Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mothering 101

When the water washes over me and I’m deep, deep under, the sky above and the liquid below become indistinguishable. And so it is that my Mondays become Wednes-Fridays and the weeks swoosh past me, a faint blur of nappies and tears and toothless smiles and endless excretions and ablutions and confusion. Not last week, however. Last week I came to an abrupt crash-hault. I was admitted to a family residential centre with my three bubs. The aim was to help all of us learn how to sleep properly. Disappointingly, without the aid of marijuana.

My arrival at the hospital-esque complex was inauspicious. They slapped a band on my wrist with a number on it, grabbed my children and did the same to them. Call me paranoid but we’re Jews. We’re naturally suspicious of anyone who rounds us up and whacks a number on our arms. Before I can say “Arbeit Macht Freiheit”, I’m separated from my babies and pushed into a small room with fluorescent lighting and carpets that were last washed when people wore Disney shirts without irony. The Admitting Nurse, who I’ll call Anna R. (for Rexia) explains the Regime. (An aside: have you ever noticed how nurses are either frighteningly skinny or alarmingly huge? There’s got to be something Freudian in there about having to look after everyone else without knowing how to look after themselves. Either that or they’re actually all ordinary sized but I have a visual disorder that only kicks in when I see nurses. Nothing Freudian in that).

Anna tells me the babies will be placed on a strict wake-feed-play-sleep routine. (And they’ll have fun when they play goddammit!). They will be left to cry for a certain amount of time so they learn to self soothe. (This is the equivalent of hitting someone to stop them from being violent. There’s nothing soothing about being left to scream). Anna talks me through the regimented routine, explaining I will need to be on hand at all times as they can’t hire extra staff for me. She reminds me I’m taking up the place of three women (surprisingly she’s not referring to the size of my arse - usually patients come in with only one child).

And so the Monday becomes a Wednesday becomes a Saturday and my three babies now hate me. I’m the person who leaves them to scream while I nervously pace outside examining the vomit-mustard carpet. I’m the one who comes into the room and pats them (a lame gesture they obviously find condescending because they scream louder when I do it). I’m the one who used to pick them up and rock them but who now mumbles “Shhh, shhhh” then walks out. I’m the nasty old bag who brought them into this cold, over-airconditioned hole so I could listen to the advice of strangers who wouldn’t know maternal instinct if it patted their bottoms in a heart-beat rhythm, held them close against its soft bosom and sung sweetly until they fell asleep when they were good and ready.

During one of these sessions in which the nurse forbids me to pick the children up, I am struck by how funny it is that I’ve come to a specialised home to study what is effectively how to neglect and ignore my children. Crack Whores have been onto this technique for ages. Leave a child to cry. Wander in occasionally without making eye contact. Pat them while looking the other way, not even bothering to pick them up. Mumble to them to keep quiet then leave again only to come back hours later.
This I need to pay someone to teach me?

It wasn’t all bad. No, let me rephrase that. It was all bad.

Needless to say, I discharged the family early. I’m sick of being told how to care for my children. I know how to screw them up by myself, thank you very much. My family’s been doing it for generations. Plus, the Learned Neglect Technique didn’t seem particularly effective. The twins still weren’t sleeping properly. O went totally off her food and starting having tantrums every time I put her down. I began to question why I came here at all. I was doing just fine with my own Overinvolved Slightly Inconsistent Irritable Mother technique. Sure it didn’t allow me to sleep. Or shower. But we were saving a crapload on water bills.

The in-house psychiatrist explained I was resisting change because I’m using denial as a method to cope with my extremely abnormal situation.
I’m not in denial.
What’s abnormal about my situation?
I’m not the only woman who ever had three babies in thirteen months, one of whom has had constant surgery and can’t yet walk, the other two who don’t realise that sleep is something they need to do for more than ten minutes at a time.
And, get this... she was wearing a jacket with padded shoulders. And pleats. And she’s talking to me about denial?

So for now we’re back to rocking and holding and endless screaming.
But all is not lost.
I have a Crack Whore called Muffy lined up for next week. She’s giving me a class on sleep and settling that I’m sure will be invaluable.


Blogger Van Dino said...

Dearest Yidchick, my Mum had me 14 months after twins and then had another set of twins 2 years after me, one of those second twins having been born with muscular condition that required her to administer physiotherapy. And she had three other childern as well. We've all turned out just fine, successful, pretty well adjusted adults. My Mum was given a Dr Spock book - apparently all the rage in the 70's - for advice on childrearing. She read it and threw it out. I think you're doing great.

8:50 pm  
Blogger spindleshanks said...

good on you yc - i hate that neglect your kids for their own good crap - your babies are lucky to have you and i hope they find their way to letting you get some sleep soon.

2:13 am  
Anonymous Karen said...

new reader here. so sad to read that you endured that antiquated "sleep training" in a hospital setting. ugh. better for you to pay for a night-nanny who can rock and cuddle the infants while you get some rest. everyone will figure out sleep in their own time. please read about attachment parenting since you seem most comfortable with that approach.

3:54 am  
Blogger frangelita said...

I'm amazed you haven't started punching nurses in the nuts yet. I'm not a mum, so am only giving probably rubbish advice - but the way I see it, mum knows best and the crack whore school of childcare doesn't sound like fun. at all.

6:47 pm  
Blogger LJ said...

YC, you are not helping with my attitude problems where "experts" are concerned.
I have this "problem" with doctors who forget they told me I might have cancer last year and ask why on earth I had so many mammograms. (It's a hobby. I couldn't get in for extra cat scans.) I have it with "grief counsellors" who are called in to comfort children because parents -apparently - don't know how to do that. Oh I could go ON and on.
But you've said it all so well...we can just cut and paste.
I'm sorry as hell this is the kind of "help" you're getting.
And the crack whore analogy was so apt.

7:26 am  
Anonymous sorenson said...

hello - i am another new reader, and i'm in love with your blog.

i just had to respond to this - i don't have children yet (we're trying just as hard as we can!) and so am speaking from gut feeling rather than experience. many of our friends proclaim themselves 'saved' by sleep school (strangely most of them continue to have sleep problems, but blame it on themselves, not the sleep school/crack whore mother method). i, on the other hand, have always suspected that it is more like your description of it. and your crack whore analogy absolutely nailed the reasons why i am so suspicious of sleep 'training'.

i am hoping to co-sleep - i figure that none of us is going to get any decent sleep for at least two years anyway, no matter what method of parenting we adopt, so we may as well at least not have to get out of bed as often (i like bed). i just hope that for you (and for us when we get there) the time to sleeping through is shorter rather than longer!

2:57 pm  
Blogger Lin said...

Never heard of institutional sleep training, but no doubt you probably thought anything's worth a crack. Guess what...in a few years you and babes will be sleeping happily and all this craziness will be the fodder of even more good stories. In the meantime, I would beg, borrow and steal bucks in order to have a night nurse come in every other night. If you could just sleep well occasionally, it would help no end. Have you got a good breast pump? Probably a stupid point as I'm sure you've been pumping for a while now. Sometimes it's easier to give pumped breast milk rather than fixed position nursing with one or two infants latched on.

Wish I were there to help out occasionally. Courage.

4:57 am  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

Hi Yidchick. I can barely bear to read this because it brings back all the feelings of exhaustion and despair I felt when my kids were little. My daughter, in particular, was the crappiest sleeper ever.

Follow your instincts and hang in there. Have a cyber hug from me. I wish I could help you more.

8:32 am  
Anonymous frankenmum said...

Sorry to hear your experience was nothing like mine at that place.

I found the staff helpful and empathetic - to me and my daughter. She was as happy when she left as when she arrived and learned to sleep through the night with no great trauma. I have no doubt I would have noticed.

Mind you, she was a lot older at the time and only one child for them to deal with, not three. Maybe she wasn't much of a challenge for them.

Nevertheless, no one knows what your children need more than you do...

Take care,

12:14 pm  
Blogger serabi said...

I've never heard of a sleep school. Funnily enough just this afternoon I was reading a book on sleep by Dr Ferber. I actually did a little of this kind of thing with the first one and she's a great sleeper. We've kind of started doing it with the little dude now. Sometimes I'm riddled with feelings of guilt, other times I'm just to tired to have feelings...

11:56 am  

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