How to abolish a baby cat nap like a ninja! Almost.

CAT NAPPING – Is not the practice of stealing cats. Oh no. This is the incredibly frustrating habit of many a young baby. Tom is kind of an expert in not sleeping longer than one sleep cycle during the day. Ever. Unless he’s permanently attached to my boob which, you know, is kind of annoying. And so I set out on a mission to ABOLISH THE CAT NAP. I bring you this special report below…

Good day readers. I am reporting to you from BEHIND ENEMY LINES: the deep and dark recesses of the baby nursery. This reporter is currently situated under the cot, out of baby’s line of vision. One does not move for fear of waking the baby.

Mission: To abolish cat naps. Specifically to get baby to sleep for longer than one sleep cycle (roughly 40 minutes). So far all attempts at abolishing cat naps have failed. But not today. Mummy is taking charge.

It began with the usual. I watched Tom like a hawk for signs of being tired, so as to avoid the dreaded “I’m-so-overtired-I’m-just gonna-cry-and-wriggle-and-scream-until-I fall-in-a-heap-of-exhaustion-and-you-have-to-hold-me-the-whole-time-and-you-can’t-eat-or-drink-or-shower-sucker!” theme we’ve been running with for the last 14 weeks. He was fed, watered, nappy changed. Happily playing on his mat, cooing at me while I sang the words “I’m so hungry” to the tune of “I’m so sexy.” (I haven’t slept in awhile. Don’t judge me.) A nap was imminent, he’d be getting tired soon. Any minute now…

BAM! HE’S RUBBING HIS EYES! GO, GO, GO! Swaddle, dummy, white noise app (ocean sounds – delightful), a little rock & cuddle until I saw the first eye droop. Then kissed him on the forehead, dropped the kid in his cot and bailed. This is the easy part… He settled quickly (we’ve been practicing this bit.) I was guaranteed 40 or so minutes before the first sleep cycle was finished.

Right. PRIORITIES. I was in the Green Zone. Toilet. Coffee. Food. Put laundry on… Briefly played with the idea of hanging some laundry out, but my time is too precious, so I laughed and bundled that shit in the dryer. A shower… Regrettably postponed until later. I need to be ready for when the sleep cycle ends. Chucked some vomit-stained clothes on and waited. Step one of the mission complete.

Almost exactly 40 minutes after I first put him down, I hear a baby cry out. STEP 2 COMMENCE! GO, GO, GO!

I quickly worked my way back into enemy territory. Tom looked up at me with red, tired eyes and a gummy smile. Damn it. He wants to play…. Aww he’s so cute… NO! I gently but firmly popped that dummy back in, rolled him onto his side and patted his bum. Almost immediately his eyes began to droop again… YES! Except no, because he wants to fight sleep. I desperately tried to avoid making eye contact with him, so as to not distract him. In my peripheral vision I see him trying to twist his head to look back up at me and smile behind his dummy. Don’t look… Don’t look… Don’t look… Damn it. I looked. I can’t help but smile back. He knows my weaknesses. I CANNOT let the enemy win. 

THIS IS WAR.

Time to amp it up. I stroke the bridge of his nose. Little sucker closes his eyes immediately. Ocean sounds are still playing. He starts to breathe deeply. All is peaceful. I back out of the room slowly with ninja-like precision… Quite chuffed with my awesome sleep inducing abilities. I’m almost out. I begin to self-congratulate. And then 2 steps from the Green Zone and the fucking postwoman arrives.

It was like it happened in slow motion. I could hear the growl and screech of her motorcycle get closer. She paused at next doors mailbox before revving up the engine again. I looked frantically around for Otis, knowing that he will bark his head off as the postwoman approaches. A flurry of dog hair is the only clue he was even in the room. Oh shit… Cue hysterical barking down the hallway. FUCK!

Baby immediately drops dummy. His eyes still closed as he frantically moves his head from side to side looking for it. I’m torn. Do I scream blue murder at the dog and try to shut him up? Or return the dummy to its rightful place? (Dummy. The answer is always the dummy.) As soon as it reenters his mouth, his eyes fly open and I drop to the floor like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. I watch his reflection in the wardrobe mirror as he sleepily closes his eyes again. YES!

I wait a few minutes to let him get back to sleep before I attempt to commando crawl my way out of the room (which after almost a year since any form of real exercise was fucking mission in itself.) Almost at Green Zone. Freedom is so close, I can smell it. And then I hear it. The dummy dropped out of his mouth again. CRAP! I stood up with alarm and ran back to the cot to reinsert the dummy. His eyes are still closed but he’s taking longer to settle this time, some more bum patting and forehead stroking required. Every time I went to leave, my old rickety bones would click or the door would creek and he would stir. So I sat on the floor, just in case he reawaken and I be required to continue this charade.

And then I had a desperate need to cough. I’ve spent most of the week overcoming a bout of tonsillitis and an annoying persistent cough. It filled my throat and chest. I suppressed it for as long as I could. Really. My face turned red as I held my breath and then my cough escaped in a short, sharp burst of phlegm. Disgusting as well as disheartening.

Tom’s eyes flew open and I shimmied under the cot and that is where I remain, lest he notice me again. And that dear readers, is where I spent the next 40 minutes, for he finally stayed asleep. And while in essence, he technically slept for a total of 80 minutes (though not together), the whole charade took somewhere in the vicinity of 2 hours. As I wasn’t able to use the time to indulge in luxuries such as a shower, it was not quite a rolling success.

THE WAR ISN'T OVER!
THE WAR ISN’T OVER!

But hear this! I resettled a baby that regularly fights sleep in the cot! Only parents of newborn babies can fully appreciate that little victory. And while catnaps have not yet been abolished, we live to see another day. Since he woke up happy, I figure I can claim this battle as a victory. BUT THE WAR ISN’T OVER. And Mummy will win Tom. Mummy always wins.

A letter to myself. Because crazy, sleep-deprived mother.

It was only 11 weeks ago my little ear muffed watermelon entered the world. And in that time I have struggled. It is so much harder than I ever anticipated. I’ve touched on it in other posts but I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate it until they’ve done it. As always, there’s a bunch of stuff I wish I had known before having a baby that might have made the first few months a bit easier. So if I was to write a letter to myself pre-baby, this is what it’d look like.

Dear Past Jen,

Congratulations! You are about to meet the most beautiful boy in the whole world. He will be tiny and smell delicious and his smile will melt your cold, cynical soul and turn you into a big softy. He will be the best thing that ever happened to you and your heart will burst with love for your little family.

But it won’t feel like it all the time. Sometimes, it will feel really, really bad; and you will be certain that you’ve made a mistake and that maybe you aren’t very good at this whole mothering thing. And sometimes those feelings will be so overwhelming you will cry and run away from a lunch date with a very good friend because your baby is screaming for no apparent reason and you can’t handle it. So you take your baby home only for him to fall asleep peacefully in the car while you remain hungry and lonely. That will be a really crap day.

Don’t worry though, they’re not all crap days. And there are things that will make the crap days easier. You won’t know what they are of course so you’ll feel like you’re spiralling out of control, but lucky future you is here to save the day. Here’s some advice that will help you enjoy the first 3 months of your son’s life a lot more. (Oh yeah, you had a boy. SURPRISE!)

DON’T let other people make you feel bad about how often you feed your baby. Demand feeding is exactly how it sounds. It’s on demand. And some babies want it all the time. Your baby will be one of these. Every 2 hours, most days. This will be the bane of your existence for the first couple of months until you just accept that he feeds frequently. And people will say things like “Oh shit, you’re feeding him again?” or “He’s a hungry boy isn’t he?” or “Have you tried formula instead? It might stretch the feeds out a bit longer?” or “Didn’t you like just feed him? Have you tried routine feeding? 2 hourly is too often, maybe try 3?” These questions will make you seethe. And in your head you will say something like the following: “Yes bystander, I did just feed him, but thank you for drawing attention to that fact. What would I do if you weren’t there to point out the tiny person gnawing my nipples off? Kindly fuck off with your comments. I know I’m feeding him often and actually, I don’t always enjoy it. But if he’s screaming blue murder 2 hours after last being fed, I’m not going to stretch him out for an hour in the interest of creating a fucking routine, for my sanity as much as his comfort.” Because there is nothing more cutting to the soul than hearing your baby cry.

Demand feeding is hard because often the most demanding times are when you want to shower, eat or sleep. Especially sleep. While 2 hourly feeding (day and night) is an absolute mindfuck and makes you literally insane, be happy in the knowledge that you are providing a secure attachment for your baby and creating a contented little soul. (Most of the time.) And it won’t last forever. While at 2am, breastfeeding feels like the loneliest job in the world, the first time you get more than 3 hours sleep in a row feels like winning the lottery. You’ll be euphoric and break out in a shimmy before abruptly stopping because your boobs are so full they’re slapping together painfully. And one night, he’ll sleep 6 hours straight and then do it the next night and then suddenly you’re a routine that works for your baby and everyone is happy. Until he changes it up again because he’s an unpredictable little monster.

Also buy a breast pump earlier, so other people can feed him while you sleep. You don’t have to do it all, even though you feel like you do. This is advice you’ll ignore but I feel like I should at least say it once so you consider it.

Featuring koala baby.
Featuring koala baby.
DO YOUR RESEARCH ON BABY CARRYING. Some people would have you believe that all babies do is eat and sleep and that this is somewhat easy and achievable. They’re lying or talking about some magical, mythical, unicorn baby that only exists in stories. Some fight sleep. Your baby is one of these. People will often comment on how “alert” he is. This word will make you want to punch said people in the face. Your baby will be a sucker for cuddles and looking into your eyes ALL THE TIME. Which is beautiful and sweet and sometimes really fucking annoying. It makes doing anything for yourself impossible. You go hungry, you don’t shower and your bladder is always full. Until you buy a baby carrier and your life dramatically changes for the better. If you had prepared for this baby properly, you would have already known the benefits of baby wearing. You’d buy a wrap or sling which essentially just simulates the womb for your little one and they fall asleep in a matter of minutes, leaving your hands free for other things like brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea. Instead you will pull your hair out for 6 weeks (Figuratively, of course. You don’t have any free hands.) because your baby cries whenever he’s put down and you think you have to hold him all the time. Then you pop him in a Hug-a-Bub wrap carrier and he promptly clings on like a koala and falls asleep. You will weep with joy. (After weeping with frustration figuring out how to put the damn thing on. You need to be some sort of fucking contortionist and will almost certainly pop your shoulder out assembling it, but it will be so worth it.) You’ll wear it everywhere – and it’s given you peace of mind for venturing outside the house. You will totally nail baby-wearing.

Ergo-baby. Much easier to assemble for those who want to keep their joints in their sockets.
Ergo-baby. Much easier to assemble for those who want to keep their joints in their sockets.
HOWEVER. When you go to the airport and are suitably kitted up in your wrap with the little guy sleeping against your chest, the security guard will ruin everything by making you disassemble the wrap to walk through the metal detector, even though it is literally one single piece of material. Like wearing an extra shirt. You point out this fact to the guard who says he sympathises but you still have to take it off. Then he says “don’t worry you can put him back in it after you walk through.”

Uh pardon, Mr Security Guard? Have you ever tried to put one of these fucking things on, let alone attempt to take it off? You need 2 hands, a mirror and an endless amount of time and patience if you’re doing it properly. There’s nowhere to put a baby down on the other side of the X-ray machine, plus you’re now down one hand because you have to carry your baby, not to mention the 2 pieces of luggage you’re taking on board with you. The whole point of wearing the wrap was to avoid this very problem. Plus your baby is now awake and crying and they’re calling your flight to board. Fuck you, Mr Security Guard. Fuck you. (This is just the first of a series of bad events at airports including multiple poonami’s, but don’t worry these stories provide excellent fodder for future blog posts.)

So for travelling, you would do best to buy a carrier that’s more user friendly and assembles quickly. Like an Ergobaby. This will become your favourite baby item (closely followed by the Love to Dream Swaddle and the Sound Sleeper white noise app, for those playing at home.) Which brings me to say don’t travel with a newborn on your own if you can possibly avoid it. While everything will be fine, the anxiety you experience will age you about 12 years. Don’t be surprised if you have a full head of grey hair before your 30th birthday.

JOIN A MOTHER’S GROUP. You’ll wish you did it earlier. While friends and family are wonderful, there is nothing quite like bonding with other mothers who are experiencing the same thing as you and who totally get how hard it is. (Though some of them don’t have it hard at all. Some of those women have those magic babies that sleep 12 hours straight and never cry. And you will agonise over that and be sure you’re doing something wrong, because your baby wakes 3 times most nights and screams when anyone that’s not you holds him. But you’re not doing anything wrong. It’s all good.) And yes, pre-baby you thinks a mothers group is a totally lame idea, but you will need them. Swallow your pride and go.

ACCEPT THE HELP. Stop saying you’re fine when you’re not. When Mick goes away for work and the baby is unsettled and you haven’t slept and your best friend moves away and your diet consists of coffee and grapes (for they are easily accessible and require no preparation); it’s okay to say you’re not fine. For some reason you think if you say “I’m fine” enough, it’ll be true. When Mum offers to come up to help, say yes. When Hannah asks you if you’re doing alright, tell the truth. When friends invite you out for coffee/lunch/a walk, GO, even though it’s the last thing you want to do because taking the baby out (especially in the first couple of weeks) is terrifying, and you feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public because your massive oversupply of milk literally squirts halfway across the room. (Future you is currently working on a prototype “plug-like” device to prevent leakages from your fembot nipples. So far, no luck.) This will all settle down at about 8 or 9 weeks, but it’s a trying time. Accepting the help and getting out of the house will save your sanity and seriously, there’s only so much daytime television one can take. When you start to notice that they’re playing repeats of Dr Phil, it’s time to socialise, Past Jen.

IGNORE THE STUPID QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK YOU. My personal favourite: “Is he in a routine yet?” When you hear this, remember to just breathe and respond with the following:

NO. My baby is not in a routine. Now I don’t want to speak badly of my child, but it’s like he’s some sort of neanderthal. HE DOESN’T EVEN OWN A WATCH, SO HOW CAN WE RUN A SCHEDULE? He feeds when he wants. He sleeps when he wants. He shits when he wants. I would love to know when these things are going to happen so I can have some semblance of control over my own life, but no. Currently we’re just carelessly floating through our days, routine-less. WE ARE OUT OF CONTROL.

Or something to that effect.

And when you’re exhausted and hungry and the child won’t just go the fuck to sleep, he’ll beam at you and you’ll remember that one day you probably won’t be his favourite person anymore and maybe you should just enjoy the cuddles while you’ve got them. Because damn that kid is beautiful.

My little moonbeam. Love Present Jen xoxo

P.S. Future Jen wishes Present Jen would stop referring to herself in the third person, never mind writing letters to previous versions of herself. Loser.