In her eagerness to listen to all the experts, this mom forgot to listen to her own inner voice.
I’ve always loved the photo on the cover of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, that peaceful mama sitting in her rocking chair holding her precious baby bump and preparing herself for the most special moments of her life. Long before I even got pregnant, I would stare at that photo and imagine the day that I, too, could sit quietly in a chair and read all about what motherhood would be like. But when I eventually did get pregnant and had my daughter, it was only a matter of months before I wanted to take that book—and all the other parenting books I had picked up along the way—and toss them all in the trash.
For the first few months of my daughter’s life, I found myself listening eagerly to the advice, opinions, and voices of the experts inside of these books. Then at around five months old, my daughter’s sleep began to shift. We had been incredibly lucky—at just about a month she began sleeping long stretches, and often through the night. Then as she started to grow and become more interested in the world around her, everything changed. All of a sudden she wanted nothing to do with sleep or her crib or her formerly peaceful bedtime routine. I kept asking myself what I was doing wrong, and turned to my trusty books—including one that promised to train her to sleep in just a matter of nights—to learn how to fix the situation.
I will never forget that first night of sitting with my headphones on, coloring in one of those adult coloring books to distract myself, with my timer set for exactly 5-, 10-, and 15-minute increments in which I was allowed to go and check on her, but not pick her up.
It took about 45 minutes to finish the entire ordeal, and when I finally sat down in the silence, I poured myself a glass of wine and proceeded to cry. I tried to console myself with the thought that I was doing her a favor by teaching her to sleep, and “be independent” as the expert voice from the book I had read told me. And yet, there was a quieter voice in my head that said, But she’s just five months old, why do I need to help her be independent? The louder, authoritative one replied, Because this is what needs to happen, it’s what people do these days... and this is what the book said!
The quiet voice just sighed and disagreed, but it was too late, the expert had won, and for the next several nights, I continued the same routine with the headphones, the timer, the wine, and the crying. It was around night four that the inner voice finally spoke up again and said, Enough is enough! I ran up the stairs, opened the door, and—against all the rules in every sleep-training book on my shelf—proceeded to pick up, hold, and nurse my daughter back to sleep. That night after we both went to sleep happy, I made a vow to get rid of any and all the parenting books that I had been reading and to never pick up another one again.
I realized that from the very beginning of my journey as a mom, these “expert books” had led me to doubt my own instincts and even feel disappointed that things didn’t go exactly as the text had assured me they would. I remember very vividly sitting by the pool when I was extremely pregnant, devouring Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and just nodding my head at all of the validation it was giving me for how I thought birth should be. Then came the actual birth, and surprise, surprise... it looked like nothing I had planned. All of these expectations that I had placed on myself about having a blissful, all-natural birth experience actually set me up for some major disappointment when my specific circumstance required intervention and blew my expected “plan” out of the water.
And in fact, I wasn’t surprised when I read this recent study from Swansea University that found that moms who read books about getting your baby on a specific schedule, and who read a lot of parenting books in general, wound up with a bigger risk for postpartum depression than moms who didn’t read them. Thinking back to that nightly routine of the wine and the crying while trying to train my daughter to do something she would eventually figure out how to do on her own, this comes as no surprise to me at all. And while many of my friends swear by sleep training, my inner voice was right when it said that method isn’t right for everyone, myself and my daughter included.
My daughter is two now, and it’s been a perfectly imperfect journey learning how to be her mama. She sleeps in a big girl bed now and enjoys our peaceful bedtime routine again. There is a whole new set of challenges and questions every single day, and I am sure the road only gets rockier from here on out. That’s the other thing I know about children and humans in general: Once we get comfortable in what is, expect it all to change. It is the only real expectation we can actually count on coming true.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that I still have the urge to peek into a book every once in a while to figure out what to do when my daughter only wants to eat bread for every meal or is having a serious case of the twos. But I know that the best “expert” on how to raise my daughter in every scenario is always going to be me. So instead, I have chosen to put down the books and just read my child.