(first published on NPR's Baby Project)
So it's not all rainbows and sunshine over here in new-parentdom. To illustrate, imagine my poor husband coming home for his lunch break to find both his infant son and his wife in inconsolable tears on the couch.
Yeah, like that.
It's moments like these that make me realize that parenting is going to be a compromise, no matter what our best intentions were heading into this.
Before Finn was born, Chad and I talked at length about our child-rearing philosophy. We decided to co-sleep with our baby (and to be honest, apart from a few half-hearted attempts, he hasn't even made it into the co-sleeper. He spends his nights happily couched between the two of us). We don't yet own a stroller and are either holding or "wearing" Finn for the majority of his life — so far in a sling, moving on to Snugli, the Ergo and the Kelti backpack as he grows.
We purposely bought a car seat that permanently installs in the car so we wouldn't be tempted to carry him from place to place in his seat, but rather be in contact with us, even if it meant dislodging a sleeping baby from his slumber.
Yes, I'm the girl who read way too many books about child-rearing before Finn was born. I managed to avoid the pregnancy books for the most part, allowing our process to unfold as it did, feeling confident in my ability to carry and deliver a baby. That was the easy part. However, at the age of 32, I've still never had a huge amount of experience with babies, particularly small ones, and felt that I wasn't necessarily prepared to care for an infant.
So I read The Continuum Concept. I read Our Babies, Ourselves. I read The No- Cry Sleep Solution, and The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. And the message that ran throughout these books, in addition to baby-wearing and co-sleeping, was this: DO NOT LET THE BABY CRY IT OUT.
After having this message hammered into my brain over and over (and particularly after reading the description from The Continuum Concept about the psychological damage inflicted on an infant "crying it out"), you can bet I was sold on the idea. It was a no-brainer, really.
Or at least it seemed that way, reading it as an eight-months pregnant woman lounging on the couch with a reasonable amount of sleep.
But now, as a woman who hasn't had a "good" night's sleep since July 3, sitting here, trying to write a blog with a wiggly baby on her lap, I can look back and laugh at that pregnant chick and start counting the compromises.
Compromise No. 1: Now, this one isn't really our fault because the car seat we chose is one we thought we would be using, but because it's superbig and fancy, and because Finn was supersmall at birth, it was just plain, too darn big for him, and we've been using a hand-me-down from my cousin — one of those Graco numbers that snaps in and out of the base.
You know what? Those things come in handy! I can take a shower alone without worrying what Finn's smothering himself with, and I can bring him on the ferry and strap him into another car on the mainland when we need to go see our midwife. I'm certainly not toting him from place to place in it. First of all, that thing's heavy, and second of all, I like carrying him in a sling. It's way more comfortable for me, and less cumbersome.
Compromise No. 2: Sometime during week 3 (it all just sort of blurs together these days), Finn was having a really tough time sleeping, meaning Chad and I were having an even more rough time. He was waking every hour or so to nurse, followed by a fitful process of falling back asleep, only to have it start again about 20 minutes later. This went on for a couple of nights before the pacifiers came out. Our original plan had been not to introduce any bad habits we'd have to wean him off of later, but in order to make life easier now, we whipped one out (BPA-free, of course), and stuck it in his kisser. Alas, Finn was not impressed, and contrary to its name, the pacifier did very little to pacify.
Compromise No. 3: We plan to raise Finn without a television, and don't have one in the house. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I'd stopped working and started catching up on the seasons of Project Runway we'd missed during our time in the U.K., via Hulu on our computer. I intended to quit as soon as Finn was born, but for the past few weeks, I've been cheating and hopping onto the site at least once a day, usually during Finn's epic nursing binges (this explains why he's gained 2 ½ pounds in 3 weeks!). It's nice to turn off my increasingly exhausted brain for a minute and lose myself to Tim Gunn encouraging the designers to "make it work" — I think this might be my mantra!
I can already see myself caving to using the computer as a babysitter every now and then — as long as Elmo is nowhere to be seen. I also predict a defeat when it comes to going downtown to the penny candy store, though — thankfully — that challenge is far in the future.
What I cannot see myself doing, though, is breaking that cardinal rule and letting Finn cry it out alone. I can't help but think that no matter what, he's crying for a reason, and if he thinks for a second that I've abandoned him rather than do anything in my power to make it all better, I would be really disappointed with myself.
At the beginning, his cry would tear at the fibers of my being, making me curl my toes and bite my lip (evolution really knows what it's doing). But it's been getting easier to keep him company when he cries, even if I've exhausted every other option, at least he knows I'm there.
So all in all, parenting is a tough gig, and constantly changing. Whenever I think I've got a tiny part of it down, all the rules go up in smoke. There will be compromises and there will be moments I'm not so proud of, but I think I'm learning to trust my instincts and forget about the books so much. Just focusing on this little guy and trying to do the best by him seems to be the best strategy for me.