Before having a child I liked to think of myself as a relatively sorted adult. I had a successful full time job, I was head of department and ran a dance school in my spare time. I was organised. I finished sentences!
Then I had a baby – and while blessed with the most wonderful little boy – I was suddenly the most vulnerable and unqualified I have ever felt. I’m not afraid to admit it – I wanted my Mummy!! It didn’t matter how much I had read and planned – I felt so unprepared- I couldn’t colour code my way to safety with this. My boy, my husband and I were going to have to learn together. He was going to have to teach us as much as we would him. “The first child brings the parents up” is something my mum always said and boy is she right!!
And so our journey of parenthood began and before I go further I’m going to claim it – it’s freaking awesome and it has changed my life in ways I can’t even explain.
But there’s one topic that so many of us write about and complain about and desperately search for answers for – sleep. Our son didn’t sleep. Everyone had told me that newborns were sooooo sleepy. Our boy slept at most 4 hours out of 24 for the first 3 weeks and it wasn’t continuous.
Over the past 6 months it hasn’t got much better. Our wee man currently wakes every hour (sometimes sooner) the most he has ever slept is 3 hours.
I have spent so many hours googleing sleep help, going to seminars and webinars, trying sleep patterns and ideas etc etc. It hasn’t helped. But – reading other people’s stories of their own sleep struggles has and so I write this blog with the hope that just like me – reading someone’s story might help one of those mums who is googleing alone in the wee hours of the morning desperately wanting some comfort that they are not alone. You aren’t. We aren’t.
So on with the journey!
The silence of night is loud. It rings in my ears as I stare in to the swallowing darkness and as I stare I become consumed by the voices that crowd me. “When are you stopping breast feeding?” They ask. “Is he STILL not sleeping?” “Well you need to sort that one out.” “I’d be making the tough decisions if I were you”. “He’s big enough now, he’ll cope – he’ll figure it out on his own.”. With my blank stare I argue back and kindly tell them to fuck off, but then as their voices fade I feel the doubt creep its way back in. Their children didn’t do this. Their children slept. They managed to figure it out so why can’t I? I’m doing it wrong. It’s my fault. I should have hired someone. What are they all saying behind my back? Do they roll their eyes at me, fed up, saying I’ve run out of excuses – time to let him cry…
“Foof” says a little voice. He’s sleep talking again and as his little face grins he lets go of the breast and finally relaxes. With his release goes my doubt. I see it wash away as he snuggles down and I am overwhelmed with how much I love him. I remember how he is flourishing and how happy he is. I remind myself…unless you know…you just can’t know.
Sometimes it doesn’t match what everyone did, does or thinks you should do. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to others and I may have to be plagued by their never ending questions or the subtle hints about what they think you should do. Sometimes it doesn’t mean it will be easy for others to understand. It is frustrating and hard and sometimes extremely lonely. But with our boy, he won’t follow your mold, he doesn’t cope with your ideas. He’s his own joyful, thriving, cute as a button, sleepless self.
So sometimes it just doesn’t.
One of the most significant things I have reflected on after becoming a mummy is the path my own waka has taken to “mamatanga” (motherhood) and the women that have helped to carve that waka and send it further down the river.
I had and have amazing grandmothers. One a survivor of WW2 who has stories of running away from bombs in London, the other a doctor and dancer. Both inspiring. Both strong. Both phenomenal women. One still alive but missed dearly as old age forces her to forget us one by one. The other forever dances in my heart.
My ballet teacher was my hardest critic but she loved us like her own children and would have taken us in had we needed it. I hold my head higher every time she tells me she is proud of me and I know I would not have seen my own dancing and performing success without her.
The beautiful ladies I have met through high school, dance and theatre. You have astounded me with your talents, your determination, your abilities to work and strive for what you want. I am surrounded by generosity and care and love with your friendship.
My “mummies” group. What would I do without you? Thank you for listening, for laughing, for complaining, for crying, for gasping, for championing with me these last 12 months. In each other I feel we have found a strength and a bond that will see us for a long time to come. There have been tough times. But the sharing makes it easier.
There are so many who I can name. So many who have each carved their own part in my waka. Even the horrible ones have been important. The girl who told me she hoped I’d fail my dance exam at high school – you made me dance harder. The teacher who told others we wouldn’t do well at Stage Challenge – we won. The dance examiner who failed me. I didn’t let it beat me and over the next year I went on to see trophies and medals come my way. The principal who told me I would never use Te reo Maori in my life and to choose a different subject – now I teach it.
But none of you match her. None of you come close. She’s brave. She’s beautiful. She’s kind and strong. Shes talented and intelligent. She’s my hero. She’s dried many a tear. Held my hand and let it go when it was time for me to stand alone. She’s moulded me, sacrificed for me, battled with me and for me. Cheered me. Loved me. Grown me. Her carvings in my waka are deep and everlasting. They guide me with every stroke of the hoe, every new bend in the river. I’m so lucky she’s mine.
I love you Mum. Happy Mother’s Day.
It’s very late at night…or early in the morning should I choose the more positive spin…and I am holding my son as he goes back to sleep. As I pat him on the back I am comforted as I feel my own back being patted by the generations that have come before me. I feel my Dad patting me and singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ and I feel my Mum stroking my hair as she reads ‘Annie and Moon’ just one more time. Beneath those I feel my grandparents’ warm hugs and knowing smiles. No, I’m not hinting at a 6th Sense baby whispering episode but rather marvelling at how I have never been more aware of my whakapapa. My connections. It’s as if somehow the amazing thread that connects us all has been strengthened even further. Cemented. And it is from this that I gather my own strength as he cries again, wakes again, needs again.
I am reminded about a woman that once discussed karanga with me. She told me that once you have children – it changes. It deepens. You are able to reach new levels of meaning and understanding. Your connection to this earth is forever altered, and therefore so is your karanga.
I had forgotten that conversation until now. But I believe she is right. When you have a child your world is changed. Your heart is swollen by a love that is fiercer than one ever thought possible. Giving birth is practically superhuman. The power you find in yourself was not there before. You find it from somewhere unknown. Buried deep in your blood from the women who have created your own journey. Because right when you are at your most exhausted, you find a way to forge the thread of that whakapapa one more time as you surrender your shattered body to feed your child.
Of course…I could just be really tired. But whatever it is that helps and gives me strength – what’s more important is that it does.
Quote my mum (there will be many of these because as I’ve been learning – she’s right!!) “Parenthood feels like a dance where just as you learn the steps, the dance suddenly changes”. Well I’m going to come clean…some days it feels like it isn’t just the dance that has changed…it’s the whole dance genre and I’m not wearing the right type of shoes. I’m 12 counts behind and I arrived late to class…
But then…all of a sudden we find our step. My toes aren’t being trodden on any more and I’m not whacking someone in the face because I got my timing wrong.
It’s a dance alright…with no syllabus to prep from – but it does work and from time to time there are a few gadgets that I have found to help give my brain space to adapt to all the quick costume changes and fouettes on the left.
1. The Ergo baby 360…what would I do without it? So many naps have taken place in this wonderful contraption. This mastermind of a carrier will bring almost every turned in, out of time and badly choreographed pas de deux back to life. I was lucky that I got to try one before I bought. Many towns have places you can hire them (or other slings etc)from.
2. At my baby shower a friend gave me one of these: Gro Egg. It’s a temperature device that glows different colours for the baby’s room being too hot or cold or just right. It gives specific temperature too. Being that I have terrible eyesight I have found it so incredibly useful in the middle of the night – no fumbling for my glasses to read a tiny screen. The light is orange? Temperature is good! Plus as an added bonus it’s enough light to feed by, check on baby or lovingly stare at them when the are finally asleep and you should be too (guilty right now of exactly that – he’s in my arms after a re-settle and he’s just so lovely)
3. As a sucker for punishment I tend to spend most of my free time googleing sleep for babies (when your baby doesn’t sleep it’s easy to become a bit obsessed) but I have found a few websites that I think are worth the time.
The Baby Sleep Practitioners – while I have not used their services their blogs are really good. They have a background in healthcare and are advocates for ensuring the baby sleep consultant industry is more regulated.
Aha Parenting, Pinky McKay – more awesome blogs and advice
Aaaaaaand Emily Writes – who is hilarious and was really good company at 4am one morning when I really needed to smile.
4. And who could forget Lulla Doll. We have only just purchased this so the jury is still out but so far re-settles have been calmer and it has allowed us to phase out the irritating white noise (yussssssssssss) – WIN!
So my friends – whether tonight is Swan Lake or Duck Puddle at yours don’t forget – in the dancing world there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. So as soon as I’ve figured out what on earth it is I’m putting in a place I can’t seem to find – I’ll let you know.