People ask a lot how old N will be when the baby is born. When I tell them, they say, almost without fail, “oh, that’s perfect. He’ll never remember life before her.” I don’t know why this is such a good thing. Continue reading
I am a terrible sleeper. I have always been a terrible sleeper. Or, rather, I am an AWESOME sleeper as long as it’s daytime/at a desk/in an interminable staff meeting or a moving car/plane/train/subway car. I just can’t sleep when I’m supposed to. As a kid, I was afraid of kidnappers and masked robbers and crawly things under the covers. I always thought it was unfair that grownups, who are big and strong and brave, get to sleep with other grownups, and kids, who are vulnerable to things that go bump, have to sleep alone. Continue reading
I am talking to Tough-Love Mommy (TLM) one day, asking her something or other about baby sleep, a topic that obsesses and terrifies me. She shrugs, looks anywhere but directly at me, and proceeds to tell me guiltily about her children’s insanely perfect sleep habits. When my chin hits the floor in awe of babies that sleep like frat boys, she says, “good baby sleep is like Fight Club: the first rule is you don’t talk about it.”
Baby sleep: the reason for all misery in the early months (or year, in our case). It’s nightmarish for every parent at some point or another –except, apparently, for ALL OF MY FRIENDS, whose babies sleep until 8:00 in the morning and take 3 hour naps. I hate everyone. Those bastards aside, though, MOST parents have to deal with the hardest stuff right when they are least equipped to handle it. How can anyone so sleep-deprived deal with sleep journals and controlled intervals and apps that track every minute your baby sleeps? Dick move, universe.
I read all the books. Back and forth on the spectrum that has nursing-until-age-five on one end, and approximating-Eastern-European-orphanage on the other. I just don’t know who (oh, fine: WHOM) to believe. They all claim to be experts, they all have people who swear by their methods, and they all say something different. Oh, and they all intimate that if you don’t do it their way, BAD THINGS will happen. And it will be your fault.
One of them says that you should never rock your baby, because it will always need to be rocked. You should hold your crying baby upright against your chest and stand perfectly still. Ummm…even someone who has never held a baby will rock; it’s instinct. For the first few weeks after I came home from the hospital, I rocked on my feet even when someone else was holding the baby. Another one said you should never pick your child up until he’s crying so hard he throws up, because then he’ll associate crying with being comforted. Which, as it turns out, is… bad? And one I will never forget: you shouldn’t develop a long bedtime routine, because then you’ll be stuck doing it every night. Isn’t that the best part of having a baby? Call me crazy, but if you don’t want to be stuck scrubbing a naked giggling baby, putting him into footie pajamas, reading him stories that require touching the fuzzy/furry/squishy page, and watching him fall asleep in your arms, perhaps what you are looking for is a ficus.
I get hung up on the fact that all mammals sleep curled up with their babies, and that sleep training asks us to ignore all our most basic maternal instincts. I hate it. On the other hand, there’s maternal instinct and then there’s SURVIVAL instinct. At some point, dude, you have to SLEEP. As TLM told me, “don’t worry– you’ll know when he’s fucking with you.” And I did. After months of feeling like N would never sleep if he wasn’t strapped to a human body, he learned how to do it. Hallelujah! Saints be praised! My baby can now fall asleep on his own! Without crying! He doesn’t need me to rock…wait. Hold on. Now I’m depressed.
I imagine postpartum depression (like regular depression) takes different forms for different people. In what will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me well, mine comes in the form of anxiety. I am an anxious person by nature, so I should have seen it coming. The truth is, everyone around me is looking out for it; given my history with this stuff, we all kind of expect I’ll have my turn. But a week goes by, and then a month, and then another, and I start to think I’m in the clear. I love my baby, I love my husband, and everything is ok.
It’s ok that I hold him for every single one of his naps, right? Sure. Is it ok? Is it ok that he only sleeps 20 minutes if he’s not held? What happens if I let him cry? I can’t let him cry, I won’t. Is it ok that he still sleeps in our room? In his room he’s scared, right? Scared and abandoned and alone? If I don’t make him sleep alone now, will he ever sleep alone? It’s ok that he’s 4 months old and nurses to sleep, right? Is that ok? Let me just check the internet and make sure.
That’s my undoing. The sleep, the fear of “crying it out,” and the internet. Suddenly I’m spending hours every day reading about potential sleep “problems” that may or may not happen in the next year. I read every differing theory about baby sleep, and every single author tells me that if I don’t do it their way, my child will be a sociopath and it will be my fault. I try a dozen different techniques, but none for long enough to know if they work, because I don’t have time. I have to get on to the next one. I email everyone, crowd-source everything, and read their responses through tears I don’t yet realize are there all the time. What I yearn for above all things is for there to be one way to do this right, one voice to listen to that will be the right one.
I flinch when he cries. Sometimes I sob as soon as he does. I rock, I bounce, I shush, I sing, I nurse, I hide in the bathroom and let C deal with it, because I can’t. I go around and around and around in my head, and I don’t know what to do. And then I stop sleeping. He sleeps, and I don’t. Why bother? He’ll be up soon anyway. I lay awake on the couch, straining for the cries I know are coming, and I can’t rest.
And then I can’t do any of it. I know beyond any doubt that I CAN NOT do this. I don’t want to hurt him, I don’t want to hurt myself, and in this way I am lucky. But I just can’t. I’m sorry, little boy. I start to feel physically crushed by the weight of his tiny body when he’s asleep on me. I can’t breathe. I know that I will have to give him to my mother, because she will know how to take care of him. I don’t want to be alone; I beg C to come home early every day. I feel crazy, and I am afraid. But it’s so hard to see from the inside. Maybe it’s the hormones. I’m just tired. I go to a coffee house one day to write, which I haven’t done in years. I have to try to to see if I can unload some of this. It isn’t until later in the day, when I go back and read what I’ve written, that I finally say to C what I’ve suspected for a while.
I’m not ok.