Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Does Robin Say?

This is a photo of just some of my pregnancy and parenting books. I knew that there was no such thing as an instruction manual for babies but that didn’t stop me from trying to find one. I bought a few that were recommended by friends and some that sounded like they were going to tell me what I wanted to hear. Others promised happy babies and a full night’s sleep, every night. There are countless books out there selling philosophies for anxious parents to hang their hopes on, and no matter what you believe you will find one that suits your lifestyle. I have friends who swear by attachment parenting and baby-led routines, while others are convinced that strict eat/play/sleep by the clock and controlled crying worked for them. Our problem wasn’t finding a book to meet our needs: it was convincing our child to comply. For the first few months J was a terrible napper. He would nap for 20 minutes at a time most days and would be overtired and overstimulated at the end of the day, leading to a meltdown in the early evening. I read books like The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems (what a promise!) and BabyWise, hoping to find something that would at least give us some guidance. I quickly learned that most of the strategies relied on babies being compliant and willing to lie in their cots, contentedly drifting off to sleep on their own. My baby wasn't like that and I kept finding myself looking for the chapter titled "What to Do When All Else Fails." Others suggested practising good sleeping habits and teaching independence from day one. Of course for this to work a newborn needs to be willing to be taught, and parents need to be committed to making it work. Again, this wasn't going to happen. From his very first night in the big wide world J wanted to be held, and he was very assertive about it. That night my husband slept sitting up in an armchair with J on his chest. Any attempt to lie him down resulted in a screaming fit, and we'd have to start pacing the floor to settle him down all over again. Once we got him home we convinced him to sleep in a moses basket but he needed to be nursed to sleep first. We were doing this several times a day and I was desperate for help, but any book that suggested I let him “cry it out” was instantly put back on the shelf. There were nights when I was on my own and J was colicky and there was absolutely nothing I could do to console him when I had to leave him in his cot and walk away. I fell apart a few times and a short time-out was best for both of us, but I never felt good about it. In the end, after much trial and error, and many sleepless nights, I came up with my own routine based on several different theories and my own intuition. I paid attention to J and followed his lead and together we worked it out. We got through the rough days by letting J nap in our arms, as it seemed to be the only way to get him to sleep for longer than 20 minutes. It was restrictive at times but I got to catch up on watching movies and reading, and it was lovely just passing the time watching him sleep. Eventually we had him self-soothing and now he has 2 decent naps a day, no crying necessary. I don’t want to sound like I know it all and have everything figured out because I don’t, and I question myself every day. I’m not sure how much of our day works out because of what I’ve consciously implemented and how much of it is just pure luck. J still doesn’t sleep through the night and it seems just when we have everything under control he hits a growth spurt and it all changes again. Some days I can’t keep up.

Another issue I have with the how-to books is the way many of them simply made me feel inadequate. They warned of the dangers of indulging my child, and lead me to believe that if I didn’t teach my child to sleep he’d end up sprouting another head or grow up to become a spoiled brat. One book refers to “accidental parenting,” where parents think they’re doing the right thing but they’re really making life difficult for themselves. It’s tough enough being a parent as it is without being told by an “expert” that you’re doing it all wrong! Once I realised my baby was never going to fit the mould these books described I put them away and followed my instincts.

One book I do rely on is Robin Barker’s Baby Love. Robin is an Australian mothercraft guru and her book is the bible for many new parents.  It is so popular that several bookstores were out of stock when I was trying to buy it (Aussie girls, I found it at Big W for $10 less than it was anywhere else!). I could’ve bought the Americanised version in Hong Kong but I didn’t want to be reading terms like Mommy, pacifier and diaper every time we had an issue! Without dictating a regime or criticising parental errors Robin clearly and concisely explains many aspects of a baby’s first year; the problems you might encounter and ways to fix them. 24 hours after bringing our brand new baby boy home from the hospital he was screaming the house down and leaving pink stains in his nappy. “What does Robin say?” I cried anxiously, and sure enough she had an answer, which was later confirmed by our doctor. My milk hadn’t come through and the poor little guy was dehydrated. Robin was my constant companion in those early days while I struggled to build up my supply and mix breastfeeding with formula. We’ve referred to her for everything from teething and nappy rash to weaning and crawling. She has only let me down once and I feel disloyal for admitting it, but no relationship is ever without its faults. Robin believes that teething causes no discomfort and that all the “signs”, like ear pulling, mouthing, and diarrhoea, that people associate with teething, are just old wives tales. My son would beg to differ. His bottom teeth have been threatening to appear for weeks now and one is just coming through as we speak. He has been cranky and clearly in pain, putting everything in his mouth and yes, he has diarrhoea. I hope it’s just coincidence, mainly because I don’t want him to go through all this for every single tooth, but I’d really like for Robin to be right. My instincts also tell me that he is not well, and I’d much rather be proven right and know I can rely on those instead of some book.

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