Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Sleep (how the baby got in our bed)

If you're new to the sleep conversation we've been having, click here for previous posts that will fill you in!

a rare moment with Saf sleeping (almost) on his own

There are plenty of very informative posts out there in the blogsphere about bedsharing, the benefits of it and how to do it safely

I won't try to replicate those.  I'll just share our story.

I am not a bedsharing fanatic.  I don't think it's the only way to care for your children in the night.  I know people who find it difficult to sleep with a baby next to them.  If my husband was the mama, I doubt he would bedshare with our babies - he is such a light sleeper that he hardly likes to bedshare with me.  And we definitely do not blanket share.  We learned these things on our honeymoon.


I began bedsharing with Safran out of utter necessity.  For the first 3 1/2 months of his life he slept in a bassinet next to me.  The arrangement was okay, but I did find it difficult to fall back asleep after sitting up nursing him and then helping him fall back asleep.  Especially if I checked Facebook on my phone in the process and my mind began to buzz, I could be awake for another hour with my baby sleeping soundly.  (I like to call that 'momsomnia'.  It's the worst.)  And he was waking every 2-3 hours anyway.

On the other hand I also worried that I'd fall asleep sometimes while sitting up with him, or while trying to soothe him to sleep and lay him back in his bassinet - which could mean he would end up on the floor or sleeping in a dangerous position.

When he was 3 1/2 months old we traveled to North America for 8 weeks and the first 2 weeks was just me and Saf.  And the jetlag was. so. bad.  After a night of trying to settle Saf until 3 am (when he conked out at 7pm Australia time, of course), the next night I decided to sleep him next to me in bed.  I made sure the conditions were safe and he probably woke every 90 minutes, but I would simply roll over, latch him on and drift back to the sleep I had hardly left.  He probably woke more often, but it was the most rested I had felt since becoming a mother.

Once home, we set up a bed-rail on the side of our bed, which Saf slept next to (then me, then Chris).  We began bedsharing full-time.  When it was time for Saf to sleep I would lay with him, nurse him to sleep and sneak away, whether it was naps or bedtime.  Saf was one of those babies that had to be fully asleep before you even thought about laying him down.  If you thought about it sooner, he would hear you.  Really.  Most naps before we began bedsharing happened in our arms or in a carrier because I just could not lay him down without waking him.  If you have one of those babies, you know what its like.  Bedsharing, and particularly nursing him to sleep while he was already laying down, made life much easier.
this is why you should marry someone with big muscles.
I loved having him close to me at night - in the winter I helped keep him warm and didn't have to wonder if he was comfortable or if his little hands were freezing.  When he woke, I was there and neither of us had to fully leave our sleepy state.  Chris was happy because Saf and I were happy.  Nights were good, felt long enough, I rarely knew how long or how often he had fed.  I never checked the clock.  As Saf grew bigger we were given a single bed and put it right up against our queen bed.  We all had a lot more space to sleep comfortably. 

If you are a breastfeeding mama who is finding it difficult to get up with a wakeful baby, I really recommend bedsharing.  Do it safely and comfortably and see how you feel.  Don't be worried that the child will never leave your bed.  They will.  When bedsharing needs to change later on, you can make it happen.  It might be hard, but if your nights are hard now anyway, then why not keep your baby close while they need you and then transition them when you have many more months of trust grown into your relationship. 


I met a woman recently who shares a room with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 7.  The kids have their own beds but like being close to their parents at night.  They have another bedroom for sewing ... and things.  mhm.  Chris and I are open to having Safran and Jubilee in our room for quite a while.  We like it.  We feel safer and while Saf still needs me in the night, its much easier than having him come to our room crying every few hours.
the joy of your baby sleeping on his own

I love Elizabeth Pantley's "No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers", which I will write more about.  She has a whole series of 'No Cry' books on sleep, but one of her guiding beliefs is that you don't have a sleep problem unless you feel like you do.  It doesn't matter what anyone says about how and where and with whom you sleep, or if they think your baby is too old to be nursing in the night.  What matters is how you feel.

And we felt good.  For many months.  But then,  

Hi Jubilee!!
...we got pregnant.  Mostly me.  When Safran was not quite 9 months old.  The family bed became difficult for us for a few reasons, so we started to make some changes.  More on that very soon!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Give a mom (and your mom!) a clean birth kit for Mother's Day!

 Mother and child healthcare in the developing world is very close to my heart.  Especially during Safran's birth, but even with Jubilee I was very grateful to have skilled midwives working on my behalf.  I'm overwhelmed with the care I received during pregnancy and the birth balls, bath tubs and popsicles that enhanced my birth experiences.  This is not the case for the majority of women bringing babies into the world.  I've met many women in India and Sub-Saharan Africa who gave birth with only the help of their mothers/grandmothers/sisters, miles from skilled care.  Many women birth babies on dirt floors alone.  I really cannot imagine that.

A friend of mine started an initiative to equip women in Papua New Guinea with clean birth kits, where the rate of maternal death is 1 in 7 women.  It's really simple, but for women who have nothing else, it can save lives, especially by preventing infection.  It's not the 'answer' to all problems birth related, but clean birth kits are an empowering, life-saving tool put into the hands of people who really need it. 

clean birth kit contents bloggers for birth kits

Last Mother's Day I donated some kits on my mom's behalf.  If you have a blog you can help spread the word, or share about the initiative on Facebook or other social media. 

bloggers for birth kits volunteer handing out birth kits in papua new guinea

Will you get involved?  Click here to learn more.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Sleep (listening to those wiser than ourselves)

I've been writing about sleep, which you can read about here and here

It's nearing 9pm and my eyes are closing on me as I type, when they think I'm not watching.  It was one of those weekends filled with activities and not much rest.  The kind of weekend you could use another weekend to recover from.  But tomorrow is Monday anyway.

When I start to pity myself I find looking to others is a good remedy.  Sometimes I do this with body image.  Sometimes I do this with sleep (and lack thereof).  I really appreciate hearing from the seasoned mothers, the ones with grown children who have their own now, the ones with white hair and precious wrinkles.  My Aussie "Nana" recalls her five years of very interrupted sleep, between her two children, and I look at them now loving their own families so tenderly and I feel peaceful that it's worth it, that these years will go by.  Another friend tells me how her husband would sit in the dark with his daughter in 45 minutes of silence, assume she had fallen asleep and crawl quietly out of the room only to hear her voice call out 'Dad?'  when a floorboard would creak.

Sometimes I nurse and rock my one year old to sleep and wonder if this is my fate in the old wicker chair, shouldn't he be able to tuck himself in to bed on his own by now?  And then I think of my dad, every evening laying down next to my brother, adopted into our family with special emotional needs, four fourteen years.  Fourteen years.  How many evening conversations, or TV shows, or opportunities to read a good book did he sacrifice?  But my brother felt safe enough to fall asleep, and that was my dad's priority completely.  I can't ever remember hearing my dad complain.

I will look back on this someday, I will comfort the new mother and tell her she is radiant even with bags under her eyes.  I will let my love muscles be worked hard, that they grow strong, that there is more love to be given outside of my home and family.  I will love the smallest and the least who are closest to me, that I might be able to love those I've yet to meet.  My children demand a lot from me right now, but this is it.  This is our life together and this is my key opportunity to reflect even a glimpse of God's steadfast, faithful, I'll be awake with you all night if you need me, kind of Love.

I wouldn't trade sleep for these children, that's for sure.    

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Sleep (and why no one in our family is left to cry alone)

If you missed my first post 'On Sleep' you can read it here.  I got a few encouraging responses so I want to continue exploring sleep from a gentle parenting perspective.  Here we go.

Chris and I are committed to being present for our children, day or night.  Sometimes the day part of that is challenging enough, right?  The endless nappy changes, toys and kitchen utensils and clothing EVERYWHERE (at least at our house), preparing meals and snacks, winding down for nap time, making sure we get outside at some point to burn off as much energy as possible - it brings me back to my waitressing days, doing my best to keep everyone as happy as possible.  Do you need a refill on your coffee?  Can I help you off of the table so you don't break your little arm when you fall?  Can I quickly nurse you back to sleep before your brother pulls something dangerous off of the counter?  Actually can I nurse you while I jump up and grab your brother's hand away from the dangerous object on the counter?  Goodness, the days are full, the days are tiring.  We all deserve a good night's sleep.

At our house sometimes a very hard day is followed by a great night and we are all rested and recharged for the morning.  But sometimes a very hard day is followed by an equally hard night, and we often have three hard nights in a row around here.  That's when we start to feel delirious and a bit desperate.  That's when I have to squint and grimace at people to actually understand what they are saying, when the backs of my eyes are burning and the patience I generally have for my children (especially the one that can talk) is pretty thin.

I'm in the middle of it right now.  Last night after posting my blog I went to sleep by about 10:15.  Saf woke up at least three times before I checked the clock (with me falling back to sleep after each brief nursing session) and it was only 11:45.  What?  I woke Chris up - 'please, I need help.  can you rock him?'  Sometimes if Chris helps him fall asleep another way he seems to settle into a deeper sleep.  I actually didn't check the clock again until 5:30am (when he got up for the day) but I remember at least two more feeds and somehow he got in between us, which disturbed Chris' sleep a bit.  But Chris got up with him at 5:30 and I went back to sleep until 7:30. Then Chris went back to sleep until 8:15.  Jubilee actually woke up at 3:30am, which is unusual but not unheard of, and then again at 6 and back to sleep until 8:30.  This is a pretty common night for us.

There is a temptation to follow the fairly mainstream method of allowing my child to cry himself to sleep, in order to learn how to fall asleep without parental assistance.  Or in our case I am completely positive it would be "scream for up to three hours and then pass out from exhaustion and complete hopelessness".  If we did that long enough and for a number of days or weeks he would get the picture:  we are not coming to help you.

That temptation is very small though, even after twenty months of night wakings.  (We did have a week before Jubilee's birth where Saf slept 7-5 without waking, and a week after).  There's a great post by Phd in Parenting with some scientific and emotional reasons why her family doesn't use Cry It Out as a parenting option.  Those are very convincing to me.

But here our some of our own reasons as well, in case you don't believe in science and all: 

1. Chris doesn't leave me to cry by myself, regardless of the reason I'm crying.  In the first weeks of our marriage we became pregnant and lost the baby soon after.  This devastated me and I plunged into a pretty serious sadness.  In our first months of marriage I'm pretty sure I cried nearly every evening for some amount of time.  And Chris would always be there - laying next to me on the bed, sitting with me on the couch, listening and quiet and present.  I know that was very hard for him, but he did it, and he still does.  I am present for him in similar ways.  If we don't leave each other to cry or vent emotion alone, then how could we do that to the smallest and most helpless members of our family?

2. We work through conflict.  We don't walk out the door, we don't hang up the phone, we don't go to bed angry (even when I want to).  We work very hard to get through our conflicts together, to come to agreements, to prefer each other, to forgive and release.  Cry It Out methods seem like very poor conflict resolution, showing our children it's ok to shut the door and leave the person you have a problem with to sort themselves out.  We don't do that in our marriage, so we won't do that with our children.

3. God doesn't leave us to cry it out.  As parents we show our kids what God is like, whether we are trying to or not, whether we actually reflect God well or not.  In the same way that God entered fully into our own problems and skin and has compassion on us (which means 'to suffer with'), we want to be that (as much as possible) to our children.  We don't go off duty at 7:30pm.  When Saf was regularly waking for long periods in the night just wanting some kind of comfort, unable to go back to sleep, we didn't just put him in another room with the door closed to let him 'self-soothe'.  We did our best to care for him even though I would sometimes be crying because I was so tired and just wanted him to go to sleep.  [Dr. Sears, the parenting guru at believes that a child crying in the arms of a loving parent is vastly different from crying alone].

4. It would cause a lot of stress in our marriage.  I just asked Chris why we don't do Cry It Out and he said, "Because I would get heart palpitations and have anxiety issues."  I could just imagine us having arguments about whether or not the crying was too intense and when we should go in or not and if it was working or not.  Sometimes people call it 'tough love' and just think parents like us are weak.  One of my favorite bloggers, Sarah Bessey, wrote an awesome post on Tough Love:  she writes,  "I will choose to love tough. To love harder, to draw closest right when I'm most tempted to walk away, to lavish love when I am most yearning to withhold it."  That's the kind of tough love I want to show my family.

5. We want to keep lines of communication open with our children.  It's a very long-term view, but it gives us a lot of strength even when things are hard.  If we stop listening to our children's cries, they will eventually stop communicating with us.  Our toddlers will be teenagers someday, and we desperately want to be the most important voice and listening ear in their lives.  Right now is when the foundation is being built - patterns that are set in place in these years, and impressions we leave on their supple souls will have consequences in the future.  And that matters more to me than a good night's sleep.

All of that being said ...

The lack of sleep does take a toll on us and other ideals have taken a backseat.  Chris finds it very difficult to cope in the early mornings without turning on the television to watch children's shows with Saf.  This is hard for me as I barely want us to have a TV, but it's how things are at the moment.  I also probably don't have the energy I should to keep our house tidy.  If I'm tired, the last thing I want to do is be inside cleaning, so we will often go out to a friend's house or meet someone at the park or beach.  Chris would love to get more exercise but it is one of the first things to go when he's tired.   Other forms of creativity in our lives are lacking that would be flourishing if we had more sleep, ie blogging and writing music.  But these are the tired years, we are in the thick of it, we have two little ones and so we have come to a certain level of acceptance.

There are plenty of parents that I love and respect that do some sort of Cry It Out or controlled crying with their children.  But for the reasons mentioned above, for the sake of being integrous to our convictions, it is not for us.  Fortunately there are HEAPS of gentle ideas to help our children sleep for longer stretches without our assistance that I'm planning to write about soon!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Sleep (and how we try to get some of it)

I really love sleep.  Not as much as my husband does, but I love it just the same.  Uninterrupted sleep has been one of the hardest things to relinquish in parenting, for both us.  But relinquish we have.

Our sleep journey since having Safran has been … colourful.  Sometimes sleepless?  Yes.  I want to write a post about how we have never left our son (20 months) to cry alone and he sleeps from 7-7 without a peep.  That would be wonderful.  And untrue. 

I will instead be honest with you few people who read my blog … sleep, for one of my children, is a struggle.  And we are the parents, so it's our struggle too.  So why would you read something from a parent whose child has not learned to sleep well yet as they are nearing two years old?  Firstly, I understand what it's like to be sleep deprived.  I feel you.  You are not alone, and if more of us were honest about our children's sleep then I think we would all have more realistic expectations as new parents.

Secondly, my husband and I both are firm believers that parenting is about the means, not the end.  We will not get our child to sleep through the night at all costs.  We learn and teach so much in the journey, no matter how many more months it takes than we'd like it to.  We still are in the middle of it, but we have learned a lot about gentle sleep techniques that I'd love to share.  And a lot about grace.

But first, to make myself feel better, let me tell you about my other child, Jubilee, who for the past 3 months (that's her whole life) has never slept less than 6 hours in a row at night and consistently sleeps from about 9:30pm to 5:30 or 6am.  She LOVES to sleep.  She slept six hours the first night that she was in the world and I thought that was too crazy to even mention to people, sure she wouldn't do it again.  But she does, just about every night.  And that is grace to us.  I worried during my pregnancy that I would spend all night nursing my two children, but I'm not.  Right now Safran does nurse in the night, sometimes every 2-3 hours.  We did night-wean him during my pregnancy but pretty quickly realized that he still needed me and Jubilee did not (although she sleeps very close to us in a bassinet).  I wrote earlier that there is no such thing as hypothetical grace and I believe that even more now. 

I do nothing differently with Jubilee except occasionally lay her down when she is sleepy but still awake.  I still nurse her, rock her, wear her and walk her to sleep 75% of the time.  If it was possible to lay Safran down awake I would have done so, but he was one of those babies who needed to be fully asleep for 20 minutes before I even considered laying him down, and he still might wake up within five minutes or so.  Ugh.  He therefore spent most of his naps in the early months on me in some way or another.  Lots of quality time, for sure. 

Why does Jubilee sleep so well, in my opinion?

1. She is young.  She is not teething and is oblivious (mostly) to how fun the world is.  She is exclusively breastfed so isn't dealing with food sensitivities from solid foods.  I am fully prepared that she may start to wake in the night some day.  Last week she did wake once a few nights in a row to nurse but it may have been a growth spurt and adjustment to daylight savings time and she is back to normal now.

2. She had a much more peaceful entry into the world than Safran.  He spent the first 36 hours of his life literally on ice, comfort sucking a pacifier, unable to sleep much or be held.  Jubilee went straight to my warm chest and was nursing within a few minutes.  She's hardly been away from me since.  I suspect this is the biggest difference in their sleeping abilities.
an hour or so after Saf's birth
an hour or so after Jubilee's birth

3. I read recently that when you've been breastfeeding for over a year your milk becomes fattier.  I'm also tandem nursing so have a very abundant milk supply.  I feed Jubilee on all day and she seems to get enough to settle her for the night - maybe it's better quality milk than Safran was getting? 

4. Personality/Genetics.  Safran is high-touch, strong-willed and wonderfully intense about most things.  My husband sleeps with ear plugs and still wakes up numerous times a night.   

Jubilee does not sleep better because I stretch out the time between feeds or make her self-settle or cry herself to sleep; she doesn't spend long periods of time by herself - in fact I probably carry her around or hold her on my lap even more than Saf just to make sure she's safe from his affections!

I believe in giving babies what they need and some just require more from us than others.  Having such different sleepers helps me realise that I am not a great parent because Jubilee sleeps well, nor am I a bad parent because right now Saf is waking every 2-3 hours at 20 months old.  Rather than forcing them to meet our expectations, we have to rise to the parenting challenge and give them what they need.  Some days (and nights) are harder than others.

I've been waiting to write about sleep until we have it all figured out, until we are on the other side of night wakings and fatigue and sometimes plain old frustration.  But a friend recently challenged me to be honest, that maybe I could encourage other parents who are committed to gentle parenting and just need to hear someone who understands that its hard, but we are still committed to be there for our children in the night.

So here it is.  I actually am feeling pretty passionate about this topic, so hopefully there will be a few more posts of this genre to come.  But since it's 9:41pm and the rest of my family is sleeping I will join them.  Goodnight.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

on turning 30.

 I started to write this post a few days before I turned 30.  I started to write this in a little purple notebook while sitting on the couch holding Jubilee in my lap, facing me, letting her smile at me like I'm the most amazing person she's ever seen - eyes crinkly, nose scrunched up.  This was the moment:

But now that notebook is missing (as are so many things these days it seems - is that part of having a 20 month old?) and so I begin again, this time on the other side of 30.  30 years + 5 days.

I turned 20 in Cairo and got my ears pierced to mark the occasion.  I also got my nose pierced a few weeks later (back alley, Istanbul) for two dollars.  Worldview shattering, everything on the change.   Twenty-three was Cape Town, sleeping under the stars and waking to my birthday and Easter Sunday all in one; we flew a kite and played soccer in a field, covered in mud.  Twenty-five was India and a park and an epic game of 'In the Manner of the Adverb'; twenty-six was northern Uganda, I wore a white skirt on the back of a motor bike, my feet still etched with the black dirt of South Sudan. Twenty-eight was India again, this time married and expecting a baby - had a birthday party with so many new friends wearing gorgeous sarees and I even made a speech, because that's what you do at an Indian birthday party.

Reading through old journals this week, I'm remembering.  The dreams on my heart were all so close then, when I was pumping water and dodging malarious mosquitoes, taking auto rickshaws and hanging out with pregnant women in slum communities.  My friend Hollie was my dreaming companion - 'Should we travel from Cape Town to Cairo by chicken bus stopping in villages for a month at a time to do mother and child healthcare seminars?' - yes, please.  'How about we open a home in a major Indian city where women can come from rural areas to stay near the hospital if they have a high risk pregnancy?' - perfect.   

wearing ridiculous skirts and asking for diarrhea in Cairo (with Hollie, circa 2006)

I met Chris along the way, and we chose each other.  Our dating months were full of hard, hard, hard conversations - what really were our values, deep down, that we would end up living by even if we thought we might be able to change?  What would drive me crazy?  Could I be the one to give him the love that he needs?  A few times it was so tough, hearing his voice tell the truth - 'becca, if you want to be living in East Africa in the next two years, I need to be honest and say I can't do it, I can't be that person for you.  That could be possible someday, but I would need to take it step by step.'  And I chose him, because fantastical dreams with no roots couldn't compare to building a home, planting a garden and bearing children with Chris, even in exile.

Reading my journals reminded me of all my dreams, although I'm not sure how much they were of God and how much they were of me escaping reality.  Either way, a lot of them are still in there, lying dormant, waiting.  Reading through my old emails with Chris reminded me that I knew exactly what I was getting.  I read a conversation we were having about future children if we got married - why, how many, how soon, possible effects on our life and work - and Chris is saying the same exact thing three years and two children later. 

It's another layer of letting go - nothing has been taken from me.  In freely saying yes to marriage and children and to the sense that it's good for us to be in this community now, there are other things that aren't happening, that might or might not ever happen.  Its okay, on my thirtieth birthday to be a little sad, to grieve a bit, to let go of the where's and what's that I imagined in my mid-twenties.

Grief and processing doesn't in any way negate my joy and wonder over life right now:  the sacrament of marriage that I partake in daily, forgiveness and friendship our bread and wine; the spiritual rituals of washing, hanging, and putting away cloth nappies in a way that reminds me of eternity in its endlessness; nursing my children to sleep every night and caring for them in the dark hours when the rest of the world spins and sleeps.  This is my life and it is good.  My days are long and slow and as sacred as my steps on the dusty red road to Congo.

We will see what happens, where I am on my fourtieth birthday, when my children can survive longer periods of the day without me.  But until then, I will be here, typing with my right hand, Jubilee balanced on my left knee, dishes to do and songs to sing.

"Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like colour." - Annie Dillard