My big baby will be three in less than a month and I know how cliché it is to say I can’t believe how much he has grown and how far we have come but for me, it truly does blow my mind.
For the last few months, a miracle has occurred on a nightly basis- my big guy has happily snuggled in with his dad and gone to sleep. I know right … miracles do happen.
Yeah, okay, I can hear many a sneer of, ‘wow, your almost three year old still needs his dad to go to sleep.’
But, if you thought this, then you have no idea of the ride we’ve been on and also haven’t gained all we have gained from the process, so bare with me while I share some of the beauty of this with you.
My guy was an extraordinarily high needs baby and I have written of the tumultuous first few months of life as a new family in many articles. We followed in the footsteps of many who have walked the sleep training path and despite our deep commitment, persistence and consistency (which in hindsight bordered on obsessive lunacy), we failed. Our baby did not comply. He resisted all attempts and life was a living, sleepless hell. Nobody slept while we sleep trained. Not me, not my husband, not our poor dog and most certainly not my poor exhausted, desperately helpless baby.
Our failure lead us down an even darker road with me plunging into the depths of Post Natal Depression. I was so very unwell. I saw no light. I saw no joy. I saw no end to this sleepless torture. I saw myself as a terrible mother. I thought I was too weak and useless to be able to meet the needs of my baby. I was sure they were right, all the times I was told that if I couldn’t withstand his will at this age, what kind of hope did I stand when he was a toddler or heaven forbid a teenager!
I dreamed of running away. I thought on numerous occasions my baby would be better off if I just left.
Why couldn’t I get this baby the sleep he needed?
Why couldn’t I get this right?
Everyone seemed to know that you just had to Feed Play Sleep.
Everyone seemed to know if you just taught your baby to self soothe, they’d sleep.
Everyone seemed to know that it was because I’d rocked my baby, nursed him to sleep, been unsuccessful at putting him in his cot and hadn’t taught him to sleep alone, that it was all MY fault. He only slept like crap because I had developed such bad sleep habits, associations, crutches … whatever you want to call it.
My baby was a ‘bad’ baby. He was ‘naughty’ for not letting his mother sleep.
Everyone pitied me and my weariness.
They all wished and willed it to end and that my baby would somehow miraculously become the sleepy baby he wasn’t.
What an absolute pack of failures, outcasts and a cautionary tale of what not to do with your baby.
Life was ugly.
But then, something gave.
I gave it all in.
I surrendered. Hands in air, do whatever. I was so done trying to get it right. I was so done hating motherhood. I was so done with people not seeing my baby for anything other than his ability/ inability to sleep the way he ‘should’.
I went back to every bad habit there was.
Anything, as long as I didn’t have to hear him cry.
I fed him to sleep and held him for every nap.
I rocked with him in the chair and held him tight if boob didn’t work.
I brought him to my bed after his first wake up at night.
I never ever resettled him in any way other than boob again.
I threw away the clock in our room and stopped counting wake ups.
I sang, soothed, comforted, nursed, snuggled, breathed in and savoured every inch of my baby’s being.
I gained and regained my world.
I was happy though I was tired.
My heart sang while my eyes sagged.
I found peace of mind while exhausted right through to my weary bones.
My baby gained and regained his world.
He was happy and well rested.
His heart was full and never in doubt.
He found peaceful slumber though his body still challenged him daily.
I have gained an inner strength, faith and confidence in myself that only stems from having lived through a truly life changing experience.
The same way people gain discipline and strength through taking vows of silence or abstinence, I gained it through a vow to be constant, to show up no matter what.
It hurt and it tested me. I thought at times I could not go on. I doubted myself and my baby again and again and still, I kept going.
And my faith and my vow to be constant has meant that I have gained more from this time in my life than I ever dreamed possible.
The hours spent with that baby in my arms, at my breast, rocking, singing, humming, holding, cuddling and loving. The months. The years.
An enormous investment and enormous commitment.
It was interpreted by others at times to be the behaviour of a martyr or at least that I was being selfless and at the mercy of my child.
But from the inside, it was as much for me as it was for him.
We needed each other. He needed me in the whole sense of a dependent, deeply feeling, highly sensitive new human. I needed him to teach me things about myself I never knew were there.
The fact that this intense sweet man, is now finally in a place where he can comfortably find sleep with his dad is momentous.
It is an enormous source of joy for his dad, who has longed to be able to comfort him at night and has remained ever patient through nearly three years of rejection.
It is an enormous milestone for me, to know he has reached a new level of comfort and dare I say it, independence from me and this make my heart swell with pride while also ache with memories of what was.
He’s nearly done with day sleeps and only ever drops off when exhausted in the car now, no more sleepy nap snuggles.
He’s in bed and asleep with daddy before I’m done settling his brother at night, no more bedtime snuggles for the most part.
He still sneaks in to his little mattress next to our bed during the night though and reaches out to hold his mama’s hand and I cherish this little gesture as I celebrate and reflect on all that has been on our unconventional sleep journey.
All the cuddles and all the settles seemed ever so intense and overwhelming while I was in the thick of it all. But here I am, poking my head out the other side with tears streaming down my face wondering where has the time gone.
I will never regret giving in.
All I have gained is the riches of the deepest most constant love there is.
It is an honour and privilege to be his mother.
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