Friday, January 22, 2010

An instance of comfort

I haven't blogged for a couple of months.

There's reasons and reasons.

The first reason is that I went back to work (3 days a week) on December 1st, which has been wonderful, scary, and full of organising. I express milk twice a day for Luka while I'm at work (in the archive room, gazing around at the history of Melbourne Uni's Student Union), and most of my thoughts have been centred around if I'll get a let-down and whether I'm leaving enough milk for Paul to feed him while I'm away. I've been 'topping up' his bottles by expressing between feeds on my days off and on weekends, but recently he's been scaling back his intake so I feel more confident that whatever amount I can "get out" at work will be enough for him. He's also been eating more (at last!) so that helps too.

I think I'm in the swing of it finally: I get home from work, sweep the boy up into my arms as he makes excited noises and bites my face (flattering, but kind of painful) while Paul puts the day's milk into the fridge. I cuddle the boy or play with him until he goes to bed, then if I'm working the next day I wash the pump and pack the next day's containers, my lunch, and the cool-bag. In the morning I feed the boy when he wakes (or occasionally I gently wake him first), pick up my bag, and go.

This doesn't include the time between putting him to bed and the morning feed. As those who know me can testify, Luka wakes up a lot at night. He always has, and now he has just turned 1, he shows no sign of changing the pattern.

But the mention of a 1st birthday is of course an excuse for gratuitous birthday-photo insertions:

Right. Back to the night times. Often I've got no idea how many times a night I go to him, but for the past few nights I've kept a piece of paper beside my bed, and each time I get up in the dark I grab the pen and make a wobbly slash at the paper. Luka goes to bed about 7pm. I usually go to him once or twice after that before I go to bed myself at 11pm. Between my bedtime and 7am the next morning the bit of paper says I get up between 2 and 5 times. I breastfeed him each of these times.

So, I'm a bit tired.

Now, here comes the contradictory bit. I reserve the right to whinge about Luka's sleeping, as I haven't had a night's sleep for over a year, and I wouldn't complain if he suddenly decided to sleep for...well, even 4 hours in a row.

But. Before you send me to sleep school, or recommend a controlled crying program (although I think it has the euphemism "controlled comforting" these days), I should say that while I can stand to listen to him cry, I'm just not willing to.

I've done it once. It was probably our worst night's sleep since he'd been born. He went to bed as usual at 7pm, fed at 8pm, 9pm and then after another hour just started screaming. Paul and I took it in turns for 5 hours between 10pm and 3am, and he still wouldn't stop screaming. I'd fed him, fed him again, walked him around, tried Panadol in case it was teething, given him some water, sung to him - and ran out of ideas. So at 3am we went to bed, shut the doors, turned on the fan, and waited. After 20 minutes of screaming (not crying or yelling, but screaming), he fell asleep.

He woke again for a feed at 4am, went quietly back to his cot, and I didn't hear from him again til his usual 6am feed. So. I don't know what all that was about, and he can't tell me. It was the first time that sort of thing had happened, and at the time I just didn't know what else to do. So I ran away.

That night made me think a lot about why Luka wakes a night, why usually a feed settles him, and why that time I couldn't solve his problems.

I've read some books that reassure me that I'm not 'weak' if I can't bear to listen to my baby cry at night. That's true, but the fact is I can bear it - I was really, really tired, and when I left him to roar for 20 minutes that night it didn't bother me AT ALL.

So I thought a lot more about teaching-to-sleep, or sleep training, or whatever you want to call it. It's worked for a couple of friends of mine. More than a couple, actually. And I'm glad it's worked for them.

But I Just. Can't. Do. It.

I CAN switch off from his cries, that's not a problem. I'm just not willing to ignore him. He's calling for me because he wants me - and while a feed settles him, I'm pretty damn sure that at over 1 year he's not hungry. But he wants me to be with him. He wants comfort. And I think that's a valid request.

Am I a softy? Probably. Definitely. Perhaps I just haven't reached the level of sleep-deprivation that would drive me to start a teaching-to-sleep program. But you'd think after having no more than 4hrs sleep in a row since 17th January 2009, I'd have peaked by now? Who knows.

And how does this relate to books, you ask?

Well, if I haven't mentioned it before, I'm really tired. And still reserving the right to whinge.

I've tried to keep reading the books on the favourites list. I started to read The Bourne Identity, and I stalled. So I started to read Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and I stalled.

All I want to do is read for comfort, and so I've mostly been reading Paul Auster. I'm aware I may be the only person in the world who reads Paul Auster for comfort, but from the first page of his books, I'm in a familiar place. It's a place where I can connect his allusions, his character names, and his images back and forth to his other works. It's a place where I know I won't be satisfied by the ending, but I also know that a 'satisfying' ending in one of his books would be a let-down. His books rough up against each other, they reference each other without creating anything you could call 'connection', and you're left with the feeling that if you just read them again, you might understand. But that's just part of the fun - because you wouldn't.

How strange that this discomforting kind of reading should provide my comfort.

But that's my story, my excuse.

Perhaps reading Auster provides a good correlation for my experience of motherhood: I don't know what I'm doing, but who does?

*This post brought to you between two feeds.


Tiggy Johnson said...

I love the cake-face photo. And yes, you have a right to whinge. I would have pulled all my hair out by now, so kudos to you.
We found with ours (especially the littlest who loved his booby juice), that if daddy would commit to four or five nights of dealing with the night screams, that bubby would get used to non-food related comfort and get on with a good night's sleep. First, we'd allow just one night feed, then get rid of that.
It was a strain on my husband, but he could see I was truly not going to cope if I didn't start sleeping properly soon and, when it comes down to it, just a few nights.
I don't like the idea of controlled crying either, but quite happy for someone else to do the comforting.
Lastly though, you're doing a great job, so hang in there, doing it whatever way you feel is right. The books will wait.

JennyC @jayjaycee1 said...

Hey Anna, Don't feel alone in this. You are certainly not weak! Crusoe was the same! I chose not to let him cry - I did not want him to be distressed. Why would I? So we had feeds in the night probably up until he was almost 2. Maybe longer! True, like you, I was exhausted. But we made it. One thing that I discovered post 14 months was that if I gave him a banana or warm (soy)milk with a little honey, right before sleep time, he slept longer. I found he had his dad's inability to sleep through the night without food in his tummy. It helped us both. I also read The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley (in library). This just helped me feel no so alone, even if I didn't follow it's instructions too well. I think your little one is gorgeous, and happy. You are doing wonderful!

Anna said...

Thanks Tiggy - I guess while I'm still up for it I'll keep 'getting up for it'...although Paul did do the 4:30am shift last night (given I'd fed Luka 15 minutes AND half an hour earlier, I think he could sense it was his turn!)

Thanks Jenny - it's nice to hear from a real person who feels the same and not just books (not that Pinky MacKay isn't a real person, but you know what I mean).

Tammy said...

Let me first start by saying that you are a FANTASTIC mother, you are doing an amazing job, and even if that little fish doesn't sleep much at night (at the moment), he is a beautiful, delightful and healthy boy.

As one of those mums who's bub has sleep through from early one, I really don't know how you do it. But, you know what, I UNDERSTAND IT. You spoke about him needing you and I so get this. If they need you for comfort then why wouldn't you provide this right? Luka loves you and needs you (regardless of whether you are getting up to him in the middle of the night). As you mentioned, you are doubtful that he needs the feeds because he's hungry and they are probably mainly comfort feeds. That's ok, but maybe you can slowly teach him to be comforted with less feeds 1st, then by Paul and then less times a night. We have never done control crying with Ollie and I wouldn't recommend it. I remember when we were 1st trying to encourage Ollie to get back to sleep without feeds and it was painful probably for about a week. Mark was on night (non feed) duty as I found if I went to him, I smelt of milk and he would want a feed. Don't know how this will go given Luka is so much older. Anyway, rambling more than I wanted to... my point was that I understand where you are coming from. It may sound not at all the same, but I can relate it to how I felt about giving Ollie a dummy. In those early days I really felt like he needed something and I wanted to give that to him rather than give him a dummy because I know he needed something (most often me). Everyone said I was crazy because it was so much harder for me, but it was what I wanted to do because I felt like it was what he wanted and needed.

Anna, you don't need me (or anyone else)to tell you to do what you think you need to and what you feel is right for Luka. You already know this and do this. Just remember that a happy mother means happy others (child, partner etc) and if it is getting to the point where you are SO VERY tied it is impacting on this, then please seriously think about what you can try (and I don't mean any of that sleep school stuff). If you are not able to function as well, are less patient, tolerant etc as a result of being overtired then you are probably better to see if you can do something about this as if it gets to this you probably aren't doing you or Luka any favors. Don't forget sleep depreciation is one of the most effective forms of torture!

Hugs and love
P.S. Apologies for writing such a long reply :)
p.s.s I hope this has come over the way I intended!

Anna said...

Thanks Tam - I know what you're getting at. I guess all mothers have a thing that they're 'thingy' about (dummies for you, night feeds and formula for me!).

It's not killing me yet, and I don't think I'll have the motivation to change anything unless I really can't cope.

But I don't think I can keep trying to do everything - keeping up with blogging, reviewing, working, the house AND night feeding.

So there might be some delays in reading people's favourite books, while I make my reading choices for comfort.

Laura Gibb said...

What are you thinking, reading your favourites rather than mine?

Anna said...

Hahaha I know, it's disgraceful.

Penni said...

Fred was the same, though we were co-sleeping. At 18 months I changed the way I fed her at night (sitting up and feeding her rather than letting her comfort suck). I did this for a couple of nights. Then I replaced the nightfeeds with water. There were a couple of really broken nights, then suddenly it was over. I kept feeding her first thing and evening for quite a while after than, till she self weaned when I was pregnant with Una.

Buoyed by this success we nightweaned Una much earlier. Martin and I both got up together and made milos. We'd take it in turns to go in and pick her up and hold her till she stopped crying then put her back to bed. It was hard work for three nights, and then suddenly it was wonderful.



I think it's just finding a time when you're more over it than you are up for getting up to him, and then everything falls into place, whatever method you use.

Kirsty Murray once told me it takes seven days to break a habit. I live by this.

Anna said...

Yes, I think I just have to get to the point where I'm sick of it enough to be able to think about doing something about it - and apparently I'm not there yet.

I have heard from people who night-weaned, but this didn't stop the night-waking. I think that would be worse!

He may well drop the habit before I do, who knows.

Guess we'll just see how many 'my baby can't sleep I think I'm a spinning jellybean' *I* can get away with before people give up on me :)

Colleen said...

Dearest Anna, you have some very wise friends. I think the point about you needing to be ready to make the change is the key one. This isn't actually about breast feeding Luka. It's about your needs as a care giver too. As you know I did do the 'controlled whatever it is these days' and we had one night of major tears, the next night of three hours, the next night of 45 mins and then next lifetime of sleep. It was painfully hard, BUT I was ready to do it. As you also know I was a 'failed' breast feeder and after one night of hearing Gabe scream in the hospital nursery I could never leave him again. So, instead of breast feeding, I was up with bottles, dummies, music, rocking, co-sleeping, back rubbing, humming...whatever I could use so that I didn't feel I was abandoning my boy. I got to a similar point in time where you are today: back at work three days, up all night and getting very run down. I couldn't juggle being partner, mother, housewife, artist, employee and night nurse. But we got there in the end. You will too. And like the other mums said, you are doing a wonderful job: just look at that smiley boy! You'll find a way of reducing his night comfort without discounting your own: it's all about a tipping point and you're almost there gorgeous girl. And throw those MCHNs to the lions! Most of them don't even have kids!

xo leens