"Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?"
When I took a newborn care class when I was 38 weeks pregnant the woman teaching the class warned us that this would be one of the most common questions we would get after, "How old is your baby?" and "What is his/her name?" She told us that if someone asks, feel free to lie. I didn't understand the need to lie about such a thing, but at the time I didn't understand the judgement that comes with the question.
I went to a post partum mom and me class where mothers talked before class about how the journey of motherhood was going so far. The most vocal mothers were sure to talk about how well their baby slept. I overheard one mother whisper to another, "I am starting to think my baby is the only one that wakes up every few hours to eat." The babies ranged in age from 4-8 weeks old. A time when babies are supposed to be waking for feedings especially if they are breastfeeding.
When I brought Kaylee to a baby singalong at the local library a mother asked the typical questions about Kaylee and then said, "My daughter was sleeping through the night at 2 months, is your daughter sleeping through the night yet?" The question was set up as if sleeping through the night was some huge accomplishment and there was obvious pride in her voice that her 2 month old could sleep so well.
I went to Kaylee's four month appointment where my pediatrician asked if she was sleeping thought the night. I told her that she still got up to nurse in which my pediatrician seemed less than thrilled. She gave me a paper about how to get your baby to sleep all night (cry it out) and informed me that a four month old has no need to eat at night.
Sometimes at night when my husband has rolled to the other side of the bed I find myself cold and awake. I roll over until our bodies touch so I can drift back to sleep feeling warm and safe. You don't need to be awake to feel lonely, it happens in your sleep too. During pregnancy and especially while nursing those first few months I would awake to a grumbling in my stomach. I would wander down the hall and open the fridge, letting the light fill the dark room until I found a suitable snack. Sometimes I wake up between dreams and play through the dream in my head before allowing myself to fall sleep again. Do I sleep through the night? Sometimes. Most nights, but not every night.
Does my daughter wake up lonely and cold and in need of a snuggle? Yes, and I pull her close to me and hold her tight. Does she wake up with a grumbling her in her stomach sometimes? Yes, and I feed her without a second thought. Does she wake up between dreams just because? Yes, and I stroke her hair or nuzzle her neck until she falls asleep again. Does she sleep through the night? Sometimes. Most nights, but not every night.
I now understand why the teacher of our newborn class told us to feel free to lie, but I feel no need to pretend my daughter is capable of something she is not. I don't want other moms to feel like their 6 week old is the only baby not sleeping well when in reality most babies still have lots of needs in the night for a long time. And I don't want the mom of a 10 month old to feel like she is a failure because her baby still doesn't sleep through the night. So when asked I shrug and answer, "Sometimes" as if it is no big deal because in the long run it really isn't.
I have a lot of things in life that I want for my daughter and the ability to sleep through the night isn't really high on my priority list. I would rather my daughter know that regardless of the time, how tired I am, or how silly the need may be, that I will always be there for her. I want her to feel safe and secure 24 hours a day. And for the nights she feels comfortable enough to sleep the whole night through then I am happy for her, but I will not feel disappointed when there are nights (and there are many nights) that she finds herself needing her mama in the early morning hours or all through the night. I would rather boast that my daughter feels loved and cherished regardless of the hour than boast that my daughter sleeps for 7 hours straight. But you can't quantify love and fulfillment so people will continue to ask, "Is she sleeping through the night?" as if that is more important than, "Does she feel safe and tended to?"