Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.
A year and a half into my college education, I discovered that after six years of using no birth control, I was pregnant. So happy! But also, I was worried about how I would finish my engineering degree.
My close friend “Willow” was working on her childhood education degree, and she was a few months pregnant also, so we had coffee and talked about the challenges we'd be facing. Her husband travels for work frequently, and mine finds deep fulfillment working at a non-profit that leaves us practically penniless. On top of that, his work schedule switches from office hours to nocturnal shifts. None of us have parents. We sipped our smoothies and got silly, giggling that we should leave our men and marry each other so we wouldn't be “single” moms.
And then...it clicked. What about alternate college schedules so that we could watch each other's children?
We picked a university nearby that had programs we both liked. Our husbands were able to transfer and work long distance. Perfect!
Since I'm still pregnant, I've been watching her baby while she has classes. We trade off on cooking, start a garden, our husbands like each other, and so far so good, right? RIGHT? No problems in sight! We've known each other a long time. We are like sisters.
Willow told me ahead of time how she feels about parenting, and I've listened avidly. I have no idea how to raise babies yet and the amount of information, books, blogs, magazine articles is overwhelming. Willow talked about meeting baby's needs, connectivity, trust, bonding and the deep nurturing relationship between mother and child. She's always been the nurturing friend, intuitive, warm, outgoing. Since I'm the polar opposite, this appealed to me so much. Mathematical, precise, scientific and coolly objective, I secretly wondered if I were cut out to be a mom.
Her attachment parenting sounded like a road to a close-knit family, something I'd been deprived of, and want for my own child. So I agreed I'd stick to her AP standards when I watched her son, Noah. She explained all the concepts: baby-wearing, family bed, cloth diapers, extended breastfeeding, the whole nine yards. She asked how I'd feel about cross-nursing when the time came (I told her I was going to wait before making any decisions on that one).
Willow explained to me that a baby's cry means that he has needs which are going unmet, and this traumatizes him. If a baby cries, it wears away at the trust he has for his caregiver and the world, depleting his ability to connect and making him anxious. The love and bond built up over months of skin-to skin contact and attentive care erodes. So she asked me not to let him cry, to meet his needs the moment he expresses them.
Noah is what Willow calls a “difficult baby." At 10 and a half months, he couldn't be set down. He didn't want to walk. He wanted the breast constantly and is fed on demand. He must be breastfed to sleep for each nap and at bedtime and awakened every hour to an hour and a half to be fed, cuddled, played with, and sung to sleep.
As a few weeks went on in this new arrangement, I found myself cheating from time to time. In small ways.
Instead of holding him on my lap while I peed, I sat him on a blanket on the floor with his toys for the whole minute and a half. He screamed with such fury it was shocking, but it cut the bathroom time down by five minutes. As my pregnancy progressed past eight months, I couldn't baby-wear him constantly while I cooked, so I'd set him on the floor with jangly metal measuring spoons so I could have a rest for a few minutes at a time. He screamed.
Some of Willow's classes last six to eight hours a day. Sometimes classes end after 10:30 p.m., and Noah would not sleep if he wasn't on a boob. He would stay awake, sweaty, angry, inconsolable while I walked, sang, talked, played, cuddled, and remembered not to show him my frustration or anxiety (since that's also harmful, according to Willow). All to no avail! I traumatized him constantly with my failure to comfort him. Exhausted, and at the end of my rope, a close friend introduced me to Ferber.
And slowly, I set out to sleep train him.
I've never heard such ungodly furious screams in my life. But gradually he could peacefully have a nap or go to bed and fall asleep. The sleep training makes him happier when he's awake, and it's been heaven for me to sit nearby and put my swollen feet up. Willow has mentioned very sadly that sometimes he doesn't seem to need her as much, that sometimes he falls asleep before she can offer him some breast time/play/cuddle time.
He wants her to set him down to walk sometimes! He sleeps! He can play on the floor by himself for 10 minutes or so! But I worry that I'm disconnecting the bond Willow craves between them.
Noah doesn't want to be held 24/7 now and has other interests other than his mother's face and complete attention, which makes her so sad.
But all I know is sleep training is good for the relationship between Noah and I. We have an understanding; I love him dearly, and between his two caregivers, he seems to know the different rules. He knows I'm the one who says “no” to him, but that I'll still respond quickly if he has an actual need. He knows I will not automatically jump to stuff his face full of baby food or snackies in a desperate attempt to fend off the wails when he's not content, or leap to distract him if he's bored. He knows I won't hover to prevent him from toppling over during his adventures. We'll sit on the floor, side by side, while I do a Yoga DVD and he bangs toys together, in perfect harmony.
And at bedtime, he will sometimes wail, waiting to be saved from bedtime by his mother. But when I'm on duty, he knows it won't happen.
I'm due to have my baby in less than a week, and I wonder if Willow will have any secrets about how she spends time with my baby when my school semester starts. But, I figure, I've maybe got it coming.
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(photo: Gold Stock Images / Shutterstock)