I am not a great “napper.” I suck at it now and I sucked at it from the very beginning. I deeply admire the people (my friend Alison comes to mind) who can lay down on literally any surface (a concrete floor comes to mind) and catch a few Zs. I spend most allocated nap times checking the clock to see how long it’s taking me to fall asleep, and then counting down how much more time I have left to try. It’s a stupid problem to have but, hey, I know what my strengths are.
I clearly remember nap-time in my baby youth, first in the preschool where the teacher drove a Pontiac Thunderbird and where my early leanings toward Guns N Roses began to surface, and then in the college preschool where I hung out while my mom was finishing her degree in communications. In the first preschool I would exhaust the patience of whoever had been selected to “rub backs.” It was laughably futile. They could have rubbed my back for 4 hours and I would still be twitching around like a marker-stained lunatic. By the end of my stint at that preschool no one even tried to rub my back because they knew it was a long con and I was just screwing all the other kids out of their back rubs.
The second preschool was a real study, though. At the former Trenton State University (now TCNJ) I spent my days under the big-hearted and generously-breasted tutelage of Mrs Valentine (real name). She was calm. She was sweet. Hers was a loud (and sticky) ship, but she never yelled. She was patient. She captained a crew of college-age kids who were double-majoring in Underage Drinking and Just Showing Up. But she did not waver from her steadfast loveliness; not even when the whole 2 and 3 year-old classroom mutinied and insisted that they could put their own shoes and jackets on to go outside.
And she did not kick me out for being the Nap-Mooner. Bless her heart.
During nap time, after snack time, lullabies would be played quietly to lull us down to rest. Bookshelves on little wheels were rearranged to create cubbies in which we tykes could lay our blue mats and snooze. There were back-rubbers here too, but I didn’t utilize them, because I was too busy orchestrating nap-time terrorism. I laid with my eyes pressed closed, pretending to sleep, and waited for the teachers to be far enough away not to see me. Then I would roll my little body up to the bookshelf, turn my back to the three inch space that separated it from the floor, pull down my pants and show the other kid my butt.
This is 100% factual. I mooned kids every day. I was amazing at it. I could roll so fast out of the mooning position back to my mat, no one ever caught me. But even the Nap-Mooner has to sleep some time. And on that ONE SINGLE DAY that I took a break from mayhem and actually fell asleep, Mrs Valentine took a Polaroid picture and put it on the bulletin board.
So, in light of my inability or disinterest in napping I was prepared for my child to completely eschew sleep. He wasn’t even genetically disposed to it on his father’s side. My main mans, King Boo, has been a shit sleeper the whole time we’ve been together; left to his own devices he would probably stay awake until 2 or 3 am every night. What he should do is lay off the blue light, honestly, but what do I know. I’m not a doctor; I’m just an “elder” millennial (1985) from the days of encyclopedias and analog. His “insomnia” is a lifelong thing, though. My MIL tells me that he used to make them open Christmas presents at 4am. I suspect that’s why he has no siblings.
But as to our own little one, I figured we were doomed. Surely we would face “colic,” or something. He would come out awake and stay that way until kindergarten. At the very least I suspected months of hard labor bouncing him to sleep on the birth ball, as the bags under our eyes wattled up and down in rhythm.
But it turns out genes aren’t prison sentences. Right out of the fucking gate our son slept like a champ. And listen, I know babies change. I know the whole “just when you think you know them” song and dance. So let’s just state for the record here that: I get that I could very well be jinxing the shit out of myself. But I’m going to take the risk and talk about it. Once an oven-toucher always an oven-toucher; if you say it’s hot I’m touching it anyway.
I’m the fucking Nap-Mooner.
I’ll risk it and say we got lucky. Sleep has never been our problem. The boy slept for almost two days straight after the exertion of being born, and when we got home from the hospital, he napped beautifully there.
Now, if you are pregnant or planning to get that way, someone will almost surely tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” This is lovely advice, and fares well for people who are good at sleeping, but for me it was pointless. So while my son slept—and let’s call him M, for short, because this is getting ridiculous gendering every other sentence. For all I know he could grow up and be a we, or a she, or a unicorn— I did whatever I couldn’t do while holding him.
While M rested, I showered, put on makeup, and —contrary to the rumors about having a baby— I cleaned my house. I was loathe to allow my home to fall prey to the chaos that people said surrounded a new arrival, and I refused to allow myself to become lazy or unkempt (Dolly Parton is my hero people. Vanity is my greatest vanity. Mascara and blush, at least). I realize now that this zest for keeping up appearances was only made possible by the slow-release adrenaline rush of producing a human. That adrenaline kept me going for weeks, as did the sweet stopping-in of so many friends who came to see our babe. I spent the days gazing at the wee human, and I did not nap when he napped, as so many people had suggested…because I am shit at napping.
At night, however, it was a different story. In addition to waking up to an alarm every 3 hours to feed the baby (because M would happily have slept through his feeds, the precious gnome) I was guarding him even with my eyes closed. Why? Because of SIDS.
If you don’t know about SIDS, let me ruin your life for a second. That stands for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and it’s exactly as horrific and unexpected as it sounds. Babies die NOT ONLY because we screw up, but also JUST SUDDENLY and for NO REASON AT ALL. If you’re not a pregnant woman, you probably wouldn’t know about it. If you are a recently pregnant woman, steady yourself for the emails. SIDS is a real concern, worthy of many emailed warnings—all of which you will read guiltily as if they might take the baby away from you if you didn’t—but to a new mother, it can sometimes feel like you’re standing under a deluge with a broken umbrella. There is such a thing as too much information, because it fosters the impression that one knows too little, and that stokes irrational maternal fears.
As if those need any help.
I learned about SIDS several years ago when I was studying for my undergraduate degree. I actually cried during the midterm. So I’ve been ready and waiting for these irrational fears for quite a while.
Needless to say, I was ON that baby like stink on shit every time he fell asleep. M could barely close his eyes without me hovering two inches above his mouth, to confirm that he was still breathing/alive/mine forever. I was the snuggle nazi. In those first few weeks, if he fell asleep on me, I didn’t sleep; instead I read or scrolled insta or caught up on emails. I didn’t let M sleep on the couch with my husband for that cute new-dad photo op. I didn’t bring him to sleep in my bed until he was much bigger and I had rigorously tested his ability to push himself out of a dangerous position. I swaddled him just so, (firmly but not tight enough to suffocate), leapt out of my bed to his side at the least utterance, and basically guarded him like a psychopath for the first 8 weeks of his life.
In following what the APA (American Pediatric Association) recommended, he was to sleep like this, under my oppressive watch, in OUR room, for the ENTIRE first year. We mourned over the inevitable devastating consequences to our sex life (hahahahahahaha little did we know). My husband had already given up so much real estate. First, with the invasion of the body pillow, then the belly. Now we had to share the room not only with another person, but also the looming shadow of SIDS?? Oy. I felt for him, but it was a nonissue in my mind. I would have given that baby a million beds if I had to.
But what was the best way to proceed? It was recommended we put him in the Rock-and-Play, which has now been recalled, so I’m glad we didn’t go that route. We joked that the baby could sleep in the top drawer of our bed, which has steps and storage. But that seemed dangerous. In the end, what we ended up putting him in wasn’t any less ridiculous. For the first three weeks he slept in the 4 Moms Momaroo *strapped in and swaddled and with me checking on him neurotically* and then when I felt he was getting too squirmy, we moved M to the terribly chic bassinet attachment of our Uppa Baby stroller. It wasn’t cute but it was convenient, and it reduced the number of things we had to keep around. Considering the cost of the bassinet alone (you can buy it as a “spare part” off UppaBaby for $199) our babe was catching some posh Z’s.*
Beside him, I slept little. Every time M moved, I woke up. Every time he unwound himself from his swaddle, I rewrapped it. But the thing was, every time I rocketed out of my skin to check if he was sleeping: he was. He was sleeping. I was the one who wasn’t. M may have been karate-chopping himself free of the swaddle and in need of repackaging, but he was not missing out on critical rest. I was.
So after 8 weeks of diligently subscribing to the APA standards put forth by roughly 89,000 emails, we put the baby in his own bed for a nap to see how it would go. It was high time we used it for something other a receptacle for folded baby clothes and diapers. It felt right setting him in his own bed, in his own room that we had so lovingly appointed. We set up the monitor and set M down and marveled at him sleeping, then went out to the living room to watch for signs of sudden cessation of breath.
And he was fine. Didn’t move a muscle. He stayed rolled up like one of those weird little glow-worm toys from the 80s. It was awesome! So we kept it up. Just nap-times at first, because he was so chill and comfortable and seemed so unlikely to suddenly bite it. But we were emboldened by our success; we decided to let him stay the night. And thank everything that we did. My anxiety went to bed when he did, and he slept much better on his own.
Of course, we followed our instincts on that one decision, but giving credit where credit is due: we utilized—though not exclusively— the advice of Dr Marc Weissbluth, (his book is Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child) who recommends not letting a baby nap for more than 2 hours at a time, lest they throw off their rest in the nighttime, which we found to be sound advice. We ascribed more religiously to the book by Harvey Karp, MD, The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep. His recommendations include the 5 Ss (but we got by with two: Swaddling, and Shushing) for getting good sleep behavior started. His advice was also invaluable when we started sleep-training (helping M to sleep through the night), which went beautifully. M slept through the night from the time he was 2 months old with only the occasional waking here and there between 2-4am, after which he could easily be fed and put back down for another few hours. Now, obviously this is a best-case scenario and I’m not a big enough asshole to just brag about it without telling you what we did. (Because it could have been, but most likely wasn’t, a miracle). We used the “Longer and Longer” method of stopping in to soothe him at 3 minutes, then 5, then 8, and usually by then he was asleep for the night. The longest we ever had to wait was fifteen minutes. (And those were miserable minutes).
As far as naps, M crushes them. Until he was about 6 months old, he napped every other hour, for an hour, every day. With the exception of those rogue “developmental” days—when he chose not to sleep at all, like a goddamn terrorist—he was like clockwork. This was both very helpful (because I could get a lot done) and very unhelpful (because I could barely get anything done at all). We could not go grocery shopping because as soon as we finally got it together and left the house, he was falling asleep again.
We did our best to get him to bed after the first visible sign of sleepiness (eyes rubbed, or a yawn, he is an easy tell) and we were religious about bed time, which started at 5:45pm, then pushed to a hard 6pm, and eventually, by the time he was about ten months old, he was sleeping from 7pm to 6am with two long naps in the middle of the day.
When M eclipsed the year mark and with it the window of greatest danger for SIDS, we congratulated ourselves on a job well done, even if that job was only having cleared the path for his better nature.
.As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor. But those were the things that seemed to work.
Listen, people, I know this is a success story, and I’m putting it out there for two reasons. One, because I’m fucking proud of myself and my baby. Two, because I’m counting on you to be here for the stories that don’t chalk up to a win, for the failures, for the bad days. I’m putting this out there for the mamas who need to hear it. You MUST find a community where you are encouraged to share your successes and failures.
We are taught to be humble, not to gloat, to be deferent when we talk about our successes at motherhood. We are told not to share, for instance, that breastfeeding came easily, that birth was a cinch, that our babies have great appetites, that they are sleeping the night, lest it shame the mother who struggles. We are told to keep it to ourselves when we win in the field of parenting because someone else may feel they are losing.
Well I say FUCK THAT.
If you’ve made it to this wonderful part of your life where you’ve left the Maiden behind you and entered the sumptuous age of the Mother, GET RIGHT WITH YOURSELF. Don’t dull your experience with lack of confidence and comparison. Those days are BEHIND and BENEATH you. If you’ve supported and then given birth to another human being YOU ARE A SUPERHERO. Do yourself and all the maidens looking up to you a favor and start acting like one. Today may not be your day but you can believe that the day you gave birth was! And every day you keep them alive and thriving counts as a win. And nothing that another mom does or doesn’t do can change that. If you’re letting another woman write your story, stop that shit immediately. You’re the entire solar system to your kid. You’re importantAF. Use your community, reach out to your village, listen to your elders, but at the end of the day OWN YOUR NARRATIVE. If you can do that, you’re a step ahead of the babes still trying to be something, still wondering where they belong. You belong here, giving it the best you’ve got. Don’t waste your energy worrying about whether your kid should already be eating with a spoon or if you breastfed long enough (or even at all). Just feed your kid and love them and move on!
Personally, I’ve spent my entire life waiting to be a mom. I practically went to school for it. I’ve been training for this in every job I’ve ever had. And if I nail it out here doing the one thing that really matters to me, the thing I feel called to do, I’m sharing the win.
All right. End Rant. I could probably use a nap.