The Routine

A couple of weeks ago our friends Bill and Laura were visiting and of course the conversation turned to what nights are like around the Smith house. Bill has a teenage son, so it’s not as though the following was a big new flash:

“When I consider the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars spent in service to sating Abigail, all of the contraptions we registered for and had to have, and the only thing that really works is me bouncing on an exercise ball while I hold her close to white noise or she’s sucking on Scott’s pinky finger, I want to cry.”

I never want to disrespect anyone’s registry, and I have a baby shower coming up next month for a work friend of mine, but from here on out I am giving every soon-to-be-parent I know an “In Case of Emergency” kit. I am especially giving these kits to parents who were like us and never really around babies before they had their own.

It’s important to point out, I suppose, that not everything works on every baby, but there seems to be some truisms, some things that all babies will respond to at least a handful of times, and I am here to tell you: it is the difference between functioning and insane, those handful of days you get. When you’re operating on little-to-no sleep, you don’t pishaw the chance that some small technique will get you an extra two hours. You just don’t.

(I really, really, REALLY hate people who say, “Well, don’t get too excited because just when you think you have them figured out they’re going to change things up on you again!” almost as much as I hate people who said, “Get sleep now!” when I was pregnant. People who say things like that don’t help, and the level of self-satisfaction and smugness makes my skin crawl. Do you know what people who are in the most painful, difficult points in their lives want to hear? NOT THAT. SHUT UP. You are rude, and while you might be right, you might not be and you are still rude.)

I remember one of the first nights when Abigail was home and we put her in the bouncy seat, the crib, the co-sleeper, the car (in the car seat, of course) and the swing. She hated everything. It was awful. It was pain. The next day, my friend Rene told me about The Happiest Baby on the Block and the 5 Ss and from there my world opened up. It hadn’t really occurred to me that all of the cribs and the cosleepers in the world would be useless if I couldn’t get a baby asleep to be in them. Furthermore, it didn’t occur to me that I’d have a baby who wouldn’t just, you know, fucking sleep when she was tired.

This is what happens when 35-year-old women who are career-obsessed have babies and they’ve barely even held one, let alone done her homework on the basics of what happens when you bring one home.

To be fair to us, our kid has reflux and colic and her cries are easy to manage – it’s her blood-curdling shrieks that have been the death of us each night. We couldn’t have known what that would really look like, and it seems a lot of people don’t like to talk about the chances of you having such a baby for fears of jinxing you – the first few weeks are a bear, they say, without tossing in a kid who would prefer to announce to those in a 30-mile radius that she’s gassy, uncomfortable and not thrilled with her accommodations whatsoever.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has raised a colicky kid develops an ashen color on his or her face and a catch in her breath when she remembers what it was like. She tells me she survives it – everyone does and happily lives to tell about it – but still. You’re driven to some pretty low moments. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has raised a kid who didn’t have colic all say they couldn’t imagine it having been worse than what they went through, without that added gem.

So anyway, we didn’t know. We weren’t prepared. We had no idea. Now? Holy shit, we’re pros. This is what our evenings look like now, and they’ve been tweaked every which way but loose:

6:30-ish: Abigail gets some playtime and dancing, especially if it was yucky out that day and didn’t get an hour’s long walk outside. I’ve read many an article that says that colicky kids and their parents should get outside for a walk, for at least an hour, right before The Witching Hour begins. Everyone gets some fresh air and sunlight, which can only be good considering what can lie ahead.

6:45: Abigail and mom get into the tub. This is sort of awesome, and we use some lavender-scented bubble bath, and toss in her ducky and other toys. Scott sits outside the tub, and we all play and splash in the water for about 10-15 minutes. The water apparently has a nice, calming effect on the baby, and gives me a chance to massage her tummy a little and help get out any trapped gas. Plus, it’s hard to get pissed off at a baby who just seconds ago was patting the surface of the water and had bubbles adorning her noggin. It’s too cute.

7: Abigail has become really Mama Obsessed. Meaning I’m the favorite person for calming her down. In short, I can’t have that. As nice and as flattering as it is, I need her to bond with her Dad, and to understand that she’s got family members and, soon, a nanny, for whom she’ll need to be on her best behavior. So Scott takes her from the tub and heads to her nursery to give her a baby massage at her changing table. He also turns on the Cloud B Sleep Sheep, which she loves and really calms her down because at this point she’s starting to roar. He uses a lavender-scented lotion here, too.

7:15: AG is in her jammies, and Scott dances around with her softly, sings or we read a story to her. At this point I’ve brought up a warm bottle (though I’ve heard warm or room temperature is irrelevant) for him to give her. I head back to start dinner for us. And we have a rule. If little miss is not asleep by 8 p.m. here, and the goal is really 7:15-7:30, she goes into her crib for the duration of us eating some dinner. We used to skip eating and drive ourselves insane and it would be 10 p.m. and we’d shove food into our mouths like savages. It was insane.

Typically what soothes AG before and after a bottle – both of which is important since colicky kids gulp air and producing more gas while and after they eat just exacerbates the situation – is gentle bouncing on an exercise ball. I highly recommend parents of babies buying one because you’ll get REALLY tired, REALLY quickly of walking and swaying. She’s either held upright or on her side in our arms, and sucking on a pacifier.

As she’s gotten older – she’s eight-weeks old today! – it’s gotten better but some nights we’re swaying, listening to white noise – download some mp3 off of iTunes of vacuum or hair dryer noises! – and swaddling her (We’ve found the Miracle Blanket to be the best swaddling product out there since our kid can get out of any other one on the market.) into the crib well until 10:30 p.m., which means we’re looking at four hours of this mess, just to get her to stop screaming and get calm enough to get tired. She really doesn’t cry herself tired, I’m here to tell you.

And here is the thing: our goal is to get her into the crib for the first leg of her sleep for the night, however long that lasts. For the rest? We’ve quit trying for the moment. For one thing, the process of calming her down enough to let herself go to sleep is an hour at best, and sometimes it only produces a couple of hours of sleep. Once it became clear that I had postpartum depression, and the best thing for it was sleep, we opted to let her sleep on us for the remainder of the night. This way we’ve managed to keep a routine we want established for her as we move forward, and as the colic and reflux eventually dissipate, but we all get sleep. Honestly, I wish I had the constitution for something else, but I don’t. Not right now.

Next month, my girlfriend and her husband are getting The Happiest Baby on the Block, Miracle Blankets, pacifiers, a CD of white noise, the Sleep Sheep and an exercise ball. Plus a pound of coffee and my number to text me if she needs support.