I never really read parenting books. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this. I did read Happiest Baby on the Block; I thought that was pretty good, pretty reasonable, it fit with my ideas of what you should do with a newborn. Comfort them when they cry, swaddle ‘em up. Hardly revolutionary, really, and you could probably get the gist pretty well from the introduction. I’m not knocking it; we used the swaddle, the Shh, the swinging, and whatever the fourth S was, and it actually is the only parenting book I actually finished and implemented ideas from.
[Thanks Dr. Karp!]
From there I got into some more hard-core sleep books. One, actually. I remember being a little scared about the introduction, which laid out a complicated, multi-step outline for sleep training, the details of which would be fleshed out in some two-hundred pages to follow.
I read a few chapters, but was gradually turned off. First, the idea of sleep “training” a baby was weird to me, and I didn’t like having to follow a really strict schedule of feeding and napping. I myself am not that scheduled, so it seemed strange to expect a newborn who had recently been enveloped in a warm, watery world of total darkness, to be. In addition, there was a lot in the book that made me feel bad. I wasn’t supposed to nurse the baby to sleep. Shit, I totally did that. I was supposed to put the baby down for a nap in her crib only with the same routine at the same time every day. Crap, not doing that either. And so on.
My justification (or rationalization) in returning to long periods of nursing the baby to sleep while reading novels was…should it be so hard to figure this out? I don’t think my mom read sleep training books, and my siblings and I all seemed to sleep fine. And not just my mother, but what about my mother’s mother, and my great grandmother, and back and back and back? And the biologist in me started thinking about the long chain of mothers, who have passed along not just maternal parenting genes but maternal practices, and I want to know more about that. Like, isn’t there some genetic and cultural inheritance that I can rely upon to keep this newborn fed, rested, alive? If there is one thing that you, me, and pretty much every other adult walking around on planet earth have in common is that someone, most likely our mother, succeeded in raising us from a red helpless floppy infant into someone who could survive.
I’m pretty sure proto-mom back in her cave, however long ago, was not reading parenting books. And that’s not to say mothers today could improve their practice by reading parenting books; I probably could be improved by reading a few good ones. Maybe it’s more of a rationalization for my not wanting to read parenting books, to try to rely on evolutionary history, to say, chimps and gorillas don’t read books, my great great grandma(s) were unlikely to read books, shouldn’t I come equipped with the know-how to figure this out?
But the reality is, it felt so damn hard. Feels so damn hard. How can something so fundamental, so essential to being human, feel so hard? No one checked to see if I was qualified when they let me take my newborn home. More on that to come.