Sing, siiing, sing, sing, sing

First of all, happy St Paddy’s Day!

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That thing she’s attempting to destroy is her new arch-nemesis, the Turtle-Shaped Comforter. When they’re not engaged in epic battle, she pointedly ignores it.

Since I can’t get totally wasted this year (or probably any year for the next ten years, after which the hangover will no longer be worth it), I celebrated St Patrick’s Day by dressing Baby Diva in the ADORABLE dress you can see her in above. Why yes, those are tiny shamrocks tied with pink ribbons. Courtesy of her Irish Granny.

It says 0-6 months on the label. Or maybe 06, which would be more accurate, though I’m not sure why they’d even need the 0. Either way, it fits her perfectly now she’s 4 months old and wearing all her cousins’ 6 month clothes.

Her “thing” right now is – again – shrieking. It comes and goes. We’ve tried ignoring her, telling her nicely to stop, frowning and telling her firmly to stop, occasionally shouting back (usually followed by an inordinate amount of guilt and self-loathing, especially since Baby Diva thinks it’s a game and shouts even LOUDER). It seems to be getting worse as her lung capacity increases, which is logical, and although it does occasionally go away as she explores other noises (she now growls, coos, squeals and says “Awawawa” while frowning gravely, which makes her look like a politician talking about the state of the economy). But at some point it comes back. It’s like she remembers – “Oh yeah, I forgot I could do this – AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!!!!!!!”

At the baby clinic the other day, the doctor said we should sing to her.

I was like, I sing to her ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.

She was like, no. You need to sing as high as her, and then go down the notes melodically. And you need to do it 30, 40 times before she’ll get it. And keep doing it after that to encourage her.

I was like, I don’t have the range to go that high. Only I said it in my head because I think the doctor would have just said to shut up and do it anyway.

So we’ve been singing to her. We sound stupid doing it, but we have no fucks to give about that. In fact we have a deficit of fucks to give about appearance right now, which means that we take a perverse sort of pride in looking ridiculous to outsiders. They don’t understand the world we live in, with their social norms and unspoken rules. To hell with them.

Singing hasn’t prevented her from shrieking, but it has helped. We’re no longer sitting there passively being deafened, instead we have something to do, something the doctor has said will work. Right??

We started two days ago. This morning after I’d fed her, I handed her to Daddy Diva so I could get a bit more sleep (he’d been up since her 3am feed, don’t ask me why as she’d slept till half seven). No such luck: she almost immediately began to shriek again. The sound insulation in this house is shite so I could also hear Daddy Diva singing and pleading with her to stop, at which point she shrieked…

…and sang.

I swear. She did it twice. She raised her voice high up in a shriek, then went down two or three notes to a more reasonable level.

IT WORKS.

Of course, she hasn’t repeated it since, but… PROGRESS, AMIRITE??

PS – if you write the word “shriek” several times it starts to look really weird.

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Stomach Flu While Breastfeeding: The 8th Layer Of Hell

WARNING: the following article is gross. I mean, it’s in the title. Finish your lunch before reading.

If you have ever breastfed, you will know that the stimulation your nipples receive while breastfeeding cause contractions that, just after birth, serve to shrink your uterus back down to its normal un-pregnant size. This can be a bit painful, like period cramps, but you don’t care too much because OMG MY BABY IS PERFECT and also FUCK SHIT MY NIPPLES ARE KILLING ME. A few days to a week later you no longer feel these contractions, and are so concentrated on trying not to crash too hard from your post-birth bliss that you’ve forgotten all about them.

Apparently, though, you still get contractions when you breastfeed, you just don’t feel them. Until, that is, you get the stomach flu, complete with explosive diarrhea and stomach cramps to rival birth contractions themselves (ok, I exaggerate, but barely). So what do you do? Turn to formula? And deprive her of all those antibodies that’ll (hopefully) protect her from catching the same thing? Because the last thing you need is her getting ill at the same time as you. No, you continue breastfeeding. It’ll be fine, you’ve been through childbirth for godsakes, it’s only a few cramps.

Except that stomach cramps plus diarrhea equal having to rush to the loo in the middle of breastfeeding.

The first time, you unlatch your hungry child, leave her in the middle of the bed, and run off. Her frustrated, uncomprehending cries are drowned out by the sound of you emptying your guts while trying not to vomit into her baby bath (in your rush you left the basin next to the bed).

Then you go back and try to finish, only for it to happen again. After a while you realise that this is going to happen every time you breastfeed your child, which means you have only one choice: sit on the loo while breastfeeding.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s disgusting. It’s unhygienic. It’s probably terrible for the baby. But the only alternative would be to pump your milk all day long, which means sitting upright for half an hour every four hours, and again, you’d have to do it on the loo, so tell me, which is more hygienic: transferring breastmilk into room temperature bottles whilst on the loo, giving milk time to lose some of its nutritious properties including those all-important antibodies and possibly exposing it to the miasma of stink you’re living in, or direct boob-to-mouth milk transfer – while pooping?

Did you ever expect to have to think about that question? I didn’t. The joys of motherhood.

The next thing you realise is that it’s (almost) logistically impossible. You need at least one arm to hold your baby up, so how are you going to drop your pants, grab the toilet paper, pick up your pants again afterwards? Not to mention the possibility of having to vomit.

Well, first of all, if you must wear pants, they’re going to be pyjama bottoms because anything tighter than that is torture right now. This facilitates things somewhat: no fly to unbutton, no belt to unbuckle, you just push them down. Sit down, covering as much of the loo as possible. Pick up basin in free hand and hold it over the kid’s legs, as far from her face as possible. Hopefully you won’t need it. The kid is looking around at this fascinating new environment, pulling on your boob as she arches her back, which is not making anything easier, especially if this is her 2am feed and you were hoping she’d be back off to sleep afterwards (haha nope). Then she smells the inevitable smell, wrinkles her nose (understandably) and latches off. You put down the basin, manage to get her to latch on again after a short struggle, but only for a few seconds. This continues for a while until, in the end, you accept the fact that she’s not going to eat much in these circumstances, which means she’ll be hungry in 2hrs, oh joy. I really hope by this point you didn’t need the basin. I was lucky.

You somehow manage the loo roll, but there’s no way you can pull your knickers and pj bottoms up with only one hand, and you’d rather not touch your baby more than you have to before washing your hands, so you put her down on the bathroom rug (and set the basin out of her reach), and hope she doesn’t roll over and start licking it. Flush, dispose of whatever’s in the basin, wash hands as fast as you can while being extremely thorough, apply antibacterial gel for good measure, wonder if there’s even any point after the farce of shitty hygiene you’ve just been through together.

Next day: you’re exhausted, but almost cured, and your baby has had a bit of bad wind, but that’s it. Thank god for the wonders of breastmilk.

Baby Meditation, or How To Calm Your Kid (And Yourself) The F*** Down

Guys guys GUYZ I have found a miracle tip for calming Baby Diva down when she’s too agitated / overtired to sleep and I have to share it with you because it is AMAZING: I call it “baby meditation”.

You know what meditation is, right? You might have tried it. The aim, they say, is to empty your head of all thoughts in order to achieve Enlightenment, or at least some form of inner peace. I’ve never been good at the “emptying” part, so when I started meditating as a teenager, I instead used visualisations that I could focus on. I became quite adept at it before quitting entirely just when I needed it most (adulthood).

Here’s the deal about meditation, though: the science says that it’s not the “emptying” itself that makes it beneficial and creates all those nice legal-high-inducing alpha waves. It is, in fact, the whole process of focussing, mind-wandering, remembering you’re supposed to be focussing and bringing your mind back, etc. etc. So in effect, as long as you’re focussing on something, no matter how many times your mind wanders, you’re still doing it right.

Where was I? Oh yes: baby meditation doesn’t mean getting your baby to meditate, because that’s impossible. Probably. I mean, if you know a way to do it, please share, because I’d be down for that. No, what I call “baby meditation” is meditating – or at least going through the motions of meditation – while holding your (agitated) baby, in order to calm them down.

Which might sound so simple it’s stupid and bound not to work, right? You’ve already tried remaining calm with your screaming infant in your arms, and they just kept screaming. Yeah, me too. The difference is that you really are trying to meditate – close your eyes, breathe in and out very slowly, relax all your muscles as much as you can, using only the strength necessary to stay upright and hold your baby up. It helps me to visualise the tension leaving me on every out-breath. You may find yourself tensing up again on every in-breath, but that doesn’t matter as long as you keep relaxing afterwards.

The idea for this came to me when I was at the baby clinic, unceremoniously stuffing a grumpy and uncooperative Baby Diva into the sling to go home, and one of the women who work there was trying to distract her. She commented on how nice it would be in the sling once she was settled into it, and how wonderful it would be to see everything from high up on the way home, and how lovely to be all snuggled up warm against mummy etc. And she mentioned that perhaps Baby Diva wasn’t cooperating because, in such close proximity to me, she could feel how tense I was. And I was tense – trying to hurry up and leave so that I could give my chair (with all our stuff on it) to another mother who’d just turned up and had nowhere to sit.

Later that evening, Baby Diva was having trouble getting to sleep on her own. It was in part due to the fact that we’d been to the baby clinic at that time in the afternoon when she is usually sleeping, and so she’s slept later, and woken up closer to her bedtime but still not having slept enough, so she was both overtired and wanting to play. She cried in her cot, so I picked her up and held her, but she also cried in my arms, arching her back and wriggling so that holding her was uncomfortable. I realised I was tense, the muscles in my body reflecting hers, and I figured this was a vicious cycle I should probably stop before it ended with us both in tears.

I was standing up, cradling her and shifting my weight from foot to foot, trying to calm her down. I lifted my head straight (Aaahhh my neck!) and closed my eyes, visualising a calm lake at dawn (which is my focus for meditation, you do you though), and breathed in… and out, relaxing all the muscles in my body as much as possible.

The effect was instantaneous. I felt her relax into my arms, and by the second breath her crying had turned into sleepy growls. I kept going, and the growls stopped. After five breaths I opened my eyes and looked down, and she was already sleeping. I rocked her for a few more breaths, then stopped, and finally laid her down in her cot. She didn’t wake up all evening.

Fluke, right? That’s what I thought. No way could it be that simple. And yeah, you’re right, it’s not always that simple. But both me and Daddy Diva have been using variations on that same technique – standing up, sitting down, even just leaning over her in her cot with our hands on her chest – and it always works to some extent, and often puts her straight to sleep. Sometimes we put her down too soon, and she’s awake five minutes later, because the tension comes back once she’s no longer in our arms. Sometimes she doesn’t go to sleep, or starts crying again, because there’s something wrong that we forgot to check. But in the very least, it always helps.

At least, it helps for us, with Baby Diva. What I’d like to know is if it helps for other people with their children. I know I don’t have that many readers, but I’d really like to know, so if you do read this, I’d love it if you tried it, and spread the word for me, and then comment and tell me how it worked. I think it helps to have some experience in meditation to begin with, but bear in mind that I haven’t regularly meditated in years. I’d love to know what you think!

You will regret having kids

First of all, watch this video:

Pessimistic, right? Any loving parent would surely disagree, especially one like me whose baby is generally smiley and easy-going, and who has been completely infatuated with her since the moment they put her on my chest?

Yeah, no. They’re right. I have, and occasionally still do, regret having had my baby. In fact, the moments when that happens are the ones when I love her the most.

Maybe this is unique to me. Y’all know I was a nanny, so I’m somewhat more used to dealing with babies screaming for hours on end than your average beginner parent. I know it’ll end at some point, and I’ve developed coping strategies for the meantime. Even on the rare-ish occasions when I’ve had to hand her over to her (far less resistant) father, I knew I just needed a short break to get my head straight and I could go back to comforting her. I know what to do if she doesn’t stop after several hours (the answer is you call the hospital) and though I do get Parent Guilt from time to time, it rarely happens when she’s screaming and I want to throw her out the window because I know that’s a normal feeling to have, and I know what to do when I have it. Even the fact that she’s my child only makes me more patient, despite having nobody to hand her over to at the end of the day.

No, I regret having her when she’s perfect. That time she giggled in her sleep and my heart twisted with love. When I kiss her cheek and then turn my cheek to her face and say “GIMME KISS” and she turns and sort of sucks on it, which is a silly game we play which probably isn’t all that hygienic but never mind that – I regret having her. I regret having my baby when she wakes up in the middle of the night and cries, and then when I go to see what she wants she smiles up at me and starts growling and waving her little arms, wanting to play, and I can’t be mad at her, I have to smile back. I regretted it an hour ago when she was falling asleep in my arms, lifting her soft little hand to my face and then feeling around until she found my mouth, her hand still only I’d kiss her palm.

Being a parent is an anxiety trap. I’m no stranger to anxiety, as you’ll know from past posts, and despite my best efforts, I have a really shitty worldview. I see the world as a dangerous place, and I want to protect her so much but I also don’t want her to grow up with that same worldview, so I can’t just wrap her in cotton wool and lock her up. I want her to be happy, but I know she’ll have to go through so much pain, because life is painful. I dread seeing her upset, bullied in school, lonely, heartbroken, humiliated, distraught for whatever reason life may throw at her. Sometimes I regret becoming a parent because I feel inadequate as a parent, and sometimes I regret it just because I know that no matter how good a parent I am, I won’t be able to protect her from getting hurt forever. Because I already have this paranoid background worry whenever Daddy Diva takes the car without me next to him to point out every potential danger from 50 meters away, and now I have to think about how it would affect her if he died, or if I died, and let’s not even go into her dying because that terrifies me.

And she’s only 3-and-a-half months old. So far my reasons for regretting her birth sound pretty noble, right? I regret having my child – because I love her too much. Believe me, it’s going to get worse. I know this from my own childhood – specifically, from the end of it: when I was between 19 and 20, my dad and I fell out. We only spoke to yell at each other. I was depressed, and he didn’t get it, and he was sad but I interpreted his sadness as anger, and the atmosphere in the house was horrible all year until I went to college. It astonished me that I could hate someone I loved that much. And then I realised that the reason I hated him so much, was because I loved him that much. The rejection I perceived from him felt like the worst form of betrayal.

My dad and I get on fine now, and thank fuck because now I’m the parent I’ll need his help when she hits adolescence. I didn’t know what to do with teenagers even when I was one, so God help me in 13 years when she’s invited to parties and surfing the net without our supervision and I’d better stop thinking about it because Jaysus this is scary shit. I used to be kept up at night by those jumpscares people put up on YouTube that look just like the nightmares I had when I was five; now it’s Baby Diva-turned-Teen Diva crying and screaming “I HATE YOU!!!” at me because I’m not letting her date a 28-year-old at 12. Or something, I dunno what problems teenagers have.

Or crying because a 28-year-old raped her at 12. Or crying because she’s suicidally depressed. Or not crying, not speaking to us, not being ok, and not telling us because she thinks we’ll hate her for it.

Scary shit, indeed. But if this makes sense to you – and I think, if you’re a parent, it will – I don’t regret regretting having her. It means I had her. It means I love her more than life itself, and yet I’ve never been so attached to my life because she needs me. I regret having her sometimes, and some of those times it’s a lovely, horrible, bittersweet conundrum of a feeling that I would never have experienced had I not had children. Other times it’s just terrifying. And that doesn’t make me a bad parent, it just means I worry way too much.

TL;DR: I regret having Baby Diva less than I’d regret not having her.

Exhaustion

It started with a holiday.

The word “holiday”, for me, has never been a synonym of “rest”, mainly because it’s either us visiting my family in France (which requires a ridiculous amount of organisation and my family are not known for being organised), or us going to a festival. Needless to say, with Baby Diva around, there’ll be fewer festivals and more family visits in the near future.

My family loved her. Of course they did. Even if she weren’t extremely sociable, she’s my parents’ first grandchild, my sisters’ first niece.

And she loved them. Between them and managing to see ALL the local friends I’d wanted to see, she has as much social interaction as her wee extrovert soul could wish for and more, so much so that she started almost sleeping through the night. I’d feed her at 9pm and put her to bed, and she’d wake up at 5am and go back to sleep until 9am, it was great. By the end of it, I was smugly congratulating myself on having produced such an easygoing child*.

Then we got home. She slept for most of the car ride back, so obviously that night was going to be difficult. And maybe being back home disturbed her a bit, so I didn’t expect her to go back to being perfect straight away. But I didn’t expect her to take three hours to be put down to sleep, or to start waking up hungry three times a night again and refuse to go back to sleep in her cot, either. And I especially didn’t expect it to last longer than a week.

At first I was understanding. She needed reassurance, I thought, and took her into bed with us for a few nights. My back started to hurt quite a bit, though, maybe curling my body around her was incompatible with the type of scoliosis I have or something, so we decided to start sleep training, as described in my last article. She became clingier during the day, but after about two weeks, she started falling asleep on her own.

Then the Carnaval happened.

Remember the Carnaval? No? We do. And believe me, last year was NOTHING compared to this year. This year we live in the town center. This year the drums were in our street. And one of the drummers lives in the house opposite. There was no confusing the drums with malfunctioning central heating this year; this was obviously a bunch of drummers who were very, very proud to show everyone just how long and hard and LOUD they’d practised their military drumming.

We thought, might as well make the most of it, right? On the Sunday we went out to see what all the fuss was about.

It was like walking into hell. By “hell” I mean a windy, rainy fairground-themed nightclub with the shittiest of shitty music, open to a huge, packed crowd of very loud children and their drunk parents, all jumping around throwing confetti and silly string at each other and bumping into the pram

“Take us home,” I begged my partner through clenched teeth, barely resisting the urge to impale a boistrous teenager with my umbrella. The music was so loud and repetitive I couldn’t focus. He guided me in a roundabout way through some of the quieter side streets until we got home. Baby Diva was lying in her pram, eyes wide open, making no noise whatsoever, but when I took her out she stayed snuggled in my arms for forty minutes straight and I let her.

The Carnaval lasted four days. On the Monday we had to go and do the food shopping – I won’t go into the horror of getting to and from the mini-mart around (and, inevitably, through) the parade, instead I’ll just leave this photo here.

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Mood: the look on this guy’s face.

On the Monday night they came tramping round our street at midnight, just as we’d managed to get the baby down to sleep, and stuck around playing and drumming in front of our neighbour’s house – and, consequently, ours – for twenty long minutes. Even when they left, we could hear the drums on and off all night until 6am. On Tuesday night there were fireworks – but, to be fair, the fireworks were the least of our worries.

On Tuesday, Baby Diva was due for some vaccinations. Everything was going fine – she’d been weighed and measured and we were waiting for our appointment along with all the other parents, when she started getting grumpy, and I thought it’d be best to feed her before we got in. We went to the breastfeeding corner, sat down, and that’s when, instead of latching on, my lovely, smiley baby who hardly ever cried, arched her back away from the breast and started SCREAMING at the top of her lungs.

It was so sudden, at first I thought I’d somehow hurt her sitting down. Ten minutes later she hadn’t stopped, and we were starting to panic. One of the nurses came in and suggested a bunch of benign causes that, to us, couldn’t explain her sudden screaming. One of the mums came in, offered us a pipette of homeopathic teething stuff (I don’t believe in homeopathy but we took it anyway – placebo effect is better than nothing), and when that didn’t work, she kindly took the baby out of our arms and tried to calm her down with the experience of a third-time mother, to no avail. We went in to see the doctor, who examined her as best she could, did the vaccinations as fast as possible – which didn’t help the crying – and sent us out saying it was “probably colic”, but that we shouldn’t hesitate to contact the hospital if she was still crying tonight.

As soon as we got out, however, she stopped. I’m not sure how I’d managed to get her into the sling, but I felt her relax a little. We relaxed a little, too, and wondered what on earth could have caused such tears. She’d never done it before, so why now? Surely, she didn’t actually remember the place from the last time she’d gotten vaccinated…?

The short answer is no, she didn’t. She started crying again the next time I tried to feed her, after only five mouthfuls of milk. It lasted forty-five minutes, and she only fell asleep when I put her back in the carry scarf and stood in front of the bedroom window, commenting on the (mercifully empty) street below.

She started again that evening. This time it lasted two or three hours, I forget how long, most of which was spent in the sling, watching the fireworks, walking up and down, hushing and patting and singing and kissing and stroking her face. When I felt my back going under the weight of her, I took the sling off and put her to bed with me and asked my partner – who is as useless with her at night as I am in the morning – to ring the hospital.

They said it was constipation. They gave him the address of a late night chemist and told him to get glycerin suppositories. By the time he got back, she was finally asleep, and I didn’t dare wake her. I gave her the suppository the next morning, and she did the massivest poo I’ve ever seen a baby that young do, and that was that.

By this time, however, my back was well and truly done in. I was in constant pain, I could barely even hold the baby to breastfeed her, never mind pick her up. I tried to tough it out (never a good idea, but I was too tired to think straight), but the following night was so bad I couldn’t wait any longer, so I rang around and found – miraculously – an osteopath with a free spot that afternoon. At this point my partner, who had been doing everything but breastfeeding her in my stead, was having dizzy spells he was so tired. And Baby Diva, who wasn’t used to me not playing with her, or us being quite this tired, was still grumbly and wanted to be constantly held.

The osteopath was great, but he said I should have gone two weeks ago, and he gave me another appointment next week. As consolation he also told me to bring the kid along and he’d look at her for free, see if there was some underlying cause to the sudden constipation. My back, although not entirely fixed, is better enough that I can take care of my daughter more or less as usual. But still she was grumbling, and not eating well at all, and her sleep schedule was out of wack too – the next two nights, she fell asleep around 6pm, but instead of waking up from the nap around 7pm as usual, she’d just keep sleeping, waking up to eat twice, around 10 and then 3am, at which point she’d decide it was time to get up, and start growling amiably at the ceiling. It was the only time of day (well, night) during which she was happy to play on her own – the rest of the time, she wanted us.

Yesterday we went to see a friend whose child is 7 months older than ours who, seeing the desperation in our eyes, suggested we take her back to the baby clinic and ask them to weigh and examine her now she was no longer screaming. By this time we were becoming paranoid. What if she had tonsilitis, and we couldn’t see it because her tongue is always in the way when I try to look? What if she had that weird reflux I’d read about that only affects the bottom of the oesophagus and so might go undiagnosed for months? What if I had, indeed, hurt her sitting down, and whatever injury she’d been enduring all this time was preventing her from eating properly?

We tried to explain this to the doctor. I felt our explainations – which were mostly on the basis of “SHE’S JUST NOT HERSELF!!” while Baby Diva smiled charmingly at the doctor – were ridiculously inadequate. The doctor listened patiently, and when we’d finished, she pointed out that babies did change during their development, that perhaps she was on the brink of a milestone and frustrated it wasn’t happening faster, or maybe – possibly – she was simply picking up on how tired and stressed out we were. She suggested I pump some milk so that her daddy could take a shift during the night.

As we left, I knew what was coming, and had no conviction with which to stop it. My partner suggested we put her in her own room – at least for part of the night.

“Which part?” I asked, because no way was I going all the way up there at 3am to breastfeed when I could be doing in my warm bed.

“After the 3am feed, I’ll take her up,” he promised.

And he did.

We put the babyphone on, of course, but we turned it down so that we’d only hear if she cried. Our house is old, though, and we could still just about hear her chatting away to the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of her bedroom. Hers. Her room. It was bittersweet. But Christ, did I sleep like the dead until 8am this morning, when my partner brought her back in for her morning feed. We caught up then, she fell asleep for twenty minutes next to me, and then woke up and we sang nursery rhymes and played this game I made up where I kiss her and then present my cheek and say “GIMME KISS” and she licks it and coos affectionately in my ear and then we do it all again.

And honestly, she was a little bit growly today, but a lot easier than before. Maybe the doctor was right and we’d just accumulated so much sleep debt that it was affecting even her. We’ll see how the next few nights pan out. But for now, it’s late, and I’m going to bed. As you can probably tell from all this rambling, I still have quite a big sleep debt to catch up on.

*Don’t get me wrong, at no point whatsoever did I honestly think it was anything but luck. I do occasionally like to pretend, however.

Cry-it-out vs. nursing to sleep: the lowdown

I’m gonna give it to you straight: contrary to what every baby sleep book out there will tell you, there is no set rule or formula to get baby to sleep that will work with every baby, every time. Whether you’re a Ferber fan or anti-Cry-It-Out to the core, statistically, if you have enough babies, one of them will come along and prove you wrong. Given my luck, obviously it would be the first.

You might have noticed that I tend to be more of an attachment parent than a Ferber fan. When my doctor suggested putting Baby Diva down awake and letting her cry for 10 minutes before going in to see her, I smiled, nodded, and promptly forgot about it as soon as we were out the door. We had a bedtime ritual that worked – lights out, cuddle, rock and sing to Baby Diva while patting her bum, stop singing but keep rocking, then stop rocking but keep patting, then stop patting, then put her to bed – fast asleep. It usually didn’t take more than twenty minutes, and by 2 and a half months she was doing 8-hour stretches, waking at five to feed, then sleeping until 8am, aka – dream baby.

Then we got home from holiday with my family, and I don’t know if it was the relative lack of social stimulation or just the 4-month sleep regression come early, but she definitely regressed. Hard. As in, waking up every 2-3 hours, sometimes to feed, sometimes with what appeared to be colic (bit late for that, no?), sometimes for no other reason than she was awake and wanted to play right then.

Not only that, but she’d reject the lovely bedtime ritual that had worked so well up till then. As soon as we got into the darkened bedroom she would arch her back and wail. If I tried to rock her she would get even more annoyed, and singing made no difference whatsoever. We’d manage to get her to sleep only for her to awaken ten minutes later, and we’d have to start all over again until we went to bed ourselves, by which time she’d be exhausted enough to fall asleep for a couple of hours.

My partner, whose lack of knowledge and experience with children sometimes proves to be an advantage over the somewhat rigid values I’ve come to live by, decided one night to put her down instead of trying to soothe her in his arms.  And lo – it worked! Her crying grew less angry and more tired, and soon stopped. Since she was still awake, he sang to her while she was in her cot, then put the lovey over her eyes, and she fell asleep.

Grudgingly, I tried the same thing. It didn’t work quite as well. She cried in her cot, but if I tried to pick her up, she’d become furious. If I left the room, she’d also become furious. So I soothed and patted and sang to her while she cried in her cot. It took a while, but little by little, she calmed down enough to fall asleep.

A couple of weeks have passed since then. Her sleepy cries have turned into sleepy growls, which are a lot cuter. She clutches her pink elephant or pink rabbit or neko-chan kitty to her chest, which has the advantage of preventing her from spitting out the dodie (sometimes), and we put the lovey over her eyes, and she growls herself to sleep. The other night my partner went in to check on her while she was whining / growling, and she gave him the funniest “what are you doing here?” look, like he was disturbing her.

Sometimes she’s too excited, and I’ve lately started tweaking the bedtime ritual to include us lying on the big bed together and me kissing and stroking her face – which she loves as long as she’s not in my arms while it’s happening – until she stops crying and starts growling, at which point I can put her in her cot and sing her the lullaby, which at this point will calm her down further. Usually I leave her growling softly.

So, is this a point for crying it out, or for soothing baby to sleep? The answer is, neither. And here’s why: each and every baby is different, and every baby has not one, but an entire repertoire of different cries that each mean different things. It’s up to you to figure out what means what. I’m lucky in that my baby is pretty easy to read if I get my head out of my arse and pay attention – I later realised that when she was arching her back in my arms, she was actually turning to look longingly at the cot as she wailed.

But how can you know what your baby needs? Babies aren’t always easy to read. So I was looking around on the Internetz today and found a few interesting articles on baby sleep types, which make a lot of sense:

http://alphamom.com/parenting/baby/cio-sleep-training-alternative-tension-increasers/

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2011/01/tension-increasers.html

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2011/01/tension-decreasers.html

The theory is that there are two main types of baby: tension decreasers, for whom crying it out not only works, but is probably a lot easier than trying to soothe them to sleep in your arms; and tension increasers, for whom crying is horribly stressful and who may end up traumatised if you try to use the Ferber method on them.

And then there are babies in between, like mine, who need to be put down and let cry, but not too much, and not all the time. And I get it: I’m the kind of person who cries for the stupidest reasons, and people will look at me in horror thinking something is terribly wrong, and it’s hard to explain that if they just let me cry I’ll feel better in five minutes and it’ll all work out great.

Unless I’m particularly anxiety-prone that day, in which case it’s best to stop the crying ASAP before it turns into a panic attack.

I, too, am a weird mix of the two.

So what’s the point of this post? The point is that I used to be very attachment parent-y, and now I’m becoming less so because my kid is too independant and doesn’t like being babyworn all the time, or soothed to sleep in my arms at night. That I’m not swinging in the opposite direction either because when she wakes up after a nightmare, her cries are very different to the sleepy-cry and if we let her cry that out, it’ll just escalate into panicky screaming.

What I’m trying to say, to the Internet in general, is: Stop Being So Judgy. Your babies may all be champion self-soothers, or on the contrary need a lot of contact, but this is not the case for all babies. I don’t care if you have ten kids and they’re all the same, you still have no right to tell a first-time parent that the method they’ve been using that has worked like a dream because they listened to their child and responded to his needs rather than society’s contradicting advice, is wrong. If it works, it works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I told you she growls.

She seems to have ceased the screeching over the past few days (THANK GOD) and has discovered a new sort of back-of-the-throat growl.

We are trying to teach her to fall asleep on her own. This is one thing for which nannying has left me ridiculously unprepared, as most of the babies I used to mind would fall asleep soon after being put down for naps, no problem. Now I wish I’d kept in touch with their parents so I could ask them HOW??

We are anti-CIO (Cry It Out). We reckon that if she’s crying, it’s because she needs something, and not meeting her needs can be traumatic at that age. Therefore our routine is:

  • Bedtime ritual, aka – darkening the bedroom and singing her a lullaby while patting her or holding her hand, sometimes while holding her if she’s clingy (she’s increasingly not-clingy, so we must be doing something right).
  • Once she’s drowsy, leave her in her bed with dodie (pacifier)* and lovey (comforter). She may or may not be growling to herself, or whining at this point.
    It is important to differentiate whining and crying. Whining is a sort of half-hearted complaint – “I’m tired, why am I not asleep yet?” – whereas crying is a call for help. Sometimes, especially when we’re tired, we have trouble differentiating the two. I prefer to be safe and go to her. My boyfriend used to do the opposite and wait until she was really upset, but I – or maybe the consequences of doing that – have pretty much convinced him it’s not a good idea.
  • When we go in, we try to comfort her without picking her up at first (which is usually possible if we’ve responded promptly). If that doesn’t work, we pick her up until she calms down. The aim is to leave once she’s a bit drowsy (again, growling away to herself), but not asleep.
  • Repeat.

If I am writing this blog tonight, it’s because it has worked. Tonight she fell asleep pretty much on her own, losing her dodie only once. I fully expect her to give us hell tomorrow night, because when it comes to sleep she does tend to take two steps back for every three steps forward, but still – PROGRESS.

And now I’m going to bed myself.