The most vulnerable place for a woman is flat on her back, wrapped in an ill-fitting paper gown, feet in stirrups, butt waving in the air. Oh sure, childbirth is maybe a BIT higher on the vulnerability chart, especially with the revolving crowd of health attendants, but there’s more going on there. An action scene, so to say. You’re not just lying there trying to make small talk with a near stranger as a room temperature piece of chrome gets wedged into your hoohah and you have the urge to stick out your cervix and say ahhhhhhhh.
Those were the thoughts making me giggle as I sat and waited for a recent appointment. Hey, I was alone in the waiting room, no one was there to give me the side eye for laughing at apparently nothing. The Smithsonian Magazine article I was reading on King Tut’s tomb wasn’t that amusing. (Aside: that magazine was practically untouched, the weekly rags were battered.) The soundtrack to my mental amusement was canned music and some sort of all-medical news channel. OBGYN TV 24/7. But heavy on the OB, because no one wants to watch GYN news. Actually, heavy on the post-OB, because no one wants What To Fear And Loathe When You’re Expecting TV. Hard to get advertising for that.
I managed to block out the canned elevator music (years of practice), but eventually the TV stories wormed into my consciousness.
“…so you come to your child the first time and make sure he is dry and warm and fed. The next time come in and just pat his back to soothe him. The next time come into the room and soothe him with just your voice. The next time just from the doorway. It may take four or five hours, but eventually he will self-soothe and fall asleep. He needs to learn how to self-soothe in order to fall asleep.”
By the time the disembodied voice got to “four or five hours” I had turned completely around and was disintegrating the TV with the lasers shooting from my eyes. I wanted to tell the young pregnant mama who had walked in to ignore the idiot on the television because morons should not be dispensing parenting advice. (Especially male morons. This is why I see a female doctor; I want the person who is saying “this will be uncomfortable” during an exam actually know that it will be uncomfortable because she has also endured the breeze up the backside fun. Seeing a male OBGYN is akin to a vegan dispensing steer butchering advice.)
So let me tell you about letting your child
self-soothe cry it out. The child has not read the books nor heard the “experts” and does not give a flying fuck what they say he should do and how soon. Some kids NEED more hands-on comforting than others. That’s just how they are wired, and no amount of shushing from the doorway while you choke back your exhausted sobs is going to put that kid to sleep. Ask me how I know this, I dare you. Also, four to five hours in the middle of the night is the longest eternity in the history of the universe; I am regularly schooled on universal timelines by a kid who loves quantum physics and yet I stand by that statement. I am nearly 14 years past “sleep training” an infant but dear lord I am not past the trauma that brought to our home, and frankly am a little astonished that piece of shit advice is still being dispensed. A first time mom with a high-intensity infant, I was desperate for sleep. Andy would not sleep longer than a two hour stretch at any given time. He’d wake at night hungry and feed for 45 minutes to an hour. Every two hours. For months. He didn’t sleep a 4-5 hour stretch until he was nearly six months old, and we didn’t have family nearby to help. And when he was awake, he was AWAKE and ALERT and holy god THE COLIC (This is why I take great joy in waking him in the mornings, and will until he has children of his own. I’m an evil mama. Mwahahahahahahha…..) Then at six months the ear infections started and…<cut to Jen sitting under her desk right now, shaking and rocking and breathing deeply>
I refuse to say “this too shall pass,” however true that may be, because in the thick of it you’re convinced you’re never going to sleep again and this tiny tyrant screaming his head off will be the first human in history to never ever sleep, and woe to the kindly old lady at the grocery store who says to cherish every day because they go so fast. Yes, they do, and some days just cannot go fast enough. I miss my tiny babies, miss those sweet smelling heads and nomming on little toes. Teen and tween boys do not have sweet smelling heads and dear lord I’m going nowhere near those toes. I sure as hell don’t miss lack of sleep, endless crying, trying to live around the hope of naps, diaper bags, and cracked nipples. So while there is plenty I do not miss, I do have a few regrets. No, I take that back. Just one.
I regret that I didn’t listen to and respond to my child, instead of the one morons dispensing advice seem to think exists. My oldest son needed more touch, more comforting, more me, more everything (for years) and because I thought I could mold him into the child society said could be created, I missed out on parenting my infant. My kid needed me, just as sometimes I desperately need to be held for a long time and loved; if I were shushed from across the room instead of being comforted with patient love, bet your ass I’d keep screaming too, even now. Or I’d withdraw into myself, convinced I was on my own. (I did do better with J, thank god. Hate to think I totally borked up both boys…much.) There was one night…ONE…when I took him into the living room and was so overwhelmed and exhausted I crawled onto the futon and Andy slept on my chest. First decent night of sleep either of us had had in ages. Why I didn’t continue to do that I’ll never know, short of me being slow to learn and a slobberingly exhausted piece of mess. Oh, and because everyone knew a child had to learn to sleep on his own by a certain month.
It took me over a decade to finally say fuck it to conventional wisdom and parent the sons I have, and even now I struggle with that every single day. How dare they have their own strong personalities and opinions and wills! Once I finally accepted that they’re just wired the ways they are and that nothing I do will change that, we were able to work together and get them to where they needed to be faster and with less stress. If I’d figured that out from the beginning, things would have been easier on all of us. At least I figured it out before the teen years hit. Kinda.
So mamas of all ages, kick the guilt to the curb. Listen to the experts with a grain of salt or two. You are the expert on your kids, and if your kid needs more snuggly attention to sleep, or to pace and bounce while concentrating, or homeschooling to effectively learn, ignore the disembodied voices of the experts and meet your child where he is. You’ll all sleep better for it.