By modern, Western society standards, she’s not sleeping well at the moment. On a good night, she’s waking 4 times. On an normal night, it’s 6. A bad night- 8.
She’s not yet 4 months old, and this, while incredibly frustrating, is also what she’s biologically programmed to do. When she stirs, she wakes to look for me, to check she’s not in danger; to check that I’m not gone. It’s basic. It’s primitive. Her survival depends solely on me. She’s needs to know I’m still around. Especially at 3am when the world is dark, cool and quiet, and she realises she’s alone.
“You’ll pay for that later!” I was admonished by the Child and Family Health nurse, when at 5 weeks I admitted that I wasn’t leaving her to “self settle”. I almost didn’t go to Mother’s Group for this exact reason. I knew I’d get told off for cuddling my baby. Read that again- Told off. For cuddling my baby. Every fibre of my being knew that I needed to hold her. All the time. And still those words got in my head and made me feel like I was doing everything wrong. And that I was harming her by holding her.
That it was wrong to keep close the tiny little human that I grew for 38 weeks. The little human who had no idea she was a human separate to me. Who had never been hungry or cold or scared or lonely. I was supposed to just pop her out, stick her in a crib, and leave her alone, because “she needs to learn”, when she wasn’t even past being considered a newborn. Why haven’t our infant sleep ideals caught up to all the science that shows that their brains are just not capable of that, and that is not learning, it’s shutting down as a survival mechanism?
I adored those cuddles. She was teensy tiny for such a short time. Already that seems forever ago. Already she’s resisting cuddles in favour of playing, stretching, rolling and interacting with toys. Why would I trade off those cuddles, that literally once in a life time opportunity to bond with her, in her completely newness, to help her settle in this huge outside-the-uterus world calmly, by keeping her close, for a few extra hours sleep here and there down the track? Especially when I also know that infant sleep is so unpredictable. That they go through leaps and growth spurts and illnesses that affect their sleep patterns week to week, month to month. What if I missed all those precious snuggles and then she hit the fourth leap and did this anyway?
So here I am:
Paying for it.
At 2am. And 3. And 430. And 5. And then finally at 6 I hand her over to daddy and get an hour of sleep before he leaves for work.
Here I am:
Paying for it by sacrificing sleep to help my baby feel safe and secure. Loved, warm. Connected.
Here I am paying for it as I shape her brain to be wired for love and comfort instead of stress and anxiety. It seems a small price to pay.
Am I tired? Of course. Frustrated? Sometimes, yeh. Sometimes I hear her stir and I want to cry because I’m so tired and I don’t know how I can get up… again…. But for now, rather than leave her alone to “work it out”, I’m taking gentle steps, rocking and bouncing at some of the wakes instead of feeding back to sleep every time, partly because she’s starting to fight that, and partly because if she doesn’t need boob, then maybe she’ll start accepting night comfort from daddy and I can have a bit more of a break.
So, when I’m in the middle of another long night, when morning starts sleeping through the windows before I’ve felt I’ve even gone to sleep, I remind myself that this doesn’t last forever. That I’ve been here before, and I know, really know that this will pass. And it will pass sooner than I can imagine right now running on 4 hours of broken sleep per day.
Written between 2 and 4am on a particularly difficult night….