And the little one said roll over…..
Posted on January 19, 2013
My baby is almost 8 months old now. The first few months are such a blur in my memory. I remember those first nights home from the hospital in the dead of winter, sleeping next to the cradle in the lounge room, because it was the only room that we could heat. The condensation dripped down the insides of the window panes, looking out over those bare plane trees. Night and day I wore the same clothes. My hair was permanently on end, bed headed. Perry cluster fed for eight or nine hours straight. I was a prisoner of the couch for weeks. Al used to cut my food up into little pieces and hand feed it to me along with the mantra, “You keep Perry alive, and I’ll keep you alive”, and so that’s what we did.
We were set to move to Geelong when Perry was 5 weeks old, and I managed to pack a box or 2 a day, inch by inch. My baby slept through the night when he was one week old. I thought I had a ‘good sleeper’. He only ever slept through the night again once more, but he was still pretty good at night time, sleeping in stretches of five or six hours. He stopped napping during the day a few days after we brought him home. He would kip in tiny snatches. I would take photos of his slumbering face, filled with aching love, and then he would awaken. “Sleep when the baby sleeps”, is the advice given to every new mother. “They” say that newborn babies sleep for 16-18 hours a day. It was a cruel refrain to me. That was when I first began learning that babies are not all the same, and that they do not conform to any set rules, no matter what “they” say.
Some time in that first five weeks, when being able to have a shower was a monumental challenge unless I was prepared to leave my baby screaming -and I wasn’t- and while I was learning the vagaries of one handed eating, I decided that this was the time to prepare a curry from scratch, for the first time in my life. The vindaloo was fragrant and delicious, and a great lesson in priorities; it totally wasn’t worth the stress, and I needed to accept the temporary constraints placed upon me, culinary short cuts along with it.
I still cried often, in the cold, lonely hours of early winter mornings, and told Al that I could not do this, be a mother to a baby who did not sleep. But I could, and I did, and all throughout, I fell more and more deeply in love with my son. I managed to pack the house, and we moved to Geelong. At the other end was a well heated cottage, and we nested into it, and continued to feel our way along. I began to wear Perry in a sling to get him to sleep, walking up and down the hall and singing softly to him. Sometimes it worked, after a hundred or so back and forths, and sometimes it didn’t. I learned that if I put him in the baby carrier, I could cook dinner in peace while he nestled happily against me. I broke our hibernation by going for long walks with the pram each day, Perry snug in woollen cardies and blankets knitted by his Nanna, and I explored our new home. Geelong enchanted me quickly, by way of those gorgeous Sullivanesque streets and the winter sunshine glittering on the water at Western Beach; the gorgeous old carousel and boardwalks; by the stories told by the painted bollards, and the charms of Eastern Beach.
In those cold blue winter skies I saw ribbons of birds unfurling and I knew that we were home.
When Perry was 12 weeks old I began to attend a Mothers Group in Geelong West and met that group of lovely ladies, but for the first 6 weeks of hour and a half formal information sessions I dreaded those Monday mornings, as Perry proved himself supremely uninterested in sitting quietly and listening for that period of time. He would begin squirming, then grizzling, followed by crying and most often ending with screaming. He did this every week without fail. All of the other little babies were quiet and patient and sleepy, except for little Ari, bless him, and I felt so conspicuous, so helpless and hopeless. I stayed for the chats after the sessions, which Perry didn’t mind at all, and which were so worth it. We were all new mums, learning by feel, and tears, and that newly minted tenderness.
Perry stopped being a good night time sleeper at three months and my zombie days began in earnest. There was no discernible reason – except that he was a baby. He woke every 1.5-2 hours, and fed. He did this for months. My maternal child health wanted to book us into sleep school but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sleep training, or with the idea of babies being pigeon holed as good or bad based on the amount that they slept. I tried to imagine what mothering would be like if I had never read any books or articles, or subscribed to any theories, and concluded that I would mother by instinct and intuition. I wouldn’t feel guilty or inadequate for parenting against the grain of current theories of sleep training. I won’t say that it is easy, and some nights are better than others; some nights, as Al has said, I am not so much close to the edge as over it, but we survive and Perry thrives, and I know that people say this all of the time and others probably don’t believe it, but I would not change our lives with a baby for anything. Parenting is worth it. We make it up as we go along, and that is our story. Check in with me in a month, or a year, or five – we are, after all, only finishing chapter one.