Giving Permission

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It is 3:00 am and I just finished feeding my baby. Not because she woke up crying and hungry. But because I wanted and needed to be with her.

I had met a friend for dinner. Tucked the big kids in so that I was not leaving Ger to fend for himself with three kids at bedtime. There was pumped milk in the fridge. I spent a few hours away. Even had a glass of wine, a first in a long time. And the first time leaving the baby for “fun” versus out of necessity like running an errand or taekwondo class.  

We have tried the past few nights to wake Autumn up at midnight to feed her, when Ger comes up to bed. We have been mostly unsuccessful in getting her to wake up to eat, and were tonight as well. I woke up around 1:00, figuring that she would start to fuss anytime, ready to eat after over four hours since the bottle. 1:00 turned into 1:30… then 2:00…. Then 2:30. Somewhere in there, I slipped into her room to make sure she was still breathing.

For the first few weeks after we brought her home from the hospital, we had her in a bassinet in our room. This was a first for us: our older two had been in their own rooms, in cribs, since Day One. After a few sleepless nights, Ger wanted to know why the baby was in our room. I responded: “Because I lost my last two babies and I need her here.”

When she was about three weeks old, we were struggling with a fussy baby at night, something we had not previously experienced as much with our older two. We finally decided that maybe our presence, our proximity, was disturbing her. We moved her into the crib in her room, and she immediately began to sleep better. Maybe it was our presence, or room temperature, or luck – who knows. I would wake in a panic when she was quiet for hours and dart in to check on her, only to find her soundly, peacefully sleeping.

We had bought a monitor for her when we came home from the hospital, a device that would clip on her diaper and sound an alarm if movement was not detected. We did not use it while she was in the bassinet, and found that we did not take it out of the box when she moved into her own room. My therapist, knowing my fears about bringing this baby home, asked me about it and I told her that I had surprised myself by not needing the monitor.

Then I was googling baby sleep patterns for some unknown reason, and found that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep in the same room as their parents until six months old, to reduce the risk of SIDS. I had never heard of that recommendation previously and panicked. For my own sanity, bringing her back into our room felt like a step backwards: moving her into her own room had been good for my ongoing adjustment to parenting after loss. It was a milestone. I started googling SIDS rates in other countries; countries where I knew that children sleeping in the same room as their parents was uncommon. I tried to reassure myself that this was just an “American” thing, and that we were doing all of the other right things to reduce SIDS risk. I finally calmed down.

As the clock crept to 2:30 tonight, however, I could not find any calm. With my two oldest, I would have woken in the morning, delighted that my baby slept through the night. Not with my after-loss baby. Instead, it only caused me anxiety. I went into her room and picked her up. She kept sleeping. I removed her swaddle, hoping it would gently wake her and her eyes began to flutter. I was able to wake her enough that she ate. As I rocked her and the time passed, I eventually realized that she was no longer eating, but merely in sucking/comfort mode. I held her for a few more minutes, then finally re-swaddled her and placed her back in her crib.

Back in my own room, I shivered. I can feel sickness coming on: stuffy nose, stiff neck (always an early sign of illness for me), hot and cold, aching muscles. A change in seasons perhaps, or a result of my own weariness. My incision area was aching. I considered a bath, but didn’t want the sounds of the filling tub in our master bath to wake Ger. He had so far slept through everything. Going into the kids’ bathroom seemed too much work.

Instead, as the clock heads toward 4:00, I find myself preoccupied with thoughts of my baby. An odd sound came through the baby monitor, so I leapt up to investigate. All fine in the nursery, so decided it was just some weird static. If she begins to sleep longer stretches, how will I adjust? How can I continue to convince myself that she is fine in her crib? I have to give myself permission to be nervous as I navigate through parenting after loss.  Although a few nights of poor sleep like this one, and I may find myself so fatigued that I sleep, oblivious to her maturing sleep patterns.

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” -Earl Grollman