The Good Baby

My little ray of sunshine

My little ray of sunshine

I was blessed with a magnificent child. A baby so delightful she made my heart sing. I was filled with so much love in an instant and as each day goes by, through every change and every discovery, my eyes are wide open with delight.

I was not blessed with a sleeping child. My little piece of perfection slept in short spurts upon my chest during the day for months, she woke frequently through the night (aside from a six week stint in her infancy where she magically slept for nine hours each night with either one or no wake-ups) and as she grew older things got harder, not easier.

At ten months old, my whole life was focused on her sleep, on my failure as a mother to help my baby sleep well during the day or night, on my failure as a mother to manage to get through the day without getting angry at this vivacious angel who Just. Wouldn’t. Sleep. I had read a thousand books, blogs and research articles, consulted with health professionals, online communities and family and friends and tried the cot and cosleeping, babywearing and the pram, with music, with silence, breastfeeding to sleep, the Pantley pull-off…. everything I could learn about. But none of the tricks that were reported to be successful helped her to get the sleep I knew she needed. She would go from happily playful to overtired and wired with no signs of sleepiness until it was too late and then sleep became a battle.

We decided to take a little break and go to the beach… we figured a little getaway to a beautiful place called Fingal Heads near the border of Queensland and New South Wales with a long, deserted white sandy beach and turquoiseย waves couldn’t make the situation worse. So I agreed to one night away. In my head I thought, “same stuff, different scenery”, but oh what lovely scenery! It’s difficult to be quite as despondent when you can walk to the edge of the beach and watch the dolphins frolicking in the sunlight!

I was in the amenities block, about to have bath time with my sand-covered, giggling, playful child when a lovely lady in her early 60s beamed at her, made her giggle with a little playfulness and then started to talk to me about my bright-eyed child… “Is she a good baby?” she asked kindly. My heart sank. I knew this question. It had been asked before and after ten months of sleep deprivation and perceived failure, I knew the answer and I said to her sadly but strongly, “no, no she isn’t. She doesn’t sleep well at all.”

The first few times I was asked, I had answered that same question truthfully, with my heart bursting with pride…. I’d said, “Yes! She is!!!! She is such a bright little girl, her smile radiates from her face all the time, she has started to crawl so early and she is so loving and playful, she brings us so much joy!” and the kind old ladies asking had looked at me blankly and said, “yes, but does she sleep well?”. As if everything else was irrelevant. So I learned from these experiences that a good baby is one that is perceived as sleeping well. Easy. And later I learned that they are the ones that ate well, walked early, spoke early, stayed quiet, learned manners quickly, never lashed out, never cried and wasn’t clingy. As a first time mother, these messages wereย  shoved in my face over and over again.

My heart broke. Every time. But as with each other time before, I gathered up my darling girl, had fun splashing in the tub and held her tight and nuzzled her damp silky hair as it dried in the wind and we walked back to our little holiday spot by the shore.

I was fairly confident. I had fallen in with some beautiful mothers from my breastfeeding and babywearing groups in my local community who supported me in my efforts to raise a loving, and loved child. I was well read, but listened to my instincts. I was very in tune with my baby… but not being able to get her to do something that seemed so “normal” made me feel inadequate, shook my confidence and taught me that what I was doing wasn’t good enough. And that my precious child wasn’t good enough. It really hurt.

I even began to make jokes about having a ‘bad baby’ to cover up the hurt, until one day a friend reminded me that such labels are unhelpful because they can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy for her behaviour. I stopped letting the kind old ladies’ opinions crowd my mind and instead started to listen to myself again. To revel in her goodness. To relax about sleep.

I read the most inspirational blog post about being able to wait until my daughter was developmentally ready to sleep and found an online community of women who also had non-sleeping babies and I discovered that we were not alone in this journey.

I reclaimed her goodness. I reclaimed our joy and I focused on making sleep a loving, cosy place to be. I stopped being frustrated at sleep time because I let go of the “shoulds” and the expectations of others. I started taking hours a day to dedicate to winding her down to sleep, to teaching her how to relax and to make bedtime so gentle and sleepy that my endless patience meant there was no way she couldn’t drop off eventually. This was a huge change from the frustrated bouncing rocking, the change in “settling techniques” which are all useless if mama isn’t settled herself.

Our journey to wholesome sleep is long and is not yet complete after 29 months, but sleep is beautiful and she loves it. And that is what I want for her so I am proud of what we have achieved. The longer stretches are coming, in fact I have a feeling we will get good sleep soon.

I will now always describe her as a good baby. A good baby that woke 5-8 times a night for more than two years, yes.

I want to redefine the term good baby and apply it to who they are, not what they can do.

For they are all good. We know it deep down.

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22 thoughts on “The Good Baby

  1. Your last two sentences brought tears to my eyes and lump in my throat as my 8 month old baby sleeps latched on in my lap. She is like your babe, a joy. She is an enthusiastic little thing who refuses to sleep alone. Period. I can’t believe how much I have resonated with you in this post. The feelings of failure, the shoulds that taunt me every sleep, letting down the old ladies, friends and family by admitting she doesn’t sleep. I too found WIO and knowing I am not alone in this has made a huge difference. I love the idea of reclaiming her goodness, and after reading your post i can reclaim her goodness, at least for today, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Because as you said, she is good. They all are.

    • Taryn, keep your faith in her goodness – as she grows you will never regret waiting it out and you will understand why she is like she is as time goes on. Our little ones have a wisdom that enables them to communicate what they need and when you look back on this time you’ll feel proud you were able to support her, I promise! Have confidence in your methods, remember there are heaps of us who understand you and that you are never alone. And hold your precious girl tight and remember – a loving responsive mama is never a failure! If you’re doing your best, you’re doing it just right. X

  2. You are in inspiration. I was blessed to have sleeping children and your blog made me realise that no matter what as long as mummy is strong then anything can be achieved. You are a fabulous Mama!!!!!!

  3. Angela – what a beautiful, honest and true post. As you know, I WIO with my spirited 13 month daughter and most nights she wakes between 4-8 times, sometimes more, rarely less. On some bad advice early on – around 4 months, i think – I tried to ‘help her to self-settle’ twice by rocking her in a pram and patting/shhing etc… it was definitely not the right thing for us and I regret even trying! I decided that I would follow my instinct and respond to her cries and her needs as best I could – even if it meant breaking the rules in the accepted ‘baby rule book’. I breastfed her to sleep (and still do), have co-slept when she has needed it, and have let her sleep on her own when she feels able, I walked her in the pram for hours for her naps (until she decided she didn’t want to do that any more), and I will still get in the car and drive her if she is struggling to nap at home. I have been told that I am doing her a disservice by not letting her cry it out and learn to ‘self settle’, that by doing this now she will never sleep when she is older, etc. Every now and again I buy into that story and worry that I am doing the wrong thing but deep down I don’t believe it. Finding the WIO community gave me confidence that I am doing the right thing for us. WIO has given me so much – it has given me time to be with and hold my daughter, to watch her, to know her, to admire her, to talk with her, to show her more of me. It has also helped me to understand, and practice, what true patience is. Knowing I am not alone in this (at times) difficult but extremely rewarding journey is comforting. My baby is confident, independent, happy, determined and outgoing. She is very attached to me and I would never want to do anything to endanger that attachment. Keep writing Angela. We need more stories like this out there!

    • Thanks Anna! Each time I hear your updates I’m surprised at how identical our journeys seem… you are just 16 months behind me! We have wavered at the same time, found our courage at the same time and always returned to our little girls to find our strength to choose our next course of action. I love having you in my support circle… Go gently – if you continue to follow our path you may have some way to go but the rewards are incredible and I know you and your little one are destined for an incredibly fun toddlerhood and beyond! Love watching you find your way – you are so in tune with your instincts and your daughter โค

  4. You are a great mum and have a wonderful, happy & loved baby girl! Don’t let other peoples perceptions and judgements make you feel inadequate. Trust your mummy instincts. They are almost always spot on. Being a mum is the hardest yet most rewarding thing a woman will ever do and we are all blessed when we become mothers.

    I have a 4 & 6 yr old and my 4 yr old still wakes up 3-5 nights a week.. Even if just for a cuddle or because of a dream or to tell me something. Try not to stress about the small things and whether or not your child is perceived as a “good baby”. It’s hard not to let others get to you but once you realise that no one else’s opinions on your child or mothering ability the happier you & your family will be. Never forget that you do an amazing job everyday. & don’t forget to smile ๐Ÿ™‚ xxx great blog!

    • Thanks Kate you’re so right – we are all so blessed! And it is amazing how common it is for little people to wake… I didn’t know you had a wakeful little one too! It took me a little while to be confident in my ways but nowdays I’m definitely happier with all my chosen paths… being a first time mum is a huge learning curve to understand whether you’re doing it “right” and it’s not until those instincts overpower the advice we’re given by people and books that we can know that we are doing it right when we follow our hearts ๐Ÿ™‚ I love hearing stories of mums who are giving cuddles and listening to stories during the night to older kids… It feels good to know I’m not the only one awake at night too!

  5. I thought the ‘inspirational’ blog post would have been at nurshable! And yep, you mamas in the groups have saved my sanity too xx

    • Where would we be without Nurshable and WIO hey Nicola?!! My life would have looked a whole lot different if I had never found that blog post… It’s amazing to have such an amazing support network, even though people are in a different part of the world to me ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Oh, I know exactly what you meant about feeling like a failure because she doesn’t sleep. Exactly. And now people who know us ask and I tell them my 19 month old issleeping better and they say, oh, she’s finally sleeping through the night? And I reply no, she’s still means up every couple hours, but she goes down easier, sleeps more peacefully, visibly settles without me sometimes, etc. Those aren’t numbers but they’re progress, too. Beautiful post.

    • Oh all those things are absolutely progress Energizer Mommy! You and your baby girl are doing great and in my book, sleeping peacefully and going to sleep willingly are two of the greatest things I could ever want for my baby! These things came to us in time too and I bet your little one is learning how to sleep in her own way, laying good foundations and your investment in supporting her through this will pay off when she’s a bit older, for sure because she trusts you as being an amazing part of her sleep team/cheer squad! May the progress continue and unbroken sleep come to you… one day ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. I am proud to know this mumma personally! A, have a beautiful way of looking at the world and your calm parenting is infectious to others. Little Miss Sunshine is just that, a beaming, happy, loved, confident little girl who is loved to the moon and back and knows it. For myself, and 3 kids later, I am delighted and thoroughly impressed a first time mumma has found this out. I learnt it with my 2nd child and it took a lot of tears (from us both and me loosing who I was for a while). Mr #3 wakes early and sneaks into bed and whilst I was never a co-sleeper, I now cherish these times he comes in as I know they will be few and far between soon enough! Thanks A for sharing, just beautiful!

    • Love you Bel – you know I wouldn’t have been able to find my way without the influence of you and my other favourite yoga mummies in the early days. I was so lucky to have friends who had already had other beautiful kiddies to help guide me ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for all your love, support and guidance in the early days – you have always taught and inspired me ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. My firstborn only slept through 5 nights in his first 2 3/4 years. On those nights I ran in and shook him, thinking I had lost him to SIDS.
    Someone told me bright children don’t sleep.
    I clung to that.
    As he became more active, sleep was perfected. He’s just finished high school, into Physio 96.10 ATAR.
    All babies are good babies. You’re a champion mum. She’s a lucky little girl to have such an insightful parent that cares about every little detail of her life.
    Enjoy every minute of your little angel!

    • Thank you Caroline – I look forward to seeing where her boundless energy, vibrancy and enthusiasm will take her! I have heard before that traits in babyhood are often carried over to adulthood so it’s inspiring to hear how your little, non-sleeping baby boy has grown up – you must be so proud of his achievements! May he always realise what a lovely supportive mum he has behind him too ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. My mum told me very early on that if you fight a baby’s routine and not just enjoy it you will be miserable. My son started to sleep at around 1.5 years but before that he napped, he cried, he woke every hour during the night. I came to understand that he would sleep when he was able and go with the flow. For a while though I felt like you. I don’t know of many people who’s babies are perfect sleepers, and I know now with my next one I certainly won’t expect it! I’ll simply let my lovely partner take over once in a while and let me sleep ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You and your mum sound like a pair of wise women Susannah! And you’re right – I know more babies who don’t sleep well than those that do too! It took me about a year before I was able to relax about sleep with my daughter and hope my wisdom will allow me to relax with a future baby too… Love your outlook and I’ll keep your mum’s words of wisdom in my head for any babies I have in the future! โค

  10. Ohhhhhh. I’m 42 years old and have had sleep issues my entire life. I have all three kinds of insomnia and must drug myself to go to sleep. My Mommy says that I. Never. Slept. She tells me how horribly frustrating it was. She tells me that the experts told her to put me in the crib, let me cry, and sleep herself and how she just couldn’t do that. She tells me that she cried a lot. She tells me she didn’t know what to do. I remember being a child and being awake when the whole house was asleep. It was lonely.
    What too are doing for your baby is amazing! Understanding that she isn’t like other babies. She us unique and special. I want to hug you up! Keep going Mamma! You are awesome!!

  11. My son Ryan is the same way. He is 3 months and isn’t the greatest sleeper, he falls asleep when he is latched on. I often find my nipple hanging out because he has finally dosed off. This could be for only a half hour or two hours. Everyone tells me I should let him cry and put him down I shouldn’t hold him so much because he going to be spoiled and he will only want me. I get the same comment. Is he good. I always say yes he is. He’s happy and healthy he is good!! They will ask if he sleeps well and I say good days and bad. It’s something we are working on. It’s followed by what’s wrong?? You should just put him down and let him cry. But I don’t let him cry it out. It’s stressful and that’s when he is so unhappy. So what good does it do?? When I’m stress how do I get him to go to sleep When I’m all worked up? I know this may seem rude. But I have told people recently to look up some recent research and not ones from the 70’s and 80’s. At the end I the day I am his mom and I will do what I think is best for him.
    It’s nice to know my son isn’t the only one who doesn’t sleep much. You’re right some people make you feel like something is wrong with you and him.

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