There were so many things I thought I had figured out about parenting before I was actually a parent. I thought I’d never let my toddler eat mac & cheese for lunch 3 or more times a week. We’d never allow hours of screen time some days. Junk food? Never. Sweets? God, no. Yelling? Do I look like a monster? Yeah, now we buy mac & cheese in bulk at Costco. I let Margaret watch those weird baby doll demonstration videos on YouTube for an hour one morning so I could vacuum and mop the tile downstairs, and she gets some form of screen time on the regular. Margaret likes salt & vinegar chips, and we can pretend that Pirate Booty is a healthy snack, but let’s call a spade a spade. Pirate Booty is basically Cheetos, which she also eats on occasion. Sweets? Yep! Yelling? Sometime I unleash the beast within.
But there’s one thing that I thought I’d never do and have, until now, stuck to my guns, and it’s not even a big deal. Are you sitting down? Brace yourselves! Ok. Here it is: give my kids a pacifier. Yep, the ubiquitous pacifier. It was on my list of no-goes. It seems so silly to be against something that could potentially make our lives a lot easier and a baby’s life more comforting, but dammit, I can be super stubborn about how I think my children should be raised. That is, until I realize the promise of a cake pop from Starbucks is great leverage. (Don’t judge. You know you do it, too! Plus, cake pops are delicious.)
Endless hours of reading up on breastfeeding, I learned that pacifiers can decrease your milk supply because the baby pacifies on the pacifier rather than at the breast, and breastfeeding is kind of my thing. I also thought I’d use cloth diapers, but I don’t time for that, but I will fully dedicate myself to breastfeeding because it works for us. I didn’t want to do anything that would interfere with it. We got lucky with Margaret; she didn’t seem to want a pacifier; she pacified on me. I was smug in knowing that she was getting comfort and nourishment solely from me. I felt like mother earth. We prided ourselves on this fact.
When Niels was born, we realized how different two babies can be. Margaret has always been a good sleeper, even when she wasn’t. She’d eventually go to sleep and really be asleep. Niels is not a good sleeper at all. He needs help falling asleep and staying asleep. In the hospital after he was born, I held him the entire time, except when I had to go to the bathroom, and in those few minutes I was away, he screamed like I had abandoned him to be raised by wolves, even if Henning was holding him. He nursed constantly and slept on me. I changed his diapers on my lap to keep him somewhat happy. As long as a part of me was touching a part of him, his world was OK. I attributed most of this fitfulness to him being hooked up to IV antibiotics after a rough delivery. When we got home, he seemed to relax a little and actually slept in the bassinet that was right beside my side of the bed. Close enough to me to be happy; far enough away for us both to sleep.
Now that Niels is 6 months old, he will happily play for an hour in the family room, almost independently, which Margaret would never do (and I’m assuming most babies don’t?). But it seems for every hour of play, he needs an hour of nursing and cuddling in the middle of the night, sometimes he concentrates this time into a 3-hour stretch. I wear him for his naps because laying him down in his crib for a nap is like laying him down on a bed of nails. I don’t mind him needing me so much, but sometimes I’m a little touched out and would be more OK with all the time dedicated to his sleep if it wasn’t so much of a struggle. Does that even make sense? I’m not sure it does, but I’m really tired, so let’s just pretend. And Henning still isn’t as good as me in Niels’s eyes. He has limited success with getting Niels back to sleep at night, and he’s never even tried putting him down for a nap because why waste time on something you know won’t work? That sounds pessimistic, but it’s true. It’s like the universe is really driving it home that every baby is different. We get it, universe! We. Get. It.
Every night after Niels is in bed Henning says, “Tonight’s the night! He’s going to sleep!” And then about 30 minutes later I’m trudging back upstairs to rock and nurse Niels back to sleep. I have to admire Henning’s optimism, but it does feel like a jinx each time. There are sleep-training methods we could try and probably will eventually. We could bring him into our bed, but I’m afraid neither Henning nor I would sleep then. I love cuddling with Niels, but I also need to sleep and need a little down time. I get frustrated that it seems like I can’t help him sometimes. He nurses and nurses and is still awake. He gets frustrated when my milk lets down for the third time because he really just wants to pacify and go to sleep. Sometimes he pops off and cries because he’s full; nursing is making him uncomfortable. So, like most things with parenting, I cut myself a slice of humble pie and pulled out the pacifiers we got at Margaret’s baby shower. At naptime I washed one up, and popped it in Niels’s mouth while he was trying to settle down in the ring sling. At first he just chewed on it and played with it, but when he figured out its magic, he sucked away and fell asleep. The thing I had resisted; the thing that wasn’t really a big deal; this one little thing on my ever-shorter list of no-nos was the key to getting Niels to settle quickly and stay asleep. At bedtime, like always, 30 minutes after laying him down, Niels woke up. I trudged upstairs, popped the pacifier in his mouth, patted his back, and listened to his sleepy breathing for a few minutes. He was asleep. It took 2 minutes. He was happy. I was happy. And like most things with parenting, you never know what you’re doing until you’re actually doing it. And even then, you’ll have plenty of time in hindsight to reflect on how you could have done it differently. What if we had tried the pacifier earlier? Would he be a better sleeper now?
If there’s anything I’ve learned about parenting in the short 3 years I’ve been responsible for tiny humans, it’s that you shouldn’t make things more difficult for yourself. You have to do what works for you and your little one. And I’m learning now that what worked for one baby, won’t necessarily work for another. Niels needs the pacifier, and I’m happy to let go of one more thing I thought I had figured out.