Sleep, what’s that?

amateur mommies: to swaddle or not to swaddle

To the person who told us to swaddle our baby: please high-five yourself. In the face. Now I know what you’re thinking, everyone swaddles their babies, it’s totally normal so why are you ticked off at the person who advised you to swaddle your baby? The answer is simple: because now we’re screwed.

Fletcher is at the age when it’s advised that you stop swaddling, but we can’t stop swaddling him, because he doesn’t know how to self-soothe. It also doesn’t help that I gave birth to a miniature Houdini! What this means in the real world is that, if he manages to wriggle one or (gods help us) both arms free, he will wake up at least every 45 minutes to an hour wearing his swaddle blankie like a scarf and need to be helped back to lala land. This comes in a range of forms from giving him back his dummy (which he inevitably spits out ±30 seconds after falling asleep) to giving him a bottle, or taking him out of the cot and rocking him back to sleep. Ok, so we keep swaddling him a bit longer and try to slowly ween him off the swaddle. Cool.

Enter the second part of this compound problem. Lately, he wakes up pretty much every hour, at best every two hours whether he’s swaddled or not. Initially, we thought he was waking because he was hungry. So this weekend we took the decision to introduce solids to his daily meal plan. At his last check-up Sr Liesel gave us the talk about introducing solids, explaining that rice cereal is now taboo – empty calories and all – and that one should start with veggies. Cool, no problem.

On Friday night I steamed about half a metric ton of butternut, mashed it up, divvied it into an empty ice tray, ready to be thawed in perfect little portion-sized batches. On Saturday morning we excitedly heated a teaspoon of butternut, put Fletcher into the appropriate protective clothing and began introducing him to the wonders of tepid, unseasoned butternut. He loved it. I mean he didn’t have a clue how to eat it – pushing most of it out of his mouth with his tongue – but he seemed to enjoy the bits that stayed in his mouth. That evening we repeated the process, hoping this would solve our sleep problems. Boy were we wrong.

Saturday night saw us rising every one to two hours throughout the night with the ritual culminating in a 30 minute screaming match at 5am. Becs eventually managed to settle him again, but his new-found allergy to sleeping meant that by 07:00 he was now ready to face the day. Bleary-eyed, we stumbled from bed to heat round two of the butternut extravaganza. Part of me – ok, all of me – hoped that the second day would reinforce everything and that Sunday night he’d really sleep well. Negative Ghost Rider.

Sunday night was even worse. During the day on Sunday, Fletcher had been a terrorist, getting in about three or four 30-minute cat-naps but otherwise not sleeping. Consequently, he was exhausted by 5pm. While I prepared supper, Becs gave Fletcher a bath and put him down nice and early. He settled pretty well, so we were cautiously optimistic. He niggled a few times over the next two hours and we settled him with bottles, meaning that by 7pm he’d smashed another 180ml and would (theoretically) be down for anywhere between four and six hours. Exhausted from our sleepless weekend and two weeks of having a sick baby (that’s a story for another day), we crashed at 9pm. One hour later, the monitor crackled. Drat.

I got up, gave him a bottle and he settled pretty quickly. One hour later, the monitor crackled. Ugh. I got up, put his dummy back in and he settled again. One hour later, the monitor crackled… and so it went, every hour from 10pm until 3am, when I eventually pulled him into our bed and we managed to sleep from 03:20 to 05:25 – five minutes before my alarm was due to go off.

I don’t know if it’s this “four month sleep regression” thing everyone keeps talking about or if he’s just being otherwise, but I really hope he gets over his sudden aversion to sleep soon, because damn son, we are tired! Just a side note on this four month sleep regression thing: I didn’t even know that such a thing existed until a few of our friends who have kids around Fletcher’s age started commenting that their little whipper-snappers were regressing. I joked, saying that Fletcher had never progressed beyond four-hour stretches so there was no progress to regress on. Incorrect. Just because he hadn’t progressed, didn’t mean he couldn’t go backwards. You know how they say there’s rock bottom? Well we weren’t there yet it seems.

Pray for us. That is all.

Like a good old cross-your-heart bra.

Amateur Mommies: like a good old fashioned cross your heart bra

Something you need to give your partner when it’s the middle of the night and you have a crying baby and no-one else is there to relieve you is support. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, no idea why the baby is crying and no idea if you will make it to the end of the night to see the glorious sunrise, believe in one another. Support one another and the decisions you make in those wee hours. Like mad support – like a good old beige, three clip, cross-your-heart bra. That teeny, tiny, gorgeous bundle of screaming baby will break you otherwise.

When you first have your baby and you’re safe in the hospital, it all seems totally doable. There’s a nurse checking on you every now and then, a doctor to come say some encouraging words and loads of people wanting to visit and bring flowers and tell you all kinds of wonderful things about your life ahead with your beautiful baby. What a wonderful time! Then a few days later you pack everything up and go home, wow. What an exciting thought! Taking your baby across the threshold of your home for the first time, to lay him in his cot, in his nursery you carefully made into a nurturing and comforting environment. Having washed all his little clothes and lovingly folded them, chosen a coming home outfit, and which onesie will be his first pair of pyjamas, which teddy will sleep next to him, and which lullaby you will gently sing to him tonight to send him off to the land of nod. But then he starts to cry. And you think it must be time to feed, so you either sit down comfortably to breastfeed or go to warm up a bottle. All the while your baby getting more and more hungry. Ok quickly now get the bottle in. Nope that’s not working, now the milk is just running all over his chin, all over the cute little onesie you chose and he’s still screaming. Ok let’s try a dummy?! Flip where did we put that gripe water? Your mild panic starts to worsen and the screaming continues and neither you nor your partner can remember when you packed the gripe water, the baby won’t take the dummy or the bottle and the breast milk is not coming our fast enough so it’s not even worth trying when he’s this mad. Ok let’s do some swaddling, rocking and singing. Hmmm, my singing is not loud enough – come sing with me! And so it goes… sometimes all night.

And that’s when the night becomes dark and full of terrors… Barbs and I would actually want to cry when we saw the sun going down because we knew what was coming…

In those hours when you can’t settle your little one, or he has tummy cramps, or has weed all over the changing mat and his pyjamas and the teddy and you, and you can’t remember what time you last ate or if you have managed to drift off into some kind of fitful sleep whilst propped up in the nursery chair with you baby on your chest and drool running down into your cleavage, use your partner. Ask for help. It took two people to make this baby and it will take those two people, and all the effort and patience in the world to raise it. Take turns if you’re bottle feeding. If you’re breastfeeding, Dad’s take some tea and a rusk through to the nursery or do the nappy change and rocking back to sleep after the feed so that Mom can get a head start on getting herself back to sleep. Everyone will be tired. Whether one of you is back at work and the other is home with baby all day or not. The degrees of tired might differ slightly but you will both take strain in those first few weeks when baby feeds every two hours and poos every other. But hang in there. It’s short-lived. Soon you will have a smiley gorgeous little thing who only feeds every four or six hours and lets you sleep in between. Eventually he will be in his own room and you will have your bed back. And when you stop breastfeeding you will get your body back slowly. And you will look at your fat little giggling baby and reminisce about when he was so small that he could curl up on your chest to sleep. You will miss him being so tiny, even if that was only 3 months ago.

Then nights become less dark and the terror slowly disappears. If you support, encourage and love each other. Even when both Mom and baby come crying to you at 3:00am, Mom saying “please take him I can’t do this anymore!” Take the baby, kiss your partner and tell her to go to bed saying “don’t worry love, I’ve got it this time”. Even if you are terrified and overtired yourself.

The first four weeks

Nothing really prepares you for motherhood. No amount of books or blog posts, no-one’s advice or help can ever really prepare you for what lies ahead. There’s something to be said for the unknown – it’ll either bring out the best or the worst in you (usually in equal measures) and we have seen some of the best and worst of each other over the past four weeks.

Our first few days as parents were entirely surreal. Fletcher was in the NICU hooked up to all kinds of machines, so we weren’t able to hold him, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him and we weren’t able to establish any sort of routine or rhythm with him. By the time he was discharged, it had been two days since I had been discharged – so we’d spent the last 48 hours back and forth between home and the hospital (and over Christmas, no less).

Our first night home was an interesting one. Fletcher was bombarded with hundreds of new sounds and smells, totally overwhelming him. He fussed and cried for hours on that first night, eventually settling around midnight. But after that, he slept well (albeit in 3 hour stints).

The next day he had the first of his peeing episodes, during which he peed all over himself and me. During his first bath, he peed on the towel. A few days after that he peed all over himself, his onesie and the wall behind him (all while I was trying to change his nappy and dispose of one of the biggest, nastiest poos I’ve ever seen). Subsequently, he’s peed on the wall, himself and us a few more times, but on the whole he’s not a serial pee’er. Thank the gods.

During some of his finer nighttime antics he’s had both Becs and me in tears, thinking we’ll never get him to settle. On one particularly bad night, Becs had been trying to settle him for a good while and came back into the room sobbing, asking me to “please just take him,” which I duly did. Eventually I managed to settle him, but nearly had a panic attack when I realised we’d have to go through the whole process again in a matter of a few short hours. But, then the sun came up, and everything seemed less daunting than it had the night before.

As dusk began to fall that evening, fear settled over me like a thick fog and I turned to Becs, voice shaking, and said, “It’s nearly nighttime.” She immediately knew the source of my fear and the two of us huddled together on the couch – absolutely dreading the dark hours that lay ahead. But, then the sun came up again, and everything was fine. And so we settled into something of a pattern – night would fall and so would our spirits, but as the sun began to rise, so our fears lifted. It was like being stuck in some kind of bad horror movie loop.

Until it wasn’t anymore. After three weeks, Becs turned to me and said that she suddenly felt like he was an old hand at this parenting thing, like she’d been doing it for years. It seemed that in 21 short days, we’d formed a habit – the habit of motherhood. We still have crappy nights with Fletcher – last night was another night when he only settled after midnight, but then slept until 04:00 and again from 04:30 until 08:00 – but on the whole, we’re much better at parenting than we were four weeks ago. OK, maybe we’re not better, but we certainly feel less panicked about it and that’s the main thing.

Oh, and as I type this I have a trail of milk vomit down my back. Yup, motherhood is awesome.