“Is she a good baby?”
Initially when we were asked this question following Joan’s birth I was downright confused. “A good baby?”…I would never think to ask someone this, as doing so inherently suggests that some babies are bad, which to me seemed just nuts. “Yes she’s good”, I’d reply, “I mean, she’s just a baby…..???”. Eventually I understood that people were actually asking something else, and so I would attempt to decode their question before replying. Did they mean “Is she happy?”. Well, then, “Yes!”, I would answer, “Absolutely”. Or perhaps they were associating “good” with not crying, and then the answer would be, “She cries/communicates really well, thanks, loud and clear! Most of the time we understand what she’s wanting”. Often I thought these well-meaning folk were asking whether she was good to us, her parents, and to this I would say “Yes, she’s really sweet.” I got used to the question and only occasionally (if I was a little sleep deprived and short-tempered, perhaps) I would reply “No, she’s an asshole”, which was my passive aggressive way of highlighting what a weird question it was.
Ten months on, we still get asked whether Joan is “good” by lovely people who care about us. And I still find myself confused as to why we use that wording… especially when it is closely followed by another inquiry, as to whether she is sleeping through the night. In the early weeks, when I was asked ooooh so many times if my newborn was sleeping through the night, I found myself considering that something was indeed wrong because she was still waking. These days, the questions doesn’t bother me in that sense, as I am far more confident and aware that every baby is different. These days, I am reassured and empathetic, after having read multiple articles explaining babies and their needs. These days, I have my tribe of likeminded mothers to provide support and solidarity. These days, I am sure in my heart that by responding to my baby and mothering with respect and instinct I am doing the right thing for our family. But in the early days, I wasn’t so sure, and I found myself wasting time wondering if I was spoiling Joan, “making a rod for my own back” and, here’s the kicker, “allowing her to get used to the fact that if she cries I will pick her up”…. Ummmmmm GOOD! I hope she knows I am there for her when she needs me. I wish I didn’t hesitate to feed her to sleep (which I now know is the most natural and awesome thing) or respond to her needs or “spoil her”, and I am grateful for mum friends of toddlers who reassured me to not worry about this, that when babies are ready, change will happen gently. I am already seeing this change and I am thankful and relieved that I have been present enough to enjoy this stage when Joan needs me to rock her to sleep and snuggle for hours. What a crazy awesome job I have.
And so these days, I respond to the question a little differently. When I am asked the triad of questions – if Joan is a good baby, if she’s a good sleeper and whether she wakes overnight – I reply, “Yes, she’s a really good sleeper, thanks! She sleeps in our bed with Ben and I and she’ll wake a handful of times overnight. After a quick feed we are both fast asleep again and we are all generally well-rested.” The poor folk who ask me don’t expect I will share quite so much information, but suppose I feel the need to do my part in changing the assumption that a baby who wakes is a bad baby, and that co-sleeping (when done safely, of course) is irresponsible and naughty (true story, I was called naughty one time), and that because my Joan doesn’t sleep through the night at ten months she is bad and we need to fix something. When really, all I had to do to feel blissfully content with our situation was adjust my expectations for this season of my life. I now go to bed very early to ensure I wake feeling rested. I do not have a full-time, demanding job with inflexible hours in addition to being a mother to my baby, as that in itself is a 24/7 job and I am not yet at the point when I can conceivably marry those two worlds (and thank goodness I do not have to – power to those women who do). My husband and I currently find more joy in a well-rested baby than dinners out, so we mostly pass up invitations and stay in. And we are so very happy to make these changes. Some days are slow and sleepy and we crave uninterrupted rest, but that is ok. This isn’t a bad situation. It’s a blessed one.
I am aware that when inquiring as to a baby’s sleep patterns people are only concerned for our wellbeing as parents, as sleep deprivation is a beast. However I myself am concerned that we are expecting too much of our babies, that too much emphasis is placed on whether they are sleeping through the night when in fact, biologically, they are wired to need us at night. For those of us with wakeful babies who are processing all the information they’ve learnt throughout the day and are growing and teething and practicing standing in the middle of the bed (I’m looking at you, Joan), parenting doesn’t stop overnight, and nor should it. But the amount of times new parents get asked whether their babies are sleeping through will make even the most secure person question their situation. And who decided that is the question to ask anyway? Is it because many parents go back to work when their babies are still waking and therefore to function properly it’s not uncommon to be encouraged to “train” bubbas to sleep through the night? Is it because we are all aware that by getting rid of our villages and the ability to ask for help without judgement, we are struggling to do it all ourselves? Is this why we ask about sleep in such a black or white, good or bad manner? Because we know that many parents are doing it tough and we want to fix it? I want to note that I am not referring to those who simply ask about sleep without passing judgement on the parents or baby. Inquiring as to how bubba is doing and whether they’re sleeping through the night with pure curiosity is very different to being asked this question and being “tut tutted” when you give your response (you’d be surprised how often this happens). Our current culture seems to want to rush things, sleeping through the night being just one example. We want things to be fixed and better, and while sometimes that’s ok, I’m realising that with this baby stuff, most of the time they get there on their own. We just need to give them space to figure it out without trying to wipe up the mess. I realise that am incredibly privileged to be able to be home with Joan, and moreover to work my own hours, and perhaps this is another reason why I am totally fine with ongoing wakeful nights. I know not everyone has this option, and nor does everyone desire this option – while I am a homebody, others are more ambitious outside of the home. Furthermore, while I’m here writing about the beauty of the now and encouraging others to not rush their babies nor rush through these stages of motherhood, I am very aware of the reality many face with severely wakeful babies and demanding home and work situations. Is the answer coffee? Or is it back to my thought about the village, calling on your people, if you’re lucky enough to have them…. I don’t know. I guess there isn’t a solution, we all just have to do the best we can. But in doing so, I’d love us to ease up on our bubbas a little and not demand too much of them. I also believe that whatever your situation, there is something really wonderful about surrendering, allowing yourself to embrace whatever season you’re in and letting things unfold as they should. Some may say it’s a romantic notion, but I feel like it’s key to feeling content with these “bad” babies of ours when they wake us at 3am, whether calling out across the hall from their room or hitting you in the face as they lie in bed next to you.
So, for all the mothers out there who aren’t gifted an independent baby who easily and happily solo snoozes for 12hours straight (i.e. the majority of us), let’s stop asking if our babies are “good”. It encourages negative thinking and makes us consider that something needs to be fixed when really, they’re just babies and we should let them be babies…we should let them need us, let them grow at their own pace, and let them learn independence when they’re ready, and not a moment sooner.
(Photo at the top of the piece by Kat)