This Diary of Motherhood is a series of weekly letters to my first baby, my little son who I call Baby Bird. I know not everyone wants to read about the highs and lows of motherhood so you can read non-baby related posts about travel, writing, freelancing or Amsterdam instead. Alternatively read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird,
This was the week you started daycare. It was also the week you rolled over for the first time. And it was the week we finally made some small progress with your sleeping. Yes, it's been a big week for you, for us and for the kind women at the day care who welcomed you with more smiles and love than I thought people who work with kids for twelve hours a day were capable of.
So let's start at the beginning.
On Tuesday morning your father and I took you the day care centre I'd checked out almost two months ago. Back then, you at four months seemed a long way off - your lifetime away, in fact - but it came around quickly and after our intake with the kind woman who answered our questions and showed us your coat hook and box for your change of clothes and "knuffel" (cuddly toy), I then realised that we would make the walk home without you and that near enough broke my heart. It felt fundamentally wrong to leave you with someone else in a room full of hyperactive 0-4 year olds. And these women, as kind and sweet and smiley as they were (and they really, really are), they don't know that you like it when I nestle my nose into your neck making snorting noises. They don't know that I sing "Twinkle, Twinkle" to you before your nap. They don't know that your dad holds you face down over his arm to stop you crying. But it was always our plan for you to go to day care because we want you to get used to being around other children, we want you to be surrounded by the sounds and words of Dutch at this early impressionable age, and we want you to not be dependent on only us making you happy.
I picked you up at lunchtime on that Tuesday and when I arrived you were asleep - a wonderful sign that you were happy in your environment as you'll use any excuse to fight a nap! Then, when I came to pick you up on Wednesday in the early afternoon, you were sat in a seat surrounded by three blond toddlers and a member of staff, all smiling at you. The woman turned you round so I could see you and I half expected to see you were crying, the noise of it drowned out by the sounds of children playing elsewhere in the room. But no, you were sitting there, content and calm and looking around you, taking it all in. And this was despite you not having a full feed since 8 o'clock in the morning as I soon learnt you had struggled to take a bottle the times they'd tried it with you. (Apparently this is normal and will change eventually once you get used to being fed by someone who's not me or your dad.) I was amazed. And proud and relieved. Because the other reason we want you to go to day care is so I can spend a little time getting back to my old self. I'm not really sure yet what that will entail but I hope we'll all be better off for it.
Next week, you'll do full days at day care while I use those two days to do a bit of work, a bit of writing, a little tidying up the house and frankly, to begin with, a lot of relaxing and sleeping.
On Thursday morning after a poor night's sleep (again more my fault as yours) I was watching you play on your mat when suddenly your little side tilt went all the way into a full roll from your back to your front. As you adjusted your arms slightly so you could raise your neck and head, I leaped onto the floor next to you and put my eyes level with yours. I said your name about ten times and praised you for what you'd just achieved. I felt tears fill my eyes and a pulsing warmth grow in my chest.
"You did it! You did it!" I said. You sort of half-smiled before simply gazing around you with wide eyes as if you'd never seen the world from this angle before.
Later I sent proud messages to my mother and a few friends feeling at the time with great force that they would genuinely be interested in this development only later suspecting it was only a huge deal to me. It's crazy isn't it? If that's what I'm like when you simply roll over for the first time, I wonder, do I have enough tears and pride in me to get through all the other firsts? (Of course I do, little man, so bring it on!)
And the third thing. Sleep. Well, I've touched on it before but haven't really explained in great detail the problems we've been having. I say "we" because it really hasn't just been you who has had issues. While you took a long time to adjust to day and night - five weeks, I believe - and you didn't really sleep for more than two hours at a time until much later, from almost day one of motherhood, I have been struggling to sleep when you sleep because of anxiety. A lot of it is knowing I'm going to get woken up again by you, but a significant other part of it is completely unrelated. Even during the nights you have slept for 3-4 chunks, I'm still often to be found lying awake feeling physically exhausted but mentally incapable of switching off. Don't ask me what I think about. Sometimes it's the darkest possible things imaginable. Other times it's just going through a long list of the things I didn't do that day. Occasionally I even lie there and think of nice things that I'm looking forward to in the future. Either way, I'm awake and my mind is working over time when it should be re-charging so I can be more alert and amiable (to put it nicely!) during the daytime.
In the last month your dad and I have tried a number of things to try and improve the situation, including sleeping in different rooms and him staying up until the very early hours to deal with you when you wake. The things that have helped most have been moving you into your new cot in your own room, and to my great surprise the act of simply talking to other people about my anxiety and "night stresses". In fact,just having someone very close to me who is a medical professional show me an article on perinatal anxiety took such a load off my shoulders I felt a stone lighter all day and that night I slept better than I had in weeks, even with you waking up regularly in the early hours. It's for that reason that I'm actively seeking help to try and deal with the anxiety.
As I have sought help for this problem, it is a potentially beautiful coincidence that you have also decided that now is a good time to maybe sleep a little longer at night. You no longer fight us as much as you used to to go to sleep and you can often stay asleep for up to five or six hours, aided by a dream feed or two (I do the first, your dad does the second). Last night I didn't have to get out of bed to you until 4 o'clock. It was like Christmas had come early for me. Of course, every night is unpredictably different but I try to be as consistent as I can while also extending the length of time between feeds at night so you're not dependent on that to get you back to the sleep you so desperately need.
I still have a long way to go too. But I've started to deal with a problem that was making all our lives more difficult than it needed to be. I suppose that's why I'm telling you all of this. It's not because I think one day you'll want to know or understand my sleep issues. It's because I hope you do the same thing when you're faced with a problem; talk about it, seek help and turn to those who love you.
Your tired but hopeful, ever-so-proud, I'm-going-to-miss-you-so-much-on-Tuesdays-and-Wednesdays-but-I'll-also-probably-enjoy-going-to-get-my-hair-and-nails-done, crazy-in-love mother x
Frances M. Thompson
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