It’s 2:50am, Dalia’s second week home from the hospital. I’m slouched in bed, my bedside lamp lit, reading The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. Misha paces the room with Dalia draped over his arm, a la The Happiest Baby on the Block, jostling her lightly and singing in her ear.
“I’ve found it!” I shout (in a whisper, of course – I don’t want to initiate another round of endless crying), “THE ANSWER! Here, let me read it to you.” “Just tell me what it says,” Misha whispers in frustration. “Okay, it says not to do anything else but pat her on the back—one pat per second, like a clock—and shush loudly in her ear. Not short shushes, but long, sustained shushes. We can’t do anything but that—no jostling, no singing, nothing. Or else she’ll never learn to go back to sleep quickly.” “But she likes the bouncing,” Misha protests. “No, stop bouncing her!” I panic. “It says here that bouncing stimulates her. Let’s try it this way.”
Fast forward three sleepless nights. The shush-pat is not working. Not only is it not working, we’re all miserable. This technique, billed as the answer to all our sleep problems, is a dud. This is when my faith in The Baby Whisperer takes a dive. In fact, this is when I begin to understand why there are SO MANY BABY BOOKS on the shelves. Because there are SO MANY BABIES! And so many parents. So many parents with different thoughts, opinions and beliefs about what would be right for them and for their babies.
How does a parent find the right book with the right instructions for their individual baby? Before I had a baby, this seemed like the right question. But now that I’m further along in the trenches, I realize that the premise behind my question was flawed.
Does a parent need a book to tell them how to parent? I’ll start with a resounding “No.” Each of us has all the resources we need to parent without once setting foot in a bookstore. These resources can be collectively referred to as a parent’s instinct.
Okay, I’ll concede–“No, a parent does not need a book to tell them how to parent” seems like a strange answer coming from the co-author of The Other Baby Book. So why did we bother writing a book?
The answer boils down to the society we live in—the types of societies that most modern Westerners live in. We’ve gotten so used to the lightening-speed pace of discovery that we’ve trained ourselves to go out and buy the next best thing in the market, and to quickly adapt to the comforts it provides us. We adapt so quickly, that we begin to forget how we lived before that invention, be it a crib, diapers or baby food.
Once we’ve come to accept, as most of us have, that a crib is where a baby should sleep, a diaper is where a baby should eliminate, and baby food is what a baby should eat, anything else begins to look crazy. We get so used to the adaptations that come along with our modern lifestyle—even the horrible parts like braving months of sleepless nights, dealing with a diaper blow-out, and ignoring our hunger while we spoon feed our babies their meals—that we believe these incidents are natural side-effects of parenthood, part of the package. It’s only when we get a taste of the other side, of parenting without these “essential” props, that we begin to understand that some of these conveniences are entirely inconvenient. While life without these props may require some adaptation, it’s much easier to hear our babies’ needs, and our own instincts, without all the stuff blocking our view.
We read about native peoples who have never heard of colic, who know intuitively when their child needs to use the bathroom, and among whom obesity is unheard of, and we think their secrets are inaccessible to us. They appear to be veiled in heredity, lifestyle and some mystical rites passed down from generation to generation. But, in truth, Western parents around the world are gaining access to those secrets every day, and applying them with increasing degrees of success. Maybe not to the extent that these native peoples do, but we still have the rest of the noise of our modern world to contend with. And the more “modern” people catch on, the more these secrets become accessible to everyone.
Back to our purpose in writing the book. When we strip away the noise of the marketing machines that surround our lives, we can devote our full attention to building a relationship with our babies. No more trying to figure out why the baby doesn’t want to sleep in the crib, and how to get him back in there. When we forget the idea that the baby is supposed to sleep in a crib—which is the message that crib manufacturers need us to believe, by the way—we can listen to our own instincts to keep our newborns close by. Also, since the “how to’s” of practices such as bed-sharing have been lost to us in the past few generations of parenting, our book shares vital safety guidelines that are built into other societies’ traditions around sleep.
Looking back, our first weeks as parents were the most difficult we’ve ever faced. Dalia had a really hard time falling asleep by herself (she still does, but we follow her lead on that front). Misha and I took turns, sleep deprived, trying every solution we could think of. Anything but bed sharing, which our hospital staff had warned us was dangerous, and so we didn’t even consider as an option.
Our perspective on bed sharing began to shift when we met some co-sleeping families. I vetted their stories of heavenly sleep and assurances of safety with research on the benefits and dangers of co-sleeping. Appeased, I compiled a safety checklist and we tried it the next night.
We were so nervous that first night, the only one of us who slept well was Dalia. I was terrified I’d roll over onto her, or that Misha would. I slept a bit better with each passing night until we had successfully slept a full night together, waking just briefly to nurse when Dalia got hungry. As an added bonus, soon after we started co-sleeping my milk supply rose to meet Dalia’s needs, and I stopped supplementing her feeds with formula.
On our eight-year wedding anniversary, three days before Dalia’s first birthday, Dalia’s grandparents babysat while Misha and I ate dinner at our favorite restaurant. To mark the end of our first year as parents, we shared our favorite things about parenting. Surprisingly, co-sleeping was at the top of both of our lists. What began as a stopgap solution to sleepless nights has brought enormous joy to all of us.
I entered parenthood with very different ideas about how I would care for my baby. After meeting my baby and getting to know her needs and opinions, I jumped off my intended path, experimented, and found the practices that work the best for our family.
Just because the approach we’ve taken works for us doesn’t mean it will work for you. Part of it may, or none of it may. And that’s okay. More than okay, that’s real life. Just because someone says something is a “must-have” or “must-do”, doesn’t mean it is, if it doesn’t resonate with you or your baby.
The best job we can do as parents is to be conscious of which tools best fit our families—values, lifestyle, personalities and all. No matter what anyone else tries to sell us.