Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Okay (or, More Wisdom From Midwives)

Okay, can I just throw it out there? I love midwives. Maybe I've had exceptionally good ones, but they are just such incredibly wise people. Wise and calm. And good at listening, and thinking, and then saying something that makes sense and isn't stupid or panicky or cliche.

Maybe it comes from having seen a lot of mothers and babies, and knowing they turn out okay. But then, so do pediatricians. And while I love pediatricians too, for being able to do things like diagnose illnesses and tell you your kid is growing just fine (or not!), I feel like still, midwives have some kind of upper hand on baby-parenting wisdom.

Anyhow. This is another one that changed, that clarified, that made sense of my parenting. That left me feeling more settled and more capable.

It was my six-week postpartum appointment with Peregrine, and I was meeting with Catriona, the midwife who hadn't actually delivered Peregrine, but who had seen me a fair bit during my postpartum period. It was a long visit--pap smear and stitches review, breastfeeding evaluation, baby-growth measuring, long goodbyes, all those sorts of things. And, as part of her spiel, she asked how Peregrine was sleeping, and how we were all sleeping as a result.

I said fine, he was doing longer stretches at night, and when he woke up, he typically was hungry, and that problem was easily solved. I said I was tired, but what parent of a newborn isn't, and the tiredness wasn't something I couldn't cope with.

She said that was good, it sounded like things were going well, and she hoped they continued down that going-well path.

And then she said:

"I just want you to know, it's okay to sleep-train if you need to. It sounds like everything is working for you, and that's great, but if it isn't, call me. Do what works for you, but if you are losing your sanity over lack of sleep, know that sleep training is okay, and can be done well."

My lightbulb moment didn't happen then, really. I just tucked that piece of information away, and flagged it as important, because I'd never heard a natural-birth, hippie-skirt-wearing, still-nursing-my-toddler sort of person ever say that before. And I trusted Catriona, I trusted her a lot. I didn't think I'd ever need that piece of advice (or reassurance, or warning, or whatever it was), but I valued it all the same.

Back then I had no idea what sleep training was. Basically, I thought it was Babywise, and while I have absolutely nothing morally against Babywise, I also know it wouldn't work for me. I am a diehard Myers-Briggs P, and I could not live on the clock to the extent that Babywise advocates. So, in the completely untrue dichotomy I thought existed between scheduling babies and, well, not scheduling them, naturally, I fell on the not-scheduling side of things.

But, months after that six-week visit, Peregrine's sleep got more complicated. He was fussy--very, very fussy--in the few hours before we all went to bed. He woke up much more frequently at night (sometimes not just from hunger), and eventually started fighting bed altogether and utterly refusing to sleep, for fear he might miss something. He might (might) crash in a car seat or carrier, but only after hours of frantic, forced alertness (hours! a six-month-old! how did he do it? I have no idea!). And sometime, when Peregrine was between four and six months old, I realized it wasn't working anymore. So I read up on things, and found things that worked, and that included sleep training (which, I learned,  encompasses a lot more than scheduling, which isn't mandatory).

I never called Catriona. Mainly because I didn't need to, I quickly found things that worked (and worked amazingly well). I've never mentioned it again, beyond seeing her briefly and commenting on Peregrine's fast metabolism that still had him up every two hours to eat (but that was hunger, I could deal with hunger, especially with my speed nurser). But she was the rock I leaned on when I started researching sleep training. She was the reason I really felt absolutely no guilt choosing to go down that road. She was the reason I didn't feel like I was somehow crossing some line between natural-good-everything-I-want-to-be parent and strict-baby-scheduler when I decided to start actively shaping Peregrine's sleep habits. She was the reason I stopped believing that line existed.

And all she did, really, was tell me it's okay. It's okay to change what you're doing. It's okay to do something you didn't think you would. It's okay to shift and flex and adapt to your baby's needs and your own. It's okay to do something people argue about. It's okay to stop listening to the arguing and do what you need to do. It's okay to find your rhythm.

Would I have sleep trained Peregrine without Catriona's permission? Likely, I would have. It made us all so very much happier and better rested. But I probably would have felt guilty. I probably would have second-guessed myself. I probably would have been a lot less confident. I probably would have believed I had to go all-or-nothing, Babywise or Dr. Sears. Who knows.

All I know is that hearing it's okay was all I needed to hear. And it's a message I try to pass on, when I can. About sleep training, sure. But about a whole host of other things as well. There are a lot of things that are okay in parenting.

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