by Erin Skillen
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Original Article: Click Here
Originally Published: August 2011
I’ll admit that The Baby Whisperer, written by the late Tracy Hogg, is an amazing book for some parents. My cousin, who passed her copy down to me, is a fervent advocate because the advice really worked for her. An acquaintance with twins swears by it. I’m glad Hogg’s firm structure worked for them. Personally, instead of feeling empowered by the book’s tone and approach, I found myself in a heap in my bed bawling.
The idea of getting a newborn on a routine was an exciting one—especially as the Hogg plan is called “E.A.S.Y.” So appealing! Inspired, my husband and I typed up a routine for our son and posted copies all over the house. The buzz lasted about three days.
Our son Kaeden had colic. Getting a colicky baby to do anything at a specific time is pretty much impossible. I tried to reason with him many times, but instead of communicating with me rationally he preferred to scream in my face. Rude!
While I struggled to impose a routine, my son was proving himself to not only be colicky, but also a lousy sleeper. The plan was to have him sleep in a bassinet next to my side of the bed. After he was born, the reality was he hated his bassinet and refused to sleep there. He wanted to be held all the time and would scream if we set him down. So at night I would stay up and hold him on the couch, terrified to fall asleep because he wasn’t in a government-approved sleep space.
Humans have to sleep, so staying up all night didn’t work for long. Desperate for help, I went to a baby group. How could I make my baby love his bassinet? I’d tried everything—lining it with a sheet that smelled like me, using a white noise machine, pre-warming it with a heating pad, and so on.
That’s when Eva, the baby group facilitator, blew my mind. If my baby wanted to be held while sleeping, hold him while I’m sleeping. The new parent in me screamed in my head “That’s not safe!” I suspect even Eva heard this voice. She smiled and explained that having a seriously sleep deprived mom is what’s truly dangerous. She suggested letting him sleep on my chest in bed as I slept. I had to confirm what she’d said three times before I realized what my issue was—I needed formal permission from an authority figure to colour outside the lines and create solutions that worked for me and my baby.
The first night I was worried that somehow I’d end up steamrollering my baby in the night and waking up with the pancake-formerly-known-as-Kaeden. I pushed my husband to the edge of the bed and took up residence in the middle, with Kaeden on my chest and the sheets wrapped tightly around us both. I didn’t sleep well, but I slept. And that was the best thing I could have possibly done for myself and my son. As the nights went on I became more comfortable sharing our bed with him, and it became the norm for us.
Once the sleeping configuration was sorted out, I did really try extremely hard to get my son to nap, play and eat at the prescribed time—à la The Baby Whisperer. It wasn’t working. And then one day in a fit of exhaustion I tore one copy of the routine to shreds. It felt so good, I ripped them all down and chucked them in the recycle bin.
That’s when I had my next revelation. Perhaps this whole program wasn’t failing because I was a horrible mom—maybe it was just a shoddy plan for my baby. My colicky son wasn’t going to fit into a schedule from a book and that was totally okay. I closed The Baby Whisperer, jammed it onto a distant shelf on my bookcase and enjoyed a massive wave of relief.
When I was pregnant, if you’d asked me whether I would co-sleep with my baby, I would have said no way. Was I going to get my baby on a schedule early? Definitely. Now that Kaeden’s here, I’ve learned firsthand that many of the plans made during a first pregnancy are worthy of a good laugh as parents. Now my greatest bit of advice for new moms is to embrace flexibility or you’ll risk becoming an overwhelmed masochist. If popular parenting strategies don’t fit you and your baby, keep looking. Speak to a variety of experts—doctors, doulas, your mom, neighbour, public health nurse—as many as it takes to create a new strategy that works for you. As long as your baby’s health, safety and development are a priority, then you’re probably on the right track.
That’s not to say you should give up on a strategy the moment something doesn’t work. Parenting is a balance between persistence and adaptation. Remember the teachings of immortal philosopher Kenny Rogers. You gotta know when to hold them, but also know when to fold them. (But as far as the song goes, leave it at that—“know when to walk away and know when to run” is not a good parenting strategy).
I really wanted to burn The Baby Whisperer as a cathartic release for myself, but a) it was a gift so that seemed impolite and b) someone may see me burning a book and brand me as a religious fanatic or Conservative, and I just can’t have that. Instead, the book will stay on my shelf untouched. I will not donate it or put it in a garage sale. I will just leave it be, so it cannot harm other sensitive new moms looking for understanding and support—rather than condescension and critique—at a challenging time.
Erin Skillen is a new mom, TV producer and writer (but not all at once).
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