So, some of you may have noticed it’s been a while since I posted on here. You may have also noticed from the things I blog about that Pickle is quite a ‘wakeful’ baby (I’m trying to stop calling her a bad sleeper, it feels mean). Well, the sleep regression monster has once again reared it’s sodding head over the last few weeks, hence my ‘going rogue’ on you all. It has also led to some serious ‘Mum Guilt’ which has had me really down in the dumps. So, in the spirit of my last post, rather than shy away from talking about it I thought I’d share our last couple of weeks with you.
Realisation that Pickle was a ‘wakeful baby’ struck one day when she was 3 weeks old. My lovely NCT friends had been messaging each other for advice on our Whatsapp group about what to do because their little ones were staying awake for up to 4 hours at a time. I remember staring at Pickle who was into her TENTH consecutive hour of being awake, and feeling a little cloud of dread start to gather inside my brain. Oh no. Did I have a ‘problem sleeper’ on my hands? I watched her day by day, and the weird thing was she seemed happy enough, was feeding well and growing like a champ, even though she was not following any of the rules in terms of when and how long she should sleep. She just spent a lot more of her time being conscious than the other babies we knew.
Pickle has always been of the mind that sleep was for wimps. Why on earth would you sleep if it meant you might miss something?! To say I have a nosey (Sorry, inquisitive) baby is a complete understatement. She’s never happier than when she’s all up in someone’s grill, checking what they’re up to. The rubbish sleeping (sorry, relentless wakefulness), mainly affects Pickle’s napping, and in the beginning the norm was two or three half hour naps a day. Where or how she slept didn’t seem to make any difference to how long she napped, so I decided to carry on with life as normal. We’d go to the shops, take walks along the beach, meet with friends for cake, etc. Pickle kind of slotted in with what I was doing, and napped when she decided she was going to nap. I left it up to her really. My theory was that women have been having babies for millennia, all without manuals and online forums. So, I’d let the baby lead me and tell me what she needed and when. (Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting her to prepare her own meals and do her own washing- I took care of that for her. I’m good like that).
However, this all fell to absolute pieces one day at eight weeks old. In short, she went completely mental- like batshit crazy mental. She screamed and screamed…and screamed. After trying everything we could think of, and what felt like a lifetime, she cried herself to sleep as Husband laid next to her, stroking her hair. And she slept for two and a half hours. A Tsunami of guilt rushed over me- had she been tired the whole time, and I’d just missed it? Had I been going about my day without paying enough attention to her ‘sleep cues’ that the forums and books banged on about? In my desperation to console myself I wasn’t a bad mother, I turned to Google (WORST DECISION EVER) and found a horrible persecutory (American) website which told me in no uncertain terms that I’d missed early, mid and late signs of tiredness and let Pickle stray into the much-feared ‘Overtired’ territory. And the fact that I’d missed these made me a terrible parent. No joke. It literally told me I was a terrible parent. I sobbed, feeling like the most selfish person on the planet, and truly believed that I could never trust my instincts again.
Mum Guilt was well and truly established.
The thing I didn’t realise at the time was the impact that developmental milestones, growth spurts, teething and so on have on a baby’s behaviour, and how routine, habit and especially sleeping can go out of the window overnight because of this. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure this is what was going on. But I just assumed it was all my fault, that I was a crap mum. Because why wouldn’t I, when there were websites and forums out there almost dying to tell me I was?!
So, when we ran into her current nap amnesty a few weeks ago, I tried the complete opposite tack. I would not be so ‘selfish’ this time, I thought. I holed myself up in the house on a self enforced nap bootcamp for two weeks, ensuring all naps were timed and on schedule, taken in the cot and supported by all the acknowledged healthy ‘sleep associations’ (yes, I HAD bought a book on baby sleep by this point. Actually, two). It was like a bloody military operation. We barely saw anyone for two weeks- we missed baby group, lost touch with friends- our world became very, very small, very, very quickly. And even more scarily, my mood dropped lower and lower. I didn’t realise at the time, but the lack of social interaction, spontaneity and variety in our day to day activities made me feel incredibly isolated and lonely. It made me snappy with Husband and sluggish with Pickle- I didn’t have as much energy to engage or play with her as I normally did. It’s frightening how quickly it happened, all completely under the radar. But because I was determined not to be ‘selfish’ again, I persevered.
The ridiculous thing was it made NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL to her sleeping. She was as crap at napping (sorry, good at being awake) in the cot as she was anywhere else. Yet, on and on I went, so guilt ridden from being ‘selfish’ in the past that I was too scared not to. Finally, after a melt down when she woke AGAIN after only 30 minutes, and various chats/rants at anyone who would listen, I realised I still had horrendous Mum Guilt. Only I’d swapped feeling guilty about being ‘selfish’ for feeling guilty about being a crap mum with no energy, and a naggy, moany wife. It really was a lose-lose scenario.
So what do you do in this situation? You’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Is it ‘selfish’ to let the baby nap out and about if it means you stay healthy, happy and engaged with them?
No, not really.
In fact, not at all. If your little one is content and tended to, and you are too, then in my opinion you’ve hit the bloody Jackpot. Unsolicited advice, websites, forums and guidelines can be really dangerous. There is a huge implied pressure to listen to others and follow expert recommendations to the letter. Because, why the hell would you know what you’re doing? You’ve never done this before!!! But I have learned that this can be really damaging and confidence shattering. I might not have read the manual, but I am Pickle’s mum, and I’m confident I know her pretty well now. So I guess that I’m actually the expert of my own baby, not some Paediatician in Detroit, or babycentre.co.uk, or my mate’s Auntie Knob-Head who insists she knows exactly what I should do.
So, after a horrible few weeks I have made a decision; Mum Guilt can sod off. I’m going au naturel and giving my instincts a whirl. Hopefully it’ll take us to a happier place, a place where I feel like a calm and confident mum again. And a place where there is far more cake.