I always jokingly say that I never knew I was a control freak until I had children. It’s always good for a laugh, but I mean it sincerely. The fear that persisted throughout Ephraim’s pregnancy was the fear of the full knowledge that I had absolutely no control over the outcome of the pregnancy. And, after I was feeling more confident and in-charge, I got reminded of my lack of control through his tumultuous (though thankfully fast) birth and the trauma that followed it.
But my lessons in surrendering control weren’t over.
In pregnancy, while the final outcome is not really ever in your hands, there are things you can do to help or hinder the health of your baby. As I struggled to come out of the fog of Ephraim’s infancy, I would learn the same things are true about the baby after they’re born, too.
In addition to finding out I was a control freak, I also learned that I could not survive without a schedule of some kind. I tell people that, after Ephraim was born, my routine saved my sanity. And I mean it sincerely, too. Of course, it took me a while to understand how much of his newborn predictability was due to his own personality, and how much of it was how very hard I worked to be consistent. I really believe we met in the middle–Clive’s infancy would confirm that. (Though that’s a topic for a future post…Oh, Clivey.)
I had good friends who used Babywise for their children, so I read the book and applied the principles as best I could.
(Now, I have to stop for a second, because this poor book has been the subject of a lot of mud-slinging and misunderstanding amongst mothers. I’m not writing this post as an explanation of, defense for, or even criticism of Babywise and its authors. It is, however, a method I’ve used with all of my children, so I can’t talk about them without talking about it, too.)
The first principle the book encourages new moms to apply (after turning the clock around to face the wall) is to focus on full feedings. I mentioned before that Ephraim’s feedings took almost an hour. That was because I would persevere in keeping him awake until he had nursed for a certain amount of time on each side. I can’t remember why I chose the particular time I did, but I stuck with that. And I would jiggle and annoy him and do whatever I could do make sure he wasn’t falling asleep before he was really full. Even in the middle of the night, I did this. After wards he would fall almost immediately to sleep, and if he didn’t wake at the three hour mark on the dot (which he usually did! It was uncanny) I would wake him myself to nurse him again.
He had a serious aversion to one side that was a pain to work through. In the hospital, I received pitiful advice from the lactation consultant as to how to help him get over that. In the end, I just had to stick it out. I always started with that side. Positions didn’t make any difference. Eventually he came to terms with it and started nursing on that side as well as the other.
Nursing was an ordeal– in those first few weeks there was never a time where I could just tune out and watch a show or read a book while he nursed. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because in addition to the fact that he just got better at it (and I did, too) I do think the hard work paid us back with a really solid routine.
Now, something I did take credit for in the beginning that was totally not my doing in the slightest was how well he slept out in the open in the light and noise. I was victim to that mentality that you can somehow teach a baby to sleep through things. So, when Ephraim came home and slept through basically anything for the first six weeks or so, I thought I was doing pretty well. I vacuumed while he slept in the (unmoving) swing in the living room. I played the accordion while he was napping. I made no effort whatsoever to be quiet at all during his sleep time. I took pride in the fact that he could and would sleep anywhere. Occasionally I put him down for naps in his crib, but usually he would nap on the main floor somewhere in the (again, unmoving) swing or a bouncy seat. I congratulated myself on a job well done.
Imagine my surprise when all that “training” turned out to be his naturally sleepy newborn stage, which ended abruptly sometime during his seventh week.
I clearly remember the day where he was fussing in his bouncy seat and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized he was supposed to be sleeping, and he wasn’t. Why wasn’t he sleeping? Usually he just fell asleep wherever. Obviously something had changed, and what was possible previously was just not happening anymore.
To flash forward for a moment: by the time Ephraim was eight months old, I could walk up our squeaky wooden stairs, (at the top of which was the nursery where he was sleeping) and the sound of me walking would wake him up. I’m not kidding. It’s at that point that I broke down and put a fan in with him for white noise. We were all much happier after that. And Clive–finicky, persnickety, has-slept-with-white-noise-since-he-was-one-week-old-Clive, is my heaviest sleeper by far. I have officially abandoned any belief in training a child to sleep through things.
Having my very-heavy-sleeper-newborn suddenly turn into an incredibly light sleeper was tough. I had to rearrange my expectations and how I did things. The location of his naps had to change. I had to start paying attention to things like how long he was awake for. We struggled with 45-minute naps for weeks. It threw off his lovely little personality, and it absolutely frazzled me. I did everything I felt like I could to “fix” the naps, and he didn’t respond to any of it.
I vividly remember the day that I hit a wall with it all. Ephraim was about ten weeks old. I was exhausted from keeping little journals of how long he was awake for and how long he slept for and how many times he was up in the night and I just wanted to be for once. But I had also, as an experiment, tried just winging it for a couple of days rather than following our routine, and it made me more miserable than trying to follow the routine. With the routine, I at least had something to strive for. When that was gone, we just floundered and I felt like I never knew what was going on with him at any given time. Was he crying because he was hungry? Because he was tired? Because of something else? The routine took a significant part of the guesswork out. But things weren’t working out perfectly, even though I was following the rules perfectly, and it was driving me crazy.
I have to credit the very lovely ladies of the Babycenter Babywise group for talking some sense into me.
Because Babywise features words like “schedule” and “training”, it can be a magnet for control freaks like me, who saw it as a list of rules that you can follow and end up with, essentially, a perfect baby, I guess. Spoiler alert, but it doesn’t exactly work that way. Like I said before, there are things you can do that will help your situation and things you can do that will make it worse. Babywise encourages you to do things that will make it better; things like don’t start habits you will have to fix later or be confident that you are the parent and you know your child best or know your own personality, and don’t try to shove yourself into a schedule you won’t actually enjoy keeping or if something isn’t working, stop it and try something else.
I think Ephraim was around six or seven weeks old the first time I posted a question in the group–something like “Help, my six-week-old used to eat every three hours but now eats more frequently, what did I do wrong and how do I fix it?!?”
To which they calmly answered, “You don’t fix it, he’s six weeks old and probably having a growth spurt, and even if he isn’t he’s six weeks old, chill out.” Ok, that’s not their exact words…they were far nicer than that. They probably told me Always feed baby when hungry, which is a Babywise maxim that everybody likes to overlook. At any rate, they helped me tremendously over the course of those first few months to understand not only that Ephraim was still very, very small, but that my bulldozing my “routine” over the top of him was simply not going to work. This is in the very first chapter of Babywise–they warn against ignoring the baby’s unique needs and personality for the sake of some schedule that I as the mother have dreamt up. Obviously, this is going to lead to misery. The inverse, however, they also caution against: ignoring your own wisdom and rationality as an adult and parent in favor of whatever the baby appears to want at any given time. It is in the meeting and blending of these two unique people that a harmony and balance is struck in the routine. I would see this more clearly with Clive, and mostly because I was far more proactive (and experienced) with him than I was with Ephraim.
And a huge, huge help with this realization was Val’s blog, Chronicles of a Babywise Mom. Val was so laid back and calm and rational about her babies’ routines. And I realized that, since she was in communication with the authors of Babywise and they endorsed her, she must understand something about it all that I wasn’t grasping. I realized that me fretting over my baby’s schedule was not what the authors intended. Understanding that was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
What shape did this take with my approach to my routine with Ephraim?
For starters, I didn’t give up on the routine, on sleep training, but I did give up on perfection. In other words, I surrendered control a bit. “Most” Babywise babies will sleep through the night (eight hours straight) by eight weeks. A smaller percentage will do that later, by twelve weeks. Ephraim wouldn’t do it until he was five or six months old, when he would start sleeping twelve hours straight at night. He was a small baby–five pounds at birth–and I didn’t feel comfortable letting him cry at night to drop feedings until I was sure he wasn’t waking up because he needed it and not out of habit. After he more than tripled his birth weight by five months of age, had a huge growth spurt at five-and-a-half months, and his night feeding began obviously interfering with his daytime feedings, I felt like we could eliminate the night feeding confidently.
The forty-five minute naps were taken care of by the time he was four months. Weaning the pacifier during naps did the trick, as did spacing out his daytime feedings just a little.
Slowly and surely I learned to lead him while still paying attention to his unique personality–there was a confidence there that understood the lack of control. Of course, I would still struggle with it, and he would still totally blindside me occasionally by hitting some milestone or dropping some nap that he “wasn’t supposed to do yet”, but over time I learned to take it in stride.
You’re always a first time mom with your first–every moment is a learning experience for us both. He takes the brunt of my misplaced expectations (and his brothers will never understand how much they benefit from that). Through him I have learned to let go of some things but to persevere with the things that are truly within my scope of influence–a lesson that would prove indispensable once his brother arrived.
…to be continued.