Archive for October, 2010

Letter to Leila: 8 months and change

Dear Leila,

The time has long sinced passed when I could count your age in weeks. In fact I struggle to keep a handle on your age in months these days, and have done ever since you passed around 5 and a half months. At that point it felt we were slowly approaching, out of breath and panting, the finish line of the first phase: waiting for you to move into your own room, waiting to start feeding you solid foods, waiting for the day when you wouldn’t need a breastfeed every four hours, 24/7. At this point I met up with friends whose babies are six or seven weeks older than you, and felt a huge void between us. I couldn’t see that I could ever get my life, my body back to the extent that they had.

Happily, by around 7 months we had crossed that void (well, I grubbed around at the bottom of it for a while, but let’s not dwell on that), and suddenly you were, well, a proper person. Not that you weren’t humanoid before, my darling.  You’ve been Miss Personality since the day you were born. But there is something creaturish about a tiny baby. Now you’re sturdy, and on the move, and picking up skills in your own determined, not too hurried, practice-makes-perfect way.

But though you’re a steady little bean, the days are speeding by at a pace that makes me dizzy, all the quicker because I know these unbroken weeks together are limited, and soon I’ll be back at work. A few times a day I find myself clutching you, caught in the jaws of a most almighty gush of love and trepidation and not-wanting-to-let-go. It’s a good thing you’re not especially interested in cuddling me back, otherwise we’d be there all day. It’s not that you mind being held, it’s just that there’s always something more interesting to do/pull/grab/bite. Yesterday I thought you were staring deep into my eyes as I gazed at you in awe. What a precious, deep moment we are sharing, I thought. Turns out, you weren’t so much gazing into my eyes, as sizing up my eyeballs, as before I knew it your finger and thumb were in my eye socket attempting to grasp my eye in a pincer grip (pincing is your new thing- indeed, who would eat puree from a spoon, when one can attempt to pick up tiny smears of it from the table with one’s finger and thumb?).

What you withhold in cuddles, you make up for with kisses- an exaggerated open-mouthed MWAH! on my face, sometimes with added teeth (ouch). You’ve picked this up by way of your favourite new activity: copying. When we laugh, you fake-laugh in response- HA! HA!- and this can go on for several minutes, us descending into real laughter as your fake guffaws become hammier and hammier. When we cough, you emit a fake cough, and for some reason you find this hilarious. When other babies cry, you copy them, which is a bit embarassing actually, dearest.

It’s not just you that has changed and moved on. I do indeed feel as though I have more of myself to myself these days. You sleep all night (but really, 5.30am is NOT THE MORNING. K?), you feed a mere four times a day, you’re generally more self-contained. As a result, my mind feels less fogged and body a little more spry (though not totally spry because again, 5.30am? Not cool).

But the truth is, I’ll never really get my life back, my body back. Not just because an 8pm bedtime now seems perfectly reasonable, if not decadent. Not just because my abs are shot and my bra size has seen more ups and downs than the 100 Share Index. But because you’ve got my life, and you’ve got my heart. You hold them in your pincer grip, my love, and it’s terrifying and exhilerating and wonderful. Just keep them safe, OK?

Love,

Mummy xx

To sleep, perchance to wean

Heavens, it’s been a while. Sorry for the very long absence. Was feeling a little bit bleurgh and argh, on account of hormones and tiredness, and have generally been absorbed in the business of a life which can swerve from sheer frustration to utter elation in the space of an hour.

Now, I have something to say about sleep. And I will preface it by saying that we have recently  undergone a little bit of night weaning in this house, after I decided that Little Miss Stuffyerface no longer needed a night feed on top of the huge troughs of solids and regular milk feeds she piggles her way through daily.

It was a roaring success actually (she says, damning herself to 100 nights of sleep deprived torture with one foolish sentence), and did indeed take two nights as promised by many people whom I did not believe. She now has a cold and things have gone a bit haywire, but, illness notwithstanding, most nights she has slept through (though unfortunately is now quite sure that 5.30am is the perfect time to start one’s day). This is good. I am pleased.

But. BUT. I am pleased Leila has slept through (will not say “is sleeping through”, I do not play that fast and loose with fate) because it makes my life easier, I am less tired, and I do not have to sit in the dark with chilly feet feeding a large baby who does not need the calories at 3.30am.

I am not pleased she has slept through because it makes her a better baby, a good baby, an angel baby, a perfect baby, or any other kind of superior baby because of her sleeping habits.  It also does not make us better parents.

There’s a pernicious, spoken and unspoken, attitude that a baby who sleeps through the night is the pinnacle of parenting and a mark of an excellent baby.  And the earlier this happens the better the baby/parent is. How many times have I heard a smug parent inform me that “he’s such a good boy” because their son sleeps through, or that their daughter is “a little angel” because she does. And what they may as well add is that they, the parents, are also fabulous for either a) spawning a child who naturally sleeps through or b) parenting their child so very perfectly that they sleep through.

When your baby isn’t sleeping through, this sort of makes you feel like crap. If those babies are so great thanks to their snoozing habits, then what does that make your baby? A bad baby? A devil? I mean I’m taking it to extremes here, and I’m sure people don’t mean to imply that, but sleep deprivation can make a person a little sensitive, and, well, the implication is there, if not intentionally.

I got so hung up about this- not so much about the lack of sleep itself as about this obsession with mastering your baby’s sleep and thus producing a “perfect” sleeping “angel”, and the impression that, at 5 or 6 or 7 months old, Leila ought to be sleeping 12 hours a night and that I was some kind of a mug or a failure for not bringing about this glorious possibility- that I started to feel seriously down. I even went to see my GP, and though she started the conversation with talk of postnatal depression, she ended it by saying “you’re not depressed, you’ve been listening to people and books too much. You’re doing a good job. Sod them”.

If convenience is your measure of a good baby, then yes, babies that sleep through are extremely good. But if that’s not your prime measure of how much your baby rocks, I call nonsense. Imagine labelling an adult “good” for their ability to lie still with their eyes close for hours at a time.  Babies wake up in the night, they’re famous for it. And then some stop waking up, some carry on, and some need a little nudge in order to sleep for longer.  And yet for many parents it seems to be the prime focus from the minute their babies are born: for them to sleep and for mum and dad to boast about it loudly. I’ve even heard about some parents who sprinkle cold water on their newborn’s face to wake it up in order to follow the routine dictated by, ahem,  a certain book.

Some people replace the words “good” or “perfect” with the word “contented” when describing their baby-who-sleeps-through. Ie “he’s such a contented little soul, he has always slept through”. This is a code word for “good” or “perfect” that makes them sound less like braggarts. This also makes other parents feel like crap, because it implies that their baby who doesn’t sleep so well is not contented.  I call nonsense on this too. Leila is contented. She’s so contented, in fact, that sometimes I wonder what she’s been smoking, and whether she’s left any for me. That’s not a boast, it’s just who she is, and by gum are we grateful for this. But she’s contented with or without the fabled full night of uninterrupted slumber.

I’ve looked at sleep from both sides now (having it, and not having it), and while I know- believe me I know- how sleep or lack of it can effect your mood and life in general, let’s stop pretending that how a baby sleeps is a measure of how good, or not, they are. They don’t know how to be good or bad, in fact they have no concept of these things, or indeed of anything. They don’t know what their hand is, let alone what “good” is or how to be “good” by not waking up at night. And this, the fact that they are so delightfully in the dark about pretty much everything, is one of the many things that makes them lovely.