‘Why can’t my baby be like that?’ Envy, jealousy, despair and disappointment … by Carly Grubb

Hands up who has ever felt like this?
Pick me! Pick me! I was an extreme serial offender with my first who while being the most superb human ever made was an extraordinarily high needs baby who had me at my very wits end.

I went into motherhood with what I felt like were fairly realistic expectations around feeding and sleep. Unfortunately, what I thought was realistic was really restricted to babies who are actually super relaxed, super flexible and ‘textbook’ in that they progress in a straight line (gradually drop feeds and gradually add sleep time without waking). I didn’t realise and western society did not allow the possibility that our little humans are far more complex than that and progress is actually much more cyclical and irregular. Just when you’re sure your baby only ‘needs’ two feeds a night they’ll change it up and feed hourly for a fortnight and then give you one ‘Good’ night before waking every 20-40 mins the next. Day sleeps are just as unpredictable.

After coming from my previous life as a teacher where structure, routine and predictability ruled my day, I was left feeling lost in my new world that appeared to have no rhyme nor reason. This feeling of bewilderment was swiftly tainted by feelings of envy and jealousy when I would meet up with a friend or acquaintance who would boast, ‘oh, my little darling is letting me sleep now … 12 hours straight, 7 til 7. Is your baby sleeping through?’

My stinging sleep deprived eyes would well up as I detailed my baby’s wakeful habits and I’d cop the standard lines of, ‘have you tried swaddling’, ‘putting him down drowsy but awake’, ‘bedtime routine’, ‘listen for his protest cry it’s different to his emotional cry’, ‘it’s because you’re still feeding him’, ‘you need to not hold him, you’ve built a rod for your own back’ … I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Initially, I walked away and thought that maybe there was some weight to what they said and I practically tore myself in two trying every technique suggested by every friend, child health nurse, relative and bloody sleep whisperer known to man. With each attempt that failed, a little of my mummy confidence (already fragile as a first time mum and with sleep deprivation) chipped away. With each attempt I caught myself looking at my baby thinking ‘why can’t you just go to sleep like (insert name)? What more do you want from me?’ I became anal about awake time and early tired signs, I tried feeding timelines and resettling timelines too. Things grew more and more intense as I tried harder and harder.

Things really came to a head when I was told by a douche bag child health nurse that my child was ‘chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development’. This was too much. I was extremely sleep deprived myself and struggling but at no point had I thought my baby was actually at risk (he was after all the most beautifully healthy, happy four month old who just hated sleep and was super cuddly and sensitive). This declaration from someone who I considered at the time to be a knowledgeable person sent me in a spin. It was one thing for me to be struggling but not my baby, no this had to stop… I must get this baby to learn to sleep for his own well being! I booked us in to attend a private sleep school for two weeks later, the public wait was over a month and there was no way I could let my poor baby ‘suffer’ that long.

Two weeks later we flew to Brisbane for our 5 day residential stay. I sobbed my heart out at the initial meeting with the head nurse telling her how much of a failure I was and how I never wanted to be this kind of mother – one who had to listen to her sweet baby cry while he ‘learned’ to sleep out of my arms. She reassured me that while he would cry it would only be because he was angry with the change and that the ‘responsive settling’ techniques would still comfort him while allowing him to learn the ‘essential’ skill of self settling. I had my doubts but out of sheer desperation for both of us I decided to commit.

The first 24 hours were horrific. It is testament to how crushed I was within myself that I did not trust the motherly instinct inside me that shrieked from every nerve in my body to take my baby and run. I am ashamed to say I stayed. I sat in the hall and sobbed and rocked in a ball as nurse after nurse tried and failed to implement the hands off settling techniques that were supposedly appropriate for 4 and a half month old. Each one of them ended up rocking my sweating, hysterical, exhausted baby to sleep. Not one of them believed me as we stood at the door shushing my babe that he was firing warning shots (apparently protesting) and that these warning shots were taking him further and further from sleep and that left for longer will lead to hysteria. Each one had to see for themselves. Each one would then comment that ‘we just need to persevere and be consistent and he would learn.’ And so it went for 24 hours. When my mum came to visit the next day she was shocked at how pale my baby looked and commented that he looked sad. I broke down at this and poured my heart out to her. I decided that if no one listened to me that day then we’d leave that evening. That afternoon I started packing our bag. I cried the whole time. What was I to do now? This was meant to work? Where to now? I felt defeated. At this stage a nurse walked in and asked me what I had expected from this stay. She actually listened and told me she’d support me on the next settle and let me go to my baby when I thought was the key point and stroke him. It worked. I felt elated and the success continued for the rest of the stay although babe did start to get harder on the last day. The take home message was to stay consistent and persistent and keep life as routine as possible for the following two weeks and we should be on track.

I left feeling empowered and confident with my new skills. I was determined to be consistent and persistent for all of our sakes. I got my husband on board and wasn’t too phased as babe tested us out for the first few days (settling in period). I started to worry as it extended from there and babe got harder and harder to get down. I rang the sleep school for some tips and reassurance but was greeted very unhappily. I would be getting a two week follow up call and they weren’t staffed to field more calls. I cried in desperation and the nurse asked me if I was going to be stronger than my baby or not and that to keep being consistent and persistent and we’d get there. I was crushed but with nothing more I could do I stuck at it. The two week call came and I was a wreck. We were up for 2 hour battles at a time to try and stretch babe to his 4 hour minimum for feeds. My husband was trying to resettle for me to keep babe away from the boobs so he was shattered. My baby was a wreck. The two week call nurse had a little more empathy but no further practical advice other than that god damn catch cry ‘consistent and persistent’.

We continued on for 3 further torturous weeks until I ended up in a ball sobbing in the lounge while my baby screamed in his cot.
I realised I had plunged into PND. I booked into speak with my GP. She spoke to me about my options for treatment and decided that counselling would be the best first step. For some reason just being diagnosed was the start of my recovery … It was the start of my surrender. The first step in letting go and learning to forgive myself and my baby for not being what I’d imagined. On the same day, I had a phone call from my darling midwife at the Women’s Health Queensland Wide who I have spoken to since I found out I was pregnant. She was her usual great self but also really made me stop and think … I had gotten myself so caught up in all the things I SHOULD be doing for my baby to ‘fix’ all the things I had done wrong to have created such poor sleep habits that I had lost my ability to listen and respond to MY baby. All the noise in my head was telling me was that if I rock my baby, feed him to sleep, don’t resettle him YADAYADAYADA had gotten so loud. Especially after having been to sleep school. I thought if I just stuck at it and at it and at it, it would eventually work … Well it didn’t. 5 weeks after sleep school we were no closer to having a better sleeper and my baby was getting more and more frustrated and upset with me and everyone around him not listening to what he was very clearly trying to communicate. As he grew more unsettled, the more I grew frustrated and upset too. Hence the breakdown.

Turns out, my baby isn’t a textbook one (not that any are). From day dot, I chose to go with my baby’s flow, follow his cues, feed on demand etc. He was always good at communicating his wants and needs to me but I had a deliberately stopped listening (as you are told to when sleep training). Lucky for me in many ways, my guy didn’t give up on me. He kept on getting louder and louder until I was forced to pull back and listen. At breaking point, I felt like the only way to get better would be to get more sleep and speak to a professional who could tell me how to deal with my problems. But, my midwife sent me the latest research article on infant sleep. A very interesting read. It proposed the idea that infant sleep is as individual as the baby and sleep training is an inappropriate intervention for something that is only a ‘problem’ due to culture and society. It focussed on the idea that mothers need to be helped to maximise the quality of their own sleep rather than aiming for the ever elusive ‘more’ sleep. Quality over quantity.

At the same time, I had been getting right into Pinky McKay – books, Facebook page, blog. I felt like she spoke to my heart. Her motto, ‘gently and with love’ is how I always wanted to mother. Not this crazy lady who watched the clock and let my baby grizzle, cry and whinge wanting me to help him to sleep in my arms but insisting on breaking this habit as he would never learn to self settle. I also started focusing on putting myself in my baby’s shoes and empathising more. I would hate for my husband or mother or friend to constantly compare my abilities with anothers and remind me regularly I’m lacking and yet that is what we do as we ‘wish’ our baby was something they’re not. I’d be thinking, ‘aren’t I enough?’ ‘Why can’t I do what (name) can do? And my self esteem would slowly chip away. That is not acceptable to me for myself and it is certainly not acceptable for my baby.

As I reflected back on those 6 months I also realised that for all my bitching and moaning about not sleeping enough and being tired … I was fine. I was fit as a fiddle, I was active and had well and truly adjusted to life on little sleep. I caught 20-30 mins each time bub napped/ catnapped in the day and I was fine. . I chose to talk about other things with people when they ask how babe is going. No more wallowing, no more whinging. This too shall pass and it passed a lot less painfully when I stopped dwelling on something that I tried so very hard to fix. My baby didn’t need fixing. He needed his mum to understand that this is where he was at and one day down the track, he wouldn’t need me so much but he will always know that I will be there waiting for him should he ever need me that much again.

So mums and dads here’s our challenge … To accept our perfectly imperfect little person/ people for exactly who they are. Because just as jealousy and envy are toxic in any other relationship, so they are with our precious wee people who deserve nothing but unconditional love from their mum and dad.

Self reflection and growth is such an important part of parenthood. I look back on that time now with kind eyes for both myself and my baby. We were learning to be. And here we are today. So in love and so trusting. Ever growing and learning with each other.

 

Grubby Mummy and the Grubby Bubbies- Carly Grubb lives with her 2 boys under 2, hubby and dog in North West Queensland. She writes one handed while feeding to sleep along with other ‘bad habits’. For more real, honest stories, check out Carly’s Blog Here

39 Comments

  1. Lauren Says Reply

    Good on you, Carly!
    I fed my baby to sleep every day and every night for over 2.5 years. Although at times I wished my girl would go to sleep faster, and not need me for comfort sucking for hours (she had terrible reflux and sleeping on the breast was the only way she slept for more than 20 mins) or later, to lie with her for as long as she did, (especially when I was trying to complete my Masters degree), the majority of the time I found breastfeeding and co-sleeping to be a very peaceful and blissful experience. I did odd things like sleep from 7pm til midnight, then wake up and do my housework! If you just sleep when you have the opportunity, then fit in the rest of life around it, it’s so much easier than trying to train a sensitive, high needs child to fit in with ‘normal life’. I gave up on using the cot and just put a double mattress on the floor, as sneaking away was much easier than changing my baby’s location.

    Now when I’m having trouble sleeping (pregnancy insomnia), I go and snuggle my little, almost 3 year old, darling. Sometimes she wakes up, and she kisses me on my cheek and says ‘Good night, darling. God bless you.’ before falling asleep again! I can’t even describe how much my heart wells up with joy at such moments.

    • Carly Says Reply

      That is too sweet x

    • Carla Cram Says Reply

      I love this, it brought a tear to my eye. This blog is great and so is your comment. My bub is 14 months and my tiredness knows no bounds. But it’s good to know I’m not alone. He also has severe reflux GORD and food allergies and the boob is his best friend.

    • Nadine Says Reply

      I am currently laying on my bed matress in the lounge room because she prefers to sleep on the recliner at the moment. She has never slept in her cot and may never sleep in it. She has gone from a small bassinet to a large bassinet to the couch and never in a toom on her own. I have always fed her to sleep and still do with a bottle on the couch . I wake when she wakes and work full time too. Yes I am tired but apart from when she is teething she is a pretty good sleeper. I put it down to her trusting mummy will be there if I need her. . I considered sleep school because she had a time when she would consistently wake through the night but now she is a liitle older (10 months) she knows mummy is there if she really needs me but has also learned to self settle on her own. This was from a baby who needed a dummy and her dummy to be put in every hour or so.

  2. Karissa Says Reply

    Well said Carly!

  3. Amy Says Reply

    Carly, you may not know me but I know you. We lived in Mount Isa over the same period of time. I had my first Bub in May. I had to leave Mount Isa. I have been through the same as you. 9 months down the track, I started listening to my girl, and we are so much happier. She sleeps when she wants, she eats when she wants and she sleeps and eats so differently day to day and week to week . I wish I never picked up a book and I wish I had listened to my gut from the very beginning. I grieve for the 8 months I have missed but I am happy for the beautiful days we now have. I hope you are feeling better, you are so brave for sharing your story and I wish you and your beautiful family all the best.

    • Carly Says Reply

      I’m so glad you found your surrender too. If only we could have those months back but alas, I guess we just get to put them down as a pivotal time in our lives when our babies taught us how to mother x

  4. Ally Says Reply

    This is exactly what I needed to read! I’ve spent the last 2 weeks trying to get my babe to self settle with next to no improvement. The only ending it did was make me more stressed. Today I decided to stop listening with what others say my baby is ‘suppose’ to do and to do what works for us. I have always met his needs and followed his lead and we have being happy. I will continue meeting my little guys needs because soon he won’t need me to do those things and then I can sleep. Like you I’m fine during the day not tired and surviving so a few wake ups at night won’t kill me. Thank you so much for posting this! Xoxoxo

  5. annie Says Reply

    hello a very real question i have after reading your story that made me cry and my heart break again… how did you reconcile with what you had been through? i have ongoing soul destroying guilt over exactly that.. thinking i had to do that sleep stuff when all i wanted was to cuddle my baby! the hysterical thing is that the very people who tell you to put your tiny new baby in bed and leave it to self settle also tell you to just trust your instincts! i eventually did and threw the self settle book in the bin and stopped talking to certain people about certain things, but i fear the potential long term damage iv already done, to my gorgeous boy’s emotional health. i am now the mother who listens to her heart and that of my baby, but what else could you suggest please?

    • Carly Says Reply

      Oh Annie, don’t worry, it has taken me a whole lot of guilt, anger, hurt and confusion followed by a whole lot of soul searching to come to this point.
      For me, in the immediate aftermath, I made sure I actually verbally apologised to my baby and explained to him that I honestly thought I was doing what was best and that from now on I would forever listen to him and whenever he needs his mum he will have his mum. I reiterated it whenever I felt I needed. Saying it out loud, even though at the time he wouldn’t have comprehended it, still felt important. I also followed through on this and initially I did it in the extreme. I kept him on me in a carrier and held him for every sleep until I felt he had relaxed enough back into trusting me to respond if he cried out.
      I also found that I really needed to take a big step back and look at my baby and myself from an outside perspective. I had to ask myself if I had truly damaged my baby irreparably or did I feel like I could mend the gap. For me, as much as I can’t take back the stress and trauma of that time I can see and could see within a couple of months that I had restored my baby’s trust and his feeling of safety and security around sleep.
      I also had to let myself cry and let my story be heard … I needed to try (even if it failed) to prevent any other new mum around me from going through this ordeal.
      In the end, I simply had to look at myself through the eyes of my best friend instead of my own super critical ones. Through the eyes of my best friend I could see I was simply a new mum who at all times had her baby’s best interest at heart and as soon as she knew better she did better.
      So look at yourself with kind eyes mama. That guilt will get you and your baby nowhere. Time to do the reflection and venting you need and then a whole lot of letting go and forgiveness. You deserve to be forgiven x

  6. Kimberley Wilson Says Reply

    What a great read Carly and so so true. Thanks for having the courage to say it. I know more stories of kids having negative effects from parents trying to follow the “books and expert advice” than ever. I even knew a wonderful mum who’s baby was literally very sick because she was trying to be such a good mum never giving him any sugar or salt etc because that’s what is preached. I have had 3 beautiful kids and everyone needed different things and still does. I think they are all perfect in their own unique ways (despite No 3 being rough with your No 1…..sorry it is just him) Incidentally yours both looked like angels the other day, so we’ll done Mum.

  7. Mia Says Reply

    Thank you Carly, this is so similar to my experience. I had been convinced by Child Health nurses that my baby needed more sleep at 2 months as he was ‘only’ getting 10 hours. I did a day stay with them which was torture and also chipped away my confidence. I was convinced I had to fix this problem for my baby and for us.
    It became so upsetting they insist I speak with their social worke when unsurprisingly I scored high on their Edinburgh depression score. I really feel like nobody listened to what I was saying and that’s when a mum I know got a midwife (I wonder if it’s the same one) in Women’s health Queensland wide to call me & chat.
    That call changed everything. She gave me back my confidence as I felt I now had permission to go with my instincts , that resettling just was not for my little boy. He’s a cat napper, but cat naps every 90 minutes so what’s the problem! I cannot talk highly enough of Women’s health Queensland wide, such a fab free service, and I still get my regular calls to see how I’m going. My boy in almost 4 months and life is so much better.
    I agree, a big change is trying to sell if from his point of view. He responding is so much more important than a strict routine. He doesn’t always want to be held in the same position as I rock him to sleep and it’s ok to listen to him. He is after all the boss.
    Thank you for this article.

  8. Brooke Says Reply

    Oh my gosh, you have completely verbalised everything I have been feeling for the last 11 months (and I felt exactly the same with my first bub too).Thank you so much for sharing. I still keep swinging from acceptance to anxiety but it is such a timely reminder to listen to our beautiful babies first and foremost.

  9. Celyna Says Reply

    Dear Carly I want to thank you so much for your article! I came across it at a time when I felt very fragile ( thanks to my mchn who gave it to me!) and reading it. i shed a few tears, it felt like you were speaking right to my heart. i also have a gorgeous 6mo boy who is very demanding and trying with his sleeping habits. We tried sleep school (day stay only) and did not find it helpful at all. I hated it. My baby did NOT settle with their techniques, but i persisted after we got home as was told this is how to achieve results. The only result was me being exhausted mentally and physically from trying to shush and pat him for hours to achieve a meager 45 min nap still…so I gave u; but every time I would tell myself I will just keep rocking him, nursing him etc to comfort him someone would tell me that I am doing it wrong and he will never learn to sleep properly if i don’t “train” him. I am the only one in my mother’s group with these problems, which also doesn’t help. Combine this with a few nights of frequent waking and crying where I couldn’t put baby down or he would start screaming again the minute he was back in his cot and I go back to doubting myself and believeing all those who say my baby won’t sleep properly because of me – I haven’t taught him how to…
    I don’t understand why there is such a focus on training babies how to sleep, when did this start? Why aren’t women ecouraged to trust their instict anymore and have to fit a “mould” ? There is little support for women with high needs babies and I think you usually find advice on this AFTER you have already hit rock bottom with failed “training” attempts and are absolutely spent from all the trying, and feel like a complete failure. I am now on a path to reconciling with myself, letting go of the guilt and shame and doing what my baby wants. I am sure that he will sleep properly when he is ready and in the meantime what I need is support to get through those hard nights and not more strategies for trying to make my baby do something he clearly isn’t ready for.
    Thank you again for sharing Carly, you gave me fuel to keep going with my resolve. 🙂

  10. Alannah Says Reply

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. My little lady will be 2 in a couple of months and is still rocked and fed to sleep and ends up in our bed each night when she wakes around midnight. Would I like more sleep? Yep. Do I regret the extra cuddles and snuggles I get from my little one? Nope. I do, however, continue to find it difficult when people continually give me ‘advice’ about what we ‘should’ be doing with our little lady, without really knowing her at all. Doctors and health nurses have all encouraged me to pursue sleep school but I know that this would just crush us both. I know in my heart that we are doing the right thing for her, but several times a day, continue to question myself. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. Your honesty in sharing your experiences has given me some strength!

  11. Natalie Says Reply

    Oh wow, it’s like you read my mind!! Thankyou Carly, for sharing this and helping make my day a bit brighter today 🙂 Your story is basically my life story at the moment, only difference is my little one is 10 months old. She is either rocked to sleep in arms or breastfed to sleep…whichever works at the time!
    I do have a question though, for those of you that are in the same boat, has anyone put their bubs into daycare and if so, how did they go with sleep there? I’m a bit worried that my little one will not sleep a wink all day! Eek.

  12. LJT Says Reply

    Whilst I agree you should absolutely do what feels right for you and your baby I think it’s really important to ask for help if you need it. I was in a similar situation a few months ago with my daughter who wasn’t sleeping. I was chronically sleep deprived, not coping and reading every sleep advice book/website I could find. I was desperately trying to embrace a “gentle” approach to responding to my daughters needs but as much as I tried to tell myself “this time will pass” as the days went by I was becoming more and more anxious and unable to cope. I contacted a sleep school out of desperation but was terrified it would be a miserable experience for both me and my daughter and felt defeated as I’d always said I never wanted to go to a sleep school. Having been I can honestly say it was the best decision I have ever made. It was nothing like I had expected it to be, at no time was my daughter seriously upset and I’m now feeling so much happier and healthier. I know that all babies are different and respond in different ways to sleep methods but my point is – if you are coping ok with your baby’s sleep (or lack thereof) that’s great, ignore all that unwelcome “advice” that tells you need to change BUT if you’re not coping, please don’t be a martyr and not seek help because you feel locked into a particular parenting philosophy or be stuck holding onto an image of trying to be an “ideal” mum. Just as some babies don’t respond well to sleep training, I also believe some babies outgrow the old techniques that worked when they were a newborn. My daughter’s sleep issues began when she started fighting being rocked or fed to sleep. I now realise that she wanted to go to sleep by herself but i wasn’t allowing her to as I didn’t have the confidence to put her to sleep in any other way. All babies start sleeping by themselves eventually but don’t think it needs to be at the expense of your own sanity.

  13. Cath Says Reply

    Carly, LOVE! I can’t tell you how much I love and relate to this. From being a teacher, having a crazy high needs first baby (now 6y years old)and pretty much your entire journey. I cried as I remembered being in the exact same place. I too thank our first, intense, unsettled little babe, as she showed us another way, a better way. Love and blessings to you xxx

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  16. Laura Says Reply

    Part of me feels like “This is what I needed to read today,” and another part is screaming ” BUT WHEN WILL IT END?” I am just so tired. My daughter is two weeks past 1yo and the sleep deprivation just isn’t as easy to cope with after so long, and now that I’m back at work. If I was full time I honestly don’t think I could do it.
    There’s so much I love about this article as you speak what’s in my heart. But right now, waking 4 times a night, often being up for hours on end, or being woken again after only half an hour… It’s doing my head in. She’s not even restful in our bed anymore! Yet during the day she’s happy and smashing her milestones. I just don’t know.

    Sorry. Rough day.

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  28. Kate Says Reply

    I really loved the comment about previous months being time bub was teaching us to be mothers. It’s sooo true!! As a first time mum I’ve read all the sleep books and tried all the settling techniques while being too focused on controlling the situation rather than listening to my bub. She is now almost 7mnths and feeds to sleep, co-sleeps and naps in the sling wrap and despite the frequent night wakes I am finally allowing myself to just roll with it and enjoy every cuddle x

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