Remember when you had it all figured out? When you knew exactly the kind of parent you would be? You read all the books and had all the answers. You knew what you would do and what you wouldn’t do. You had your list of “Nevers.” Some things were negotiable, but these were the things you absolutely would not do. Things good parents definitely didn’t do. Like let your one year old watch television. Heat up anything from a can and call it dinner. And rock your baby to sleep every night. Nope, you had this parenting thing down.
I know I did, right up until real life happened. Real life being a baby born too soon. A NICU stay. A mom being discharged while her baby is fighting for his life. Witnessing countless heal sticks, IVs, lines of every sort, procedures, and sending him off for numerous surgeries. Days upon days when touching your baby with a finger is the most comfort you could provide. Real life turned out a little more brutal than we ever imagined.
An experience like that changes a person, right to their core. All of your thoughts, actions, and reactions are now seen through the eyes of a NICU parent. Beliefs you once held true may feel slightly different. You still want to be a great parent, perhaps even more so than before. After all, they truly deserve the best. What does “the best” look like? Well, that might be the part that has changed a little.
There were two things we knew for sure when we finally brought James home from the NICU. We were going to hold him when he wanted to be held, and we would do everything in our power to keep him healthy.
Those first few weeks we held him all the time. We spent the days in his nursery, singing, rocking, in shock that we were actually home. They were hard days. There was an adjustment period for everyone. But that’s when the healing began, right there in his nursery, sitting in that rocking chair.
We tried to stay true to our “list.” One of the items on that list was sleep. Creating good sleep habits from the beginning was important. I read the books, and I knew too many horror stories of bedtime from my years in ECI. We were going to do this right. We would rock James until he was sleepy, then lay him down, still awake, to fall asleep on his own. Piece of cake. Until it wasn’t.
Enter a Daddy who loved to rock his baby boy and let him sleep in his arms, sometimes for hours. And a Mommy who was guilty of the same thing from time to time. We were already on shaky ground. Follow that with a sick kiddo who was back in the hospital about two months later. Our routine was crumbling. Back to a Daddy who still rocked his baby (and a Mommy who did, too), fighting through illnesses at home, recovery from surgery, hospital stay upon hospital stay, you get the picture. Sleep routine, what sleep routine?? Sometimes that brutal reality just keeps on coming.
Rocking James to sleep was, many times, the best part of my day. Not mixing formula, not doing his laundry, not tracking his medications and making phone calls about his supplies, not scheduling doctor’s appointments or therapies. None of that. Just rocking. I loved that time with James. I loved it especially because it made me feel like his mom. There were lots of caregiver things that had to be done. This wasn’t one of those things. This was a tender, loving, just being a Mommy thing.
To be fair, it wasn’t always easy. There were nights I was ready to pull my hair out when he was still awake after rocking for an hour, but those nights were few in comparison.
James is four years old now. I have rocked him to sleep almost every night. I rocked him for all the times I watched him cry in the NICU and couldn’t pick him up, saw him in pain but wasn’t allowed to hold him, for all the times he was scared, and all the times he was alone. I rocked him for all those heartbreaking times I couldn’t be his mom.
If I had my way, I would still rock James to sleep now. But it turns out we didn’t scar him for life. As of a couple of weeks ago, he’s decided he doesn’t want to rock anymore. I hold him as long as he’ll let me each night, but usually after just a minute or two I hear his sweet little voice say, “Go lay down.” So know there is hope. If you’ve messed up your child’s sleep too, don’t worry. James is proof that it won’t go on forever.
Recently, at an appointment with an Autism specialist, the subject of sleep came up. I was defensive right away. “I know it’s my fault, we just moved, we’re in a new house, his bedroom is so far away.” I started in, trying to prepare for the lecture that would surely be coming about the huge mistake I was making. The doctor stopped me right away. He didn’t judge. In fact, he went on to say that for the most part, he finds that parents do exactly what their children need. Turns out rocking, that rhythm and movement, wasn’t ruining our little boy’s sleep. It was exactly what James needed. Exactly what we all needed.