In my new parenting book, to be published by me when I have lots of extra cash and time to write it, I talk about the craziness of not freaking out when your 16 month old is still waking to nurse through the night. There are other chapters. Chapters titled “Ask your African Neighbour What She Does for her Baby – and Then Copy Her”, “How to Lie Down in the Tub While Having a Bath with Your Baby”, and “How to Wear Your Food Splattered Clothing in Public with Pride”. For now, we will focus on the chapter called “Maybe Your Baby Wakes up at Night – Finding Peace Within”.
As with all the chapters in my book, they are based on my own experience, and an inclination that other mothers are having or have had similar experiences. I have no PhD or degrees in anything legitimized by society, but I do have 7 years of motherhood under my belt, which is over 60,000 hours of work put toward this topic, which is why I felt qualified to write a book. I understand that anything I say can be poo pood by somebody with a formal education in this field, after hours in labs and studying other people’s babies to write reports on the importance of sleep so that these reports may be published by a journal and then I really look like a moron because I don’t have any reports, unless you count my sobbing diary entries as reports or my midnight text messages to my friends as controlled variables or something. All of this to say, the theme of my parenting book is very much about my own experience with my own children, because I heartily believe that if we all just stick to I statements, we all might actually learn something, instead of all of us following the advice of a few people unconditionally.
This particular chapter was written with the intention of healing my own inner conflict at failing miserably because my child was still waking and nursing at night at 16 months old, and my secret feeling that this was actually not just okay, but necessary. Necessary for what? I asked myself. I first noticed the differences between my oldest daughter and my new son um, on the day he was born. The two of them could not have been more opposite. My daughter was born with an independent streak built right in, and the day she started walking, she never searched for my breast again. It was a quick break, but it made sense for her, and I barely questioned it, even as a young first-time mom. With my second, I found myself a little puzzled by his need to be close. He had independence, this was true, but he also had a clear need to check in with me more frequently. You still there mom? Can I get a little nursing to make sure? This room is really crowded, can I just put my hand down your shirt to make sure we’re still a team? I just woke up and am feeling a little cranky – 5 minutes of nursing? It was and continues to be a strong aspect of his development that persists throughout the night. In the spirit of ‘whatever works’, the truth is is that getting up to cuddle and nurse my son isn’t so taxing on me. He typically goes back to bed without much fuss and I have even come to trust that when he fusses as I put him down, if I give him another 2 minutes, he will then be ready. He knows. But this is in stark contrast to what the world around me expects. Every book and website I go on chides me for not having trained him to sleep solidly throughout the night. It’s the topic I like to avoid with other mothers or older women. Ironically, if I look back to my daughter’s sleeping, it took her 3 years to learn how to fall asleep. Once she was out, she was down for the count, and even at age 6 slept through the birth of her brother happening in the room next to hers. 3 years of back rubbing, of sitting with my back to her crib so she could see me, of hand holding, of trotting back to her room for the 11th time. Just last night she went through the same routine, only this time with words. For the most part she be put to bed and she can fall asleep on her own, but her instinctual need to resist sleep has remained, and yet, I don’t even question that. Then I hear the baby crying and I go in to comfort him and I have a million voices in my head questioning me about my motives, my perseverance, and my ability to ‘sleep train’ him.
Mob mentality is powerful stuff, and finding peace with something outside the parenting norm is hard. Parents who co-sleep with their kids are met with their share of awkward questions and glances, but there is a decent amount of material out there now that supports co-sleeping that one can easily say ‘Let me send you the link to The Benefits of Co-Sleeping’ and be done with it. So far I haven’t found much about the okayness of parents still comforting their babies at 16 months old – hence the chapter in my likely award-winning parenting book.
Key word in that last sentence is babies. This is a baby. Yes he’s walking and has a toddler presence, but if I’m totally honest with myself, the kid is a baby. He falls and needs his mom, he wakes and needs his mom. Everything in me says this is okay, because you know what? I watched my daughter go to school when she was 5 years old and I was shocked at how young she was to be out in the world and I thought long and hard about how quickly we take away the baby years from our babies. So why am I so conflicted when my baby still acts like a baby in the middle of the goddamn night? Once I made that connection, I found a little peace.
Parenting is 24/7. That includes nighttime. I started to look at my own angst towards having to get up at night, and I wondered when I started to draw a line between my role as mother during the day and during the night. I know that sleep is important and when it’s absent, things are hard. Like, really hard. But everything about parenting is hard the thing that nobody tells you us that you don’t get a break, and you are only given what you can handle. So when I started to put in my mommy hat at night fall, and trust that I would live to see another day, I found a little more peace.
I started to wonder if one training style met the needs of all people. Now, I know there are lots of different ‘sleep training’ methods out there, but they are all geared toward getting that 1 year old to sleep through the night. But what if some babies need a different method entirely – one that involves practicing reassurance, patience and comfort for longer than what is widely accepted? Is it possible that my baby needs to be comforted for longer during the night in order to develop a healthy relationship with sleep, something he will do for the rest of his life, everyday day, until the day he dies? Is it possible that I need to allow for perhaps a year, 2 years, 3 years to develop and nurture that relationship in order to create that foundation for him? When I realized that, and realized that there is nothing crazy about that concept, there was more peace waiting to be found.
The chapter ends with the observation that despite still waking, my son sleeps for longer stretches at night, while still waking and needing to be held and nursed. More often than not, he sleeps for 5-8 hours at a time, but there are the nights when I am up every 2 hours to prove that I am still there, or to reassure him that there will always be comfort when he needs it. At times I remember that between the two of us, this little human has a clearer sense of what is needed than I do. His head is not clouded by the words and advice of experts or published studies. He survives day to day with the purity of understanding what his body and soul need. In the dark, he knows that he needs the familiar hold of the woman he relies on for everything. The depths of sanity of that fact have sealed the deal for me, and I no longer harbour the inner conflict of getting up at night. It’s hard, but now that I don’t fight it, it is at least peaceful.
You can look for my book on shelves in 2020. National book signing tour will commence on July 7th in Ottawa ON. In the meantime, stay tuned for other exciting non-advice blog posts.