Parenting Level 2: Access Denied

This week I’ve learned a valuable lesson, namely that just when you think you’ve turned a corner with parenting another hurdle will pop up in the road and floor you. The only way to cope with such hurdles is to try and keep sight of the bigger picture i.e. you may be facing another setback now, but look at how far you’ve come (answer: very far, well done you). Adopting the ‘this too shall pass’ mentality is also helpful. And keeping a sense of humour is (hard but) vital. [See also: Cake.]

For us, by far the biggest issue to date has been sleep. Sometimes I feel I’m going crazy with my obsession to get C to sleep. There are (many) days when it is literally all I can think about. I look at other mothers (big mistake) and wonder why they aren’t tearing their hair out over this issue. They don’t worry that their appointments clash with baby’s nap times, or refuse to leave the house until their little ones have slept at least twice. Are their babies just better sleepers than mine? Or am I making too big a deal of it?

Last week we started a two week sleep routine, working with a sleep consultant in the UK. It didn’t get off to the most auspicious start as, on the very first day, I got struck down with a high fever and stomach bug and C developed a cough that has since turned into a cold (which, as I type this I can feel the beginnings of  in my nose and throat – joy!)

Despite these issues, by some miracle we saw an almost immediate improvement in C’s sleep. Indeed for several nights he slept virtually all the way through from 11pm until 6.30am without any night feeds (you may remember that previously he was waking three to five times a night for feeds). It seemed so easy I didn’t dare to tell anyone of our success, which is just as well because right now I would have a serious amount of egg on my face.

Fast forward a week and we seem to have had another full on regression. Those halcyon nights without wakings or feeds have been replaced once more with broken sleep and – worse even than before – fits of hysterical screaming (to say he’s found his voice would be an understatement) that cannot be abated with the tried and tested sleep methods. It’s hard enough leaving a baby to cry for ten minutes at a time during the day. When it’s the middle of the night and you are in the same room it’s virtually impossible. Last night, after almost a solid hour of screaming I gave in and went against all the sleep training rules – rocked the crib, picked him up, fed him, you name it. And still he cried every time I put him down. His day naps have got worse again too. Last week there was one day he slept for a glorious hour and a half in one go. I didn’t know what to do with all the time! Then yesterday we were back to fighting for a paltry thirty minute nap every few hours. When you only have two (fragmented) hours in your day where baby doesn’t command your full attention it’s a very different experience…

With all the angst of the (not) sleeping it’s easy to lose sight of the wonderful things about being a mum. C is, in the most part, a delight. His little smile lights up my day, no matter how hard things are. I absolutely would not be without him. And in my more lucid moments I know this is another phase and it will pass (and that motherhood is made up of such phases, and I just have to learn to live with that). But by God are some of the phases challenging. This one has been especially so because the sleep training requires us to be at home most of the time, eschewing all non-essential trips out (read: coffee and sanity checks with friends). I have been optimistically telling myself it will be worth it if we manage to crack the sleep problem, but now I’m beginning to wonder if ‘cracking the sleep problem’ is too ambitious a goal. Either way, I’m conscious I am in dire need a mental health break, so today I’m breaking the rules (again – sigh) to meet a friend for lunch. It may mess further with his naps, but if it helps mummy take a step back from the ledge I’d say it’s worth it…

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It’s a good job he’s cute…

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Week Ten of Parenting: Routine Nightmares

When you have a baby, everyone tells you that for the first few weeks you have carte blanche to just sit around in your pants and do whatever feels best. You take this advice, and it goes some way towards soothing your sleep-deprived brain.

But when you emerge from that initial foggy cocoon, still-sleep deprived but marginally more with it than before, you are suddenly blindsided by a new barrage of ‘advice’ on how to get your little one onto a set routine. If you don’t do it while they’re small, the many books on this topic warn, you will face months – if not years! – of being wholly at the mercy of your child’s every whim.

As a side note (and to provide vital and relevant context regarding my current state of mind), I think I mentioned in a previous post that after giving birth I had the too-late epiphany that I should have spent my pregnancy reading up on what to expect in the first year of my child’s life, rather than about the pregnancy itself. Because I failed to do this, I was totally unprepared for the stage we have most recently entered. Now my son is 10 weeks old he is much more alert and demanding of my time. Whereas before he would sleep straight through my morning coffee and Love Island (I know, I know, so shoot me) session, now he either cries and fusses, or stares me down like I’m the most neglectful parent in the world. As a result, I have been experiencing extreme guilt about not stimulating him enough, and panicking constantly about how to fill his wakeful hours with meaningful interactions that will help him flourish. This has led me to singing maniacally along to Spotify nursery rhyme play lists, dangling every toy I have in front of his face for hours on end and generally being a freakishly over-attentive (and probably quite annoying) parent.

Now back to the routine. A couple of weeks ago I bought an old copy of Tracy Hogg’s ‘The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems” (which seems a rather grandiose claim to say the least) from Amazon. I decided to try and read it on our trip back to the UK, forgetting momentarily that the fact we would have our child with us on said trip meant I would have no more time to read than I do when I’m at home. Still, I managed a few pages and decided that when we returned to Brussels it was high time we got our son on a schedule. How difficult could it be?

Fast forward almost two weeks and I’m a shell of a human. The few pages I did manage to read on our ‘holiday’ (ha) left me so stressed and confused I didn’t know where to start. Tracy’s proposed schedule is somewhat infuriatingly named the EASY method, the idea being that your child will Eat for half an hour, do an Activity for 45 mins and then Sleep for 1.5 hours, during which you have the luxury of treating yourself to some much needed You time.

The fatal flaw in my being able to achieve this EASY way of life is the following: My son does NOT feed for half an hour (more commonly ten mins, which Tracy says means he’s already developed a bad habit and is a ‘snacker’ – fantastic), and he flatly refuses to nap for longer than 40 mins during the day (if indeed I can convince him to nod off at all). Both of which mean it’s virtually impossible to follow the EASY plan. All reading the book has done for me is make me painfully aware my son does not sleep enough or eat for long enough, to the point where I’m now totally paranoid about both. This week I’ve been keeping a daily diary of everything we do to see if there are patterns in my son’s behaviour, and if we can get anywhere close to the EASY way of life. So far my nerves are shredded and I’m no more enlightened than I was when I started.

Frankly, I’m exhausted from the effort of it all. I’ve been putting such insane pressure on myself that I constantly feel like a failure. I’m so obsessed with the routine and noting every detail of our day down that I can’t imagine what life was like before (though I do know it was considerably less stressful); it’s literally taking up every moment and I’ve no idea where the days are going. Coupled with the fact it’s hotter than the sun in our apartment and the building works downstairs are continuing relentlessly, we’re both a little (to put it mildly) hot and cranky.

So, after having a mental crash yesterday I’m taking a chill pill. I’ve decided to focus less on trying to change every aspect of our days all at once, and am instead focusing on getting the bed time routine nailed. On night one the 8pm bedtime ended up being 10pm, but by the second night we had already got it down to 8.45pm. As my husband rightly pointed out, we can’t expect it all to fall into place straight away. Ten weeks ago we didn’t have this little human in our lives. All things considered, we must remind ourselves we’re doing a bloody good job.

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That face though ❤