My baby is no less perfect because he nurses at night

I didn’t want to do a post about sleep. I wanted to wait until my guy slept through the night and then I could reflect back on what had been instead of what is. I think I didn’t want to admit that no, my baby doesn’t sleep through the night. As if that’s somehow reflective on my parenting or on him as a person. It’s not, and I know that. But no one likes to open themselves up to judgement or vulnerability.

I had a lovely play date with a friend today and like many moms, we got talking about sleep. We’re obsessed with it, whether it’s our baby’s nighttime habits or their nap times, whether we had a “good” night and how much rest we are getting. It’s true: I’ve never thought about sleep as much as I do now that I have a baby. I didn’t give it any thought except when I was pregnant and couldn’t sleep because my hips hurt and I had to pee a zillion times. Truthfully, before I was pregnant, I never slept through the night. Ever. It’s not my thing (so you’d think I’d be used to it). I have always woken to pee or have a drink or try to get comfortable between two cats and a dog. (Oh, and funny side story: my mom used to tell me the reason they only had one child was because I was perfect, so they didn’t need another. Turns out this was half true. When I was older, she informed me that she didn’t get any sleep. The truth comes out…)

Anyway, back to the play date, which was so, so good for my soul. In addition to this mama and I talking about the nighttime cuddles our wee ones like, as she was leaving, she told me to keep blogging. So here I am!

And what I am is tired. Did I have a good sleep last night? Not really. Did I get a nap today? No, because my baby decided to only sleep while nursing or “nap boobin’,” if you will (a phrase I can’t take credit for but wish I could. It’s from The Milk Meg). Did I have a good sleep the night before or the night before that? Probably not. Most days I do get and need a nap, though. So do I accomplish much else aside from being a mom? No, but I’m ok with that. That’s still accomplishing a lot in my mind.

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Look how cute he is when he wakes from a nap!

Part of the reason I haven’t written explicitly about sleep is I don’t want advice. Trust me, I read a lot. I’ve heard or read it all, and a lot of it I didn’t want to see or hear. I don’t want to hear about self-soothing or crying it out or controlled crying or routines (I don’t think I even knew what “cry it out” was before I had a baby). I’m not going to leave my baby to cry because I believe in meeting his needs, whether it’s day or night, and babies and toddlers have more needs than just being fed, changed, and burped. I’ve read enough to know sleep is developmental. I’ve also read enough to know babies who nurse don’t just nurse for nutrition. I also know that babies who don’t nurse also don’t necessarily sleep through the night. I know that babies and toddlers wake for a variety of reasons, and that babies and toddlers are individuals, not robots, and will eventually sleep through the night on their own time, just like they each learn new skills on their own time.

And the other reason that I alluded to above is it makes me vulnerable admitting my baby doesn’t sleep through the night. Who likes to make themselves vulnerable? No one. But I like to be real, too, and I want other moms to know they’re not alone and that this is normal. Because it is. Night wakings are normal. Nighttime parenting is a thing. It’s real. (If your baby sleeps through the night, congratulations on your unicorn baby. Enjoy sleep. I hate you. Kind of, not really. Hate is a strong word.)

I’ve done and do the bed time routines. It doesn’t matter if we start that early or later, bed time is usually around the same time and the night is the same as it usually is: with a few wakings. Most of the time (with the exception of the last couple of weeks), I barely wake, I nurse, I roll over and go back to sleep, sometimes while still nursing. I don’t count how many times I wake, I don’t look at the clock to see how much time elapsed between wakings (unless it seems like a really LONG time, and then I might treat myself to a sneak peek). For whatever reason, I’m either waking more fully or more often these days.

All that said, we do have a routine. We have supper. Baby has a bath. I sneak away and have a glorious bath. We read books. We wave “night night” to Daddy and go upstairs. He points to what we need to do: close the door to the room and bathroom, close the curtains, turn on the fireplace. We get into bed and nurse. It’s all beautiful and serene (mostly, unless it seems like he’s switched boobs for the 76th time and then I start to feel like I’m going to scream or cry ‘Why won’t you sleep?!?!’ but eventually the sleep and serenity happens).

And after that, it seems like I wake and wake and wake. Because of this, I almost always go to bed when my baby does. I could stay up, but sleep wins. Sleep. Always. Wins.

I know this, too, shall pass. And it could be because of the cold he is fighting or the teeth he is popping or a new skill he is learning. I tell myself one day he won’t want to cuddle with me, and I will really miss those cuddles and the nursing. And I will – I know that I truly will miss the closeness and stillness. I’ve also read that as a parent, you’ll always be tired. That really sucks. I’m hoping one day for a pinch more sleep. Just a pinch, to prepare me for when he’s a teenager and I’m back to no longer sleeping because I’m awake, worrying about him.

In the mean time, please don’t ask me if my baby or toddler sleeps through the night as if this is something amazing to achieve, implying, ‘Why haven’t you achieved it?’ or ‘What are you doing wrong?’ Please don’t offer me advice unless I ask for it, and I promise I won’t ask for it. We’ll get there on our own time, we are doing nothing wrong, and my baby is no less perfect because he nurses or wakes in the night.

Why turning down a training opportunity made me sad

For the second time in as many months, I’ve had to turn down or postpone a training opportunity, and it made me kind of sad.

It might not be for the reason that you think, though.

Both involved long days over a weekend. One was near home, the other one involved travel. If I opted for the one involving travel, my husband and baby would both come with me. The travel part isn’t the issue.

The long days are kind of an issue. See, my son nurses to sleep, whether it’s for a nap or bedtime. If I’m around when he wakes from a nap, which I almost always am, he also nurses out of his nap.

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I don't feel tied down by this. I love the stillness.

I don’t feel tied down by this. I don’t see it as sacrifice. I see it as how I parent. It makes both me and my son happy. Some babies by his age (18 months) have self-weaned or have been weaned by their moms. He is nowhere near weaning himself. He nurses multiple times a day, and if I were to try and wean him (and why would I, when it works for us, and it clearly makes him happy), he would be so upset, and as a result, I would be so upset. There would be tears all around.

A friend once told me it was selfless that I had breastfed this long. I’ve often reflected on this: I take it as a great compliment. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no saint, and there are moments I’m frustrated and tired and wish I didn’t have to be the only one who can easily get him to sleep (this is usually when I’d like to be sleeping but he’s not quite ready!). But truthfully, 99% of the time I love it. I love the cuddles and stillness and our bond that has come from breastfeeding. I love that my guy can fall down (just a couple of) the stairs and nursing will make him feel better.

So I’m not sad that I can’t do the training now. There will be other opportunities. In fact, it made me think of one of the Sears’ books I read. The Attachment Parenting Book really resonated with me. At one point, Bill Sears said he made changes in his career so he could work from home to be with his growing, young family. He said it was what was best for everyone at the moment, and he was confident other opportunities would come along down the road when his children weren’t so young and they and his wife didn’t need him around as much. That’s pretty much how I feel!

No, what makes me sad is when I decided I would wait, I wasn’t sure who I could reach out to, who would really understand my emotions and decision. Don’t get me wrong: I am surrounded by many wonderful friends, moms and otherwise. However, almost all of them returned to work outside of the home after a year or sooner because their maternity leave was finished. In some cases, they never had a maternity leave because they are self-employed, so they, too, have returned to work. Many of these moms use day homes or daycares because in order to return to work, they have to. I’m only aware of one other mom in my circle who extended her maternity leave to stay home longer, and I think I only know one stay-at-home mom. Other friends don’t have children yet or their children are much older.

This isn’t me saying there’s anything wrong with the above scenarios. There isn’t. It just doesn’t describe us. Years ago, before we had our son but when we talked about starting a family, the plan all along was for me to have a job where I could work from home, part-time, especially while he was young. The plan was that when he was older and in school, I could take on more hours if I wanted. I hearkened back to my childhood: my mom was always around. Even once I was in school, she was the mom who drove everyone to field trips and sporting events. I walked or biked home to have lunch with her (and the Flintstones). That’s who I want to be now and later.

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My mom and me.

A few months ago, when I considered doing a weekend of training, a well-meaning friend told me that my son would adjust to my being away all day and during nap-time. I do believe this to be true: it’s well known that breastfed babies adjust when their moms aren’t around. Many moms continue breastfeeding after they return to work and their children are in daycare during the day. I’m the first to assure a mom of this fact if she’s returning to work and nervous: because a) it’s true and b) it’s what she wants to hear. But the thing is, I’m not returning to work outside of the home, there is no pressure to do anything (like career development) right this instant, and so, that isn’t what I want to hear. I admit to sometimes being overly sensitive, but the comment from my friend hurt – especially because I know she considers herself an attachment parent as well. The point all along has been that he and I don’t have to adjust to my being away for long periods of time. That’s why we have the arrangement that we do. In his own time, he will be ok with my being away for longer stretches, and in my own time, I will be ok with that, too. But right now, neither of us is ok with that. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?

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Snuggles are the best.

The funny/sad thing is I thought of emailing an author I reached out to a few months ago. I was so moved after I read her book, I sent her an email telling her so and was thrilled when she wrote back! A brush with celebrity, if you will. She mentioned she wasn’t ready to be away from her three and a half year old for 10 to 20 hour stretches yet, and that he wasn’t ready for that either. I thought to myself, she would totally understand! The stretches aren’t quite as long, and my son isn’t that old yet, but she would totally get it. I know from reading her facebook posts and articles that she nurses her son into and out of naps as well.

I don’t write this looking for sympathy. If I’m honest with myself, I could text one of my best friends this post right now (and probably will), and she will tell me I’m crazy to think she doesn’t empathize. I know all that. And I’m grateful for it. I partly write this so I can remember the moment and the feelings years from now when my toddler is a teen and this is all a distant memory.

I also write this for other moms and dads. We all make decisions that are best for our families, and as a result, they aren’t the same decisions as everyone else: and that’s obviously ok! Sometimes that can leave you feeling alone, but the reality is you aren’t alone. I know I’m not the only mom who parents through breastfeeding, just like you aren’t the only parent who returned to work when your baby was six months old, you aren’t the only mom whose child has a blast with his buddies at daycare, and you aren’t the only mom whose toddler will only eat bananas while watching YouTube videos.

Sometimes it’s just nice and reassuring to find other parents who do some things similarly to you because you know they’ll “get it.” And if they don’t do things the same as you, that they love and support you so that you can confidently keep doing your thing. It can be lonely or scary on a parenting journey, because you’re learning and feeling new things all the time, and knowing you’re not alone makes it just a little bit easier.

As for the training, it will happen all in time. Babies change and grow every day. We’ll both know when we’re ready for it.

Those little moments

I haven’t blogged for a while, and I’ve realized it’s because I forgot an important point from one of my earliest posts: it’s the little moments that matter the most.

See, I’ve been thinking way too hard about writing some profound post that will make a difference to another mom, when really I’m losing sight of why I started this blog in the first place.

So, here’s a round up of a couple sweet moments from the recent past.

Last night, as we do every night, Cub and I were reading books in his room before bedtime. At one point, he pointed to his lamp repeatedly. He got quite upset until I figured out that in fact he wanted me to turn it off so he could nurse and go to sleep. So smart, funny, and sweet! I love peaceful and smooth bedtimes. Knock on wood, but we’ve had many lately. There’s little I love more than the quiet as he nurses and drifts off to sleep. Those cuddles are precious, and I will miss them one day.

Last week, we spent a night in a hotel. My poor little man wasn’t feeling well, but we still managed to get in a swim at the pool. He enjoyed scooting down the steps of the hot tub into the water and then climbing back up again. By far his favourite thing to do was play in a little waterfall area that joined the kiddie to the deep pool. And as always, he laughed as he jumped off the side into my arms and the water.

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Sad sick snuggles.

Because he wasn’t feeling well, there were lots of snuggles, and unexpectedly to me, he fell asleep just by me cuddling him against me, absent-mindedly patting his back as I watched TV and chatted with my husband, APB. It was a definite sign he wasn’t feeling himself, as he rarely falls asleep this way. Sure enough, that night was rough, as was much of that week, as he and I both battled a bug.

I’ll just add a story a friend told me the other day. Like me, she normally nurses her little guy to sleep, but the other day he fell asleep as she had her hand on him and sang him a lullaby. I was touched she messaged me to tell me this – but she knew I would get why it brought her to tears. Such a poignant moment…a reminder that our babies do grow up and eventually they won’t need us as much as they did yesterday, a few days, weeks or months ago. It’s also a reminder to other mamas that you aren’t creating bad habits by nursing your baby to sleep because s/he will outgrow it when s/he is ready. My friend cried tears of pride and sadness, and I totally get that. It’s how I would feel, too.

There are still those days where I dig my fingernails into my hand when I can’t figure out what my toddler is trying to communicate, but if I stop and think about it, there are far more precious moments to cherish than moments to be frustrated over: even when he was kicking me in the face and throat while nursing the other night. I can choose to be annoyed or I can choose to laugh. It’s better to laugh, and if I pretend to take a bite out of his foot, he giggles, which is the sweetest sound. Plus he’s gazing into my eyes as he laughs. Oh, my heart….

Those moments are what I choose to focus and hold on to – not to deny the tough parts but to take joy in the little moments that all add up to a big, wonderful moment of being a mom.

An emotional argument you can’t deny

An emotional argument you can’t deny

This is the third year I’ve attempted to read all the CBC Canada Reads books before the debates in March.

The long list of books is released in December. I recall last year plowing through books during our many breastfeeding sessions. By the time the debates rolled around, I think I’d read four of the five.

Thinking back to the previous year, I’m not sure how many of the long list I read, but I read most of the short list. I also had more spare time. What oh what did I do with all that spare time?!

If you’ve never heard of the debates, they’re quintessentially Canadian. Five personalities each vigorously defend a book and vote one off every day until there is a winner. There’s a different theme each year, 2016’s being “starting over.”

There’s no rhyme or reason to which book I tackle first. It’s whichever one I can get from the library first. Last night I was able to download the e-book version of The Outside Circle. I finished it in a couple of hours, which is part testament to how good it was, but also because it’s a graphic novel. It touches on First Nations gang life, cycles of violence and substance abuse, the legacy of residential schools.

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It’s pretty much a guarantee that if a book makes it to the Canada Reads long list, it’s decent, so it goes without saying you should read as many of them as possible whenever you have time.

I’ve written before about the impact covering residential schools has had on me as a journalist. Now I will reflect on them as a parent.

It has astounded me people who either deny the consequences of residential schools or shrug them off as not a big deal, get over it, it’s history. I’ve heard all the arguments before: speaking to extended family about covering a residential school apology event, I was told Aboriginal people aren’t the only people in Canada we’ve mistreated (as if that makes it alright, any of it). During that conversation, a minister said that the churches had already apologized, implying enough already, time to move on. The minister commented how one survivor was finally less angry – when I responded that she had every right to be angry and no one could tell her how she should feel, that wasn’t welcomed.

I’ve learned you can’t always reason with people using facts. A good friend once told me you have to meet emotion with emotion. So here I present to you an emotional argument you can’t argue with. And if you can or attempt to, you have no heart, and I’m not interested in engaging.

If you are a parent, take a moment and look at your child(ren). Think of how much you love them and how you’d do anything for them. Now imagine someone comes and takes your children away and there is NOTHING you can do about it. How do you feel? I look at my son and feel sick just thinking about it, to the point I almost can’t.

If you aren’t a parent, take a moment and remember yourself as a child. Who did you look to for comfort, safety, and love? Your parents. Now imagine some stranger comes and takes you away from them, either shipping you off to a foster family of strangers or a residential school where at best, you are separated from your family and loved ones. At worst, you are abused.

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Is there a worse feeling in the world? Pain is pain, and maybe it shouldn’t be graded or put in a hierarchy, but I’m not sure there is a more sickening feeling than what I just described above: the hopelessness, the power imbalance, the unfairness, the loss. It makes me want to cry thinking about it.

These were the thoughts running through my head as I read The Outside Circle last night. When I was finished, I held onto my son, vowing I would continue to respond to him when he cries, because he needs me, whether it’s day or night. And as I held him, I couldn’t help but think of those children and babies ripped from their parents’ arms. It made me hold him tighter. It made me stronger in my resolve to continue parenting the way I do.

The story is tragic, moving, triumphant – and timely, coming on the heels of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I hope The Outside Circle makes the final 5 because it’s a story that needs to be read, and I believe being a graphic novel means it can and will reach a wider audience. Images are powerful. And the more people this message reaches, the better our country and society will become. We could all benefit from a little empathy and compassion: it can only make us stronger.

Ho, Ho, No: Why I won’t be taking a crying Santa photo

There are two main reasons I won’t be taking a picture of a tearful Cub on Santa.

One is I can’t be bothered to stand in line at the mall or anywhere else when I don’t know if he’ll like Santa. Plus it would just be one more thing to do and I’m eliminating tasks this Christmas rather than adding.

But the main reason is I don’t find the photos funny. The thing is, I used to laugh like everyone else at the pics of kids screaming on Santa’s lap. Now that it’s my own little one, I just don’t see the humor.

It would be one thing if I put Cub on Santa’s lap and he then started to cry and we could snap one quick. But I did try at a kids’ Christmas party and he was upset on his way to Santa so there was no way he was getting on the strange man’s lap.

And that’s part of it for me….why do we insist on making our kids sit on a strange man’s lap if they don’t want to? To me, it goes against teaching kids to not talk to strangers or to tell someone they trust if they are made to feel uncomfortable. And perhaps in his mind, it’s a big deal. It’s a stranger he doesn’t like. By making him sit on him, he might not feel safe. That’s not how I want him to feel.

Maybe people think this makes me lame, lacking a sense of humor, too sensitive, a softie, reading too much into a silly photo (because it is silly, isn’t it?! Who isn’t it really for?). Maybe I’m all of the above! I don’t care what other people do, but I’m not going to follow (Santa) suit just because tis the season to flood social media with tearful kids. I mean, CBC even asks you to send in your “worst Santa” photos and I’m sure it’s not the only news outlet.

For me, I’ve never liked to make a baby and now I guess technically toddler cry for no reason. I recognize babies and toddlers cry but when Cub does it because I want a picture that he cares nothing about, my heart says no. Why would I upset him for no reason? It’s not my thing.

It reminds me of a story from about 7 years ago. APB and I took his then 4-year-old son to APB’s dad’s Christmas staff party. His son was encouraged to go sit with Santa (who happened to be APB’s dad!). He dutifully stood near his Grandpa, not knowing it was him. He didn’t stay long before letting out a bit of a cry and running to me. He spent most of the rest of the party sitting on my lap, colouring. APB’s mom commented to Doug that I was keeping the child to myself when in fact he just saw me as the safe person who wouldn’t make him sit on Santa.

I recently read a great article about teaching kids to face and overcome their fears rather than just fixing things for them. You might argue I’m fixing rather than facing here. I might agree if Cub was 6 instead of 16 months.

So for this year, this will have to do for a Santa pic. Who knows what next year will bring, but I won’t be forcing him to sit on anyone’s lap if he doesn’t want to. And that includes anyone, any time – not just Santa.

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May you have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones and may there be more smiles than tears! Merry Christmas from Mama Bear, APB, & Cub ❤

 

 

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