Mr. Baby, Go to Sleep

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Please note: This is not a safe sleeping practice, but as you can see, the baby is practicing sleeping and practice makes perfect.

I should be napping because the baby is (finally) napping, but these blog posts aren’t going to write themselves.

Since my the last post, some things have gotten easier. Cracked nipples have healed and I no longer stay up later to pump. Going out and about with the baby has become a normal occurrence and something I look forward to.With our most recent visitors, the McDaniel family, we’ve even spent a long weekend in Melbourne, the hour-long flight to and from on which the baby did very well. Anticipating future travel back and forth from the States we encouraged him thus: “Cool, cool, just like that but for fifteen hours”).

But. Some things have gotten much, much harder.

Mostly, the sleep situation. The four-month regression hit us at three-and-a-half-months and like a pram filled with cast iron pacifiers. The insomnia has now somewhat subsided in that over the past few days I’ve sleep trained myself to fall asleep as quickly as possible after getting the baby back to sleep. But forty-five minutes here, an hour there, thirty minutes here with fifteen to thirty minutes of shushing and patting in-between doesn’t equal a whole lot of sleep. Add to that the baby’s recent and increasing distaste for naps. No siestas for Mr. Baby! Who needs them but lazy Spaniards and his fatigued mother!

Now I kick myself for not sleeping in the golden era of “Baby’s Best Sleep”. I could have been so much better rested during months one and two and the first half of three but was instead riddled with anxiety about bullshit things (am I pumping and storing enough breastmilk? Are his crib sheets cute enough? What if he only sleeps for four hours?) that I look back at the old me and laugh. What a fool I was.

He who started out as a “good” sleeper in the world of newborns – clocking between four to six hours before waking up just once to eat before rising and shining between 5:30 and 6:30 – is now a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sleeper.

It’s called a regression because they regress to some savage, unrecognizable state. He’s also rolling over from back to belly and finding it distressing to be in his belly suddenly in the night. I wish I could just tell him to turn back over and he could look up and say, “oh, right-o Mom,” but unfortunately he’s not there yet. Annoying baby experts encourage frustrated parents to reframe it as a “progression.”

“Your baby is maturing and so his sleep cycles are becoming more like yours,” they say. “He’s also learning new skills!”

And I say, “Shut up. It was better before.”

A friend, a postpartum doula whom I’ve been heavily leaning on chuckled. “When people tell me they slept like a baby I say, ‘Oh, so you slept like shit?'”

Mr. Baby is a skilled non-sleeper. He could work for the CIA’s interrogation team. Last night, under his yet-to-be-patented sleep deprivation torture program, I probably would have spilled state secrets had I had them and had he wanted them. I would have spilled after his fourth wake up within three hours (all before midnight, wonderful stuff!) because the night before, and the night before that, with him averaging five wake-ups each night, I was already weakening if not weak.

What do you want to know! I’ll tell you! What do you want? I’ll give it to you! Take my secrets! Spend my money! Overrun my house and strain my marriage*! Drink my milk! Whatever it is you want, take it! But. Let. Me. Sleep. Longer than two hours please. With an hour and a half long nap at least in the day, thanks. But he wants all that and more.

Whatever you can’t give him when you’re asleep, that’s what he wants. He wants attention and physical touch and nurturing words and soothing motions and those things unfortunately a person asleep cannot provide. He wants sleep too, or so the experts say, but he sure doesn’t act like it.

All around, I keep saying, babies seem very poorly designed.

“What a bastard,” says his father, without irony.

They say parenting takes boatloads of patience. And I used to think so too. A few short weeks ago I prided myself at how patient I was with him. Even my mother, who when we were young was known less for patience than for barking and belting said to me admiringly, “You and Tom are truly so patient with him.”

And we are. Aww, Mr. Baby waking up again? Let me go in to nurse and sit with him and cuddle and sing to him. Aww, Mr. Baby up again? Let his father go in, repeat all that minus nursing and sit next to him to make sure he’s really down. He’s up again? Goddamnit, this guy. AGAIN? #$@#^! Thirty minutes later, repeat. An hour later, repeat. Forty-five minutes later, repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I dream about dreaming while Googling: “Why is my baby waking up so much. Is he the devil in disguise?”

Last night, bleary-eyed with exhaustion and still patting Mr. Baby’s not sleeping bottom, it dawned on me: this isn’t patience. This is duty.

“If they weren’t so cute,” our friend Lan said, “We’d leave them by the fire station.”

That’s part of it. Mr. Baby is very cute, but he’s not that cute. He’s not so cute that I’m willing to age 10 years in four months (though perhaps it’s too late because I feel I already have). Sure, I love him a lot, a lot. But I think in the beginning (is this still the beginning?) what makes me wake up and go to him time and time again is not just love – I mean, I barely know the guy – it’s duty.

Also, fear of being judged as a neglectful parent.

Also, fear of going to prison for leaving him by the fire station.

But mostly, it’s duty. It’s the knowledge that what I do for him, what I do to soothe and settle and help him sleep and make him coo and smile, only I can do for him. It’s that it seems only I can make his little face light up like a firecracker. Or that it’s only my chest he wants to bury his face in after I’ve come back after having left the room to try and let him “self soothe” for one minute. He pushes his face into me and inhales fervently, deeply, like I’ve been gone for a year and he fears nothing more than to forget my smell.

It’s our duty. Until Tom and I come to the edge of expiration and decide to spend obscene amounts of money on a night nanny. Then it can be her duty. And we can have a bit of rest.

But we’re not quite there yet. There’s still some awake time left in his ol’ mom and dad yet. In the mornings, spent as we are with sallow skin and the darkest dark under eye circles we’ve ever seen on each other (paired with my postpartum hair loss my reflection is truly ghastly), we always seem to find smiles on our haggard faces as we gaze at his babbling little face. If he’s tired, which we know he must be – he must be! – he sure doesn’t show it first thing in the morning.

“Look at how cute he is.”

“How can we let him cry?”

“All the night wakings aside, he’s still a pretty good baby.”

And our pretty good, pretty cute baby avoids abandonment for another day like a weird nursery version of 1,001 Nights. In the meantime we will continue to slog through this four-month regression/growth spurt/whatever the hell is going on in his overactive demonic body with its angelic face.

It’ll pass, everyone says, it’ll pass. And we cuddle him and nod…off. It’d better.

*Tom protested me saying this: “People are going to think we’re having marital issues.”
“I think they understand what I’m trying to get at overall,” I said. “I’m keeping it in.”
“Well now our marriage is on the rocks.”

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