The best and the worst

TheBestAndWorstI’ve been on baby boot camp with my daughter Lottie for three months, so I feel it’s time to assess how my life has changed since becoming a mum. Overall life is brilliant, and I couldn’t be happier. But it’s also worth noting that I was already a very happy person before Lottie’s arrival and of course not everything about having a baby is sunshine and roses. The easiest way to explain how I feel about motherhood’s ups and downs so far is to dot point the top ten and bottom ten changes I’ve experienced.

The best things

  • Feeling like my heart will burst with love for Lottie, a love that amazingly seems to grow every day. (Sorry for the soppiness).
  • Watching my husband and Lottie’s extended family and friends loving her like I do.
  • Looking forward to getting to know Lottie’s personality as she grows into a toddler and soon a small person who can have conversations.
  • Singing songs and reading books, learning how to entertain Lottie and surprisingly finding myself entertained too.
  • Small clothes.
  • Walks in the sun with Lottie in the pram or carrier.
  • Catching a smile on camera or video. Ok, I admit it, I’m addicted to taking photos of my baby. I have hundreds of photos.
  • Coffee and cake with friends and hanging out with my family more since I’m on leave from work.
  • Sharing the baby boot camp experience with my sister and nephew who is 10 weeks older than Lottie. It’s lovely to have someone to text in the morning about Lottie’s night who finds trivial baby updates interesting.
  • Cuddles. During feeds, before bed, first thing in the morning, after feeds, any and every time of the day I love Lottie cuddles.

The worst things

  • Sleep deprivation and having to get out of a warm bed in the middle of the cold night to feed Lottie. Thankfully these occasions are becoming less frequent.
  • Lottie’s emotional crying (tears). Particularly when I can’t do anything about it, such as in the car.
  • Managing Lottie’s sleeps. The moments when I think she’s asleep and then I realise she’s not (sleep fail). Or when she is asleep and then for an inexplicable reason she wakes up and I know she won’t go back to sleep even though she’s not had enough sleep. Or when we’re out somewhere and Lottie is exhausted and losing it, but won’t go to sleep. You get the picture. Sleeps are hard.
  • Physical exhaustion and sore back and neck from feeding, lifting, pushing pram, carrying, bending over, in and out of cot etc.
  • The inconsistency and unpredictability of Lottie’s behaviour; just when I think things are getting more consistent and predictable, bam, things are all over the shop again.
  • Worrying about Lottie for no other reason than just being worried. Finding silly things to worry about when there’s nothing to worry about. I think this just comes with the parent-territory.
  • Lack of mental-stimulation and missing being around work colleagues and having challenges every day. Maternity leave can be very boring, particularly when Lottie is asleep.
  • Baby-related chores such as washing, cleaning, managing all the bits and pieces that go with Lottie such as expressing milk, sterilizing bottles, nappy bag restocks, keeping on top of nappy supply etc.
  • The end of spontaneity. Going out, even just to grab something from the shops, now requires careful planning and sometimes even a baby sitter. Outings also need to take into account sleeps. And all the bits and pieces that need to be packed up and taken with us; it sometimes feels like I have to pack up the house just to leave for a couple of hours.
  • As much as I love the singing and the books, the repetition of the same songs and the same books can be mind-numbingly boring at times.

Looking back at the list of good things and bad things, it’s made me realise that the good things are all major happiness-inducing changes and the bad things are mostly small annoyances that are completely and utterly made up for by the good stuff. Motherhood clearly gets the big tick from me!


Job Share Parenting

Job Share ParentingThis Saturday Lottie will be 3 months old. I’ve heard people say that babies get much ‘easier’ from 3 months onwards and I must admit I’m finding this to be the case. Lottie has become more predictable in her behaviour (give or take a recent Wonder Week) and her sleep and feeding habits are less of a mystery. She is able to self-settle much quicker (so no more lying in her cot awake for up to 90 minutes before going to sleep, it’s now more like 10 minutes). Her ability to sleep anywhere is improving. I don’t think the sleeps in the car seat, in the carrier on my front or in the pram are ever going to be quality day sleeps – they usually only last an hour or less – but as long as I only have one of these shorter day-sleeps per day, Lottie doesn’t seem to get overtired. The cot in her nursery is still her favourite place and night times are going well, with one night feed post dream feed, and a few times no night feed at all. I love a full night’s sleep!

Part of the reason I feel things are getting easier are not just to do with Lottie, but are attributable to my own growing confidence, and also my husband’s. We have started to get into a good rhythm in sharing Lottie-related-tasks when Rick is at home on weekends, mornings and evenings. I’ve had to make a conscious effort not to treat Rick like my parenting assistant, because I could tell right from the start this would undermine his confidence. It also implies that I am better at parenting than him and the outcome of that attitude is that I’m the only one who can look after Lottie, which is hard on me, and Rick. For example, if I ask Rick to change Lottie’s nappy, and then I stand over him while he does it telling him he’s doing it wrong, he’s going to feel like an assistant parent. And it’s double-handling so a waste of my time. It also positions me as the boss parent, and just like in the workplace, the boss is in charge and therefore takes ultimate responsibility. I don’t want ultimate responsibility for Lottie, because she has two parents. Not a boss and an assistant. Rather parents who are job sharing. I would prefer Rick doesn’t need my help changing a nappy, and in fact can work out for himself when Lottie needs changing, so I bite my tongue and let him do it.

Now after three months, just like me, Rick’s quickly learned how to do all sorts of Lottie tasks without my help; he does most of the baths, most of the reading books, lots of nappies and outfit changes, burping, spotting tired signs, putting down to bed, soothing when she cries, entertaining her, singing to her, putting her in the pram and in the car seat, taking her for walks in the pram or carrier, feeding her a bottle, in fact everything except for the only things he can’t physically do: breastfeeding and expressing. Obviously I do more of all of these things as I’m on maternity leave and he works full time. And I get up in the night because there’s no point Rick getting up since he can’t feed Lottie (and needs his sleep so he can be alert at work!). Job-shared roles in workplaces aren’t always split 50/50, nevertheless both the employees in the shared-job take full responsibility when they are at work. And slowly, but surely, this is how our parenting-job-sharing is taking shape.

It is so nice when Rick comes home from work to be able to hand Lottie over to him and run out to the supermarket or have a bath or read a book or cook dinner. It’s also great to have a break on weekends, where I don’t have to change every nappy or manage every sleep. Rick’s confidence with Lottie isn’t just great for me, but also makes his time with Lottie more enjoyable I think since he’s sure of what he’s doing and he knows what to do if Lottie needs something. There are still many times where I catch myself bossing Rick around with Lottie as if I’m his boss. And sometimes he does need to check with me if he’s not sure what Lottie needs. I also try not to say ‘thank you’ to Rick when he looks after Lottie, because that implies he’s doing me a favour, almost as if he’s babysitting his own daughter, when really he’s just being a parent. I can already see that the long term benefits of us both being confident job-sharing parents is going to be good for all of us. Particularly when I go back to work, and also when I hopefully have baby number two. See what I mean about things getting easier; I’m already thinking about the next one.

Cry Babies

Lottie happy in cot
Lottie loves her cot

Lottie is 11 weeks old and things feel like they’re getting a bit easier and more consistent every day. I have maintained my calm, as I wrote about last week, and have let go of a lot of anxiety I had around day sleeps; most days Lottie happily goes to sleep in her cot for one to two hours at least once or twice. If I’m home all day, we’ve even managed three successful self-settled day sleeps in the cot and although I’ve had a few sleep fails while we’ve been out and about, we have also had some good day sleeps in the car, the pram and the portacot.

When the sleep fails have happened, my calm attitude I think has helped, because rather than getting upset, I just let Lottie sleep in my arms or take her home to her cot and she eventually gets the sleep she craves. In fact, one of the best discoveries this week is just how much Lottie loves her cot. The photo on this post is from Friday evening when we had a sleep fail while out with friends. It was the first time for a few weeks we had taken her out at bedtime. We were hoping Lottie would sleep in the carrier on my husband’s front but after it was clear she was way too stimulated for this to happen, we took her home and put her to bed. She’d been awake for three hours since a very short nap in the car at this point so was definitely overtired, but rather than being cranky when I put her down to sleep, she basically cheered as I put her down: as if to say ‘thank goodness mum, now I’m in my cot I can finally get some sleep’. It’s such a relief that Lottie loves her cot!

Night sleeps are also going well. Lottie’s slept once through to 6am after a dream feed at 10pm and other than this has had one night feed between 2am and 5am all week. Overall, the whole sleep management thing is still hard work, but patterns are starting to form and there’s a consistency to Lottie’s ability to self-settle in her cot, so we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

What I noticed today, after what was our best day of the week with three cot sleeps and a visit to a friend which thankfully didn’t include any of the usual screaming crying in the car, was that when we have a good 24 hours of successful sleeps, Lottie barely cries ‘tears’ all day. As I’ve pointed out before, I have learned to differentiate between emotional crying (which I call ‘tears’), whinging, fussing and yelling-out. My husband and I have been trying to use these different descriptions for Lottie noise instead of just saying ‘she’s crying’ as this makes things much simpler when we’re making decisions; we both understand which sounds we attend to and which we leave Lottie to sort out for herself. But as the sleep training has progressed, and we’ve got better at making sure Lottie isn’t getting overtired, and she’s feeding more efficiently and we know how to judge when she’s hungry or not and when she’s ready for sleep and no doubt as Lottie has just got older and better at controlling her own emotions, there has been less crying overall. However, and this is a big ‘however’, I do not want this paragraph to imply that less crying equals better parenting. Because honestly, I don’t understand what the big deal is about crying.

In the battlegrounds of the baby wars, crying seems to be the number one most contentious issue. It’s even to the point where I would suggest that some mother-experts think that every time their child makes any sound that could possibly be construed as ‘crying’, if they don’t sweep the child into their arms and soothe those ‘cries’ instantly, they’re neglectful and harming their child. Time and time again I’ve seen and heard anti-sleep-training-mother-experts saying ‘I could never let my child cry’, as if this makes them better mothers. As if they deserve a ‘my baby doesn’t cry’ award. Seriously, everyone needs to take a chill-pill about the crying thing. Crying isn’t hurting the baby. It might be hurting your ears and pulling at your heart, but that’s about the parents, not about the child. This might sound like I’m telling parents who hate crying to harden up and that’s exactly what I’m doing. Harden up! Do people really think there is such a thing as parenthood without crying babies?

During the night, if I hear whinging, I don’t go into the nursery and most of the time Lottie goes back to sleep. If the whinging escalates to tears, I do go in and without fail, Lottie is hungry. The yelling-out seems to be Lottie’s way of trying out her voice, or maybe even entertaining herself. And the whinging and fussing prior to sleep is just that; whinging and fussing while Lottie tries to put herself to sleep. As Lottie gets older, the difference between all these cries become more and more obvious, but to be honest, I could differentiate them from when Lottie was a couple of weeks old. You just can’t miss an emotional ‘tears’ cry. It’s like an alarm going off and it’s really stressful to listen to. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything ‘wrong’ with this type of crying. It’s just Lottie insisting on something. She’s not hurting herself, breaking her throat, stressing herself beyond repair or overheating. She’s just crying. Other than that she’s fine.

I’ve discovered a few times when Lottie is crying emotionally in the car (in other words, screaming her little lungs out), this type of crying never lasts long because usually Lottie quickly exhausts herself and goes to sleep. There’s not much you can do about screaming in the car. It’s not like you can pull over and soothe a baby on the side of the road (though I have been tempted). But the safest thing to do is grit your teeth, keep your eyes on the road, and continue driving until you get where you’re going. Then attend to the screamer (if she hasn’t already screamed herself to sleep). So in effect, I’ve inadvertently let Lottie cry-it-out in the car a few times. Am I scared that this crying has done damage to her ability to form emotional attachments? Of course not. Am I scared, as Pinky McKay says, that I am ‘frying her tiny brain and screwing her up for life’? What a load of rubbish!

I don’t understand why people get so worried about their babies crying, whether it be emotional crying, whinging, fussing or yelling out. Babies have cried since there were babies. But it seems like a relatively new thing in society that some parents seem literally scared to hear their baby cry for even a few minutes or even seconds. I agree that it’s unpleasant to listen to your baby cry. But I also think it’s worth learning the difference between a ‘I need help’ cry and a ‘I’m whinging myself to sleep’ cry. Because as I’ve found, once you do manage to teach your baby to self-settle and self-soothe, there is less crying overall. Less overtiredness. Less hunger. Less unexplained crying (which is probably a mixture of tired and hungry). And best of all – there is hardly any crying at all overnight and when it does happen, it’s never unexplained. I hope those who rail against sleep-training are listening. Silence never sounded so good!