Everyone will tell you that you get no sleep as a new parent. This is not entirely true. Some babies from the day they are born seem to have this sleeping business mastered. If you have one of these babies, you are part of a very select, exclusive club and you are bloody lucky. Ziggy was not (still isn’t) one of these babies. Oh no.
For the first few days, things were okay, He slept quite a bit. I think this is normal for new babies, they don’t really have much more to do than feed, sleep and poop. But after a week or so, things started to change.
He went through a gassy, spilly phase. Every time he fed he needed to be burped. If I put him down asleep without doing this, he would wake up crying and ‘eh eh eh’ing’ until we sat him up so he could spew or burp. But then of course he was awake. And the only way to get him to go back to sleep was to feed him again, and he’d fall sleep feeding, but still need a burp. So he’s wake up crying, I’d burp him, he’d be awake, and I’d feed him again to get him back to sleep. Do you see the never ending cycle we were stuck in? Some nights I would be up for hours stuck in this round-a-bout of feed, burp, cry. Feed, burp, cry. Feed. burp . . and now we’re both crying.
Then one night, AJ took him off me, wrapped him up like a glow bug, and settled Ziggy on his chest. Like magic he went to sleep. I don’t know if it was because he was on his tummy not his back so he wasn’t as burpy, or if he preferred his dads warm, calm chest to my milk and angst filled breast. But it worked. Ziggy went to sleep, AJ went to sleep and I went to sleep. Later that night/early morning/ungodly hour when Ziggy woke up for a feed, instead of setting him back into his bassinet, I lay him asleep on my chest. Magic. He stayed asleep and he slept a decent three to four hours.
So this is what we did. For the first weeks, he slept on us. Yeah okay we broke every ‘rule’ in the book, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. And what one book says is not safe, another says is perfectly normal. It’s all very confusing. I feel we were safe. We didn’t drink, smoke or take medication that made you drowsy. We weren’t overweight, we weren’t heavy sleepers. Ziggy was too young to move by himself, he just stayed there, on our chest and we slept on our backs until he woke up.
We also tilted his bassinet, so he was sleeping on a slight angle instead of perfectly flat. This seemed to help reduce the burping too, so some nights he would have his first sleep on AJ or me, then I’d pop him in the bassinet for the next sleep, especially once AJ had to go back to work, and needed a decent nights sleep. It wasn’t easy for him to wake up five to six times a night too.
Things were going well. But, just as we thought we were getting our groove on, Ziggy started screaming in the evenings. Not grizzling, not crying. Full blown screaming. Screaming so loud and long his voice would go hoarse. The first night he kept it up, on and off, for three long –nerve-wracking hours. AJ and I were beside ourselves, we had no idea what was wrong. I tried giving him a boob, he didn’t want a bar of it. We swaddled him. We rocked him. We bum patted him. We offered him the boob again. We did everything we could think of except put him down and leave him to cry, that was not an option. Eventually he tired himself out and went to sleep. AJ set him down in the bassinet then turned to me, and we held each other tightly. We were traumatised.
The next evening, as he was having his ‘it’s time for bed’ boob, it started again. He pulled off my nipple and started to cry. AJ and I looked at each other – oh shit, were we really going through this again? Yes, yes we were.
For the next week or so, we dreaded the evenings. Our happy laid back child had turned into a demon. We had no idea what was wrong. Was he hurt? Was he hungry? Was he scared? Hot? Cold?
We called our midwife. She wasn’t overly concerned and told us it was just a stage we had to work through. We consulted Google; that was no help, Google suggested things like reflux and colic which we were pretty sure it wasn’t. So, we just thought, fuck it, we have to roll with the punches. And that’s what we did. We would take turns trying to comfort him in the evening.
I would pace the living room holding him tight, and telling him ‘you’re safe and loved little boy, you’re safe and you’re loved. Mama loves Ziggy, dada loves Ziggy, Nana love Ziggy, Nani loves Ziggy . . . . ‘ luckily our combined family is huge and running through the list of all the people who loved Ziggy would take a fair amount of time, I think I found it more therapeutic than Ziggy did! AJ would swaddle him tightly, cradle him in his arms and rhythmically pat his bum. Pat, pat, pat shhh, shhh, shhh. We would alternate this with boobie time, and eventually Ziggy would give in and fall asleep.
As the evenings went on, the screaming started to lessen. Three hours turned into two hours. Two hours turned into one hour, then 40 minutes, then 30 minutes. The first time Ziggy fell asleep feeding, without any fight or crying AJ and I looked at each other and almost cried ourselves! We had done it, we had navigated that hideous phase that some babies go through, and we had made it out the other side.
When Ziggy was about eight weeks old, there was a free ‘Sleeping & Settling’ session offered by a sleep consultant and Karitane nurse, Dorothy Waide. As I was keen on anything that was baby related and free, I went along. I was naively hoping for some help in getting Ziggy into a better sleep cycle. I wasn’t sure that was I was doing was ‘right’ and I thought, why not head along and see what she has to say. Well . . . that was a big mistake. I didn’t know it at the time, but this lady is all about routine, routine, routine. Don’t let the baby dictate when they want to sleep, you’re the mum, you’re the boss. Leave them to cry and ‘self-settle’, that is fine, you’re not harming your baby . . yadda yadda blah blah blah.
I left that course feeling stink. I felt like I had failed Ziggy as a mum by not having a routine in place, by not giving him strict boundaries and making him sleep every 90 minutes on the dot so he didn’t get overtired. How bad of me to instead choose to roll with it and let my son sleep when he wanted to sleep. But, there was no way I was going to implement any of the ideas she suggested. Leave him to cry? Get a fuck lady, that is not happening on my watch. If he wants to cry to sleep, he’s crying in my arms or his dad’s arms, not an empty room.
I was also introduced to Eat. Play. Sleep. The idea that you set a routine (yes that bloody word again) for your baby by feeding them once they wake up, playing with them, and then putting them to sleep (without feeding them to sleep). I tried it, I really did, I liked that there was no ‘leaving to cry’ or serious clock watching, but Ziggy didn’t adhere to Eat, Play, Sleep. Oh no, Ziggy was more, Eat, Play, Eat, Play, Nappy Change, Eat, Pretend to go to Sleep, Eat some more, then, if I was really lucky . . . Sleep. But more often than not, Stay Awake watching TV until he was well and truly ready to close his eyes.
It was about this time I stumbled upon the Facebook pages, The Milk Meg and Evolutionary Parenting. Now I know I’ve mentioned them in the past, but they were my life raft. They reassured me that what I was doing was not harming my son, in fact, what I was doing was exactly what he needed. He didn’t need me to watch a clock, or leave him to cry. He needed me to boob him to sleep, to rock him, to pat him, to watch and listen to his cues and roll with it.
It was like a weight was lifted. I felt like maybe, just maybe, what AJ and I had been doing was right, and we should keep on keeping on. So, we did, we threw away the proverbial ‘rule’ book and we went back to rolling with it. Yes, some nights he was not going to sleep without a fight, yes, some days he’d cat nap for no more than 30 minutes at a time, yes, some nights I’d be up feeding him every 1 – 2 hours (okay, most nights). But, now that we were not worrying that this is ‘wrong’ and we instead embraced that this was normal, it made such a difference to the way we handled it. To the way we felt. We weren’t stressing out, we just shrugged our shoulders and gave Ziggy another smooch.
There is so much material out there regarding babies and sleep. So many books and techniques. Experts to pay and gimmicks to buy. I feel it is confidence destroying for parents. You start doubting yourself, you start second guessing yourself. I know we did. What we needed, and what we found, was reassurance that actually, we were doing just fine as we were. Our baby was healthy, our baby was happy. Sure, he doesn’t sleep eight hours a night, but you know what, most babies don’t. For a baby, five hours is considered ‘sleeping through’ and for Ziggy I jump groggily with joy if he manages four. It is just another variation of normal.
Then, not too long after we had settled into our ‘Zen like Calm’ regarding Ziggy and his sleeping, we hit the 4 month sleep regression phase. Hooooooly toledo batman, hold on tight! But, that’s another story to tell.