Today I had lunch with my friends Helen and Maria. We met each other in our twin antenatal class, and while we waited for everybody else in our class to get themselves organised for a regular coffee group (difficult straight after we’d completed the classes because people started their maternity leave at different times, and difficult now because we’ve all got so many babies to organise) the three of us got into the habit of catching up on a regular basis. I went to aqua-natal classes with the two of them when we were all pregnant, and now that we’ve had our babies we’ve fallen into a nice routine of visiting each other’s houses for lunch every two or three weeks. They’re both lovely girls and I’m sure that we would have also got on well if we’d met before we had twins in common. Our get-togethers are particularly great for me because Maria’s twins are six weeks older than mine, and Helen’s are eight weeks older, so I get to benefit from their hard-earned experience, and they can still remember what it’s like to have brand new babies, so they can nod sympathetically when I complain. And it’s lovely in general to hang out with other mothers of twins: they are tolerant of the fact that you just can’t jump to it and satisfy two children’s needs instantly, and they tend to muck in and lend a hand without being asked, which is awesome.
Anyway, today Helen hosted lunch and we all chatted away. And at one point Helen asked me whether I ever leave Hattie and Joe to cry (when I’m trying to settle them to sleep, for example). She and Maria have heard my complaints about the ‘witching five hours’ that we deal with every evening, and had obviously – correctly – surmised that our big problem is getting the two of them to sleep at that time of the day.
Now, I am not an advocate for crying it out in the hardcore sense – leaving a baby to sob inconsolably for ages, without comforting it – but I knew that some babies do have a bit of a grizzle before they fall asleep. Vickie, my little sister, had mentioned this to me a few weeks ago and had suggested that I might find that Hattie and Joe could self-settle more effectively than we realise, but at the time I’d thought that they were a little too young to not be comforted when they squawked. The problem has been – and I have been vaguely aware of it, although I haven’t done anything about it – that there comes a time when a baby is capable of coping with not being grabbed and cuddled the moment that it makes a fuss. I also knew that, by being so quick to comfort the babies, we were probably over-stimulating them and actually making it even harder for them to go to sleep. And I have been all too aware that the unsettled behaviour we’ve experienced almost every evening was probably caused in the most part by over-tired, over-stimulated babies. Hattie and Joe both sleep well in the mornings, going straight back to their cots after their 7 am feed and usually sleeping for at least another couple of hours, but rarely do more than catch a cat nap in the afternoon – so by the time we reach the evening, they have often been awake for the best part of six or seven hours. It’s particularly apparent with Joe: he gets a real thousand yard stare and looks seriously wired.
So, I had an inkling that we weren’t dealing with things very well, but I didn’t quite seem to be able to address the situation! We’d fallen into the habit of trying (and trying, and trying) to settle the babies and make them sleepy before we put them to bed, because we thought that, if they cried in their cots, we had ‘failed’.
Helen’s suggestion was just to try it out, leaving the babies to grizzle a bit (obviously differentiating between low-level grizzling and the heart-rending ‘reaching a crescendo’ wailing that signifies an actual complaint, like wind, or a dirty nappy) – she suggested five to ten minutes. If the baby was still grizzling afterwards, we could think about getting them up – but she felt pretty sure (from her own experience with Alice and Lauren, her two girls), that most of the time it wouldn’t come to that. She also suggested turning off the sound on the baby monitor, so it’s a tiny bit easier to ignore the crying temporarily. Maria totally agreed with Helen and said that it definitely worked for Amelia and Josh, her babies, as well. Of course, I nodded and agreed that I really should try it…
… and an hour later, when Hattie and Joe were having a post-feed nap in their capsules in Helen’s spare room, one of Maria’s babies was yowling and woke up Joe, who promptly starting crying. My automatic reaction was to put down my plate of lunch and get ready to fetch him, but Helen was right there and urged me to give him a couple of minutes – until I’d finished my food, at least. Sure enough, within a minute he’d stopped and gone back to sleep, and both he and Hattie ended up sleeping for another hour, and then all the way home – they must have had at least two and a half hours of sleep this afternoon, which is unprecedented.
Part of me worried that all that sleep would be a good reason for them to be awake this evening, but it turns out that the rumours about well-rested babies sleeping better are true: they have both gone to bed after their early evening feed with very little trouble. Joe did grizzle for a couple of minutes, but then he stopped. Either he’s lying in his cot wide awake, which would be odd behaviour for a nine week old baby, or he’s asleep again.
Referring back to the title of this post: I am so thankful to have in my life people like Helen, Maria, and my lovely sister Vickie, who are able to offer their advice in a suitably kind and supportive way, making it easy to listen to them (eventually, in the case of Vickie’s advice)! I may occasionally require a bit of time to process advice and decide if, how and when to apply it to my own situation, but I am glad that I’m not too proud to learn from others. God knows this parenting caper is challenging enough, without refusing to learn from the experiences of those who have done it before me.