Sleep School was a place we never thought we’d end up, but there we were.
It was my turn. I took a deep breath and followed The Matron into the tiny airless room where my baby was screaming.
He was screaming as if his life depended on it. And perhaps, for him in that moment, the stakes felt that high.
He was screaming so hard that he was coughing. His whole body was pleading for us to put him out of his misery. Previously, we had responded to each and every need as quickly and as best we could – this was unprecedented.
We were under strict instructions
- Avoid eye contact.
- If he is standing up, lie him down and pat him gently.
- Whatever you do, don’t pick him up.
“He will settle eventually,” said The Matron.
Except he didn’t.
As a parent, every fibre of our being is hardwired to respond to our babies’ cues.
What was I doing? What were we doing here? Why was I overriding my motherly instincts?
He climbed up to stand at the side of the cot again. Pleading with me in every way he knew possible. The Matron pried his little hands away from the cot and swept her hands under his little legs to lie him down. She ushered me out, as tears prickled at my eyes.
My turn was up.
I didn’t think I could do this.
They had a strict schedule for how long you had to wait until the next person went in. How long would we let him cry like this before we picked up our baby? I was almost at my limit.
I’m amazed that we ever ended up at Sleep School
We were doing a lot of things associated with attachment parenting. I had breastfed exclusively until 6-months, and was still breastfeeding at 11 months, in addition to solids, with no plans to stop anytime soon. We co-slept, safely. I baby-wore, a lot.
It’s fascinating to me now then, that we ended up where we did. With a screaming baby, at Sleep School.
At around 9-months you receive lots of messages that your baby “should be sleeping through”. I understood that it was normal for a baby to wake during the night to feed or seek comfort, but to any sleep-deprived parent, the elusive concept of your baby being able to ‘self-settle’ is a very strong draw card.
Can’t fight your motherly instincts
In that moment, as I prepared to go in again to my screaming child, I assure you that my ‘curiosity about self-settling’ seemed insignificant and not nearly enough of a reason to endure what we were currently enduring.
The Matron started to prepare me for going back in, giving me the spiel that babies were very good at “manipulating us to get what they want”. This didn’t sit well with me at all. I didn’t believe for a second that my son was trying to manipulate me in that moment. My heart was breaking. It was awful.
In that moment, it was as if someone turned down the volume on that awful soundscape of my son crying, and it was mute. I saw and heard a band of Aboriginal women, mothers from the stolen generation, collectively willing me to pick up my child.
Pick up your baby.
Cuddle your baby.
We would have given anything to be able to pick up and comfort our crying babies, but that choice was taken away from us. You have that option.
You can stop this in an instant, by reaching in to pick up your child.
Listen to your instincts, listen to your child, you don’t need to do this.
It was powerful and profound. I am not an indigenous woman, but I felt like these mothers were pleading with me to tap into my motherly instincts and stop overriding them with faulty logic being dished out by The Matron.
I didn’t waste another second.
The soundscape faded back to full volume, as I swiftly dropped the side of the cot against the protestations of The Matron. I swept my child into my arms, as she tutted and sighed.
I whispered my heartfelt apology into his ear. Then I wrapped my arms around him. I rocked him. I looked into my husband’s eyes as he came in, and we didn’t need to exchange any words. He knew. He had felt it too.
When he had finally calmed, we quietly collected our bags, and walked out of the sleep school. We didn’t ‘check-out’. Nor did we track down The Matron to thank her for her services. We didn’t fill out the evaluation forms on the table. We just quietly disappeared and closed the door on that chapter of our life.
Our son is now 3.5 years old and we still lie with him as he goes to sleep. Our daughter is now the age that my son was when we took him to sleep school. It’s safe to say we will not be seeking out The Matron for her services.
Sleep school didn’t work for us, but it does work for some. No judgment. Listen to your gut. Do what works for you and your bub.