Fear of the unknown

Is it just me or are there a lot of babies about to come to the world? I have six friends who are counting down the days till their babies are born and everywhere I look there seem to be pregnant ladies.

All those lovely rounded bellies and the glowing faces of the mothers carrying them make me miss being pregnant, even though my second pregnancy wasn’t a walk in the park. It might sound strange, but what I miss the most is the actual giving birth, with all it entails. I miss the excitement, the impatience, the sense of anticipation and even the pain leading to the most incredible experience I’ve ever had.

A couple of my pregnant friends will be going through this ordeal for the first time and they have both expressed how nervous and scared they are of what lies ahead. They fear the pain, which is understandable, but their greatest fear seems to be that of going through a totally new and, frankly, terrifying experience. You can read hundreds of books and articles, watch documentaries and films, attend classes in the hopes of getting a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for it but the truth is that only going through it will teach you how to deal with it. You’ll probably be thinking “A fat lot of good that is!”, but let me explain.

With my first child, I wasn’t the picture of calm. I literally couldn’t wait to have my baby, both because I had been in constant pain for three days and nights but mostly because I had to meet the person I knew would become my whole world. I wanted to start the rest of my life with her, let her know she was safe with me and that nobody would ever come between us. At the time, I was a little paranoid about her birth father wanting to take her away from me (a totally irrational fear), so the control freak in me just wanted her to be with me as soon as possible. Add to that the fact that this was my first pregnancy and labour and that I was scared witless that my body couldn’t possibly deliver such a big baby (another irrational fear) and I was bouncing off the hospital bed with nerves.

As you can imagine, my emotional state of mind didn’t help matters. I forgot to use the breathing techniques they had taught us during the antenatal classes, I sucked the life out of the air and gas that I willingly accepted as pain control and I panicked while I was pushing, saying my last prayers out loud because I was sure I was about to die. I obviously survived her birth and was already wishing for a repeat performance three days later!

Before I scare any pregnant women reading this, what I just wrote is a list of mistakes I learned not to repeat. My second baby’s birth was a completely different story. To start with, I made sure to prepare my body while I was still pregnant. The most important thing I did was to practise yoga from the second trimester onwards (I was too sick to move off the sofa during the first three months). Not only was my body more flexible and ready for delivery but, most importantly, I was mentally and emotionally prepared for labour.

There is good reason why expectant mothers are taught breathing techniques. If you have ever practised yoga, you’ll know that breathing is the most important thing. While giving birth, it is vital in controlling the pain and calming the body, allowing the mother to focus on the baby and helping it along. What also helped me enormously was visualising baby R leaving my body. It wasn’t easy to start with, but I managed to embrace the pain and use it to help her into the light. And before you think I’m so zen that I did it all with a smile on my face, I didn’t. I used gas and air again and squeezed my husband’s hand till it turned purple. He has also got quite the collection of videos of my cussing when the pain got out of hand!

So, to cut a long post short, my advice to all first time mums would be to really enjoy the moment, however uncomfortable and painful it might be. Prepare yourselves physically and mentally beforehand (I cannot recommend yoga enough) and remember that one day you’ll miss those life-changing moments. Oh, and a dose of painkiller always helps!

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

8 things that change with parenthood

1. Sleep. I’ve already written about how differently I look at sleep now that it’s in short supply. Thankfully, I now get an average of six hours, albeit interrupted, sleep every night. What I really miss is the occasional nap, especially in summer when afternoons bring their own brand of drowsiness. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the baby keeping me awake but you would be wrong. Our seven year old loves nothing better than to up the ante just when everyone else is dying to close their eyes for a few minutes! On the other hand, her sister’s naptime is the perfect time to get some undivided attention, so I don’t blame her. One day I’ll miss those precious couple of hours alone with her, even though I don’t always look at it this way.

2. No matter how much you clean and tidy up, your house will never look like you want it to. Nowadays we are constantly bombarded with images of immaculate houses sporting the latest trends in interior design. If, like me, you follow blogs and use Pinterest, you might sometimes feel like you live in a pigsty. I am aware that the houses we see in magazines and blogs are curated and styled for photoshoots but that doesn’t change the fact that our toy-strewn floors and crumb-filled sofas can make our house feel inadequate at best. That’s not to mention the stickers stuck to furniture and windows and drawings pinned to every door. Sometimes I have to remind myself that those are signs of a lived-in home, where memories are being made.

3. The power of a shower. You might find this strange or you might agree with me, but unless I shower first thing in the morning, I can’t seem to get my act together. This used to be especially true when our baby was smaller and she practically never napped, so I sometimes would have to wait till the afternoon to jump in the shower. A two minute scrub, brushed hair and a dusting of blusher can work wonders on one’s disposition, especially following a broken night and ahead of a busy day.

4. Nothing will ever be done on a whim again. I was never much of a planner. While my friends were reading law and medicine, I was buried in books written in dead languages. While people my age were buying their first property, I was renting and spending the rest of my salary on books and on trips abroad. Now I plan everything. My diary and lists span meal plans, things I need to buy for the children, paperwork needing to be taken care of, family days out, date nights, play dates and naptimes. Everything is planned to the minutest detail and if something unexpected happens I tend to get upset. Luckily, there’s my husband to balance out my neuroses and help me take things more in my stride.

5. Every baby is beautiful in his parents’ eyes. When my first daughter was born, I wrote in my diary that I had never EVER seen such a beautiful human being. I was floored by her beauty. Last week i went through the first photos we took of her at the hospital. She was a cute baby but her red, squashed features bore little resemblance to the image I carry of her in my mind. I still look at her and wonder at her beauty but now I also know that a mother’s eyes are clouded by a love that can look past any defects and faults her offspring might have (not that my perfect daughter has any, of course!).

6. The sound of a baby crying becomes distressing even if the baby isn’t yours. I used to be able to block out the sound of a crying baby. I’d carry on with whatever I’d be doing and leave it up to the little one’s mum to take care of him or her. Now I get a strong urge to pick up and comfort the distressed baby. Not ideal when trying to have a much awaited dinner alone with the husband and all you want to do is run to the wailing baby at the next table to whisper comforting words in its ears.
7. You will learn how deeply your heart is capable of loving. I used to think that I loved my nephews and nieces like they were my own children. I would buy them little gifts, phone them just to hear their voices, carry photos of them in my bag and talk about their achievements with a pride to rival their parents’. Then I had my own children and the love I felt and still feel for my siblings’ children faded in comparison. I still love them dearly but the pull I feel towards my own offspring is so strong that no words can do it justice.

8. Shopping for yourself, even if needed, becomes really hard to do. I don’t think I am the only one to walk into a shop to buy myself something (which is usually a necessity) only to walk out holding a bag with things for my daughters and nothing for myself. Somehow, there’s always a good excuse for buying them a dress they don’t really need while I am forced to keep wearing my old shirts and jeans. Hopefully they will take me out on shopping sprees when they are old enough to treat me to them. One can always dream.
Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

Look at me!

Nobody ever tells you how difficult raising a child can be. Parenting books rarely go beyond the first couple of years of children’s lives. I was reminded of this yesterday when I met two acquaintances from my school days. One of them has two children and the other one three. Their eldest are both my daughter’s age, so our conversation automatically veered towards our first borns and the problems we are currently facing with them.

As I’ve said before and will never tire of repeating, my first daughter was my first real love. Like every first child, she taught me how to love unconditionally and gave meaning to my life. Our relationship, however, has gone through many ups and downs. We have had to go through many changes and adapt to new situations since her birth and some transitions have had quite an impact on the way we relate to each other.

Before yesterday’s conversation with those other two mums, I honestly thought I was the only one to be constantly struggling to keep my relationship with my older daughter a happy one. There are days when we bicker constantly, when everything she says and does seems to be full of spite towards me, when I cannot wait for bedtime to come so the grumpiness finishes. These are days I’d rather not think about and hope will never repeat themselves but the truth is that every so often they do repeat themselves, whether I like it or not.

Well, yesterday I came to several conclusions. To start with, I’m not the only parent going through a rough patch with my daughter. I also realised that the three of us started having these problems when our second child was born. But before you start blaming sibling rivalry, I’d like to make some things clear. All our children love their younger siblings. In the case of my daughter, she adores her sister. She looks out for her all the time, wants to go with her everywhere, gladly plays with her and takes care of her like she was her own daughter (within limits, you’ll understand).

What seems to be the problem with these first borns is a need for attention that is not being met. Let’s not forget that these are children who were showered with love and undivided attention from the day they were born. In the case of my daughter, the attention was that much more intense because everyone was trying to compensate for the lack of a father figure in her life. Then, one fine day, another little being joins the family and they are suddenly not the only child being played with, tended to, sang to, slept with and cuddled. The workload usually doubles as well when a second child is born but the hours in the day remain the same. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that a lot of the time previously dedicated to the first child is now taken up with the younger sibling’s needs and the added housework.

It is little wonder, then, that all our eldest children seem to be screaming for help in their own way. In the case of my daughter, she literally shouts for attention every few minutes. It could be a new dance routine she would have just come up with, a new drawing she’d have finished or just an ant she spots on the balcony. If I’m not careful, I can easily lose my patience with the constant interruptions and what I perceive as a waste of my time and become aggressive. There are days when the continuous begging for attention becomes so draining that I snap at her far too often and it kills me. I always end up sitting her down, apologising for my behaviour and trying to explain to her that I cannot spend every minute looking at her and talking to her. Most of the time she understands but that doesn’t change the fact that she craves attention far more than she ever did before.

When I feel that she is getting frustrated and really needs some undivided attention, I make it a point to sit down and play or do crafts with her while her sister is napping. If I can leave the little one with someone else, I try to spend a couple of hours alone with her outdoors. We go for a swim together or for breakfast at a cafe’. They are little things but they never fail to put a smile on both our faces and we always reconnect.

I have to make it clear that dropping all I’m supposed to be doing to spend quality time with my daughter is not as easy as it sounds. Most of the time I have to remind myself that the memories my daughter will have of her childhood are of the time we spend together and not of dinner being ready in time or of the floors being clean.
Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

Summer fun

Last week I wrote about how tiring and time-consuming all the winter after-school activities can be. Well, since I wrote that post, holidays started and, for at least the next three months, we are faced with the opposite problem.

Although I now prefer the cold winter months to the hot summer ones, things were different when I was a child. Like most of my childhood friends, I was lucky to spend all my summers a few metres away from the sea. We used to go down to the beach soon after breakfast (and morning Mass) and spend all day swimming, going home only for lunch and a couple of hours after that to allow our bodies to digest. The evenings were spent playing and eating ice creams with our friends, until we had to drag ourselves to bed out of sheer exhaustion. Those are my fondest memories from my early years.

Like most parents, I find myself trying to emulate my own childhood, passing on to my children the traditions I remember with a smile. We don’t live a few metres away from the sea, but a three minute drive can hardly be a deterrent for daily visits to the beach. What does deter me is the strong sun, my fear of which has already been documented. So we have taken to going for our daily swim after breakfast, before the sun’s rays become unbearable. By half past ten we’re back home, refreshed and ready to start our day.

In a couple of weeks’ time, M will start attending summer club in the mornings but until that happens, we have started our own sort of club at home. I bought her a couple of workbooks to practice her Maltese (not our forte in this house) and her maths. Then she reads some of the English books she gets every week from the library and plays with her sister.

What I’m really excited about, however, are the more creative activities we’re trying to incorporate into her days. Every day we come up with a topic or think of an object, a place or a person. Then her job is to depict that day’s subject in whichever way she wishes to. She can use colouring pencils, crayons, paint, collage, her whiteboard, applications for drawing on the iPad…whichever medium takes her fancy. The idea is to encourage her to use her imagination and to get her creative juices flowing, both of which are very important qualities for her father and myself.

The afternoons are a different story. Being a child who has resisted sleep since she was born, there is no way I can get our seven year old to have a nap when her baby sister has hers. So that time is usually spend playing board games, reading books or watching a dvd. My friend and I also plan on teaching our daughters how to sew and bake this summer…I guess I’ll have to tell you how that goes at a later date! The rest of the afternoon and the evening are taken up by playdates with her best friend and visits to our favourite ice cream van down by the beach.

Daily trips to a sandy beach and keeping a seven year old occupied and motivated mean a lot of work but I must admit I’m enjoying myself almost as much as our daughter is. I might not be fond of summer anymore, but for the first time since becoming a mother, I’m living these hot months through my children and I’m rediscovering the magic that this season brings with it.

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

How much is too much?

The other day I met an old friend for a chat. She’s mum to two girls too though both of them are closer in age to my seven year old. Needless to say we ended up discussing motherhood and our children. I left our meeting feeling inadequate and with a sense of panic rising in my throat.

Her children seem to be overachievers. Not only do they get good grades at school, they also attend ballet, modern jazz, piano and violin lessons. I forgot to mention that she is also a working mum. What can I say? My daughter attends catechism lessons twice a week and ballet lessons three times a week and, even so, I feel like she has got too much on her plate. On a typical winter day, she comes home from school, eats lunch, does her homework and spends the rest of the afternoon playing. She hasn’t taken part in a dance show since her baby sister was born, simply because I cannot bring myself to drag out the little one to a dance studio at bedtime. My chat with my friend made me question myself and my priorities as a mum. Am I shortchanging my own daughter?

When she was born, I had every intention of throwing every activity available at her and then she would choose which ones she liked and wanted to continue pursuing. And, for a while, that’s what I did. Then came her sister and our days weren’t just ours to schedule anymore. There is now another person to take into account when taking on new commitments. This little person has her own routine, with her own mealtimes, naptimes and bedtime. She’s a pretty flexible baby, eating in the car while we wait for her sister to finish her ballet lessons and never complaining about being woken up from a nap so we pick her sister up from school. However, bedtime is sacred in our house. We don’t leave the house after 8pm so any commitments requiring us to be out and about after that time are not taken on.
So for the past few days I’ve been mulling over the different options available on our island. She could take up an instrument, which she says would be the flute. That would mean another two lessons a week and at least twenty minutes practice everyday. There is also gymnastics she’s always shown an interest in. That would make eight extra-curricular activities a week, with some days having more than one activity in the afternoon. It would mean that her time to unwind and play would be limited, if she would have any of that at all. It would mean that she would have no time to spend with her sister, which she currently has quite a bit of. It would mean that baby R would have to spend every single afternoon waiting in a car, whether it’s cold in winter or hot in summer.
With each sentence I just wrote, I confirmed what I already knew. I don’t feel like I can load her with more activities than she already has. She loves ballet and takes it very seriously. Catechism is important for us. Other than that, I don’t feel there are enough hours in the day to take on all the activities available. I feel a little guilty about it, but I decided long ago that I would follow my instincts when I became a mother. What works for other families might not work for ours.
I can’t say I am one hundred percent happy about my daughter not achieving as much as other children apparently are, but I chose to give priority to her childhood being full of memories of games, laughter and bonding with friends and family. Only time will tell whether my decision is the right one or not.

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

The sun has got his hat on

And so it’s here again. This year I have mixed feelings about the beginning of summer, seeing as this winter was longer and colder than any I remember on these islands. Half of me is looking forward to, hopefully, a germ-free few months while the other half dreads the heat and scorching sun.

I have always felt like I was born in the wrong place. Why would someone born and bred on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean have pale skin that burns so easily and gets covered in freckles (which is a cuter name for pigmentation) the second she steps out in the sun? That’s not to mention my legs, which positively glow when exposed to sunlight. I envy my friends with olive skin who get a golden tan with no effort and pain.

Unfortunately, both my children inherited my pasty complexion, which means I am usually very careful not to expose them too much to the summer sun. Ok, I’ll admit I’m a little scared of the sun and that is why, come May, I start arming myself with all the paraphernalia that will make the following five months more bearable.

Apart from trying to avoid the outdoors between noon and four in the afternoon, I always carry sunscreen in my handbag, in the beachbag and I keep another one at home close to the front door. Then there are the fans. Our flat is not air-conditioned so every room has its own fan. This year I’ve gone one step further and bought a small one for the car, which our baby promptly turned into a teether. I am also on the hunt for spray bottles which I plan to keep filled with cold water and which I can then spray onto the children and myself in a bid to keep us cool in our hot car. Because, crazy as it may sound, our car isn’t air-c0nditioned either! This means that I usually have to open up the windows a few minutes before we get into the car, otherwise we all risk getting first degree burns upon contact with the steering wheel and seat belts.

Other items on my summer shopping list are a paddling pool which is big enough to hold a seven and a one year old and small enough to fit on our balcony, hats which both girls will keep on (this is a tough one) and water bottles which keep the water inside cool.

I think that should cover it. When all the above fails, I’ll resort to visualising snow, which has been proven to trick the body into lowering its temperature. How about you? How do you keep yourself and your children cool in summer?

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

Staying at home is no piece of cake

I was recently filling in an application and I had to specify my occupation. Call me proud, but it physically hurt to write I wasn’t employed. Fine, I write, but first and foremost, I’m a mum and that, my dear friends, is not considered to be a job.

If I have to be honest, I have wanted to be a stay-at-home mum since I gave birth to my first daughter but it was never possible before recently. As I have mentioned before, I used to be jealous of women who could afford to stay at home with their children while I was forced to go to work every morning while my daughter was still in bed and return home when most of the day was over. Well, now I am living the dream. I am with my children all the time, from the moment I wake up till I tuck them into bed at night.

So why does it irk me so much to be called a housewife? The truth? I know that many people who aren’t stay at home mums (SAHMs) look at people like me and think I am living the life, sleeping in, going out for coffee dates with other mums and playing with my children all day. I know that because that was my opinion of SAHMs before I joined their ranks.

In reality, I am up at 5:30 every morning, weekends included. I have breakfast and shower and sterilise the baby’s bottles and dummies before I hear her calling me from the bedroom at 6am. The next two hours are a flurry of breakfasts, school lunches, uniforms, nappy changes and email checking. Then comes the school run, for which we’re invariably late. If I need to get groceries, it’s another hour of baby-lugging, which I try to make more pleasant with a quick coffee to get some energy back. This is usually followed by a morning of housework, laundry, ironing and cooking, all the while trying to entertain an increasingly demanding baby. If I am lucky, I manage to grab a quick bite while feeding R before picking M up from school.

The afternoons are consumed by homework supervision, dinner preparation, the girls’ bath time, dinner and their respective bedtime routines. On a good day, I manage to take them out to play for a couple of hours. By the time the children are asleep, I am so tired that washing up the dishes feels like torture. Then it’s time to read and write, if my brain is still functioning by that time. And let’s not forget the hour or so my husband and I try to dedicate to each other if he’s not working.

I admit I sometimes envy my friends who work outside the home. They get to have meaningful conversations with other adults, can go to the bathroom when they need to, can drink or have a snack before they feel faint and have a lunch break (not to mention their own income). Those are all luxuries that don’t feature in the SAHM’s job description. However, I also cannot lose sight of the reason I decided I would stay at home with the children. To start with, I know it’s something temporary. Once both children are in school, I’ll be more flexible. I am also keenly aware that time is zooming by, with our baby turning one in a couple of days. I feel very fortunate to have spent the first year of her life with her day and night. I would have killed to have had the same opportunity when her older sister was her age.

So, even though I feel that the job of SAHMs is largely unappreciated and misjudged (as opposed to that of the working mum, whom we all hugely admire, me included), I wouldn’t trade these few precious years with anything. Now, if The New York Times came knocking with a job offer, that would be another story…

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

The terrible twos, threes and fours

One of the things that dampened my desire to have a second child was the hard time I had dealing with my first daughter’s tantrums when she was younger. Forget about the terrible twos. In her case, the drama started when she was a year and a half old and lasted till she was almost five!

Dealing with her during that time was extremely difficult for me and for some time it ruined the excitement of being a parent. My daughter went from being a cute, loving baby to a screaming banshee who would blow off her top at the slightest provocation. I cannot deny that there were days when I hated being a mother. I felt helpless and not knowing how to control my daughter made me so miserable I would cry myself to sleep. I also felt guilty because I blamed myself for what I thought was her unhappiness.

Somewhere midway this dark period, I met my now husband. He got to know the little one when her tantrums were at their worst. She would throw herself on the floor, scream and cry, hit her head with her fists and at times she even got nosebleeds or vomited. Being the loving (and brave) man that he is, he loved her from the first time he met her, tantrums and all.

By then, I lived in fear of her next meltdown. I trod around her as gently as I could, rushing to console and cuddle her when she lost her temper or when something upset her. The more loving I was with her, the worse her behaviour got. It would go something like this: everything would be fine, then something (usually trivial) would upset her, I’d take her in my arms and try to calm her down, she would shout louder and cry harder, I’d cuddle her, she would lose control and start thrashing everything in sight, I’d lose my temper and start shouting hoping to make myself heard over her screaming…and, sometimes, this would go on for hours. When both of us were exhausted from the ordeal, I would have a meltdown of my own and I would swear I’d never have any more children.

From the very first day, my husband handled her differently than I did and his approach got better results from the get go. He encouraged me to ignore her when she had a tantrum. At first, the lack of attention only made M’s behaviour worse. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t rush to her every time she cried out in frustration.

Eventually, she understood that screaming and shouting wouldn’t get her any attention from us. I had, of course, read countless books and articles about the subject and knew I had to ignore the bad behaviour but I was too weak by then to stand up to my own daughter. It took me a long time to realise that not rushing to her aid whenever she cried didn’t make me a bad mother and that I was actually doing her more harm by giving her so much attention when she didn’t deserve it. I was only giving her the message that tantrums were the best way to get my undivided attention. I learned, with a lot of tears of my own, to wait till her crying was really justified.

We also had to teach her how to calm herself down on her own. I had never allowed her to self-soothe, so she depended on me for comfort. So now she counts to ten and takes deep breaths when she feels her temper is getting out of control and we also introduced time-outs in her room to allow her to calm down, think about her behaviour and find a solution to her problem. When she comes out of her room, we discuss what would have upset her in the first place in a calm, civilised manner.

Another thing I found worked wonders with her was encouraging good behaviour. We have made tens of behavioural charts and reward schemes over the past few years, all of them rewarding good behaviour. I was surprised at how keen she was on earning more points and, ultimately, our approval. The truth is that children want and need attention. It doesn’t matter to them whether the attention is the result of a tantrum or of good behaviour, so most times they’ll resort to the easier method. Tantrums also tend to start at an age (usually around two) when frustration plays a big part in a child’s life and, at that age, another good way of averting a meltdown could be distraction from whatever is upsetting the child. Obviously, making sure the child isn’t hungry or tired also makes sense. Even I have the occasional meltdown if I’m too tired and my stomach is empty!

Luckily, those three years of tantrums faded enough in my memory not to deter me from having another child and now our baby is approaching the age her sister’s tantrums had started. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading it, but now I feel more confident in my ability to handle any such behaviour. Watch this space…

Couple time

I was recently talking to a friend who is a new mother. She is, as all of us have been the first few months, exhausted but also incredibly happy. The arrival of a baby would make any couple happy, but especially in my friend’s case, since her little bundle arrived after ten years of marriage and as many years dreaming about the day they would finally become parents.

The only thing she could complain about (not that she was complaining) was the difference the addition to their family brought to her relationship with her husband. She knew they would have their hands full once the baby arrived, but she hadn’t thought about how little time or energy they would have left each day to dedicate to each other. I can imagine how drastic the change in their case was. Going from having a total of fifteen years, ten of which married, to enjoy your husband’s company to having a few snatched minutes here and there to discuss nappy changes and formula feeds must take some getting used to!

My husband and I started our relationship with a three year old already in the picture, so we don’t know life without children. However, having a second child who is still a baby means that couple time comes at a premium and most of the time we’re so exhausted we fall asleep mid-sentence. What we have learned is that we need to make the most of the little time we have, whenever that may be. It could be a quick coffee on mornings when he’s not working or watching a film at home after the children go to bed at night, but whatever we do, we try to find at least a few minutes a day to reconnect with each other and remember we’re first and foremost a couple, then parents.

I am painfully aware of the number of separations and divorces all around us, not least because some of my friends have been through these painful experiences. That is why I firmly believe that, no matter how small, we must always make an effort for each other. It is all too easy to let the daily grind distract us from what really counts in life. It is also very easy to dedicate all our time and energy to raising our children, forgetting that, at the end of the day, they will grow up and leave home, leaving us parents alone. And when that happens, I want us to have a solid relationship to go back to.

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.

Tough love

When I was younger, I was a night owl. I used to go to bed as late as possible, preferring to write, read or translate as late as 1am. For some reason, I considered sleeping as a waste of time. Naturally, all that changed when I became a parent. Sleep has become a luxury I don’t get nearly enough of and I’ll tell you why.

For the first four years of M’s life, we shared a room (and sometimes even a bed). We did so out of necessity, since we lived with my parents at the time and there wasn’t another room available to transfer the little one to. She was a colicky baby, screaming with pain into the small hours for the first three months of her life. So, from the very beginning, she spent hours every night snuggled in my arms while I rocked her to sleep, singing lullabies till I was hoarse.

Unfortunately, I kept rocking her and singing her to sleep even when she no longer suffered from colic. And that, my friends, was a mistake I would bitterly regret. For the first year of her life, I really didn’t mind having to walk up and down our room for almost an hour every evening, waiting for her to nod off. After all, she was the only person I had. With no romantic relationship to dedicate time and energy to, I happily dedicated all of myself to my little baby. Then she started getting heavier and taller. I remember reaching a point when her feet reached my knees and I struggled to keep her from sliding out of my arms. If I sat down with her in my arms, she would start crying and would only stop once I resumed the rocking and pacing around the room. Looking back, that would have been a good time to put my foot down and teach her how to put herself to sleep, but I felt that underlying guilt all parents, especially those who are raising a child on their own, tend to feel. I wanted her to be happy, so I would do whatever it took not to hear her cry.

Fast forward six years and baby R joined our family. Since I still have to sit at the foot of M’s bed until she falls asleep, I vowed I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes with her baby sister. So, every evening since the day she was born, I made sure to put R to bed while she was drowsy but still awake. I would nurse her, kiss her goodnight and put her in her crib. She would rub her eyes, turn on her side and go to sleep while I left the room. It worked like clockwork until everything changed two weeks ago.

After much debating and with a very heavy heart, I decided it was time to start weaning her off the breast (if you have some more time to kill, you can read about this very hard decision here), but that doesn’t mean I was ready for the consequences. To cut a long story short, what used to be a prelude to bedtime became the guzzling of a bottle of milk, after which R would refuse to leave my arms. Now that almost two weeks have passed, I know that her sudden clinging to me was caused by many other factors, like the three teeth she was cutting, a blocked nose, the change to summer time, her starting to crawl and a growth spurt. Our poor baby was already dealing with so much without her having to stop breastfeeding!

In any case, desperate times call for desperate measures, so after reading up on various sleep methods on the internet and from our friends, we decided to try the Ferber method. The idea is for the baby to be put to bed while drowsy but still awake, leaving the room and if the baby starts crying (which ours most definitely did), waiting for three minutes until going back in to comfort her without lifting her or much talking. Once the baby calms down, you leave the room and repeat as many times as necessary until the baby falls asleep, leaving a longer interval each time before going in to comfort her.

Dear reader, it tore me apart to hear my baby cry and not being able to run to her and hold her in my arms. I cried outside the room, willing the clock to tick faster so I could go back in and comfort her. Thankfully my husband was home the first couple of times and he kept me strong. And the verdict? It worked miracles! We first used this method for a morning nap. Fifteen minutes of crying later, she was asleep. The second time we used it was that same afternoon for another nap. It took her five minutes to fall asleep. That night she went to sleep after less than a minute of crying. This was three days ago and, as I write this, she has been napping for two hours after a few seconds of crying. Success!

My whole point is? Teaching your baby to be more independent is as important as feeding her and clothing her. It might take some tough love to reach that point but it is worth every tear.

 

Originally published on Sunday Circle Online, 2012.