Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ten In A Bed And The Little One Said....

My bed is full. So I got up.

Okay so there aren't actually ten people in it. But there were four. And a dog. And one of the cats was chancing it's arm in the depraved, sick way that it does when it thinks I'm half asleep. Meaning it stands on the bed right in front of my face purring with perverted intent and waving it's bottom around. As I had been awake for more than a few minutes I decided it was time to get up. At 2.45 am. Now I can have some "Me" time until someone else insists on getting up.

Sleeping is actually something that I take quite seriously. I don't like sleeping. It's unpleasant and a massive waste of time. I don't like it and think we should all stop. Since I can remember I've tried to do the absolute minimum amount needed to get through the next day. On a more serious note I don't recall a night without having solid nightmares since I was a young kid. I don't actually remember not having nightmares. It's awful and perfectly understandable in my mind that I want to experience as little of it as I can.

And I am serious about the actual physical aspect of sleep. Once I decide it's time to go to sleep I will do it as quickly as is humanly possible. Once my head is down you will not be able to count to ten before I start snoring. I will lie down, close my eyes, and go to sleep. I will not move until I wake up. At all. Then I will wake up and be stood up, fresh as a daisy within a second of being awake. My wife seems totally oblivious to this after a decade with me, and usually attempts to launch into some sort of conversation once I lay my head down. She will then become irate when I don't answer - you know - because I'm asleep. At which point she will often try and wake me up to ask me something extremely important. Like, "are you asleep?"

My wife used to love to sleep in. She even took naps on weekends. I doubt she's had a ninety minute stretch of uninterrupted sleep in four and a half years now. She has been very clear that the childhood developmental stage that she is most looking forward to is when both our kids have no intention of getting up in the morning. She fantasizes about going to bed at 9pm and just not getting up one day until noon, and it not being any kind of issue. As my son is sicteen months old the earliest that could ever start happening would be in about another four years. That's almost a decade without a proper nights sleep. No wonder she's annoyed.

Anyway, the reason I'm downstairs right now, and they are all in giant wriggling pile upstairs is because we are very much a family of co-sleepers. I realize that this is a very much maligned method of parenting but we don't care. And from what we've discovered through other parents testimony and learned through research is that a much larger proportion of parents do it this way than are prepared to admit in public. It began for us for two reasons.

Firstly, when my daughter was born our midwife was concerned about her weight. So she insisted that we feed her every 30-45 minutes until her weight gain was acceptable. My wife strongly believed in breastfeeding and had some trouble with latching very early on, but after a week or so had it under control. Our daughter had even more trouble keeping it down. Two or three minutes after each feed and she would chuck up 3/4 of what just went in. It took half an hour to feed her for the first two weeks. I would get up with my wife throughout the night to support her. And to not look like a selfish lazy bastard. So mostly we spent all of our supposed-to-sleeping time in bed awake. It was just circumstance that we all ended up in one room in one bed. Traipsing about the house from room to room simply made no pragmatic sense.

After seeing the midwife near the end of the second week my wife was almost emotionally crushed. In the part of England we were living in at the time midwives from your local hospital district would come out to your home to check up on your babies' progress - make measurements and whatnot - and answer any questions you may have. The team of midwives we had were extremely nice mostly. There were three - one had been at the birth of our daughter and had a trainee with her - and the other two did most of the home-visiting. (If midwives in the area had a physically defining characteristic that I could crassly sum them up with, it would be boobs. They all had gigantic boobs. Even the trainee. Even during the birth this was an issue for me. My wife was lying naked in a birthing-pool in our own home, focused and trying to manage her way through each powerful contraction. I leaned over the edge of the pool holding and supporting her, not bothered in the slightest about getting wet. The midwife and trainee were also at the other end of the pool - leaning over and vocalizing their support. At some point they both stood up together. Both were bone dry except for their gargantuan breasts that had dipped into the water.)

The two midwives who visited us at home were very happy with our daughter's progress, and were somewhat puzzled by the remaining midwife's alarmist tone regards feeding our child. My wife - an exceptionally diligent and thorough researcher in her professional life - applied her skills to learn about what was happening with our child. At which point she learned that our daughter was not in any manner underweight, and was not close to the low end of weight gain. In the UK each mother receives a very detailed account of their labor, the birth and early child's fledgling development in book form. It's a little red book that is surprisingly detailed with measurements, notes, and even progression graphs in it. At no point in this record was there any trend showing problems. Our child was smack in the middle of percentiles for everything. There were no notes even indicating a problem. So it was a real kidney-punch to my wife when the alarmist midwife told her near the end of the second week that unless our daughter made an arbitrary weight gain that we should move to syringe-feeding her breast milk every twenty minutes over a twenty-four hour period, or face the prospect of taking her back into the hospital.

Its worth noting that we had originally aimed at having a home birth. Birth in the UK is still very much focused on it being a natural choice-laden experience. Not like in the US where doctor's rule over your body making all decisions because you aren't fit to, and quite frankly the baby belongs to the hospital until you or your insurance company have paid for it. Socialized medicine is much-maligned in this country, but statistically it is very clear that compared to much of the Western world the United States does birth wrong. It's not a tick. It's not a parasite. It is not just a potential insurance liability. And it is not just a medical procedure. But that would appear to the method of birth-delivery that we had learned about in the US. The UK equivalent seemed light years ahead.

However, half way through the actual labor our midwife told us she wanted us to go to the hospital. So we did. She would know better after all. We weren't in any distress and neither was the baby as far as we could tell. Everything had been going well and pretty much all of my wife;s request on the birth-plan were being met. But after a very brief chat with the midwife we relented and went to the hospital. My wife proceeded to give birth in almost the complete opposite way that she had planned to. Nobody asked her a damn thing and the midwife behaved as if she were simply a container that had a baby in it that needed to come out. My daughter was born quickly and naturally at the hospital. My wife did suffer a tear, so after the birth my wife didn't even see her own new born child for ninety minutes simply due to the fact that the procedure to fix this was carried out in a different room. My wife felt completely violated and removed from the birth. Physically the birth was relatively normal. Emotionally my wife still had trouble coping with the whole thing for years after the fact. It left genuine trauma.

And it confused her. If everything was fine why did someone rob my wife of a happy birth? Of physical skin-to-skin contact with her own child? Or at least of actually feeling as if she was taking part in her own labor, and not just being subjected to it? My wife is not a professional OBGYN, nor a midwife. This is not an arrogant, "I know best" situation. But what she is is someone who makes their living gathering very complex research data and reporting that information in concrete terms to others. She is not a mug. So my wife started to ask what happened. She asked the hospital  for her birth records, which she got. No indications of problems. Numbers were all good. No elevated anything. No recordings of heartbeat problems for our daughter. The hospital staff who took over from the midwife recorded nothing untoward. The only note referring to the change from home-birth to hospital was from our midwife who asserted that, without prompting, we had insisted that we wanted to go to the hospital where we would feel more comfortable. Which isn't even close to being accurate. The only insight we've ever had that explained the move was the midwife trainee who stated that our home-birth was their third overnight home-birth in a row, and frankly they were exhausted. They were relieved to send us off to the hospital. So relieved in fact, that once the hospital staff took over the main midwife took off home and left the trainee to do all the follow up - the measuring, the heel-prick and all that. I wouldn't like to think that something as important and personal to a mother as a birth could be ripped out from under her simply because a midwife was tired, but it certainly appears that way.

Needless to say, after two weeks of overnight feeding, learning nothing was up, feeling abused and reaching out to other mothers my wife was sensitive. She confided the whole thing to a friend of hers and received the single-greatest piece of advice about being a mother that she will ever receive. It's your child. If you are certain you are doing the right thing, and are certain that that any actions you take are not in any way detrimental to the well-being of your child, then you don't have to do them. That's a clumsy, crass summary of what my wife was told, but the impact of it was enormous. When the midwife came the next morning my wife politely but firmly informed her that our daughter was progressing perfectly fine in her own view - and according to the two other midwives - and did not need to go anywhere. The midwife abandoned any suggestion of hospitals and overnight feeding immediately from that point on. Our daughter not only developed in a perfectly healthy manner, but hit every target early and every percentile bang in the middle.

Oh - and for the record my wife gave birth to my son in the US and it was a wonderful, empowered, easy and exceptionally smooth experience. She had an absolutely excellent team of people - particularly the OBGYN - who saw absolutely no problem at all with letting her do what she needed to do to have a wonderful birth.

Secondly (good Lord that was a massive first point) we chose co-sleeping because my wife wanted to raise our kids like a chimpanzee. That's not the actual nice and scientific term that this parental-method actually has (I forget what it is right now actually) but that's pretty much what it seemed to mean. Lots of physical contact, lots of breast-feeding, co-sleeping, and all that went with it. Basically the child was tied to either one of us in a sling at all times of the day, and co-slept with us at night. It isn't as mental or odd as it sounds either. If you haven't ever used a sling then you don't know what an advantage it is. We had wraps, slings, all sorts. It kept us with our kid - something it very much wanted - and allowed is to get stuff done. It was wonderful. Co-sleeping was a large portion of this. And if done correctly is perfectly safe. I know people who think it is tantamount to child abuse. It isn't at all. And it isn't just lazy either. We don't drink. We don't smoke. We don't even over-eat. We also own the biggest possible bed that you actually imagine owning. It is massive. I can genuinely lie perpendicular to my wife and still not actually be touching her. With the three of us there is so much freaking room it's ridiculous.

Add, as anyone who has had kids knows, you aren't actually sleeping at night anyway. Chance would be a fine thing. Co-sleeping also removed that silly thing where you get up and go into a totally different room to change/feed/see-if-it-isn't-dead/plead-with-it-to-stop-screaming your child every thirty minutes. And the emotional bond it creates between a mother and a child is massive. My wife and my daughter are so close, so connected, so in love and it is mostly down to co-sleeping.

Not me though - I was asleep the whole time. Barely noticed anything. Like I said - sleep time is for sleeping. Get a good four, maybe five on a lazy night, hours sleep and then get up. Without fail. It worked out well for my wife too - I'd go to bed and get up four hours later like clockwork. I'd take my daughter without any complaint downstairs at 3:30 in the morning giving my wife some good quality alone time. ot much mind you but some. She'd be tired and exhausted every minute of the day for years. Not getting eight hours sleep for her was like not eating for three days, and then getting just about enough before starving again. Not for me - I run on low-power. Lack of sleep doesn't mean anything in my world. If I only get three hours sleep - much of it interrupted - it's not really all that big a deal.

Fast forward to today. Now we have two kids. My daughter has her own room. Which, after many years of struggling (story for another time) she now goes to sleep in quite happily. If and when she wakes up in the night (usually early morning around four-ish) she will come over into our bed. Where my wife and son are sleeping (and he does sleep mostly) along with me and the dog. With the cat with it's perverted waggling arse grunting away next to me. My daughter - committed to her own special method of sleeping - tends to climb into our bed and then lie in a gigantic star-shape, à la the Vitruvian Man painting by Leonardo da Vinci, 
between me and my wife. And, just to really rub it in, she does this perpendicularly. The dog, irritated the his spot is now taken, will then keep getting out of bed and then wake me up to ask permission to get back on.

At which point I will get up. And blather on about sleeping. At least the Sun is up now.

Daily Dump - Frog

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