Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The sleep of the damned

Its 8.15 in the evening and both boys are in bed. ..Um..great...I hear you thinking. I should note here that this is almost unheard of in our house at the moment, so it should be cause for celebration, and it is. Mostly. Except that I'm feeling a touch melancholy about the whole thing.

Let me back track a little. The health service in this part of the UK sends mixed messages when it comes to parenting young children. The birth of Jamie in Canada was attended by 2 wonderful midwives, from our home, to the hospital and back again, along with a whole host of others (at one count 9!) all yelling variations on the theme of 'push'. After only 6 more weeks we could have avoided seeing any other trace of humanity if we hadn't been so..well.. totally freaked out by every snuffle!

In contrast, here in the UK, we arrived at the maternity unit, were 'booked in' (taking all of 10 minutes) then made our own way through the very close contractions for about an hour, until Marti went searching for a midwife, who materialised another 40 minutes later. It was her alone, aside from Marti who helped me into the pool, and witnessed the entrance of Noah. Don't get me wrong - its was a wholly positive experience, and I appreciated the hands off approach. I'm just glad it wasn't my first.

All this to say it comes of somewhat of a shock that after the birth you are expectedto see first a midwife every day, and then after day 10 a Health Visitor, toting your baby and their little red development book, twice a week for two weeks, and then at 1, 2, 3.5 and 5 months..and on it goes (obviously at longer intervals) until they are 5! It is in fact a bonefide 'nanny' state!

Our health visitor is fine. Smiling, supportive and generally relaxed. Until the topic turns to sleep. 'Is he sleeping through?' she asks casually..Are you nuts?? I don't say this, but its what I'm thinking. We practice a vaguely attachment parenting approach to sleeping, that is they sleep where they sleep best, often in our bed, but sometimes in several beds throughout the night. For a long time with Jamie it was our guilty little secret, until we discovered how many other parents of great kids secretly (and not so secretly) co-slept.

I feel strongly that you parent the way that feels positive for you. Informed choices should be just that. Choices. I am almost obsessively (can you imagine) well read on co-sleeping and I am really, truly comfortable with that choice. Honestly. I only analyse and question it once or maybe twice a week. But when faced with out health visitor I mumble, apologise, justify, and eventually lie. I'm not proud, but there it is.

She is unbending in her condemnation of the practice and absolute in her insistence that if we don't let Noah 'cry it out' in his own crib he will never develop good sleep habits and will (I edit in) die alone and in extensive therapy.

So I nod, smile and ignore. And quietly resent. The medical establishment in this country is often very inward looking, convinced it knows best, and many older practitioners approaches haven't changes since the 1950's. Lots of people of my generation still would not dream of questioning their health care providers opinion.

New parenting is intimidating enough. You should be able to rely on your health visitor for a full and impartial set of options and support, not leave her office a gibbering wreck of uncertainty. It takes me the full 20 minutes of the walk home to re-establish my confidence in co-sleeping.

So my melancholy comes from this place; my health visitor is cheering - my baby is asleep in his own bed. I simply miss him, his warm little body needing mine for rest and comfort. How can providing that for a 5 month old (or in fact a 5 year old) possibly be bad parenting? Guess what - I'll let you into a little secret - its not.

So tell me... I really want to know...what do y'all do / did with your kids that would make your parents grimace or your old health visitor tut-tut, but that you know in your heart is just good?

1 comment:

a li'l bit squishy said...

Kate (and Marti) you already know how I feel about co-sleeping. No one will ever convince me that its a bad idea....after all how many teenagers are still sleeping with their parents? and this stage of parenting will be gone much too quickly..... My only regret is that we don't own a King Size bed...so there would be a little more room for all those feet and elbows and REALLY hard heads. I haven't read much about co-sleeping but I stand firm in my belief that it will make my children more confident as teens, knowing that their parents are with them every step of the way. As for our guilty little secrets...we no longer listen to our public health nurse when she expresses concern about our children's small stature (has she seen their parents?) and we tend to ignore her opinion on feeding our children too...whoever thought that a human child was meant to ingest cow's milk? There are other ways to get calcium...ever hear of spinach, and vitamin D....try a little sunshine. Geesh. Looking forward to more of your stories....