Sunday, December 03, 2006

When a baby sleeps

Something weird and beautiful and amazing happened last night.

Swee'pea fell asleep on the boob at 7:30. So I decided to try putting him in the bed and it worked. (Usually Sugar Daddy puts him to sleep in the evening and just holds him while he sleeps.) He woke up after about 40 minutes but I just went up and nursed him back to sleep and was back downstairs in 10 minutes. Then he slept for another 2 1/2 hours!! So Sugar Daddy and I got some delicious time to ourselves. Well, not that delicious. SD decided to use the time to put plastic up on some of our drafty old windows and I caught up on reading blogs, worked on some photos I took yesterday of icicles, and then we both read.

Graphic Icicles

Of course, I couldn't help getting a little ahead of myself, imagining what life would be like if we could even have an hour like this every night, or even only 4 or 5 times a week, and how much better we would feel about life and love. How much better we could each cope with the annoyances and endless little tasks that seem to keep piling up on us like the ever-expanding clutter in our house. But, I stopped myself. And just enjoyed this delicious little treat.

I started reading Faulkner Fox's Dispatches From a Not-So-Perfect Life, which is fantastic. It's one of those reads where the author could be writing about me sometimes. The chapter I am reading right now talks about her obsessive dietary regimen during her first pregnancy writing down every single thing she consumed each day, using What to Eat When You're Expecting as a bible. And she points out that the tone of that book and others like it is very much like the tone of women's magazines, and how very similar expectations for a pregnancy diet are to the latest diet fads.

Although I had never really thought about it this way, I spent much of my pregnancy thinking about how pants the "guidelines" for appropriate weight gain are. And how exhausting it was to keep track of all the taboo items like unpasteurized and soft cheeses, and caffeine. I also rejected the taboo on herbal teas. I figured I could do without caffeine (although I did retrieve my first big strong cup of morning tea some time after the first trimester) , I could do without my nightly two cups of jasmine tea, and I could do without booze, but I could not do without at least some kind of hot drink. That was a risk I decided to take. So I researched what folks advised if they didn't just have a blanket ban on herbal teas, and I drank peppermint tea, rooibos tea (which some websites said is promoted for expecting and new mothers in traditional African cultures) and chamomile tea.

Anyways, Fox's insight into this part of pregnancy got me to thinking about parenting manuals and the so-called experts and their condescending tone, which almost never respects a parent's intuition. For one thing, I think the various pediatric societies' guidelines on bed-sharing (don't do it or your child will die) is at best not helpful and at worst anti-breastfeeding. My friend has a baby who slept for five-hour stretches from about two weeks old and has continued to stretch that out to a good 8 or 9 hours a night without waking. If you have this kind of child, you can cope with having them in another room in their crib. But Swee'pea ate every two hours around the clock for three weeks straight when he was around 6 weeks old, which was when we finally went against the guidelines and brought him into our bed. I don't know how I could have survived his frequent night wakings without having in our bed and being able to fall asleep while nursing him.

Which leads me to the whole sleep training thing. (I totally don't judge people who do it... if you can't make bed-sharing work for your family, I don't know how else one could survive frequent nightwakings. You gotta do what you gotta do.) I've already talked about how our decision not to sleep train was ultimately a decision to follow our guts in making parenting decisions. And I think ferber-style sleep training is very much about repressing your instinct to respond to your child's cries.

I've already thought about how the parenting books suggest that parents don't know best and need to be taught the best ways of parenting their child from those books. But now I wonder why. Could it be a product of patriarchy? Could it be misogynism? Could the thinking behind sleep training, the belief that babies should sleep independently and all night long be another example of the misogyny that permeates much of our culture?

(For one thing, there were several women in my mums' group whose husbands tried to prevent them from nursing or comforting their crying child. These husbands said things like, "He's not hungry, he just wants comfort," and if the mother finally "gave in" and nursed their (like 4-month-old) babies, their husbands said things like, "There. You just gave him exactly what he wanted. You're spoiling him." To me, this seems like some kind of jealousy... some kind of bizarre possessiveness of their wives' breasts? I remember Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth pointed out that food has replaced sex in the new morality. So that you can only eat for sustenance, never for comfort. And these two things become all knotted together trying to provide sustenance with our over-sexualized boobs, so that a baby can only nurse out of hunger. We can never nurse in response to a baby's need for comfort. Oh boy, now this has become some kind of incoherent rant -- Sorry.)

I'm not usually so negative and suspicious about these things, but it really makes me wonder.

This morning I asked Sugar Daddy, "If men were mothers, do you think there would be so many books about parenting and sleep training?"

He thought for a moment and replied with a chuckle, "Well if we were, we just wouldn't read them."

* * *

P.S. I also feel the need to record for posterity what happened when Swee'pea woke up at 11 last night. I went to bed, nursed him again, and he seemed to settle back into sleep so I tried to fall asleep myself. (This is when Sugar Daddy decided to finish the plastic on the living room window and turned on the blow drier.) Shortly fter I asked SD to stop it, he came to bed, which was when Swee'pea started writhing and crying and then lying still. He did the same thing off and on for the last several hours of the night (morning) before and eventually he settled after he burped. We tried burping him and he did burp but he continued to cry a bit and thrash about.

At midnight, we tried changing his diaper, despite the fact that in all the ten months of him wearing diapers he has never once been bothered by a wet or dirty diaper, or even being wet up to his armpits and down to his knees. This mostly served to fully waken him up, so that when we went back to bed, instead of crying, he bellowed his B syllables and crawled and rolled around. Finally, he settled and slept until 5:30, the longest stretch in at least a few weeks. I don't think he's ever slept longer than five hours in his life, but it's been a long time since he did a five-hour stretch.

P.P.S. I really haven't done justice to Fox's book or her discussion of diet and pregnancy and feminism and motherhood and stuff like that. Check it out if you have even the slightest interest.


bubandpie said...

One of the most surprising things for me about becoming a mother was the bossy, patronizing, manipulative tone of virtually everything written for mothers about the mechanics of raising a child. And I continue to be amazed at the way parenting books assume an audience of morons - I've only read a few books on child-rearing, but even books written by intelligent scholars in the field of child development seem to bend over backwards to provide entertaining analogies; they over-explain every point and aim for the lowest common denominator, as if parents - mothers - as a group can be expected to have no real ability to grasp even the most basic principles.

penelopeto said...

yep, yep, and yep.
all of it. ditto. i've erased and re-written this comment about 5 times now, because i could go on about every single thing you just wrote about.
so i'll say this instead - at 18 months bee is still a high-maintenance sleeper, but it has gotten a lot better.
keep doin what feels right. i wish more mamas would just shut the books and trust themselves.

Aliki2006 said...

Great post, I ditto all you've said. I'll NEVER forget our first pediatrician appointment when Liam was about two weeks old. After going over the regular things, the doctor looked over her specs at us and proceeded to tell us that we could coddle Liam up until he was about 3 months old and then we had to institute a strict sleep routine involving lots of cry-it-out and no (gasp!) co-sleep whatsoever. We left the office feeling so small and insecure about ourselves at parents--and feeling angry as well. We ndver took her advice, switched peds, and Liam slept with us until he was 3 1/2.

Your son reminds me a lot of Liam--the sleep side of it. We had to hold Liam in our arms for naps until he was close to seven months old!

Mad Hatter said...

It's funny, in our family my husdand is the one who is most adamant about not sleep training. He cannont even consider for one second the possibility of Miss M going uncomforted. I more or less agree with him but in the darkest of days I had my doubts b/c doggone, it was never HIM she wanted when she wailed every two hours. We persevered. We are happy with the decision we took. We live with some of the not-so-great consequences of it.

As you know, I chucked the books a while back.

Julie Pippert said...

Excellent poitn about how the "manuals for moms" so attempt to override our own instincts.

So do armchair experts, unsolicited advisors, well-intended folks, and worst, often, healthcare professionals.

By the time I had #2 I had learned the Fine Art of Telling People What They Wanted to Hear So They'd Butt Out of My Business.

We co-slept, had frequent wakers (did I use past tense? if so, why?), and parent the best we can.

After #1, we did decide to do some things differently with #2.

Hey, at least we're able to learn in addition to trainable. ;)

Excellent post.

cinnamon gurl said...

Mad, Sugar Daddy was more opposed to sleep training than I was on my darker days too for the same reasons. But now I'm glad we're doing what we're doing, even though it's tough going sometimes. Plus, I don't even think we would have made it through sleep training successfully anyways.

Em said...

I gave up reading parenting books about half way through #2's infancy. #1 was an easy baby, so it was easy to apply the books. #2 was another story and the books didn't work anymore - so I literally tossed them away. #2 never did more than a 2-3 hour stretch for the first year of her life and only properly started sleeping through at 3 years (we saw an osteopath which helped greatly and if you are interested I'd recommend you see one for SP - it is very gentle and non-invasive and it made a big difference to G and her sleep). Anyway, with #3 I just went with the flow and trusted my instincts and it worked perfectly. At 14 months she is a great sleeper and we've NEVER had to make her cry it out.

jen said...

what a great post. i am absolutely going to read that book.

and my buttons were definitely pushed on the other bits, but i have to think on it further...

i stopped reading baby books a long time ago - we just try and do what feels right.

who knows...?

Penny said...

"He's not hungry, he just wants comfort,"

uh.. since when did comfort become an anti-need? Food and Shelter is good enough, eh? Love and Cuddles are for sissies? Men like that make me angry.

My ex used to get angry, because my Oee used to moan/sing/lull herself when she was tired.. it went something like this.. "uhhh uhhh uh uhhhhhh uhhhhhh mmmmmmm uhhh" (a little gets lost in the translation) and he would say to me, "Make her stop that. She's just trying to get attention. You're teaching her to do that. Oee stop that!" She was 9 months old.

My baby girl slept with me, fed on demand and was comforted everytime she wanted. She's highly independent, mature, diplomatic, fair, reasonable and sweet for her age.

Next time that man asks his wife for a hug or sex or a backrub, she should tell him, "I fed you dinner, didn't I?"

urgh.. aggravating.

Penny said...

Oh yeah.. and in reading the comments, I remembered this..

About twenty seconds after Oee was delivered, she had given us the first taste of her glass-shattering, ear-drum-breaking, near-dog-whistle pitched scream (she never cried.. she always screamed) and the OBGyn said, very seriously, to me, as he was removing his gloves as the nurses brought her to me, "You are going to have to watch that ~ she'll use it against you."

He may as well have said: Welcome to the world, you little manipulative siren, Good thing your parent's had me to give them a heads up.

Penny said...

Have a listen to what the doctor deemed was a spoiled brat in the making. ...Turns out she just had great vocal chords.

cinnamon gurl said...

Penny, I'll have to leave the listening treat until Swee'pea wakes up I think. And the scary thing (to me anyways) is that it wasn't just one man saying these kinds of things. It was at least three different husbands.

ewe are here said...

I know what you mean about the parenting books and 'advice' so many people feel free to offer unsolicited. Every child is different; you have to figure out what works for you and your family.

We were relatively lucky with our little boy. His sleep started stretching for longer and longer periods fairly early. (Truthfully, it's probably because I couldn't breastfeed; I pumped to supplement his formula for 3 months, and his stomach stayed 'full' longer. Breastmilk processes more quickly than formula, which is why breast fed babies have to feed more frequently.)

Anyways, if one of those husbands had been mine, there's a good chance he would now be an ex-. Seriously, they acted like this? Too sad. And selfish.

Oh, and I've been a lot laxer with my current pregancy when it comes to caffeine, etc. But I have a toddler to chase around; I need it!