Friday, April 11, 2014

Our Attachment Parenting Journey; a Discovery

To read Part 1 of our Attachment Parenting Journey, click here.
     That night Jeff left. It was the worst night in either of our lives. For the next few days I held Sam and just cried, replaying the scene of Jeff holding Sam and saying good-bye over and over in my head. I now can see that I was probably experiencing post pardum depression. I have a history of situational depression, and was being treated with medication just prior to getting pregnant and had stopped taking the med on my own. My obstetrician, aware of our situation at birth had recommended that I come in for follow up one week after birth for a sort of mental status check. I work in healthcare and knew exactly what to say, and I lied through my teeth. I couldn't have anyone know that I was 'failing as a mother,' or so I thought, with my non-sleeping baby who wants to be held.  
     Probably a week later I remember calling my mom crying because I knew I was the worst mother ever. “All I do is hold him,” I wept, “the house is a mess, and I don’t even know how to give him a bath.” I didn’t have the insight to say to myself that holding him and letting the house go to Hell WAS doing something. It WAS nurturing, it WAS loving. I hadn’t realized, but Sam slept best those few days we were alone because I let him nap in my arms or on my chest. Concerned, my mother came and picked us up to spend the night at her house, where we stayed for several months.
     For weeks I came to her asking, why, 'Why doesn’t he sleep in his crib like “every other baby”? Why doesn’t he ever let me put him down?'  I honestly thought that babies slept happily in cribs, and that they would just occupy themselves in bouncy seats as their mothers showered and read magazines. Night after night I dutifully followed the advice “just keep putting him back in his crib” that everyone else around me was repeating. After all, they all had children, I never have, so what did I know? One night, exhausted, I was holding him in my bed, giving him his bottle all cuddled up in my arms trying to get him back to sleep so I could put him back in his crib as I was instructed. Hours later we both woke up, still cuddled together. He had slept. I had slept. He didn’t suffocate or fall out of bed or get trapped against the wall. We both just hugged and slept for most of the night. I was afraid to tell anyone, and this arrangement became my dirty little secret.
    Now when people would ask about sleep I would say, 'Why yes he is sleeping better, that put-him-in-the-crib trick really works!' The pediatrician asked where he sleeps at the check up; I lied. 'Yes in his crib, absolutely.' Every night we were snuggling together in my twin bed. We were so happy. Waking up to snuggles and smiles. We became so content in our situation, my feeling of failure started to dissipate and I became more confident in my mothering skills. Eventually I became tired of lying about putting him in a bassinet and sleeping peacefully. I decided that lying is what you do when you're doing something that you know is wrong and want to hide. I began to reply to the famous "is he sleeping?" question with  'yes he’s sleeping, and its because I hold him all night!' Why are people so concerned with how a newborn sleeps anyway? Why do new mothers ever hear "Is he happy?" "Isn't mothering a newborn amazing?" Or how about "You are doing a fantastic job!" Our culture automatically defaults to "how is he sleeping?" even though the asker usually knows that newborns don't sleep, all of which causes the mother to FEEL like her infant SHOULD be Rip VanWinkle and if he or she isn't then Mom must be doing something wrong. I was tired of hearing the I-told-you-so’s about how much better it was for a baby to be alone in a swing, seat, bassinet or crib because I had proof otherwise. From that moment on I heard nothing but how terrible this would be in the future. That I would never get him out of my bed. Off hand comments about how I need to put him down. "Put that baby in a crib." Our dirty little secret was out. 
I want to make clear that I am not in any way saying that what worked and continues to work for my family and my children is the ONLY way to raise and nurture a child. Nor am I saying that my beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong. Every child and family is truly different and each individual situation is dynamic and unique. Parents are responsible for finding out what works best for them and their children.  This post is about me, and my beliefs and my journey.  
     It was about that time that we moved from my parent’s house back into our apartment. I felt I needed to be alone and grow as a mother. “What kind of mother is afraid to be alone with her baby?” I thought. I felt I should be beyond the need for constant companionship and needing help with daily simple tasks like having someone watch Sam while I made bottles and showered. Perhaps I was made overly confident by how well we slept together and thought that he was ready to sleep on his own just as well. I started trying to put him to sleep in his crib again as, by all opinions, at three months old, he should be old enough to sleep all night alone in the crib. I noticed that he really liked sleeping on a C-shaped nursing pillow. Here was the key! I thought. One night I put him to sleep tucked in the pillow. I woke up that night in the middle of the night and felt like I had to go to his crib, which was just at the other side of our very small bedroom.  I was horrified by what I saw. He had slipped down in the bend of the pillow so that the pillow was slightly covering his face. His arms were limp at his side. I whipped him out of bed, startling him awake. He was fine. He had just been sleeping. But I was horrified and forever changed. We had a wonderful sleeping arrangement but I had let the pressures of other people and their beliefs alter the way I parented, and I had put my baby at risk in the process. I felt so incredibly stupid and selfish. It was a mistake I would never make again.
     After Sam was back asleep in bed next to me, I immediately texted my friends for comfort about what had happened. The next day on the phone, one of my long time friends who had four children of her own, quietly mentioned that she hadn’t slept without her youngest in her bed until she was four, and told me about Dr. Sears.  I immediately read The Baby Sleep Book. And then The Attachment Parenting Book. I was hungry for this knowledge. I was finally being told that what I was feeling and naturally doing was not a dirty secret, or selfish parenting. I was also not alone in the sea of babies sleeping through nights in cribs as I had believed until then. There was a name for this; Co-sleeping. And lots of people do it. Its a parenting style and set of beliefs called attachment parenting. I was elated. From that moment on, we didn’t spend a night apart (until he was over a year old and began preferring his crib as he could stretch out and move the way he wanted to). I began wearing him in a carrier around the house and getting so much accomplished without feeling guilty about leaving him alone to play on the floor. I lamented failing at breastfeeding and brushing it off as over rated, but I realized that AP was not an all or nothing exclusive club. I was brave against nay sayers and had books and research within them to back up my beliefs. At his next check up, when asked where he slept I proudly said “With ME! We both love it and that’s where he’s staying!” Probably at much surprise to the pediatrician.
Sam and Jeff video chatting during deployment.

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