Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Prescribing Motherhood

women in chains

Moyo's door handle to the men's loo

The door handle to the men's room at an "African" restaurant in Johannesburg. From that, I guess this must be a stylized breast:

Moyo's door handle to the women's loo

Lately, I've been feeling like a Bad Mother. And not in a bad is the new good kind of way. I'm sure there are a few reasons for this, but top of it is the whole sleep thing. Between teething, jetlag, travel, new places and people, and now illness, Swee'pea's sleep has been as bad as it was when he was six weeks old. Maybe even worse, because back then he went for two hours between feeds. Now, he may have ONE stretch of two hours in the night, but for the most part he's waking like every hour or so. And he's not just rooting around and grunting for The Boob, he's crying, a lot. And sometimes The Boob doesn't even soothe him. Most of the time he cries louder if I even attempt the soother before The Boob, like he's insulted.

I know he's sick, but at 1 in the morning, then 2, then 3, then 4:30, then 5:30 my sympathy flies away with my dreams and sleep. I should feel badly for the little guy that he's feeling so rotten and can't sleep, but instead I say things like, "Ezra [in the confused exasperated voice that is becoming more and more common here], settle down... I can't do anything for you... shhhhhhh." I get grumpy with him in my head. And I'm getting tired of all the extra boob action. Back when he was about six months old, he was down to about two wakings a night after we went to bed. This I can handle. I cannot handle six, and that's not even including the wakings before we go to bed, if we should be so lucky as to get him to go to sleep before us.

Friday night was awful, and funnily enough both Sugar Daddy and I had dreams that I had a second child (a girl, incidentally). Not because we want one (at least not until Swee'pea is Sleeping Through The Night or somewhat close to it), but because it felt like we were living with a tiny little voracious newborn again. Heck, Swee'pea didn't even cry this much as a newborn.

Mimi's post the other day about her daily routine gave me a serious case of baby envy. Well, not baby envy, because I adore my own little Swee'pea, but the routine. She puts her little one to bed around 7:30ish, and doesn't hear from her again for about 12 whole hours. That sounds like some serious heaven to me! And not so much the twelve hours without hearing from the baby, but the early bedtime and stretch of a few hours to hang out together or separately with your life partner. We haven't had time like that since before our trip! I bet we'd fight a lot less for one thing!

Of course, I know the choices we've made are responsible for where we are, and I'm comfortable with many of those choices. But I didn't really choose to have a baby who at one year old has only slept a five-hour stretch a handful of times in his life. We've just made choices about how best to manage that.

Before Swee'pea was born, a friend of mine gave me some books and Mothering magazines at my request. I still have them, and as I was attempting some kind of organization, I saw one of the books. It's called The Complete Guide to Natural Health Care for Children: How to Raise Happy, Healthy Children from Birth to 15 by Karen Sullivan. I've mostly sworn off baby books and stuff, ever since Swee'pea was about six months old and I started enjoying sharing the bed with him and we decided not to sleep train him.

Just after Christmas I stumbled upon the Babycenter website and decided to sign up for their weekly updates about Your Baby. I thought, sure I'll sign up. It will be interesting to find out what milestones are coming up next. But the very first email made me realize what a mistake it was. It said something about how your baby likely has some lovey he or she's attached to. And I realized that the babycentre website is pretty biased about what it expects of parents. Swee'pea's only real lovey is me and Sugar Daddy. Getting that email made me wonder at first if perhaps we were depriving him of something important, but then I came to my senses.

So back to the "natural health" book I picked up this past weekend. I thought, hey, I'm into natural health, let's see what it has to say... I flipped through some pages and the first ones I saw were about electromagnetic waves and how you should make sure your child is never exposed to them. We have our computer on all the time, in the common area, and I often use it while Swee'pea is sleeping on me. Also, we do watch tv around him. Often it's the only thing approaching Me Time that either of us adults get. And it's really not enough. I mostly passed by those pages without reading too much, but it pissed me off. As if I don't have enough to worry about trying to feed him wholesome foods (I've given up on trying to keep him on only organic foods for two reasons: pragmatism, and because it's absurd when I'm breastfeeding and not eating organics myself), keep him safe from injuries while letting him explore his world, etc., etc., etc. Now I have to also worry about the radiation coming off all our electrical appliances. I just don't need that kinda shit.

I saw a chapter on sleep, and decided to take a look, to see if it had anything helpful to say. It wasn't helpful. With a very prescriptive tone, the book told me that we need a routine, that a bedtime routine is essential for children and you have to start from day one. This may be true, but here we are beyond the first birthday and we still have not successfully implemented a bedtime routine of any kind. We have tried, but somehow we just can't make it work. And the book has no concrete suggestions for exactly how to implement a bedtime routine. Part of the problem is likely that Sugar Daddy does at least 50 percent of the cooking, often more, but doesn't usually get home until 6 or nearly 6. So by the time he's had a cuppa, it's like 6:30 before he starts cooking. Even if I'm cooking, I can't usually get it together to start before he gets home. Some meals take longer than others to prepare... Oh heck. Does it really matter?

The other thing is that Swee'pea's bedtime is unpredictable... we'll try the bedtime routine of bath, pajamas, story, then spend the next three hours fruitlessly trying to get him to sleep. And we have discovered that that makes for a shitty evening. Much nicer for one of us to read, do stuff on the computer, maybe watch some tv, play with Swee'pea, then go to bed when we're all tired. This book does use this kind of scenario and the implication is that parents are selfish for not enforcing a bedtime.

I just hate these prescriptive attitudes. They make me feel bad, like I'm not a good enough mother, like I'm doing it all wrong. This on top of the guilty feelings generated by my woken in the middle of the night for the fourth time emotional responses. (And now suddenly I think of the word itself: prescribe, and have to get all Sage-y. To write before -- before seeing, before acting? Interesting...)

Where are the books that recognize that there isn't just ONE RIGHT way to parent? Where are the books that recognize the value of a parent's instinct and intuition in figuring out the best course of action? Where are the books that recognize that children are individuals, and respond differently? That maybe your child won't respond in the expected way? That your exhaustion makes decision making so much more difficult? Where are the books that recognize that following steps 1, 2, 3 and 4, may not be as easy as it sounds, and may not produce the intended effects?

So far, I haven't found any such books, and I'm not very interested in searching far and wide. I think maybe the answer is in the (more descriptive) blogosphere: here, I can find other mothers questioning these books too, sharing their own ambivalent and sometimes unpleasant emotions of mothering, challenging our culture's expectations of a mother's role.

Through these endless nights of watching the clock, I have been having serious thoughts of nightweaning. But then I worry that with me going back to work in less than two weeks and Swee'pea starting daycare, maybe it's just too much adjustment to pile on him. I don't want to completely wean him, but I've heard it can help encourage longer stretches of sleep.

One mother I spoke to in real life told me about her own three and a half year breastfeeding relationship with her daughter. At one point, she lowered her voice and said, "Well I guess I can say this to you, because you're a breastfeeding mother, but I find mothers who don't breastfeed get embarrassed by this: sometimes, even at four and a half, my daughter still likes to just hold my breast."

I was struck again by what an intimate relationship breastfeeding is. It's not the first story like this I've heard. Our culture way over-sexualizes breasts, and some people find these stories disturbing. (I think it's no accident that that restaurant decided the female equivalent of the penis is the breast. Or was it just because they couldn't use a vulva as a door handle -- logistically and/or with concerns over their patrons sensibilities? Either way... it's interesting.) In fact, before I had Swee'pea I also thought these stories were strange and the relationships weird. But now I think our western culture just doesn't know how to make sense of longer breastfeeding relationships, since at least one generation was mostly formula fed, and the next breastfed generation was weaned quite early for the most part. As I walked home from this encounter, I found myself wondering what the effect will be of having children who can remember breastfeeding, remember the comfort and intimacy of such a close relationship. I think it can only be good.


NotSoSage said...

Cin, so much to say here. You sound just like a friend of mine with her son. I keep trying to tell her that there is a book out there to describe every style of parenting you will intuitively take on, and that maybe it's best if you just go ahead and do what comes naturally to you. I hate how these books make you feel like you're a terrible parent if you choose to parent differently.

Then again, if you're feel frustrated with the status quo...

I don't think it's ever too late to start a routine, if you think that would help. We have been putting Mme L down to bed between 8 and 9 every night for about a year and everyone says that's too late, but that's what works for us(because we cannot seem to get dinner on the table before 7, either). And she's doing fine...sleeping 11 hours a night straight through, most nights. Do what works for you, and what keeps you sane. It's not selfish.

And I've seen very anatomically correct vulva doorknobs...

bubandpie said...

I've done the waking-six-times-a-night at 1, 2, 3, 4:30, 5:30, up for the day at 6:30 thing - and it MESSES WITH YOUR HEAD. Basically, nothing you say or do right now is any reflection on who you are: it's as if you are acting under the influence of a powerful psychometric drug administered against your will. (Because, actually, that's exactly what you are doing.) If you are functioning at all right now, and are ever nice to anyone, you deserve a medal.

Mad Hatter said...

My heart is breaking for you right now. I can't imagine going what you are going through even though Miss M has had her share of sleep woes. To have gone a year with no more than 5 hours of sleep in a stretch? Seriously, you are the best mother I know for simply surviving that.

I have a sleep post I want to write. I will try to get to it soon.

Mouse said...

It took a long time to get Scooter into sleeping through the night--and he still has times when he wants to climb into bed with us at 3 am. He's almost 4, and it's only been a year since the bedtime routine didn't involve sitting with him for several hours. I won't even get into the co-sleeping, breastfeeding side of things here, beyond saying that he still likes to stick his hand down my shirt for comfort.

On the other hand, I don't see much I would have done differently, because it all felt like the right thing for him.

DaniGirl said...

Simon, now 3 years old, was a terrible sleeper. I had no idea how terribly sleep deprived I was at the time, but I clearly remember the frustration, the anger, the persecuted feeling of "oh for the love of god will you just let me sleep".

FWIW, it does get better. And if you'd like a book about sleep that's not judgemental while you're waiting it out, I do recommend Ann Douglas' books for a balanced viewpoint.

Hang in there, sweetie...

Aliki2006 said...

You're right, about all of it. And as others pointed out, sleep deprivation does mess with your head. Honestly, S.P. is stillr elatively young--most babies/tots don't sleep better until they near two--especially breastfed babies.

I weaned Tessa at 21 months mainly because of the nights and yes, she did sleep better after that. But I think she was ready too, anyway. And she still also looks to my skin for comfort--she will reach out in the night and knead my neck with her hand, much like she used to do when nursing. I don't know why we are taught to shun physical attachment with our kids...they need us--the smell of us, the touch of us, for much longer than only a handful of months.

Mad Hatter said...

I keep coming back here tonight to see if there are more comments, more comfort. I don't know how to send that comfort over the ether. I was going to write that post about sleep tonight but a significant quotation I need for it is in the office so it will have to wait.

Goodnight. I am wishing sleep your way and even more sleep Swee'Pea's way.

penelopeto said...

Cin, you know that your experiences with swee'pea are pretty much exactly the same as ours with bee.

Night waking had eased up and then got really bad again right before, and for about the first month, I went back at work. Why? Was she reacting to my stress about going back to work? Was she teething? Growth spurt? All of the above?
I was frustrated, and tired, and sad that somehow, someway my baby was not at peace - and I was feeling guilty about all of those things.

It is so, so, so hard. We have defaulted into a bedtime routine that is still not great, but it's something. I try to parent by instinct, but sometimes it's just a path-of-least-resistance kind of thing - like you say, on the tough nights we abandon bedtime altogether and just hang out until we all go to sleep.

As for the night feedings - we went cold turkey once she was used to the back-to-work routine, and cut them out. Most 'parent-like' thing we ever did, and we had 2 hard nights of ZERO sleep, but then she didn't care at all, didn't miss it, and never asks for it at night. That helped, but she still has rough nights.

Are we doing the 'right' thing? Who knows. I just try to keep in mind that evenutally (please, dear goddess), things even out and she will sleep. And I will sleep. Eventually.

And I bet I'll miss the nights when the only way she will drift off is lying right next to me (or on top of me), her wee arms around my neck.

penelopeto said...

p.s. (because my comment wasn't long enough) Aliki2006 is sooooooooo right. love what she said.

gingajoy said...

this whole description is so familiar (just last night I had the same night, in fact!)

there is nothing worse than sleep deprivation--Bub's right. It completely messes with your head.

My first son was a terrible terrible sleeper, and I struggled with everything you are talking about here. which book? which parenting ideology? (I actually wrote about it here:

and yes. we ended up going cold turkey too. it's what worked for *us* and the alternative was awful (my son was not sick. just completely used to waking up and being soothed--at one stage this was happening every half an hour. no lie.)

this is not me telling you to do the same, but sharing the experience. it's shitty. but there's some comfort in knowing we've all been there; we're all doing the best we can.

(btw--if you read that post, it will crack you up to know I am now co-sleeping with the new baby. hah! for now at least).

p.s. also loved the doorknobs!

cinnamon gurl said...

Thanks, all, for your support, good wishes, and been there, done that and survived...

Sage, we are trying yet again to implement a routine... we started before we went away, and for about a week he was mostly going to bed around 8. That obviously blew up with the travel and time changes, and then he got sick, so now we're trying again.

Last night he went to bed around 8, and only woke once before I went to bed at 10. It seriously the last time SD and I sat next to each other and held hands and chatted since we were driven to and from Pilanesberg in SA. It was nice. I think overnight was slightly better, with him only waking 3 or 4 times. So we'll see how things go.

Joy, I find that really interesting that you're cosleeping with this one. It just goes to show that every child is different... I find that really encouraging, somehow.

Anyways, thanks!

Mimi said...

Am I too late to give you a hug? This whole scenario sounds positively hellish to me--you really do deserve a medal for maintaining your love for your son, and your marriage, and your capacity to remain upright in the face of the kind of sleep deprivation you're labouring under.

For the record, it is sheer luck, I think, that Miss Baby now sleeps the way she does at night (and abandoning her daytime naps). We've tried lots of stuff: co-sleeping, crib-sleeping, on-demand feeding, and then finally CIO. It is **so** frustrating that all the books are so bossy, but none of them actually help.

Suppertime really is a pain, eh? One thing we're trying at our house is to do most of the prep the night before (ie, after 7:30 when Miss Baby is asleep) and then just the final stage before dinner. So all the chopping, rice-making, sauce-preparing, etc, happens one day early. Cuts a load of time and stress out of dinner. FWIW.

HUG. and then, HUG. You're a good good mom, and it's a really hard thing you're doing.

cinnamon gurl said...

Mimi, It's NEVER too late to give a virtual hug. Thanks!!

Loukia said...

My little one almost 19 months old and I still sleep in his room... he's a good sleeper, for the most part, but doesn't go to bed until 10, usually, and will wake up in the middle of the night and will want to sleep with me. I don't mind this, to be honest... I really do love sleeping with my baby! But I think it is time I go back to my room... I just can't do it, though...