Child-rearing is like bull fighting but less fun. I have single parented, co-parented and most recently parented as a couple. What I have learnt in my 18 years as a mother is that it is not easy whether you’re doing it on your own or as part of a team, it is just varying degrees of hard.
I had my first son in my 20’s. Raising a son single-handed at 21 was tough. Crying all the time, eating constantly, being inconsolable and that was just me.
I had baby number 2 eight years later and felt like an expert by this point. Being a single parent is a steep learning curve, its do or die. You take ultimate responsibility for all decisions good and bad. The buck stops with you. You take all the glory and all the blame. You are good cop and bad cop. After 8 years doing it on my own I felt by this point that I had seen it all and I knew it all. Bless my heart. I was still very much a beginner.
I’ve breastfed all my children so co-sleeping has always been a big part of our day to day survival and more by accident than design. When you get up for the eleventy-billionth time to breastfeed your baby and lay that child next to you, falling asleep in the process is often an inescapable inevitability. When you have a new baby it’s not about ideal its about survival.
In those days our bed was up against a wall so depending on which boob was on duty I would either sleep against the wall or on the outside of the bed.
I had gotten up one morning and left baby number 2 asleep in bed next to her, also sleeping, father. Fathers in my experience, have an ability, an evolutionary trait I think, to be able to sleep undisturbed through a baby crying. I walked into our bedroom to retrieve the crying baby but couldn’t see her anywhere. She wasn’t in her cot and she wasn’t in our bed with her father. I shook him awake and asked where she was. With one eye open he looked around and said “Dunno”. By this point I was concerned and said, “Well she’s got to be in here somewhere I can hear her crying”. Following the sound of the crying we found her wedged between the bed and wall, she’d rolled off the bed and slipped down the side and was now in a vertical starfish position. Grabbing one arm and one leg I pulled her back out. After making sure she was okay and comforting her I lectured her father about his parental responsibilities and that he should be paying more attention instead of being such a useless lazy sloth. A few weeks later I fell asleep with her next to me in our bed but this time it was her father who came in looking for her and this time the first place we both looked was down the side of the bed and sure enough there she was starfishing between the mattress and the wall.
We moved the bed shortly after this and I ate my slice of humble pie after falling hard from my high horse.
Baby number 3 came along last year, 17 years after the first. Surely, I should have reached expert level or learnt my lesson. No. What I learnt when baby number 3 came along is that babies are easy. Compared to teenagers. Five teething babies would be easier to manage than one hormonal 18-year-old. Worst of all I have now got to do it two more times.
Baby number 1, now 18, knows absolutely everything and hasn’t met anybody more stupid and ignorant in the ways of the world than me, his mother. Baby number 2 is in the full throes of puberty, “Why are you crying?” I ask, “I don’t know” she shrieks whilst collapsing in a sobbing mess. Bloody ovaries, and she stinks. Baby number 3 appears to be cutting the same number of teeth as a baby shark and each new day starts at 5 am with forty minutes of incoherent babbling and toys being thrown in dirty protest out of the cot.
Fortunately, when I stopped breastfeeding baby number 3 and I was no longer the only person with responsibility for his nutritional needs, my husbands’ ability to sleep through baby crying vanished. At 5 am every morning we now play “baby chicken”. I lay there waiting to see if he’ll move first. I’m waiting to see if he will break first and go to sort out the angry shouty ginger midget who is demanding attention and rattling the bars of his baby jail.
I won this morning and scored an extra 5 full minutes of laying down. I don’t know if my husband knows we are playing baby chicken and that he’s part of this silent battle. Husband, If you are reading I promise, I’ll get up tomorrow morning.