Lauca thinking about the fail marks.
Sometime towards the end of my year of maternity leave there came a time when I was looking forward to returning to work. Quite simply I was looking forward to time away from the struggle of getting Lauca to sleep. It had started to take me longer to get her to sleep than she actually slept. For example, 40 minutes ‘putting to sleep’ for 30 minutes sleep. Yeah diminishing marginal returns. I wanted someone else to be concerned with when she needed to nap, and how long she needed to nap, and how to get her back to sleep when she awoke mid-nap. I wanted to escape my ritual of self-torture. What I found was that no-one else cared quite as much about how and when my baby napped. Her grandmothers, who looked after her in my first year back at part-time work handled the whole nap routine with carefree abandon (good for them, they’re grandparents after all). It probably also did Lauca some good to be freed from a slightly obsessive mother’s schemes but the result was I collected an exhausted little toddler at the end of my own exhausting work day. Each work day was consequently completed with a 36 minute drive home (yes, I am counting every minute) of screaming because that is how spirited children like to express themselves, followed by a night of sleeping fitfully.
How did I end up so worked up about sleep and not even my own, that I actually wanted to be at work even with its scream-fest drive home? A few months into Lauca’s life I realised feeding wasn’t something to waste my parenting anxieties on. We corrected the breast-feeding problems courtesy of two appointments with a lactation consultant and my baby grew rolls and rolls of appreciative fat so I transferred my fastidious attention to sleep instead.
She wasn’t a great sleeper so there was plenty there to sink my determined little teeth into. Sleep patterns are a shared neurotic fascination of nearly every parenting book and every new parent (as I’ve posted on here and here), so there are lots of opportunities to keep you fully engaged on the topic even if you’re starting to feeling completely fucking over it. I had bouts of intensely scrutinising her sleep patterns for signs of success and even now I occassionally find scraps of paper recording her sleep lengths, times of day, and method of falling to sleep. (Oh poor stupid me).
In the months leading up to her first birthday and my return to work I decided she needed to night-wean. I needed more sleep at night to function at work without an afternoon nap. I so hoped it wouldn’t come to this; I knew it would get ugly and that we would be getting uncomfortably close to ‘controlled crying’ territory. I hoped that she would just grow out of her frequent night feeds by herself. But she showed no signs of it and to this day I am grateful for my resolve when I talk to the breast-feeding mothers of toddlers around her age (two years) who are still coping with frequent night feeds.
I was gentle on her (ie. dropping feeds slowly, and keeping the dawn and bedtime feeds) but tough on myself. I treated my nights like a test – pass or fail; there were only two possible grades. Anything less than a night without breast-feeding was treated as a failure no matter the circumstances, although it must be said that the circumstances were noted in the margins (eg. Me sick with a cold and unable to put the energy into alternative ways of getting her to sleep or Staying with friends in their beach apartment and trying to be invited back again or Half asleep and forgot about my night- weaning pledge). My aim was to stretch out the run of passes for as long as possible without a nasty little fail mark on my calendar. But there was no feeling of success for me: to fail was to fail and drag out this sleepless night-feeding thing, and to pass was to somehow squash a powerful instinct to feed her when she was crying. My calendar became a blur of little + and – marks. I regularly analysed their patterns, counting the strings of passes and then the fails that broke my achievements.
I need a new way of looking at my nights, I wrote in my diary at the time.
Oh yes, I realised, I needed to work. I needed something else apart from sleep routines to study and analyse and measure, to evaluate myself by, and to occupy my brain with.
In terms of sleep we went backwards for a while before we went forwards and I read this book more often than I care to remember (it is a very good book but it should be called “The Gentle Cries a Whole Fucking Lot Method”), and she went through a period of seriously resenting her father because he was trying to put her to sleep instead of Mummy and her breasts.. but in the end we got there, with steely resolve and repetitious music and soothing cuddles and broken ear drums - finally exhausted together, the three of us in our co-sleeping bed.