It is a sub-zero winter night, three and a half years ago. My husband and I have just brought our four-day-old baby home from the hospital and the three of us are standing in a dimly lit box room.
“Behold the nursery,” my husband tells our new son. “Observe the whimsical bunting, erected at great peril by your then-heavily pregnant mother on a wonky footstool. Regard this wall of cute and quirky framed prints that I’m still not entirely sold on.”
“To your left,” I continue. “We have a shelf of formula-prepping paraphernalia for when you wean in three months so I can return to work. And, finally, this is where you’ll sleep.” With this, I put the baby down in his brand-new cot and step back.
The baby regards us, pink and tiny. We regard the baby, trying not to think about how he looks so small and scrunched-up and alone in the cot’s white hugeness, as though we’ve left him out in the tundra for the wolves.
“Well, goodnight,” we say and turn out the light. In the darkness, and against all odds, the baby speaks.
“Let me tell you how this is going to work,” he says. “You are going to take me out of this Arctic wilderness that you call a cot and keep me about your person at all times. We have been through a traumatic birth, plus – you don’t know this yet – I have silent reflux, a cow’s milk intolerance and am about to be riddled with constellations of eczema. So, not only am I going to be sad and vomity, I’m also going to want to be with you at all times.”
And, by gum, that speaking baby was right.
At first, we fought against it. We tried to put him down using the cry-it-out method, then the gradual retreat method. Then I wore stuffed animals in my bra and tried to put them down with him. We stuck dummies in his mouth; he spat them out. We swaddled him; he broke free immediately. We played white noise at him, employed “gentle sleep” techniques, bought tinkly little machines that projected star scapes on to the ceiling. Nothing worked.
Until I gave up, started carrying him around in a stretchy wrap and took him into my bed (observing safe bed-sharing guidelines). I had become, it transpired, an attachment parent. I didn’t even realise it until another new mum told me, a little enviously, at a breastfeeding group.
“I was all set to co-sleep and wear my daughter as well,” she confided. “But she prefers her cot and won’t be worn for love nor money.”
“They never turn out as you’d expect,” commented a woman with a slightly older baby. “I bookmarked all these baby-led weaning recipes when I was pregnant. But no,” she sighed here, stroking her son’s hair. “This one prefers rusks. Rusks.”
We stuck dummies in his mouth; he spat them out. We swaddled him; he broke free immediately
Even though I fell into it by accident, I ended up loving being a breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping mum. It helped me to get out of my own head when thinking about my son and trust my instincts. If the baby was hungry, my body fed him. If he was upset, my warmth and familiarity comforted him. And when he woke at night, I could tend to him because I was right beside him. Suddenly, I had a happy baby, not an angsty one. And, when I gave up dairy and bottles, and just went back to nursing him on demand, I had a non-vomity, eczema-free baby, too. More than that, it just... felt right.
It meant, of course, that I couldn’t go skipping back to the office after three months and it did limit my social life – but then having a sad, constantly vomiting baby wasn’t the most liberating thing in the world, either. These days, my son is an adventurous, independent three-and-a-half-year-old who sleeps in his own room and eats dairy products with gusto.
And, of course, he now has a younger brother.
My younger son is a completely different kettle of fish. More easygoing, happier to be left in a cot and will take the odd bottle. However, in the middle of a night feed, I was horrified to find that I had fallen asleep and he had rolled straight out of my arms, so now we are bed-sharing, because it’s safer and baby-wearing, because it means I can get him to sleep while watching The Bridge and texting and getting my 10,000 steps in.
We all parent in the way that works for us and our children. We probably always have; just, in the past, it wasn’t called a parenting style – or even “parenting”. It was just getting on with it.
So, I propose a new style of parenting. It doesn’t conform to any particular philosophy other than calming down, paying attention to what your kid needs and trusting yourself to provide it. I’m going to call it “You Do You” parenting. Who’s with me?