Being a mum is an extremely personal occupation. So often we are told that mothering is instinctual, that the bond, the love we feel will be instant and overwhelming, that we will just know what to do. But so many of us are floundering in the job. As Mums, we think we are somehow cheating if we seek help early on.
A question repeatedly asked about our first baby by many – family, friends, neighbours, shop assistants, nurses, waiters, air hostesses, and other polite strangers – ‘Is he a good baby?’ Define good, I wanted to say. Hmmm, no, he’s evil! Likewise, our sonographer’s response at our 20-week scan to the highly anticipated question, Can we find out what we’re having? – his reply: Yes, a baby. (Insert awkward laugh here before persisting with said question). Perhaps it is the English teacher/writer in me that wants to correct every receptionist ever who says What was your name, as it is still, evidently, your name (since first mention before being placed on hold) but when someone else corrects you in this way it is actually just annoying.
Measured by society’s standards of what makes a baby ‘good’ and thus, alternatively ‘bad,’ our first baby, luckily for us (and I dare say, for him), fell in to the ‘good’ category. ‘You have no idea how lucky you are!’ my mother in-law would say, ‘he’s such a good baby.’ Although this was a ‘good’ thing, I felt a little ripped off, like his ‘good’ babying was undermining recognition of my ‘good’ mummying; a bit like breaking a nail, or some other minor affliction, which to the naked eye really doesn’t look bad at all but actually hurts like a bitch.
Admittedly our first baby could sleep anywhere, including a wedding reception. At two years of age, our little guy slept like a champion, tucked up in the pram, parked by our allocated table, which happened to be situated right near a booming loudspeaker. Nightie night, and out like a light.
But when we had our second baby, well, the two babies could not have been more different; something that seems obvious – individuals being individual – but at the time came as quite a surprise. And instead of seeking support, at nap time I would simply feed my baby to sleep and then wear him like an increasingly heavy, somewhat restrictive, accessory. Every single sleep, his sweet contended face smooshed against my chest. It was lovely, but exhausting. Finally, I succumbed. Sleep School.
Surrounded by first time mums, I shared my story; I feed my baby to sleep. I know it’s ‘bad.’ Like a guilty pet owner admitting their dog sleeps on their bed while they sleep on the couch, I described our current situation. All morning the educators seemed to be working miracles with their sleep techniques. Finally, the head educator who assigned herself my baby reappeared. She was so exhausted, she could barely look up, let alone engage in conversation. I’ve earnt my lunch with that one! she said. She clearly needed sustenance before she could relay the experience. That’s my boy! I thought, feeling utterly relieved.
After lunch, she relayed events. Never have I been so pleased to receive such a negative report. Apparently, all my ‘stubborn,’ ‘difficult,’ ‘hard-work’ baby needed to send himself blissfully to sleep was a cheap cherry-shaped dummy. In the afternoon, she showed me this in motion; my angry, seemingly untameable, little terror drifting almost instantly to sleep in gratitude of receiving this joyous piece of latex and plastic. I began to laugh; I admired his spirit.