The stories of my friends and colleagues who were fellow moms to infants or toddlers used to fill me with envy. Kim had a set bedtime routine for her one-year old who went off to bed without a fuss at 7:30pm. Kim, who had a high pressure job in the mergers department of our consulting company, swore that her son’s bedtime routine was what kept her sane . Once he was asleep, she could catch up on pending housework chores, unread office emails and of course get ample amount of sleep to ready her for the next big day. Nora’s three month old was very clingy. Every night the baby would keep her parents up. Finally, exhausted, they decided to put the baby in her own room and leave her to self soothe. The first night was difficult but Nora says that after that the baby understood that the dark nursery meant that it was time to sleep and she started sleeping through the night.
Whenever I heard such things, I could not help but compare those kids to mine. R has always been hard to settle and I have never been able determine the right routine for her. I have read lots of baby sleep books and articles on the Internet but nothing really worked. Put her down to sleep early and then she would be up all bright eyed and bushy tailed by the middle of the night, expecting us to begin playing with her. Put her down late – she would over tire herself and it would be hell to quieten her enough for sleep. Most nights she would go to sleep in her cot but around midnight she would start screaming. She would refuse to go back to sleep until we brought her into bed with us. Then she would happily hog most of the space and kick us all night at every opportunity.
I like my space when I sleep and moreover, I love sleep. In my pre-R life, I would always ensure that I had a minimum of 8 hours shut-eye as that made me function properly through the day. After the baby, the lack of regular sleep was what hit me the hardest – especially once I joined back at work when R was around six months old. So I decided to do what my friends had been doing – try and enforce some routine by the tough love methods as advocated by all the books. Crying-it-out was a big failure – the problem was not just that R screamed her lungs out but also that K could not bear hearing his daughter cry so much. We had one of our very rare fights over this. I suggested putting R in her cot in a separate room and K would have none of that as well. He did not care for what is written in the baby rearing books or what the childcare experts might say. I tried explaining to him that the baby was just stringing us along as she knew that we were nearby and that we would rush to comfort her every time she let out a small whimper. I forwarded him articles and narrated the success stories I had heard. However he was adamant that R would remain in the same room, preferably in the same bed as us. That really caused a quite bit of friction between K and me. Though we had similar outlooks in most things in life, we were definitely not seeing eye-to-eye on parenting styles.
The months went by and R now mostly sleeps in our bed. Her bedtime routine is still choppy. She still kicks and keeps tossing – and generally wakes us up many times during the night. No matter how much I try putting her into a comfortable position (for all three of us), she just will not stay that way. She flails her tiny arms indignantly and gets back to sleep-exploring every inch of the king sized bed. At times she wakes herself up. Then she looks up at me sleepily and offers a half grin barely visible in the faint light of the night lamp. It is at those times, feeling her tiny warm body against mine, that I realised that I love this. And more importantly she loves this – she loves being sandwiched between her mommy and daddy. It makes her feel safe in her little world. And I found that this waking up at odd hours in the night for sleepy family snuggles and our quiet laughter at discovering the new weird posture R has contorted her body into, is a lot of fun for us as parents
So I guess K was right all through. Before I had just been thinking of myself, how I need my sleep and how I need to be super-efficient at office. But those actually mean nothing when you think about R or like R. I try and imagine what life must be for her. Eight month old, helpless, totally dependent of other people, unable to communicate in any way other than cry. Now if the very people she is the closest to and depends on, tell her ‘You know what – You are going to sleep in this scary room all alone. Cry as much as you want – it will not be of any use.” Can anything be more upsetting or heartless?
It seems probable that I will not get much sleep in the coming days and months. I will continue to be groggy at work and perhaps will not be able to contribute my 100% on some days. Probably I will end up with a horrifically spoiled kid after some years. However right now, my heart tells me that my main task and responsibility should be to make my tiny baby feel safe and utterly confident that she is cherished. My rest, my work, rules or schedules do not get priority over her happiness.