the "spoil 'em rotten" sleep solution. guaranteed!

My first baby, Chas, was born in the UK. I did everything right for the whole pregnancy, walking to work and doing gentle yoga, taking my vitamins, and having a million checkups. I had had a miscarriage at three months the previous year, so I was terribly aware of What Could Go Wrong. I played music to my belly, and read all of the books. I did a fair amount of babysitting as a teenager, so I was reasonably confident in my child-minding skills.

At one of my first checkups, a nurse took some blood for testing. At the next checkup, they wanted more. "why?" I asked. They muttered something and stuck me with needles. At my next checkup, they asked if they could, please, have more blood. They had finally figured out what was worrying them: weird tropical diseases! I have had two different strains of Dengue Fever (including "break bone" fever), which has left a permanent change in my blood. This was not a problem, just terribly exciting for a small English hospital. (actually, it's a problem for ME. I am more likely to contract the deadly Hemmoragic Dengue Fever, with my system primed up by two previous bouts.) Anyway. I offered them more blood, and they took a few syringes full, coveting them like precious gems.

Apart from that interesting episode, and 9 months of tiredness, nausea and vomiting, (eat weetabix. Comes up easy, so you can then eat a real breakfast.), I had a pretty healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy. I wanted a totally natural delivery, and was looking forward to meeting my beautiful baby.


After 23 hours of pain, drugs, (Sean said that the gas-and-air stuff was just GREAT, till I threatened to wrap the hose around his neck and...) baby in wrong position, epidural, epesiotomy, 39 stitches, prayers and panics over Chas' failing heartbeat in the second stage of labour, I had my baby. He was the most. THE MOST beautiful person I had ever seen. He had a mop of black, shiny hair, like his handsome and exhausted daddy, and once he had gotten over an initial stage of being blue-tinted, he became Mr. Communicative. Within minutes he was looking at me, breastfeeding, and responding to sounds. He was clearly the perfect child. It was love at first sight.

Apparently, perfect children don't need any sleep. I had anticipated packing to return to Trinidad in the first 6 weeks of Chas' life, and planned on napping, nursing and eating. Babies sleep all the time, right?


In 6 weeks I was a quivering wreck. Chas spent his days and nights nursing, fussing, dropping off for 10 anxious minutes, and then startling suddenly to begin screaming. He seemed never to sleep, in those first 6 weeks. Sean was studying, and my Mum, who had been there to help (thank God!) and feed me up for the first two weeks or so, had gone back home. My grandmother was there, with bad knees. No walking babies for her!

I would walk and sing, walk and sing, until the crying subsided. Then I would sloooowly and gingerly lower myself into a rocking chair, whereupon he would begin again. Then, I would cry. We would both be sitting there, Chas and I, in tears. I was severely sleep-deprived, but convinced that I could DO THIS! At two in the morning, with a baby who pulled his legs up and cried as if in pain, this is not easy to believe, but I am stubborn like that. I was convinced that Chas would settle, sooner or later, but my increasing nervousness and lack of sleep made logical thought processes difficult.

After going through that, I begin to understand how some people can abuse babies. I really do. When you finally get the baby down, and you lie there, thinking "relaaax, you are sleepy. Just sleep." but you KNOW that the baby will be up in 10 minutes, that is torture. Well, let's just say I had visions of throwing the child out of the window and I am supposedly quite sane.

Midwives came, and called it "colic". They said I needed rest. OH REALLY??!!?! They said the baby would settle eventually, and I should relax. YOU THINK??!!? But, some babies are just very difficult, high-need babies. He would grow out of it as his system matured. GEE THANKS, O HELPFUL ONES! Chas also appeared to have a sleep apnea, which did not help me to relax AT ALL.

Chas' non-fussy moments, mostly mornings, were lovely. He was so alert and interested, and if I had been in any condition to enjoy them it would have been great. He was constantly "talking" and "singing" but seemed to need constant stimulation. I could not leave him lying there, I had to entertain. Mostly because I felt a bit shell-shocked about all of the crying, and didn't want to risk it starting up again. His happy moments became more and more frequent, as he became more "settled" and "mature".

When we got back home to Trinidad, Chas was 6 weeks old, fat and gorgeous. He still slept very little, and had grouchy evenings, but he loved him a routine. Routine was everything! I realised that he had to have the same things happen, at the same times, every day. We would go to the beach in the morning and afternoon for him to burn off steam. Chas learned to crawl, walk, run and jump, throw, dig, and paddle very early, maybe because that sand is so great for learning on. He had the same foods at the same times every day, and was a grouch if anything was different.

I pandered to his every whim, and spoiled him rotten. I held him constantly, and breastfed him at night for about 8 months, and many people told me that I was "going to be sorry!" and "DIGGING MY OWN GRAVE!" and "look at so-and-so's baby, she put that baby to cry it out at three weeks, and she has been sleeping through the night ever since!"and "you look exhausted!"

But I could not dream of abandoning him to cry. I nursed him to sleep, put him in a crib or my own bed, patted him on his back, said "shh". I let him know that night is boring. I will not play, sing, or turn the light on. He gradually figured out that there would be no entertainment at night.

Chas abandoned his one daytime nap before he turned one year, and was very independent, talking well and getting up to all kinds of mischief. He was a child to WATCH. Always climbing up stuff, putting things in his mouth, diving into ponds, (I taught him to swim before he was one, for extra safety) getting bitten by assorted insects and reptiles, sticking screwdrivers into sockets... There was no peace. We would read a story and have a "lie down", which he liked, and once I was pregnant with Sam I would LOCK the door to my bedroom, and have a nap myself every day while Chas drove matchbox cars all over me and the bed. My room was as childproof as could be.

Once Chas was about 10 months old, and understanding "dodee" which means "sleep" here, I started to put him in his own bed at night. We started our bedtime routine early, with dinner, bath, stories, massage, the same lullabies in the same order, the same prayer, and saying "goodnight" to the sea, the moon, the trees... Chas was learning so many words at this point, and he would drag out the "goodnight" part of the routine. "nigh, car! Nigh, butter!"

Then I would put him into his bed, surrounded by mosquito net, and potter around his room until he fell asleep. I folded plenty of laundry in the dark... In fact, never before or since has my laundry been so efficiently folded! Gradually, I left him, "just going to wee-wee, be right back", "bleah, I need to brush my teeth", "I will be in the kitchen, call me if you need me."

The idea was that:

All of the children are going to bed now, because it is grown up time.

I will always come, the instant you call me, so there is no need to get out of bed.

If I say " I'll be right back" I mean it.

And that was that. Chas has remained an insomniac and needs very little sleep, but has no fear of the dark, and goes to bed at a reasonable bedtime because I AM TIRED! Yes. My hyper son goes to bed because I am tired. What, that doesn't make sense to you? He likes to read.

When Sam and Max were babies, I used the same "spoil 'em rotten" technique. They, too, hop into bed very happily and are not afraid of the dark. And in my unprofessional opinion, my great sleepers are that way because they were never left alone, terrified, and listening to the sounds of their own screams in the dark. My great sleepers will sleep in a hammock in an open camp, on anyone's bed, and in Sam's case, propped on three round stools in the middle of Invader's Panyard. But then, Sam will sleep standing up! For us, bedtime is a happy time, one of reading stories and discussing the day. Chas will happily "stay up" and wash dishes or take apart an engine with his Dad, which is fine by me. Once everyone knows that I am OFF DUTY after bedtime!

Oh, and the "disciplined" three-week-old who was left to cry it out? Was still wetting her parents' bed at eight years of age. And is still afraid to go to sleep in her own bed, at ten. That grave I dug for myself in my kids' early years? Is soooo comfy, I tell ya.


Burgh Baby said…
Isn't it funny how parents can be so judgemental about things that are as personal as figuring out the right sleep ritual for a child? I don't personally believe in letting a baby "cry it out", but my one-year old will on occassion wake up in the middle of the night crying. I tried picking her up to console her, patting her back, rocking her, all kinds of things, but she would just end up more agitated. The thing that ended up working for her? Closing the door to her room and going back to bed, essentially completely ignoring her. Before I even make it back to my room she's quiet. I think she just needs to know someone is there, but she doesn't want any contact. With another kid, I might think that is a form of torture.
Anonymous said…
And yet, I think so much has to do with the indiv child. I myself did the cry-it-out method with our oldest, who sleeps great and always has. But the twins never had to suffer such indignities--I always got up with them. (anything to get them to be quiet) And now? They sleep great too.
Kids are so varied. In some ways, I think it doesn't matter what you do. It'll sort itself out eventually.
Anonymous said…
Hi Nan.. me again :) With motherhood fast approaching I have been reading everything i can find online on how to be the BESTEST MOTHER EVER. One thing I can't get over is the VAST difference between whats really good for your baby, and what i've been hearing all my life.

Back home, all I heard was how you shouldn't co-sleep with your baby, or hold them too often, and you should leave them to cry it out. These awful western philosphies that will supposedly make you child more independent. These awful western philosphies that had me thinking ''how on earth am I supposed to hear my baby cry and not pick her up''.

These same western philosophies that have resulted in a ''PERFECT'' western world full of low self esteem, violent teenagers, daily increasing murder rates, and more money spent on therapy and meds than some countries spend on food... Yes, these philosphies have really worked wonders.

So i'm revolting. I will hold my baby for as long as I can (hopefully that sling will help), and I will not leave her to cry, and I will spoil her rotten with all the love and hugs and kisses that i can muster.

As you said in your 'award winning' post (ahem, excuse I'':

''A small child should never be left lonely, hungry or afraid because that will only teach them loneliness, hunger and fear.''

So maybe i'll look exhausted, and i won't be able to get my nails done every week. I didn't sign up for this expecting the beauty package anyway. But at least i'll be doing what I know is right for my little one, and those scattered moments of sleep will be peaceful.