I have hinted before (or maybe outright stated – I can’t remember) that sleep is a little bit challenging in the Engineer house. Today it is very challenging. The Engineer’s Baby is in the middle of a huge development, and she is struggling to sleep. She has decided that 30 minutes is quite long enough to sleep (even though she’s clearly still exhausted after 30 minutes). She has also decided that a good way to wind down is by arching back and screaming full volume.
We have had these days before. I know that it will pass. But when in the middle of it, it really doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like I am doing everything wrong and have ruined her ability to sleep for ever. It feels like I am doomed to rock and carry her until she drops day naps (by which point she will probably be way too heavy). It feels like I am missing something and not understanding my baby.
I don’t quite know why sleep pulls so strongly on new parents. It could be the number of times you are asked “How does she sleep?”. It could be the fact that sleep deprivation makes you low level insane (possibly not just low level, actually). It could be the prevalence of sleep advice out there. It is probably a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reason, the result is that many new parents feel like the true measure of their success or otherwise is how many hours and how easily the baby sleeps.
(The other measures that seem to get the same response are feeding and weight gain, and possibly physical milestones – we have never had an issue with any of those though, so sleep is where all my guilt falls)
The thing is, though, that a baby is so much more than her sleep habits and a parent is so much more than his/her ability to shape those habits. In fact, if you were to ask me what I most wanted my daughter to be, a good sleeper would almost certainly not make the cut. Kind, resilient, loving, motivated, curious, independent. These are things I want for my daughter. I want her to be her, and to not be worried if she doesn’t fit the box. And I also think that I have to model that. I have to be me, and not be worried if I don’t fit the box. And “me” is a baby-carrying, co-sleeping, non-sleep-training mother who believes that sleep will come with time.
It’s really hard to remember sometimes, but this parenting choice actually didn’t happen entirely by accident. She doesn’t sleep on me because it’s the only place she will sleep (although that’s true). She sleeps on me because I think it is natural and healthy for her to be held close as much as possible. She sleeps on me because it (usually) works, and maximises her sleep with a minimum of effort. She sleeps on me because this way we almost always get four naps per day, and without it I have no idea what kind of mess her sleep would be.
In the face of endless advice about self-settling and putting babies down drowsy-but-awake, it can be quite difficult to stick to my guns and to realise that we’re doing okay. But the thing is, if those things work they are great. If they don’t, they are not so great. And on the very worst days, they are downright stress-inducing.
So today I am reminding myself that The Engineer’s Baby is big and happy and gorgeous and curious. She is getting enough sleep, and I am getting nearly enough most nights. She is fairly portable, since we are her bed. She loves people, and gives the most amazing smiles and laughs. And all of these things are more important to me than her being easy to put down for a nap.
With this reminder, I am pledging to stick to my guns and remember why we have chosen to parent the way we have. I am also pledging to stress a little less about her sleep, to go with the flow a little more, and to remind myself regularly that this too shall pass. Because I know deep down that we are doing fine, and that I will look back on this time fondly. But some days I certainly need a reminder (or several) of that!