A personal reflection on change; my perfectionist nature; dealing with my stress, and man-feelings
All Is Forgiven
It’s 08:30 on a sunny Saturday morning and we’re in the Rookery. Lying flat in your pram you are staring up in absolute wonder and awe at a tree, a huge grin on your face like it’s the best thing ever imaginable – wowwww! “That. Is. Amazing!”, your face says. We roll on to the next tree – sun light is flickering through the leaves and you start flapping your arms and legs in unison – the incredibleness levels are off the chart, you are so happy!
How easily forgiven you are! My day is already 4 hours old – it was a bad nights sleep and it’s been a bad week of sleep. Mummy Shark is at a spin class (fair play), and i’ve just finished my flask of coffee. Things are looking up again. I was mightily annoyed with you 4 hours ago – why won’t you just go back to sleep for another hour, or two, at least. 04:30 is no time to be wide awake, demanding attention and play. It’s the weekend, and my turn to get up with you. Mummy deserves and needs a few more hours sleep – it’s been another long week!
First things first, nappy change. A big cuddle as I lift you out of your cot and a huge smile as I put you down on the changing mat – already working your magic, eeking back in to my good books. A sloppy wet chewy kiss of my nose (these will have to stop when you get teeth!) and giggles as we play early morning peekaboo – I still wish it wasn’t so early – but i’m coming around quickly. Next, in to the lounge to play. First up it’s amazement at your reflection in the window (every day 🤩), then you rip last weeks Sunday Times Magazine up in to tiny pieces – so much fun! Some vigorous bashing of brightly coloured plastic blocks, another reading of your favourite book (you’re Mad About Minibeasts at the moment), then after about an hour the yawning starts. You doze back to sleep around 05:30 as I lay on the living room floor next to you – what a pleasure you are Elsie. All is forgiven.
Life before Elsie was predictable; most nights I got a solid 8 hours sleep, at the weekends we’d have a drink and maybe once in the week too. I traipsed to work 5 days a week, enjoyed exercise most days either first thing in the morning or when I got home, ate well, did my life admin (ladmin), boozed nonchalantly with my mates, hung out blissfully with Kirsty. We went on adventurous holidays, ate out often, usually at our favourite local BYOB’s, and could do pretty much as we pleased.
Something had been nagging at me though.
We were both determined to keep up “our lives” when we had a baby, and mostly we’ve been able to, but its required huge amounts of adapting and flexibility from us both.
There’s no “normal” day or night any more – each one is unpredictable. The only constant in the last 7 months has been the constant change. There’s no reliable pattern and this is teaching me a good lesson in flexibility, and clearing out the negative-sides of my perfectionist nature.
The only option is to go with the flow and make the most of every situation as it presents itself. For “a square” who likes to plan ahead and be prepared, this has been difficult for me to adjust to, but figuring ways to adapt has turned out to be great fun and reduces the mundanity of predictable life. Sitting in the bedroom at 8pm on a Tuesday, lights out, whispering our days updates to each other while sipping red wine in bed as Kirsty feeds Elsie off to sleep, is magic. Ordering one meal at a time in restaurants, leaving the other of us free to man-handle the Squirmer, is a tiny adjustment but means we still get to enjoy our Franca Manca’s and Flotsam breakfasts. It’s not that hard to find ways around most problems.
The Opposite of Routine
According to a study of studies, 50% of babies at 5 months of age have started to sleep for an 8 hour stretch on some nights. Another source reckons that by 9 months of ages 70-80% of babies will sleep through the night! Elsie, bless her, is not in the first 50% and not looking likely to be in the 70-80% either!
Her sleep has been a fascination for me since Day 1. Always one to try and find a solution to a problem, and always looking beyond conventional wisdom for a better way, I began reading as much as I could about it. There is so much info out there about babies sleep it’s impossible to know what/who to believe. There does seem to be some encouraging evidence, for us anyway, that breastfed babies are more inclined to wake during the night, and with a general increase in breastfed babies over recent years, all these sleep stats will, over time, adjust to maybe reflect what we are experiencing.
Kirsty takes a much more laid back approach on these types of things, so after doing loads of reasing and research it’s fortunate that we’ve both come to the same conclusions, I just went the long way round. I’ve always said Kirsty has very good instincts and judgement, annoyingly she is usually right about most things.
When Elsie was around 2 months old we booked a 6 week trip to Mexico for when she’d be about 7 months old, so a lot of our general approach to her sleep was considered with that upcoming trip in mind. We wanted to use the lack of routine to our advantage, so have purposefully not got set sleep times for her. Some nights she goes to bed at 7pm, some nights at 10pm; some days she naps for hours, some days just a couple of 20minute snoozes; she sleeps as close to us as possible at night (we aren’t co-sleeping, but her cot is next to our bed); she gets cuddles and milk whenever she wakes in the night (which can be between 2-5 times each night); we don’t let her cry out (to try to avoid triggering her autonomic nervous system); her naps are in full daylight to maintain her circadian rhythm, white noise works well for us, as does an evening bath and a bedtime story. It’s not perfect, and no two nights are the same – there are mornings and days where we both wish we’d had more sleep – but these loose arrangements have worked OK for us so far, and there’s less for me to get stressed about when there are no expectations. I’ve grown to learn you can’t expect too much from a baby. “She’s just a baby”, as Kirsty always reminds me, and Kirsty is right! Again. Damn.
The biggest issue for me/us is tiredness and the challenges brought on by the lack of sleep. We were definitely very attached to the whole 8 hours solid sleep per night thing. Oh how I miss those nights!! When Elsie was born I decided to start tracking my sleep to see how it changed:
Operating on what feels like way less sleep than you’re used to makes everything more difficult and can definitely put a strain on your relationship. The propensity for sarky snappy comments, grumpiness, mood swings and frustration is higher than normal. On the plus side we have way less pointless drunken arguments, as we’re rarely drunk these days. Every cloud.
Kirsty rips me mercilessly for this, but I’m a big fan of agreeing general principles for things, to help guide behaviours. I do this for myself in all areas of my life, all in an attempt to minimise stress and reduce the amount of decisions I have to make.
Since the arrival of Elsie, four baby-related principles have emerged that have really helped us through times of tiredness-induced stress:
- Maintaining a sense of humour about things – Elsie has a really annoying habit of waking up or kicking off just as we are about to eat, and of doing poonami’s just as we’re about to leave the flat – it’s really easy to get annoyed about these things, so we’ve decided not to bother
- If one of us is down/stressed, the other holds fort and tacks the other way
- Hold plans and preconceptions loosely – embrace change, be flexible and adapt (eg, drink wine in bed instead of on the sofa)
- Sharing the load. Apart from breastfeeding we don’t follow any conventional wisdom or preconceptions about the woman’s role or the man’s role – everything is as 50:50 as possible. I feel really strongly about this. Looking after Elsie for 12 hours is way more demanding (mentally and physically) than an office job, so my view is Kirsty has a full time job which is way more important than mine. I think employers and society are just waking up the the importance of recognising this, and positive change is hopefully coming
Anyway, it turns out that broken sleep is fine. There is a lot of conflicting advice out there for new parents on the subject of baby’s sleep. The books (one and two) that resonated best with me provide reassurances to parents that we humans are prepositioned to dealing with broken sleep. Historians have published what I think are fascinating insights revealing that in the pre-industrialisation era segmented sleeping was very normal. They deduce that going to bed for a continuous 8 hour sleep is a comparatively recent behaviour, possible only due to the prevailty of modern things like heating/cooling, security, sound insulation, on-demand lighting, easy access to food and the like. In bygone era’s none of these things were easily available, and so sleeping was split into chunks throughout the nights and topped up by siestas in the day. Knowing this has made the nights when Elsie is wide awake at 1am slightly easier to take.
Climbing A New Mountain, and Man-Feelings
So my new normal is that there is no longer a normal. Life these days does sometimes feel like a neverendingness of chores – from the second I get home to the second I go to bed there is always something to do. I used to think I was busy before Elsie, but my spare time is almost non-existent now, and we have our shit together quite well.
I have a huge appreciation and respect for Kirsty for the way she’s dealt with everything so far – fulltime Mum’ing is bloody tough work, and I love her even more for the way she’s gone about growing, nurturing and nourishing the plum-sized miniature human we saw at our 12 week scan, into our chubby little 7.8kg constantly smiling Munchkin.
It has been tough turning down opportunities to hang out with my mates, and say no to things I would actually like to do. Even though we agreed we wanted to still maintain our lifestyles, being responsible for something so helpless and needy does require a lot of sacrifice. Elsie and Kirsty are my Number 1 priority now, and they always will be.
I’m finding myself craving way more time with Elsie. A 6am nappy change, a sloppy nose kiss and a quick cuddle in the morning, plus an hour or two in the evenings, is no-where near enough for me. The weekends fly by in the cyclone of life that is London. We’ve got some fairly advanced plans in the pipeline to address this which I’m hugely excited about.
While there are challenges and some tough, sleep-deprived moments, Elsie is such a joy to be with. Her giggles, eager-eyes, smiles and looks of wonder are beautiful and addictive. Obviously i’d say this, but I genuinely do feel massively richer for having her in my life – it’s definitely what was nagging at me. I no longer feel like i’m on auto-pilot; i’m enjoying putting someone else first and becoming less of a perfectionist.
And besides, i’m never too far away from a proper good coffee and a tree for you to have a good gaze and flap at. “Wowwwwwww”, you’d say 🥳