Today I’m away from Uno and baby J until the evening, helping a friend, and I keep worrying that Uno is going to have to put the baby down for BOTH his naps. Because somewhere in our eight month parenting odyssey, we’ve settled into pretty firm roles: I’m the sleep mom and she’s the eat mom. More specifically, I do naps and she does nursing, which includes bedtime feeding (thus, we’re both Sleep Mom at bedtime). This arrangement has solidified because we’re both home with him, a luxury beyond words, and has been great for my parenting confidence. Lately, however, we’ve been talking about the need for flexibility, ours and his. We want him to go down for naps with someone other than me. We want Uno to feel empowered to put him to sleep without nursing. And so on. Still, I’ll admit that it’s nice to have a mothering niche of my own, and our nap routine is a huge factor in the strong bond I have with my son.
Early on, when Uno was still on maternity leave, I felt somewhat useless as regards J-bean’s routines and daily care. Sure, I changed diapers and cuddled him, but Uno had the bulk of the work, which amounted to nursing 24/7. You know how newborns are: the boob is the universe. I focused on keeping the house clean-ish, the cupboards stocked-ish, etc. I did feel left out, sometimes, but it was more out of a sense of bewilderment, of uncertainty about what new shape our lives would take. Then, somewhere around six weeks, J-bean started his evening fussiness. Or as we called it then, The Witching Hour. Everything we read assured us the behavior was normal, but it was disconcerting nonetheless to have a wailing hot mess of a baby on our hands most nights. He wouldn’t nurse during these times. Uno thought her milk supply was out of whack at first, we wondered about colic, we all cried, we lost sleep. But as it turns out, baby J just needed to let loose for a while before settling. So I got a routine going, necessity being the mother of invention and all. I’d swaddle him as he shrieked, toss him up on my shoulder, pat him firmly and steadily, and “sshh” him for all I was worth while pacing the apartment. Shortly into this period we discovered the white noise app, which meant I’d crank up the rain or ocean sounds on the iPod as I paced. Sometimes, when it was really bad, I’d sit with him on the floor of the bathroom with the shower running. This was magically quieting, though he’d often start up again when I turned it off. I know Uno helped during these times as well, but in my memory, it was often me who took him on, as she was exhausted, discouraged, and still, of course, in recovery from natural birth. My heroic honey.
The Witching Hour phase ended fairly soon, in retrospect. I think we got over it by three months, and it wasn’t every night. But from that time on, I became the nap maven. I grew confident about soothing baby J when nursing wasn’t working or wasn’t an option. Uno went back to work when J was 11 weeks old, and I continued my swaddling / patting routine for naps, adding in a long afternoon walk for a Bjorn nap. I loved holding my baby, wrapped in a fat knitted blanket, as I rocked and read a new novel. I loved his hot little face pressed against my chest as I circled our neighborhood with an iced coffee sweating in my palm. He lunged eagerly for Uno (insofar as he could lunge at that age) when she came home from work, frazzled, to nurse him. The boob was still paramount, and the nursing relationship along with it; none of us wanted this to change. He nursed to fall asleep and nursed during the night, cuddled against Uno. But our daytime naps were quickly becoming special, too.
Fast forward and we had a chubby, leggy six month-old who would only nap ON MY CHEST. Er, damn. I had that coming, didn’t I? Hence we embarked on an elaborate nap training journey, armed with “The No-Cry Nap Solution,” which we followed faithfully until we realized that all the record-keeping and strict-routine-adherence was making us insane. Great for some people, not so much for us. We did glean useful tips from her approach, including the “dance” I did for a while to get him from my arms onto the mattress. I still do 99% of the naps, as Uno does so much work with the nighttime feeding. Here’s what we do now: she makes sure he’s well fed. We watch him for signs of tiredness, which come predictably around 10 am and 2 pm (er, until recently, but that’s another story). I go into the bedroom, switch on the white noise, swaddle him in our favorite stretchy blanket, and settle onto the exercise ball to bounce him as I sing. He cries when I swaddle him and stops as soon as we start bouncing, usually. On a good day, he’s asleep before I get through two songs. On a bad day, I’m resorting to fragments of pop songs, out of breath. He likes to doze off with his head propped in my hand. My right arm, which supports his bottom, has become very strong! I stand slowly, sway him down into a prone position in the air, pause, let him twitch and resettle, then dance him down onto the bed. Now that he’s used to it, I don’t have to be so deliberate, though I’m still careful about not disturbing him as I lay him down. At first, he’d wake up two or three or four times and we’d have to start over each time. Now, it almost always works at first go.
Are you laughing yet? Yes, it’s elaborate, I’ll admit. Worse than a trig problem. But it’s paid off for us, and we didn’t want to do cry-it-out. Baby J is a powerful, persistent screamer and CIO about killed us all the few times we tried it. We feel good about how much progress he’s made. Uno and I can enjoy free time separately or together when he naps, and it’s fantastic. Just sipping coffee on the couch together is exhilirating. I realize that this whole routine is a luxury borne of our choice to take this extended familymoon, for which we continue to be grateful, despite the hit to our finances and overachieving egos.
The division of labor is awesome, but it does have its pitfalls. As I mentioned above, we’ve become dependent on it. For quite some time, and still to some extent, no matter how much Uno swaddled and bounced him, baby J wouldn’t conk out. He’d take a little nursing, sure, but wouldn’t settle into sleep with it during the day. Even on walks, he’d cry and fight sleep when she wore him in the carrier, but when we traded, he’d collapse against me easily. By the same token, he wouldn’t let me bounce him at bedtime. The moment he sensed physical distance from the nocturnal milk buffet, he erupted. Uno is sometimes demoralized about her inability to make him nap, and while the baby ALLOWS me put him to sleep, it isn’t always an easygoing arrangement. Sometimes it feels like a power struggle that I win only because I’m more stubborn than Uno and willing to be … well, harsher. This isn’t the greatest feeling in the world, as you can imagine. That’s probably true for all parents, though I’m especially sensitive to it as the non-bio mom. Being the bad cop sucks. I’ve had to learn to set better limits and back down sooner in order to avoid painting myself into that particular corner. We’re also working on more flexibility around naps and bedtime, in terms of who’s on duty. Today is a trial run, for instance, and Uno just texted to say he went down fine for his morning nap without nursing. Hooray! At night, we’ve started to have her nurse him a while, then I take over with the bounce / pat to seal the deal, then if needed he returns to the boob for a brief top-off. This has made bedtime far quicker.
Did I mention that a good exercise ball heads our “must have” list in the baby department?
I’ve often thought that not being able to nurse has its advantages, and I’d say that my nap expertise is a big one. I still have nursing envy, once in a while – more because he’s just so dang cute when he nuzzles into her like that, his little hand wandering up to her face. Then again, I’m relieved I don’t have to put in the sheer hours that nursing requires. And when I hold him as he dozes off, I just stare and stare at the intricacies of his face, I ghost kisses on his ice cream scoop cheeks, I lean in to smell his sweet, warm breath. It’s Zen. Heaven. Even if I’m tired and my biceps ache and I’m lullabied out.
As baby J gets more mobile and regresses with the old sleep, we’ll have to adjust. It’s the name of the game in parenting, I’ve been told. But I’m confident we’ll navigate these changes with aplomb. Go team!
I’ll return to the April blog challenge soon, but had been wanting to write about this for a while…