“How is he sleeping?”
This is The Question.
Everyone asks me The Question. It comes up in every conversation, right after “Hello.” It’s accompanied by a head tilt and an eyebrow knit and a slow nod and the sympathy tone.
I’m not confused by this. It’s a pretty natural direction for things to go when you’re talking to a bleary-eyed mom who looks more like a dilapidated tool shed than a person. I’m not offended by it either—it’s as innocuous as it is obvious. Still, I dread it.
I dread it not because of The Question itself, but because of the inevitable response to my answer to The Question. The exchange goes like this:
“How is he sleeping?” (head tilt, eyebrow knit)
“Not very well?” I uptalk this every time, like it’s a question instead of a sure thing.
“That’s rough.” (slow nod, sympathy tone) “Have you tried…?”
And that’s the part I dread so much. The Question would be totally fine if it were not a straight-up trick, if it didn’t lure you into a dark alley, steal your wallet, and beat you over the head with unsolicited, unwanted baby advice:
Have you tried a white noise machine? Have you tried formula? Have you tried letting him cry it out? Have you tried this program? That book? These methods? Have you tried…? Have you tried…?
It feels like everyone I come into contact with wants to put in at least their two cents, if not their whole life-savings. And, I mean, I don’t begrudge anyone for trying to help, but at this point it’s absolutely overwhelming. There are, apparently, a million and two things I should be doing that I am not, or shouldn’t be doing that I am, or am doing but am not doing correctly. It would seem that if I could just figure out the magic formula, my baby would sleep through the night like all the other babies.
A friend asked me The Question the other day. My eyes glazed over as the words came out of her mouth. She’d just had her first baby a few days earlier, but she’s read about a billion books on how to birth your own babies at home and then how to nourish and grow them. She’s got a thousand untested theories. I couldn’t wait to hear what kind of great sleep advice she had for me after one whole week of being a mother (sarcastic eye roll).
I mumbled my usual bit about how he’s not sleeping very well, and my friend said this: “Ah. That’s pretty normal, huh?”
I stared at her. Normal—what a great word.
Suddenly, my baby not sleeping was not a problem that needed to be fixed. It did not need advice, because it was not something that was wrong with him or with me. Some babies just don’t sleep very well. It’s a thing. And it’s OK.
It was something that was pretty normal.
You might think it’s kind of a no-brainer, but that was the most relieving thing I’ve ever heard.
I’m not saying that there aren’t things I could do to make him sleep better—books I could read or methods that might work. I’m still working toward that elusive goal of sleeping at night instead of just catnapping. I even ask for advice from a select few. But now when people dangle the bait that is The Question in front of my heavy, nodding head, I know what to say and I say it—five words and five words only for the well-meaning baby-fixers before I smile and change the subject.
“He’s sleeping like a baby.”