When my son was a baby I used to attend a Friday group for babies under 9months. I liked it there. There were no crazy toddlers running around. It was intimate and quiet. We used to sit in one big gossipy circle. There were few of us who breastfed. I used to feel slightly uncomfortable when my son's cries intimated that I needed to start to strip. I used to use a cover - something I wouldn't now do in a baby group. There were many conversations that baffled me. Many about how many ounces or how many feeds....and I must admit that I occasionally felt uncomfortable when I though about how often I would feed and the fact that I hadn't the foggiest idea how much my skinny little fella actually consumed. But, y'know, we had made different choices and that was cool. I kind of wished there were some others like me, but I could live with it. However a favourite topic was sleep. I listened as one by one all of my friends declared their babies had started to sleep through. It ended up being a joke. I had the baby that didn't sleep. The last time I went to that group the organiser gave me a leaflet on controlled crying. I knew it was time to go.
I was so anxious about sleep! I thought that babies were supposed to sleep through by two or three months. It was certainly a figure that was bandied about. My health visitor would ask how he was sleeping and I would meekly tell her that he 'sometimes woke up once or twice' and 'slept in his cot'. The truth was he woke at least 4 times and spent most of the night in our bed. I felt like an alien. Was I doing all this wrong? On a good day I felt like I was the only one who had it right. Most days were not good days.
I beat myself up endlessly. It didn't help that every visitor's first question was 'how is he sleeping?'. I was shattered. I was sick of getting up. My eyes stung and I felt about a zillion years old But there was not way on God's Earth that I was going to let my baby cry his-self to sleep. Even if he never slept through. Even if he slept in my bed for the rest of his life. It felt like this may be a real possibility too.
But how the hell was everyone else doing it? Many were 'self soothing'. I am not going to discuss self soothing. 'If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all'. Each to their own. Many were using dummies, white noise, swaddles, sleeping bags, special toys.....endless props. Well I had bought every damn thing that I thought might work and it never did. I filled him with painkillers when he was teething. He was dry, warm, fed......why couldn't I do it? It left one conclusion. I was a rubbish mum. Maybe I was weak, I should have had the balls to let him cry. Maybe I wasn't very good at being quiet and soothing. Maybe I wasn't feeding him enough.... AHA. There's that breastfeeder's self-doubt lingering away there.
He slept through at 10 months by the way. Which seemed awfully late.
Baby number two has always been a bit of a better sleeper. Also I have always been a bit more confident about what I am doing which helps. However something seemed to have happened. Maybe I started to hang out with different women (and I must say I hang out with a lot of boobie mamas these days), or maybe there's been a sea change. However suddenly other mums have admitted that they bedshare. Most of my friends babies don't sleep. In fact mine is one of the better sleepers. In fact when I recently got all panicky because she (at 10 months) had started sleeping worse, it was basically laughed off as normal and I was told that I'd had it good up till now.
This time around I know she gets enough milk. I know she has every damn thing she needs. I know that the white noise thing isn't going to cut it. I know that soothing music, pretty lights, a favourite toy will not settle her back to sleep. And I know something else. Other women lie. Not all of them - some have these magic sleeping babies. But most don't. And here's how I know it. A friend recently told me her 10 week old was sleeping through the night. I expressed surprise (holdiong in the compulsion to shout LIAR!!!!!!!!). She then said 'well yeah, because technically sleeping for five hour stretches is sleeping through the night.' Um..... OK, sure she has me there, as I have recently discovered, technically speaking that is considered true. medically anyway. But to me it is a load of ol' cobblers. Sleeping through means that I don't have to wake up and deal with it. It means I get to be woken up by something other than a baby. It means that I don't have dark circles and I can get through a day without caffeine. Five hour stretches indeed.
So...those women sat in that circle when I was a naïve new mum. Claiming that they had special sleeping children...... I don't buy it. And yet, they made me feed anxious. They made me doubt my personal brand of milk. Worst of all, they made me doubt my mothering skills. I still doubt myself but I am picked up by honest friends who tell me that their dark eye circles are as bad as mine. I can cope with the hardship when I am part of a club, not when I am the only mum still soldiering on months down the line.
I did read that controlled crying leaflet the lady gave me. Then I threw it away. My lack of sleep didn't need solving. It was a phase. Same as many of those other women had they chosen to admit it. So, be wary of the 'sleep-boasters'.
Oh and for the record, my 10 month old wakes at least twice in the night. Yes it annoys me. No I'm not going to do anything about it, other than feed her back to sleep like I've done since the day she was born.
“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” Dr Seuss