“Is he sleeping through the night yet?”
This question plagues me. It seems to follow me everywhere. Everyone asks – friends, acquaintances, random strangers and especially family – and every time they do, it makes me irate. Why? Because it’s a reminder of how messed up our society is when it comes to parenting. How little we value our kids and our jobs as parents.
For starters, there’s the pregnancy/parenting dichotomy. We’re told we can’t be too careful when we’re pregnant. We can’t give too much to our fetuses. How many times was I chastised for drinking coffee with a bump? Eat a piece of salami? My God, how could I play such Russian roulette with my precious child’s life? And how often did I hear from people that I shouldn’t want a homebirth, rather welcome a C-section because surely getting the baby out alive (no matter what it did to my body) was the ONLY thing that mattered?
But then the baby is born and the same society tells us to push it away. Why are you nursing him again so soon? Why are you nursing him at all? Formula isn’t poison you know! You know, newborns don’t really need to nurse at night. Whatever you do, don’t let him ‘get used’ to sleeping with you or he’ll ALWAYS want to be that comfortable. Isn’t he sleeping through the night yet?
Yup, the change in ‘advice’ from pre- to post-birth still makes my head spin. And I often wonder if the two extremes feed each other. Perhaps women who fall prey to the martyrdom mantra of pregnancy find themselves exhausted, disconnected from everything they used to be and yearning for control of their bodies and lives. Maybe that makes them more ready to subsequently follow the minimum-inconvenience mantra of parenting, to get back that control. Maybe we feel we were under the thumb of our fetus, so now it’s our turn to show that fetus who’s boss. But we don’t realize it wasn’t our baby who took our autonomy, it was our culture, and it’s our culture that needs to be put in its place after our little one is here.
Then there’s SIDS. SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants in Canada other than congenital abnormalities and perinatal trauma. In other words, sleeping is the single most dangerous thing my baby will do this year. So why should I make it my goal to leave him vulnerable for as long as possible each day? I’m perfectly happy to wake up in the night if it means my Little Man will wake up in the morning. But it doesn’t take statistics to tell you that it’s unnatural and unsafe for a baby to be away from it’s parents all night. Every parent knows it instinctively. That’s why there are whole sections of stores devoted to gadget that will let you know your baby isn’t dead. Right down to the ones that measure every possible marker of aliveness – breath rate, body temperature, heartbeat – and beep it at you all night long. Wouldn’t it be easier just to know your baby is alive because it wiggles next to you in the night? I honestly don’t get it.
But these things aside, the question prickles me because I’m not sure why it should be asked at all. Why should it matter to anyone else how long my baby sleeps at night?
The people who ask the question (especially the ones who ask it repeatedly) aren’t asking because they think his wellbeing is in jeopardy. I know this because these same people see that he’s happy. All. Day. Long. They see that he’s growing and developing ahead of ‘the curve’. They compliment me on these things. If he were falling asleep at breakfast, or screaming all day then I’d be the first to say that something needs to change. But he’s not, and the doubters know that.
They’re also not asking because they’re concerned about me being exhausted. This one I know because I never complain about being exhausted. Probably because I’m not, in fact, exhausted. On the contrary, I sleep better than most moms I know, because I’ve found ways to meet Little Man’s needs easily (ie nursing and bedsharing) and I brag about how rested I am. I also know that these people aren’t worried about me missing sleep because they’ve never asked me about my sleep before I became a parent. No, they weren’t calling my dorm room to ask if the other Frosh were ‘giving me at least six hours.’ They weren’t tut-tutting at me when I worked night shifts or crammed for biochem or dragged my drunk ass home at 5am only to head back out at 8. I guess these were considered acceptable reasons to forfeit sleep, but caring for my (nearly) helpless infant doesn’t make that cut.
They’re asking because sleeping babies have become synonymous with good babies. In a society where a ‘good’ child is a ‘well-controlled’ child, a baby’s goodness can be numerically summed up, it seems, on a scale of 1 to 12.
I’m going to put in a little caveat here: everyone loves their baby, no matter how many hours that baby sleeps in a row, and even if the method used to achieve that sleep isn’t one I’d employ. I do get that. Hey, if Little Man drifted off to sleep and stayed that way all night, I wouldn’t be complaining about it. This is MY vent about a societal value that I deplore, and about the people in MY life who get on my case about something that is none of their business. It’s not an attack on parents of babies who sleep ‘well’.