I recently read an article titled ‘New research finds link between some baby books and postnatal depression’. (You can read it here.) The research has been carried out by Swansea University and someone posted it in a Facebook group. I did not suffer with postnatal depression but did find having a baby very difficult and became quite anxious so the title immediately caught my eye. Before my daughter was born I really had no idea what to expect. I bought a couple of baby books and read about routines, self settling and how to get your baby to sleep. I knew this wasn’t really to be expected straight away but books seemed to say that by 2-3 months your baby should be in a good routine, feeding every 3 hours and sleeping at particular times. The books said it was important to structure your day in the right order and you should feed and then have activity time and then sleep and you definitely should not be feeding your baby to sleep.
In the beginning I wasn’t too bothered. Zara actually slept a lot. I kept wanting to take photos of her but she was always asleep and they all looked the same. I couldn’t quite understand what the fuss was about. She seemed quite happy to be put down in her moses basket after she had fed to sleep and she rarely cried. Then at about 3 weeks she found her voice. We had taken her to a friends in the evening and we planned to hang out with friends as she slept, something we’d done several times before and had been absolutely fine. On this occasion she howled and nothing anyone did would make her stop. I distinctly remember getting home and thinking I hope she never does that again. How naive was I! She did that every single night from about 6.30-10pm for about 5 weeks. It was near Christmas and there was so much going on. People kept telling us it was so easy when you have a newborn because you can just take them wherever you are going and they will sleep. We desperately tried. We took her to a Christmas party at another friends hoping this might be our lucky night. It wasn’t. She screamed and we had to hide in a spare room. I felt so alone and so confused about why she was doing this. I resented the fact that I was missing out on all the Christmas fun. A well meaning neighbour (who had probably heard the screams from two doors down…sorry about that) lent me a certain very strict routine parenting book. I accepted it thinking perhaps this book would have the answers but the book led me to believe that there was no way a baby should ever be crying and it was all because I was doing something wrong. I was miserable and anxious and confused. The article I read suggests that 53% of mothers felt more anxious after reading some parenting books. I was definitely one of those.
After what felt like a life time, the evening crying stopped but Zara just would not settle in a routine. She seemed to want to feed whenever she fancied it and would never stay asleep for more than 20-30 minutes in the day. This meant she was always tired and would doze off feeding and then want more when she woke up. I was sure that she was supposed to be feeding every 3 hours and couldn’t understand why she would cry after 1 or 2 hours and seem to want more milk. She never seemed contented and would only want to be with me…probably because she just wanted milk all the time. Even when she was tiny, she’d cry if someone else held her. I found myself constantly googling things like ‘why is my baby never happy’ and ‘how to get your baby to sleep’. She had huge public melt downs for no apparent reason.
One time I was in a cafe with a few friends and luckily my sister. I went to the toilet which was upstairs and as I came out I could hear Zara screaming really really hard. My poor sister was holding her with no idea what was going on. My belongings seemed to be all over the place and it felt like time had stood still as I gathered them all up (well actually my sister had to gather them all up whilst I held Zara). It seemed like everyone in the whole cafe was staring at me. When we got back to the car I cried the whole way home. In hindsight I cannot understand why I didn’t just feed her in the cafe. She’d have probably fallen asleep feeding and I could have sat down with a cup of tea and some cake but in my head it wasn’t time to feed her yet. I think it was because I’d probably already fed her and I was worried people would judge me if I did it again. I was always so worried that people whose babies were in a good routine would think it was my fault that Zara wasn’t and would think I was stupid.
She didn’t really get into any kind of routine until she was eating solid food consistently and she didn’t sleep at night until she was about 13/14 months. She was also never happy to just sit anywhere. She’s always hated her buggy (except for a few weeks when she didn’t mind it if she needed to sleep), she only liked being in a sling if she needed to sleep, she always wanted to be upright looking out when someone was holding her. She wanted constant attention and stimulation. I really wish I understood her better when she was small. I was convinced by a one size fits all method and really should have known that some babies just don’t work like that.
Zara does everything with great gusto. If she is sad the entire street will know about it but if she’s happy she shows that with great enthusiasm too. She definitely didn’t fit any kind of mould or any routine that a book told me to do. I know routines work really well for some babies but it just wasn’t for her. Luckily I’ve now met lots of people in the real world and online who have had a more relaxed attitude with their babies. I kind of wish I could wind back time and change the way I was when she was small because it would have made everyones life a lot easier.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m moaning about having a baby. I absolutely am not. I’m not going to write a great list of all the reasons I adore being a mum because it would take me all night and be very soppy and uninteresting to most people. The older Zara got, the easier she got and she’s now generally happy, funny and she loves sleep! I guess I just think it’s important to talk about these difficult experiences because actually it was being surrounded by people whose babies were very different to mine that made it all so much harder. That isn’t any reflection on those people because they were supportive and kind and lovely to me. I just didn’t realise that the fact that my baby wasn’t like theirs didn’t mean I wasn’t doing it all wrong.
I should just add there are some books that have really helped me. I absolutely loved reading Giovanna Fletcher’s Happy Mum Happy Baby. We need more of those kinds of books. Books that remind us that everyone is different. We need to do what works for us and our families. One size does not fit all. I honestly wish I’d read that book before I had Zara. I’ve also just started listening to her podcasts where she chats to lots of different mums about their experiences and its great to hear honest and varied experiences of motherhood.
I think the best piece of parenting wisdom anyone ever gave me is that everything changes so quickly. The funny thing is now Zara is almost in too much of a routine. She loves routine and it’s hard to be flexible and change it up so we have a whole new problem!
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Thank you for reading! X