Friday, October 23, 2015

Finding My Parenting Groove

Yes, it's true that parents of newborn are going to have interrupted sleep for a significant period of time. It's also true that we will become insanely preoccupied with baby's needs. It's the grey areas of when and how nurture that have kept me second-guessing myself from the beginning. All the well-meaning advice and enticing books and blogs on the subject only make it harder to find my way.

The Ameri-centric information I have read and received is strongly supportive of some type of sleep training. Whether it's as strict as "crying-it-out" or as loose as a general routine, it seems that Americans are obsessed with making sense of and gaining some control over the madness. Although I'm not entirely sure where I stand, I don't feel comfortable adhering to a course of action dictated by my needs rather than Bug's (which I feel underlies many of these methods). I didn't sign up to be parent except between the hours of 7pm to 7am. This is a full-time job.

Before Bug was born, the idea of a schedule sounded great. As a teacher, I know that routines and predictability really help with classroom management and productivity. However, now that Bug is here, there is no way I am sticking to feeding and sleep at strict intervals. First, if my baby is crying, I am going to feed him whether it is at a "suitable" time or not. Second, I don't believe my own life has to end just because I had a baby. It seems very American to lock yourself inside and not leave until your baby is two years old, but plenty of other cultures just bring baby along. That doesn't mean I take Bug out partying all night, but if a coffee date falls during his nap time, I just stick him in the pram and head out. I think that keeping myself fulfilled socially helps me be a better mom. There are always exemptions; for example, I skipped a date this morning because Bug had just gone down and I didn't have the heart to wake him.

Especially since I've hired a nanny for Bug and want to make sure she knows my expectations, I've been tracking his feeds and sleeps to see if any patterns are emerging. Only recently have time and length of naps begun to stabilize, but eating patterns have been hard to identify because nursing is a bond we share for both eating and soothing. I was starting to feel like a bad mom for not putting him on a schedule sooner. I tried a few times to follow the "EASY" (eat, activity, sleep, you time) routine but deviated when Bug was hungry at the "wrong" time or I went out to run errands and messed it all up. Admittedly, this routine did help me in the very beginning when I was still learning to identify Bug's hunger and sleepy cues. I wasn't following it really, just using it to help see what he might be needing. Another mom a few months ahead of me helped put things into perspective. Was I feeding him when hungry? Was I putting him down when tired? Was he happy and well-adjusted? Yes to all. So stop worrying.

But I worry so well. If I'm not doing sleep training or a set schedule, what am I doing?

I've always had a bit of a hippy-dippy side, so attachment parenting resonates with me. Essentially, this style of parenting means that the baby is worn in a close-contact carrier for much of the day, where he can breastfeed and snooze as needed. Sounds very African to me, although it is done here out of necessity rather than to make a statement. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, since humans have not changed biologically as fast as they have socially. Infants are meant to be held close and tended to around the clock. It regulates their body temperature and heart rate, and in the wilderness would have kept them safe from harm. Today it allows moms to keep working and bring their infants along (as with many Mozambican service workers or when I need to make breakfast). 

As great as it sounds, attachment parenting isn't realistic for me as I will be going back to work soon and cannot wear Bug all day. I also fear that that much codependence could backfire. I am an American after all; independence is at the core of our culture. Isolating babies in strollers and putting them in their own bedrooms at shockingly young ages is considered good parenting. I've learned that other cultures do not. So I use a stroller but face Bug towards me, and we change his diapers and play in his bedroom so it is familiar when the time does come to move him there. I think it's wonderful to "wear" him for a bit, and the nanny agrees, as it's very Mozambican to "nenecar" (literally to wear the baby in a carrier). We've decided that putting him in the "neneca" (carrier) is best in the afternoons when Bug gets fussy yet resists his nap. However, I don't want her wearing him for the whole day, and I do want him to be able to sleep in the crib. (I've spoken with moms here whose little ones have a hard time falling asleep in the crib because they are used to being carried and sleeping on their nannies all day.) It's important for babies to develop some independence. Bug actually enjoys playing alone in his crib, knowing one of us is supervising nearby. He also needs to learn to self-regulate. What is he feeling? What does he need? If I just jump to feed him every time he fusses, he won't learn to identify and eventually articulate these things.

That being said, I am quite uncomfortable with the various types of crying-it-out I've heard and read about, both because I don't believe it's good for my baby and because I could never endure the torture of of hearing him cry and not tending to him. A counter argument that makes a lot of sense to me is that when babies are left alone to cry-it-out, their cortisol levels shoot up, which makes them highly stressed and susceptible to internal physical and psychological harm. I don't care what the most popular book is calling it or saying about it, I'm not dong it. That doesn't mean I run to his crib at every fuss. I wait and listen. For example, he tends to whimper when he changes positions or loses his pacifier. Sometimes I put the pacifier back in and sometimes I don't. The books all say not to, but I make the decision on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes he fusses between sleep cycles but quickly falls back to sleep. Other times his nappy is wet, he is hungry, or he feels lonely and wants to be picked up. Those times, I go to him. He needs to know that I will be there for him. It isn't always clear when I should sooth or let him work it out. For example, he recently began rolling over and fusses when he startles himself or gets his arm stuck underneath. Do I help him so he settles back to sleep quickly, or do I wait so he can learn how to fix the problem himself? 

As with everything else, it's about balance. And intuition.

There is an underlying anxiety that if I don't do certain things my baby will...I don't know...not grow up healthy and happy? But those certain things are abundant and conflicting. I'm glad to have read so many books and blogs since I initially had no clue what I was doing. Science is always interesting -- and always changing. So it's good to consider but is not the green light for every choice. Sometimes I need to step away from the computer, put down the book, and just be with my kid. When I stop and listen to him, and to my instincts, I know we are doing just fine.