When I mess something up, at least everyone escapes with all their limbs intact.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received

During my pregnancy and for some time after (read, "until fairly recently") I dealt with antepartum/postpartum anxiety. Once or twice during my pregnancy and several times after my sons' birth, I had panic attacks. They were never so bad that I needed any treatment more than a "talking down," but they were enough to put dings in my fragile, post-baby marital relationship.

My biggest fear, my unnecessary obsession, was that my son would die in his sleep. Correction: it was that my son would die during the night. You know, during my negligent hours spent sleeping?

My son is perfectly healthy. Nothing should have caused me to think anything close to that thought. But I was convinced that he would die unless he was sleeping where I could have my hand on him and make myself absolutely sure that he was breathing, as if it was my touch alone that got him through the night.

So, after the initial three months of co-sleeping while he nursed 2-3 times a night, I started to put him to sleep in his crib. I made the deal with my husband: the baby will stay in his crib until he wakes to be fed; then, he'll come into bed with us so I can sleep while he nurses.

I would get him to sleep, then tiptoe in my own bed and turn the baby monitor volume to the loudest setting and wait for him to cry, fuss, or sigh loudly. It didn't take much. As soon as he made a noise that I could reasonably justify, I would hustle into his room, swoop him up, and go back to bed, relieved that I could finally rest because he was in my arms.

My husband was not amused.

Neither was I, but I couldn't stop the scary from happening. When the fear overtakes you it's nearly impossible to squelch it. Hubs didn't know how to handle it, so he'd get angry with me, and I didn't know how to help him help me, so I'd get upset with him for getting angry with me. It was a cycle, and in the middle of it was this poor baby who just wanted to sleep, eat, and poop in peace.

So when Ethan was about 6 months old, I started therapy. We talked about things that effected me as a child, and while there weren't any "AHA!" revelations, the year I spent with her helped some. The overwhelming thing to come out of it was something I already knew - because my mother died in the middle of the night, my aunt died in the middle of the night, and a few other events like waking up to my grandmother smearing her own blood on the walls of her apartment in the middle of the night, I have issues with sleeping. Terrible things happen at night. Up until I moved in with my husband, I had a hard time falling and staying asleep. It would take me 2, sometimes 3 hours to fall asleep by myself. I would wake up throughout the night. (I don't have the problem anymore, even when I'm sleeping by myself. I can go to sleep reasonably now and the night waking is a random anomaly.)

The single most profound insight during the first year of Ethan's life, which for me was arguably the most difficult, didn't come from my therapist. It came from my veterinarian. I've know Doc for close to 20 years. She's seen me through all sorts of pet issues, knows my family well, and we generally chat for some time after the animal-related topics are covered. I had brought my son into the office for our Boston Terrier's first visit, and I told her about my nightly issues checking on Ethan. She told me a story. This story would, for lack of a better word, "cure" my issues.

Doc said: "When my oldest was a baby, he woke up all the time. All. The. Time. And I remember the first time he slept through the night. I woke up in the morning, noticed it was quiet, and instead of running to check on him, I rolled over and went back to sleep. My thought was, if the cops were going to take me away in the morning because my baby had died in his sleep, I was going to at least look well rested when they carted me off to jail."

Deep down she knew he was fine, the bigger picture was that if something like that was going to happen there was no way she could stop it. You take reasonable precautions: put baby to sleep on their back, make sure they're not too hot, no blankets or pillows in the crib, etc. - but you can't control everything. So, you take these precautions and let it go. What kind of life is one spent worrying every minute of the day?

So, as twisted as her (our) sense of humor may be, she had a very valid point. From then on (an even sometimes now, though not for a while) when I felt the scary coming, I would think about the story Doc told me and feel, well, silly. It took a little time, but eventually I stopped rushing into his room to make sure he was breathing, stopped swooping him up at every peep, and we all started getting better sleep.

The best parenting advice I ever received: Do your best, and don't bother worrying about the things you can't control.

Oh, and it's important to look well rested if you're going to jail.


  1. Mug shots really are fairly unpleasant. I mean, she has a point.

  2. HA! Why yes, it is important to look rested, otherwise there is just NO way to pull off that orange jumpsuit look.

    Even now, if Cal stays asleep past a certain time in the morning, I get worried...as I'd drifting off to sleep again.=)

  3. Oh Sweetie, I feel ya. I was a hot mess after Emma was born. Insomnia, panic attacks, sobbing and wailing for hours on end for no discernable reason... Anxiety sucks. I'm glad you found your way out.