I Gave Birth to a Cling-on?! Or, The Fourth Trimester

img_1332Being a new mom is exhausting. (To put it mildly…!) Crying babies are stressful, and as I explained to my loving patient husband after multiple times of yelling at him for no reason as my babies cried, us women literally have a physiological reaction to our babies wails. Our milk lets down, we sweat, heart rates elevate and our natural biological response is to respond to our babies. Thus, when our baby is crying and we cannot figure out why, it is obscenely stressful. We are programmed to answer our offsprings needs, and when they are young they have one way of communicating their needs, and that is crying. You can safely assume that if your baby is crying, they have a legitimate need. They’re hungry, scared, cold, perhaps something hurts (colic anyone?) but they will not cry to manipulate or because they are selfish. A baby cannot be selfish or manipulative, they simply do not have that extensive of an understanding of the world.

When I brought my twins home, I did not plan at first on co-sleeping (read more on that in a previous post, click here). That decision changed the second night of their being earthside, and it is without fail one of the best parenting choices I have made to date. As I said in that earlier post, the minute I would set my babies down they would scream as if they were on fire. Now, I understand why. Thankfully I had my own parents loving example to follow in attachment parenting and thus when things ‘weren’t working’ with my wee ones I was confident to change them. fullsizerenderLet me elaborate. Have you heard of the fourth trimester? I hadn’t. The fourth trimester is the months that follow a baby’s birth. No one, not my nurses, not my midwife, not the pediatrician for darn sure, NO ONE mentioned to me anything about this fourth trimester business. Let me try to explain this succinctly. Up until birth, your baby had zero unmet needs. They weren’t hungry, they weren’t cold, they weren’t afraid, absolutely nothing required them to communicate their needs. Suddenly, that all changed. In a split second they went from a warm dark place where they were quite literally connected to you, to a bright, cold, foreign space where not only are they no longer attached to you, but they get hungry, they get uncomfortable, and you know what, THEY DONT UNDERSTAND. They have no way of grasping what has happened. Suddenly things hurt, they’re alone, and it’s terrifying. So they do the only thing they know how, they CRY.

fullsizerender-3And our culture expects this scared little human to be ok sleeping alone in a crib/cot/bassinet and new mamas are left questioning what on earth they’re doing wrong because their new little charge won’t sleep or stop crying! Mamas, you are doing NOTHING wrong! Your baby is crying because it wants YOU. They want to feel safe, fed, and CONNECTED. Your uterus was a lot more welcoming than the softest blanket on earth could ever be. There is nothing wrong with your baby because it looks to you for protection and nourishment 24/7. And the nicest, warmest, softest cot can not replace your beating heart and the smell of your skin, no matter if it sways, vibrates, sings or flies. You are truly the only thing your baby knows. That baby does not need to learn independence right now, independence is born out of confidence and confidence is born out of knowing their needs will be met. And they learn that their needs will be met when you answer their cries. No, you won’t be able to prevent their crying altogether. And some times you may have to put your baby in a safe place so you can pee, or cry yourself for a moment. Babies want to be touching you constantly, and yes it’s exhausting! And sometimes you just need to take a second and BREATHE. And they may cry. But setting them down briefly, that is different, that is an exception! That is not training them that their needs are insignificant.

img_0633In addition to cosleeping, I started wearing my babies. And things became infinitely easier. They slept on me while I made dinner, or did grocery shopping. And no, they didn’t stop crying altogether. They didn’t magically fall asleep every time. But because I was holding them, at least I knew that I was trying to answer their pleas for help. I wasn’t ignoring their cries, even if I couldn’t always prevent them. I wasn’t teaching them that their needs didn’t matter. When a baby cries and is ignored, they learn they don’t matter. They learn their needs will not be met. I fail to understand how that is a recipe for raising a confident human being.img_0634

It is infinitely frustrating to me that this concept of teaching our babies to function without mama is portrayed as necessary to being a ‘good’ parent. Human babies are born more dependent and helpless than any other species, and yet we are the only species that tries to force them to be ok without their mamas so early. And in doing so, many mamas are left feeling that they are failing, or that something is wrong with their baby because they won’t succumb to this cultural expectation. I cannot tell you how many times I had someone tell me, ‘eventually you have to let them cry’, or ‘you’re spoiling them, they won’t ever sleep alone’, or my favorite as someone told my husband, ‘stop babying them’. Stop babying them?! They’re BABIES for the love of all that’s holy! I hate the blame game that is played, somehow in our culture it becomes the mothers responsibility to teach their child that they don’t need them. Yes, you read that correctly. Mothers are expected to teach their babies that babies don’t need their mothers. And no, it makes zero sense.

fullsizerender-2It wont last forever. One day your tiny little cling-on won’t want to be attached 24/7, you will pee in peace, and they will sleep in their own beds. And they will do so when they are ready, and armed with the confidence that they are safe. As painful as it may be to consider the fact that one day my babies won’t need me as they do anymore, I want my children to grow up to be confident people who know who they are and go into the world empowered, people who can make a change in their world because their own is a solid one and they are strong in knowing who they are. And I personally believe that teaching them that who they are matters, that it is ok for their needs to be met, is crucial to them developing into confident, kind, empathetic strong human beings. It is hard to see another persons needs as important if you never believed your own needs to be important.

So mamas, hang in there and hold those babies close, don’t feel like a failure because they won’t sleep without you, or because they cry when you go out of sight. Be confident and know that although it’s hard (especially some days!) you are teaching your baby that they matter, that they are important, and that will never be something you regret.img_1333

Co-sleeping, How I Survive

imagePeople have co-slept as long as the human race has existed. Babies didn’t have their own separate mud huts, they stayed near mom at all times. Warmth, protection, there were many reasons to not let your infant leave your side. Of course today our circumstances are different. It is highly unlikely a wolf will sneak into your baby’s room and devour it in the night, and we live in comfortably climate controlled homes. Personally, I had resolved to use the crib when my babies arrived. I valiantly declared they would sleep on their own. My own mother, who co-slept all three of her girls, patiently helped me set the crib up beautifully with baby sheets and bumpers, smiling a quiet little smile as I adamantly insisted my babies would only sleep in their bassinets or the crib.

imageWell, my babies finally arrived one day. Not surprisingly, they didn’t like the cold plastic bassinets at the hospital. (Who would when your previous residence had been a warm squishy womb!) We brought them home from the hospital, celebrated our triumphant return as a family of four with a meal my mother had lovingly prepared and got ready for our first night at home. We tucked our tiny new members snugly into their vibrating, rocking bassinets and prepared ourselves to sleep.image

Now, newborns wake up a lot, but that first night our little babies didn’t sleep at all. Not even a five minute stretch. The minute their tiny bodies touched the bassinets they would begin to wail. We were desperate, in a haze we wondered if this up all night routine would be our lives the next few months. I still get PTSD from that first night when I hear the bassinets whirring.

The following night while nursing them I realized as long as they were near us, touching us, they would sleep. Of course they woke up to eat but they would at least sleep a little. After my 24 hour holdout, I brought them into our bed. Of course they didn’t immediately start sleeping for long periods of time, but they slept. And that was all I asked for. We tried a few more times to let them sleep in their bassinets but to no avail. They calmed instantly when near us, and it seemed absurd to insist to these tiny beings they couldn’t be with us for comfort when that was all they asked for.image

Nowadays, they sleep like angels. They wake a few times a night to eat, and since I sleep between them I simply flop back and forth. One latches, we both snooze off. The other one wakes, I flip over, they latch, we snooze off. Sometimes they wake up simply because they want an arm wrapped around them. And since they’re right there, it’s easy to do. My mom never said I told you so, just smiled a quiet smile when I announced the babies were in our bed to stay.

imageAnd I don’t regret it a moment. Given a choice of trucking across the house multiple times a night for feedings or waking periodically for cuddles, let me tell you, cuddles win every time. With my twins eating the way they do, I would spend less time in my bed than I would walking back and forth though the house. Cuddles aside, I credit my sanity to our decision to co-sleep. No, it hasn’t ruined my marriage. My husband and I are even excited for the day we add more wee ones to our brood and our bed becomes even more full. And yes, my children will one day sleep in their own beds. I hope that day takes a while to get here, I don’t know what I’ll do without their soft cheeks, midnight hugs and sweet hair to smell.