It’s a funny thing, this motherhood game. Before Hattie and Joe were born I was convinced that I was a pragmatic, level-headed woman, old enough and confident enough to avoid getting drawn into the horrible spirit-sucking spiral of maternal guilt that seems to afflict so many people. It just goes to show how foolish I was: nobody escapes the occasional feeling that, despite your best efforts, you’re a terrible parent.
I had organised a follow-up session with Sharlene Poole because I was at my wit’s end after a prolonged bout of demand feeding from my darling daughter, who was seemingly determined to reduce her mother to a hollowed out husk of a woman. Events reached a head on Sunday night, when she and her brother tag-teamed all night and had me up six or seven times: I emailed Sharlene and asked if she could come and see me, to work on routines and settling. Of course, sod’s law always dictates that you start feeling better as soon as you make an appointment to see a doctor – it turns out that similar forces are at play when it comes to consultations with baby whisperers. Hattie and Joe started sleeping much better, and Hattie’s feeding frenzy calmed down; we were back to a three hourly feeding schedule.
When Sharlene turned up on Friday we tackled the main issue: a lack of decent daytime sleeps. Hattie, in particular, is very reluctant to sleep for longer than 45 minutes – roughly one sleep cycle. She obviously sleeps through several sleep cycles at night, so I was at a loss to understand why she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do so during the day. Joe is a better daytime sleeper and will often sleep for up to two and a half hours, but Hattie will disturb him if she’s in the room and wakes up.
Sharlene said that she thought the babies needed to be awake and occupied for longer – that they’ve transitioned out of the ‘tiny baby’ stage and now need to have some stimulation in their lives, and be up for a couple of hours at a time. In other words, the babies are bored. Of course, it doesn’t help that the signs of boredom (yawning, glazed look in the eyes) are exactly the same as the signs of tiredness. Can you imagine how annoyed you’d be if you were just a bit bored, and somebody responded by trying to bundle you off to bed? But how is an inexperienced parent meant to differentiate between the two states? If I just had one baby I suppose I might be able to examine their tiny face so exhaustively that I could interpret their every expression, but seriously – SERIOUSLY – how does any twin mother manage to do it?
Sharlene also thought that we should be stretching out the gap between feeds to up to four hours. She recommended that I move the babies on to her stage three routine, and I said that I’d give it a go and report back.
Now, this was all perfectly innocuous and helpful advice, but it really made me feel a bit rubbish – like I hadn’t been doing a good job of catering to my babies’ changing needs. I mean, I feel like I’ve only just got to grips with providing the basic necessities of life, particularly on my own for the most part, and now you’re telling me that my babies are bored rigid and need me to morph into some kind of entertainment director and events manager? How the hell am I supposed to find the time and energy to do that, when ensuring that two babies are fed, clothed, not sitting in their own filth, and occasionally put to bed is enough to run me ragged?
And the thing is, playing with the babies is the fun bit, right? This is why we have kids; to interact with them and see them discover new things. Is it wrong that it just felt like somebody had doubled my work load? It felt like I was just starting to gain a bit of confidence in my ability to be a good mother, and now the expectations had changed and I was failing to meet them.
As Friday progressed (and it wasn’t a good day – the babies were out of sync and I hardly had a minute without at least one of them awake and needing my attention), I tried to take a breath and accept that their needs change and that my role has to adapt accordingly. As I so often do these days, I turned to the amazing community of twin mothers that I’ve met since becoming pregnant, and asked the members of the North Shore Multiple Birth Club for suggestions of how to entertain babies that are old enough to be bored, but not yet old enough to actually play with anything. They responded with some brilliant ideas – I’ll list them in a separate post soon, in case anybody else finds them helpful. The most helpful thing, as always, was the reassurance that other people had coped with this situation successfully, and that I would too.
Over the weekend we made a concerted effort to stick to the new routine, to see if it would result in more sleep. So far, it hasn’t really worked, and although I was going to continue trying today, I’ve since decided to revert back to the earlier routine, and try changing things again in another week or two.
I’m also not convinced that the babies are ready for a longer feeding schedule. Admittedly, I’m basing this primarily on Hattie’s marked tendency to shriek like a fire alarm if she isn’t fed promptly, and she may not really need to be fed every three hours, but what should I do? Listen to her screech the house down for an extra half an hour, just to demonstrate my control over her? What is achieved by doing that, other than a grumpy baby and, for me, the risk of throwing myself off the balcony in order to be free of the noise?
Despite being unable to change the daytime sleeping patterns in any meaningful way, we did incorporate a lot of play into Hattie and Joe’s day, and it was fun for all of us. We read stories, sang songs, danced around (MTV played a countdown of 1990s dance anthems, which was brilliant) and put the babies into all sorts of stimulating scenarios: in their bouncy chairs, facing a mirror, under the baby gym, on a towel having a spot of nappy-free time, and checking out the world from the front packs and pram while walking Tui on the beach. Hattie and Joe responded with smiles, giggles and gurgles.
The one other great development of recent times is the babies’ newfound ability/interest to sleep through the night. During the past week we’ve had four excellent nights:
- last Monday they slept from 7.25 pm to 10.30 pm, had a feed, and then slept from 11.05 pm to 6.15 am
- last Tuesday they slept from 6.45 pm to 3.50 am, had a feed, and then slept from 4.10 am to 7.05 am
- last Friday they slept from 8.20 pm to 5.15 am, had a feed, and then slept from 5.40 am until 7 am
- last night they slept from 7.15 pm to 11.15 pm, had a feed, and then slept from 11.35 pm to 4.50 am
This improved night sleeping is fantastic – Tristan and I are both getting our evenings back, and getting a decent amount of uninterrupted sleep overnight, which is certainly improving my ability to cope if they don’t sleep as much during the day. My focus now is to try to get them sleeping for a decent stretch at a time in their cots for day sleeps, but to be honest I’ll happily accept sleep anywhere: as I’ve been writing this they’ve been asleep on the tandem feeding pillow, for one hour and nine minutes (and counting):
This pins me to the sofa and renders me immobile except for my thumbs, but at the moment it feels like a small price to pay. They’re asleep! During the day! YES!!!
And something else has been confirmed for me: if I’m on hand to soothe Hattie when she starts waking up at the end of her sleep cycle (by gently stoking her head, in this instance), she’ll go back to sleep. So, if I could just sit next to her cot all the time and stand by for action, we’d be sorted. May I could train Tui to stroke Hattie’s head for me?
So, yes: ‘babies’ needs change and mother feels like a failure because of it SHOCK!’ This parenting thing is definitely the most emotionally taxing job I’ve ever had.