We all hear the horror stories of sleep deprived new mothers. I think we’ve been so conditioned to think of late nights with babies that it’s one of the first things we comment upon when meeting up with a new mom. So when I was pregnant with my first, I was prepared. I was sure we would go to the hospital, give birth, and that would be the end of our sleep for years.
So you can imagine my surprise when we brought our oldest daughter home from the hospital, and she slept through the night. From day one.
We had always read and heard that babies aren’t supposed to go more than three or four hours without eating, so like the good, rule-abiding new parents that we were, we dutifully woke her up every few hours and begged her to eat, and when she had eaten enough, we laid her back down and she fell instantly to sleep.
It was bliss. This parenting thing was easy.
And then my second daughter came. We knew it was probably wishful thinking that she would be the champ sleeper that my oldest was, but wish we did. And our wishes were quickly dashed. She wasn’t a night waker. She wouldn’t keep us up all hours. But to get her to sleep -- it was beyond challenging.
Each evening right after dinner when it was still light outside, I would take her upstairs and start to nurse her and rock her. And nurse her. And rock her. And nurse her some more. It would take me, on average, about two and a half hours to get her to sleep each and every night for almost a year. And then one day she decided she didn’t need it anymore, I guess, because I could suddenly put her down awake and she would put herself to sleep, peacefully, within minutes. We had made it to the other side.
And so when my third daughter was born, I didn’t know what to expect. I sat there anxiously the first day wondering what our evening would be like. She was our baby, and we wanted her with us, so until she was about six or seven months old, we would let her fall asleep in her bouncy chair downstairs with us as we went about our evening activities. And then when it was time for us to go to bed, I would go upstairs and nurse her, lay her down awake, and voila, she would put herself to sleep. We had hit the sleeping baby jackpot again!
And then a month or so ago when she was around eight months old, I was feeding her and singing to her, and it was all so peaceful that I figured I would rock her to sleep. So I did. And then the next night I did again. And then the next night.
And then I messed it all up. Because from then on out, she would not put herself to sleep for anything. She is more than capable, but instead, she insists that either I or my husband rock her to sleep and sing her to sleep and do whatever her little heart desires in order to finally get her to retire for the evening.
I guess you could say I could let her cry it out; after all, we know she is capable of self soothing. I know plenty of people who have tried that approach and they have had wonderful results. I know plenty of people who have used Ferber or Babywise or any number of sleep training techniques. They are wonderful parents who achieve wonderful results. I respect them all deeply.
But when I look at my little one looking up at me, holding my finger in her tiny little hand, I know that those approaches aren’t for me. I don’t believe they will damage her. I don’t believe they will damage our relationship.
I guess the thing for me is that I look at her drooping little eye lids and I realize that when she is nineteen or twenty nine or ninety nine, no one is going to rock her and sing to her and stroke her cheek in just the right way. No one will spend as much time as necessary helping her get into the perfect peaceful state to help her drift off to dream land. She just has now... when she is nine months old. When she is an infant. When she is ours.
She has a lifetime to be independent and learn to self soothe. She’ll learn self control and relaxation and how to be okay in a dark and lonely room all by herself.
But for now, she’s a baby. She’s my baby. And I take great pride and pleasure in being one of only two people in her entire life who have the opportunity to baby her in all the right ways.
You’re only a baby once, and all too soon these days will be behind us all. I’m choosing to relish them in the only ways I know how.
Amanda Knapp is a writer and a stay at home mom to her three little girls. She writes about her journey through life on her blog, Indisposable Mama.