see, having browsed several forums, read some pamphlets and flicked through a baby book. I blithely explained, ‘You see, Mum, nowadays babies must sleep in the same room as you at all times, so I will carry him or her around in its bouncer while I do jobs and watch TV, or in its pram while I’m out and about. That way the baby will sleep better anyway, being used to every day sounds and noises and I can just get on with what I’m doing.’ I had it all sussed.
Three weeks later, my two week old son in arms, I hiss and gesture silently but furiously at my Mum to stop clearing her throat and move to the other side of the room lest she disturb the finally sleeping human. It turns out I did not have it sussed by any means. It was my husband’s first day back at work and our baby had spent the whole day, and I mean, the WHOLE day, either crying or feeding. He had not slept, not at all. My Mum had only ‘popped in’ for an hour but I hadn’t let her leave. I hadn’t eaten, hadn’t showered, and hadn’t been prepared, not one little bit, for how difficult looking after a baby would be. All I remembered from my slapdash research was that newborns sleep for 16 hours per day, what was up with that? And what was I doing so wrong?
The stage was basically set from there. I realised what a precious balancing act sleep was, and how easy it was to get into a downward spiral with it, digging a deeper, sleep deprived hole for everyone when you messed with The System.
Example: Baby would not go to sleep, I guess baby is not tired, let us leave baby be and try again when he is sleepier, right?
WRONG! Baby is now an over-tired, wired, angry child who will not go to sleep at all. The small, dusty window of sleep has passed and we are stuck soothing a grumpy baby who will not let us do anything but stand rocking and singing Twinkle Twinkle.
Example: We take baby out in his pram, partly to sleep and partly to undertake a normal, basic life activity such as going to the shop. Baby falls asleep on the way to said shop, whoopee so we continue to buy groceries, right?
WRONG! Baby wakes up as soon as the atmosphere changes – noise, lights, temperature, moon position – you name it, it disturbs him. Baby screams and screams, and screams, but will not go back to sleep. You had your chance, parents, he spits in disgust, never look a gift horse, or a sleeping baby in the mouth. In fact, don’t look at me at all – you sicken me.
So here we are, 14 months later, admittedly having breezed through some sleep phases but dragged ourselves through most. We have learnt that some people have babies who sleep through anything, but we do not. We have discovered that when sleep comes knocking, it must be revered and respected as the sacred act that it is, and we absolutely must not do any of the following:
- Speak louder than a whisper if baby is in the same room
- Enter the baby’s room unless absolutely necessary, i.e. only if he is too hot or too cold. In these circumstances, a blanket must be laid or removed, as lightly as a Dove’s feather and instead of walking in and out of the room, we must crawl or roll, depending which makes least noise.
- Sacrifice a nap for anything less than an emergency. If the nap is sacrificed, so will any chance of a decent night’s sleep due to aforementioned over-tired and wired baby. No, the baby will not sleep longer when tired, and yes, a bad night on top of a difficult, nap free day is extremely hard to deal with and will lead to howling at the moon.
Our current phase (please just be a phase, please just be a phase), involves walking, walking then walking some more, baby in pram, to get him to sleep. His cot is allegedly no longer acceptable, so I have shut out the ‘never use motion to get a baby to sleep, you will regret it and be cursed by a witch’ voices and am doing what I need to do.
And actually I quite enjoy the walks, even though it often means going out in public dressed like a hobo with mismatched shoes and yesterday’s mascara smeared under my eyes. It’s all for the greater good I tell myself. Once he’s asleep, I can have a bath or at least a coffee in peace (if I am not too frightened to run the tap or boil the kettle). The sun is shining, I could do with the extra exercise and it’s nice to shake off the cobwebs.
Most importantly, he does happily sleep away on our rambles, so long as there are no beeping horns, motorbikes, barking dogs, lawns being mowed or people saying Good Morning.
No, I am not exaggerating, yes, I wish I was.
We did try, in the early days to encourage our son to sleep through noise, and occasionally, he did. I remember him once peacefully snoozing as we passed a cement mixer in action on a busy building site, only to have him wake five minutes later as I sneezed. It’s more thrilling than a rollercoaster, this business of nap uncertainty.
When it works, my baby sleeping as day to day tasks are carried out is great, but when it doesn’t (most of the time) it simply isn’t worth the fall out that it can bring. I had no idea sleep was such an art form and so very complicated, though I guess it isn’t that way for everyone. If sleep comes easy to your baby and they don’t become grumpy or feral (or both) when overtired, then it probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
For us though, it’s been modify or meltdown and we actually feel much less restricted, by being restricted. I can embrace a routine as I know with it comes time to do jobs, shower and catch my breath, and without it comes tears, tantrums and a whole lot of grumpiness, and that’s just from my husband and me.
So in my extreme and desperate-to-preserve-sleep-at-all-costs moments, I should confess to hurriedly changing direction on numerous occasions upon sighting a friendly looking dog walker / gardener / parent with a pram before we can lock eyes and risk breaking the silent air with conversation. This is a shame I know as I could actually really do with a chat, other than the ‘woof woof, doggy, woof woof’ kind I share with my gremlin. This is especially true if we are having a difficult day. I would really welcome an adult chinwag during his awake times – perhaps I should wear a T-shirt with the print, ‘We’ll be by the swings at 11’? Though I guess that could seem creepy.
The baby days aren’t forever though, and there is a lot more good stuff than bad, so I am accepting the complexities, the phases and the fact that I probably seem like a growling, miserable witch to most of my local community for the time being.
So to the school children I have shushed, thank you for being kind and also for not hurling your cans of Pepsi at me.
To all with their well-meaning suggestions that I have scoffed and scorned, I am sorry and truly meant no offence. Deep down (very deep down some days), I am pleased that, for you, laying your baby on a blanket on the floor as you crochet beside her results in a peaceful and respectable two hour sleep. However, that doesn’t work in this house. And also, I can’t crochet.
I realise I’m not the only person in the world with a baby, but it really does rock my world, and not in a good way, if you wake him up. So please excuse the dirty looks, the sighs and the anti-social behaviour, it really is nothing personal; unless you wake him more than once. I promise I’m quite friendly really (if you catch me on a good day). And in the meantime if you know of any garden enthusiast lorry drivers with a hobby in motor biking and dogs, who might enjoy heeding the ramblings of an uptight Mother, do feel free to pass this on….
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