BETH WICKENDEN, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, UK
Originally published November 2014, republished here with the express permission of the author.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I was expecting … perhaps a doll, certainly not a wailing, nipple-blistering, scrunched-up little being that I was nevertheless meant to adore. Yet adore him I would. His was a long and traumatic entry into our world, far removed from my idyllic home-birth plan.
Our bonding was not automatic.
He latched on almost immediately following his birth, with help from the midwife, though I don’t remember how long he nursed for or really much about it at all. Over the next few days he slept in his plastic bassinet, and I in my narrow hospital bed, and we became strangers. Too much time passed after that first feed and I didn’t know enough (if anything) about the importance of skin-to-skin contact, so separately we lay sleeping and recovering, not yet realizing how essential we were to each other. He realized before I did, and then the crying started.
I was taken aback by how little I felt I knew or loved him, and even more so at how little I felt he knew me. I simply hadn’t been prepared for the fact that we would need to get to know each other. Subconsciously I started distancing myself from him. In hospital I would turn my back on him as he slept next to me in his plastic box. I rarely picked him up unless he needed feeding, more from fear that he would wake and cry than anything else. At home, the Moses basket started off next to me by the bed, but—with the excuse that the cat might use the bed as a platform to get into the basket—I moved it just a bit further away, next to the chest of drawers instead. Then it moved again, near to the foot of the bed. I wasn’t ready to give myself, to give up my independence.
Here’s what I knew about babies:
1. They slept in cots.
2. They traveled in prams.
3. They slept loads, while their moms baked or painted, or something.
4. Every now and again they cried, but only if their diaper needed changing or they were a bit too hot or cold.
Thanks to Noah I now know differently, but it took quite a while before I really ‘got’ it that babies need to be held close, to feel your heart beat, that they need security above all else. They grow thanks to love because as we respond to their needs more brain cell connections are triggered. They begin to flourish physically and emotionally. Slowly, surely, through persistence on Noah’s part and a whole lot of brilliant, down-to-earth support from my local La Leche League Leader, all of this started to sink in.
When I first I heard the term ‘nighttime parenting’ a light bulb went on. Why, when Noah needed to be constantly close to me during the day, would he be happy being alone all night? He started refusing to sleep in his crib. At first I fought this, grumbled and grew exhausted, but then I started trusting him. The trust that my baby knew what was best for him was a defining moment in our relationship. We started bringing him into our bed at night, and we all slept better.
When Noah was around six months old, I went to a talk on sleep given by a health professional, where I heard that by breastfeeding during the night I was doing it all wrong, that I should teach my baby to self-soothe. Turning this over and over in my mind was the cause of more sleepless nights than anything Noah was doing! It took a while to get back to trusting my baby and my instincts.
We decided to dismantle the cot and began co-sleeping all night. I would even spend my evenings in bed next to Noah, who was determined not to be parted from me, ever. As soon as I accepted that this phase wouldn’t last forever and we adapted our evenings so that I spent the time relaxing and reading instead of catching up on chores downstairs, everything just slotted into place and I suddenly wasn’t stressing about sleep patterns any more. I had no idea how frequently Noah was waking in the night, least of all the specific times, as neither of us ever woke fully. We bought a bed guard so we could utilize the whole width of our kingsize bed, and we felt a new level of togetherness as a family.
Noah is now a year old and sleeps for longer periods. I can even go downstairs of an evening if I want to, though often prefer to be snuggled next to him. We’ll be co-sleeping until Noah tells us differently. He can communicate so much already. I know that our trust has given him the confidence to know that his wants and needs matter and that he is worthy of being listened to. I’d say that’s a better lesson to learn than ‘soothing’ oneself to sleep any day, or night for that matter!