Share via Email Eyes wide shut: It's a picture book for grown-ups, full of swearing and darkly comic thoughts about children. And so Hannah duly read the book to her newborn for weeks before realising the gift was intended for her.
Which is why this week's announcement — that the hit book is to become a major Hollywood film — is such a surprise. It's a great book, but surely it only has one joke, and one that only tired parents will find funny — if they're awake enough to get it. There are electronic mobiles that play lullabies above the crib. White-noise CDs that soothe your child to sleep with the soft brrr of the back of a fridge, to remind them of the mother's heartbeat.
DVDs like The Happiest Baby on the Block , wherein Californian paediatric guru Dr Karp suggests that crying babies have an off switch if you wrap them into swaddling robes at the right angle. Goofy as it sounds, this one actually helped me a lot.
There are parenting books that teach you how to do it the French way, which involves waiting before you attend to their cries — la pause. We have become neurotic wondering if we should leave our babies to cry it out in their cots or clutch them to our bosom at all times. There's money in the conversation that grips fellow newborn parents.
Are you on a routine? Look at that word lullaby — so beautiful; onomatopoeic, even. There is an Indian lullaby about the Moon Uncle , who lives far away, eating delicious sweetmeats and offering some in a bowl to the baby. There is an Iraqi lullaby that is so sad it is also sung at funerals, with lyrics suggesting the mother's desires for "your enemies to be sick and far in the barren desert".
Unfortunately, my month-old daughter doesn't get many such lullabies from me, as by bedtime I am often ready to lie down and be sick in a barren desert myself. Bedtime in our house, on a bad day, is less about singing and more about me hiding in the next room wondering how cruel it is to just shut my eyes and wait for the wailing to stop. Yet it seems to me that things used to be simple, in my parents' day, and my generation has made them complicated.
Is all the information on psychological damage actually causing the damage? How is this huge industry making us feel? I asked baby sleep expert Andrea Grace if she thought new parents were getting too hung up on all this. Then when the baby naturally wakes in the night at the end of a sleep cycle, they don't know how to put themselves back to sleep. So they need to be rocked again. And in my opinion over the last few years there has been far too much emphasis placed on getting babies established on to very strict regimes, even if they can be successful for some.
I mean, you don't see other mammals leaving their young to sleep alone in a different room, do you? She would not cry. Then I gave birth to an actual human being, and found that I needed help. Grandparents to rock her. An iPhone that I dangled over her head with soothing MP3s playing — all of this became crucial. My daughter's father left when she was a few months old, and it was a challenge not to get stressed.
My milk dried up and so formula known as satanic nectar on the internet saved the day. But that was it. All my romantic ideas were otherwise out the window. Controlled crying was in.
Yet there is always guilt. By the late-night glow of the laptop, I read reports saying it was damaging to the child's psyche to be left to cry themselves to sleep. Online forums said triumphant things like: Then I rest my case! And I haven't even got a husband — it's just me crying myself to sleep because I'm so effing tired. In short, I realised that controlled crying looked like the worst thing in the world when I was sleep deprived myself, and a perfectly reasonable compromise when baby and I had both spent a nice night in our beds.
The list includes sleeping pods, nests, baby hammocks, cot bumpers, pillows, duvets and anything that wedges or straps a baby in place. This is where it gets complicated because you have to balance being a nice parent who cares about your child and who is meeting their needs with the message you are giving them by your actions.
Still, the academic jury remains out. As psychologist Suky Macpherson told me: You'll find most psychologists divided on the topic, depending on whether they come from a psychoanalytic framework or a more behaviourist one. The analysts are all about attachment, so they tend to think that the baby will grow up into a damaged adult if left alone to cry by itself for long periods.
Emotional deprivation can lead to long-term problems, yes — but does crying a bit in your first year count as emotional deprivation? It depends on the degree to which the child is left. Then come back in and repeat the process, before bellowing: She thought it was hysterical.
I couldn't help reflecting that she didn't seem horribly scarred by our bedtime routine. Instead she found it funny. And then there's the child's need to be asleep, too. Meanwhile American research has linked the childhood obesity epidemic not just to diet and exercise but also to lack of sleep.
We've read all the research and we don't want strict routines, but we don't want to be a deranged pushover either. Well, I know what the compromise is in my family.
My parents have been staying a lot recently, and my year-old father comes into his own at bedtime. A slower, steady presence, he sits beside my baby in the half light, rubbing her back and laying her down in her cot again, gently singing her the two songs that he knows by heart, "Jerusalem" and "Waltzing Matilda". His is the gentler way. I quite like it when she won't go to sleep on nights that he is here to help. I like to think of them having that extra hour together, stuck in a room with only stories and songs.
Bedtime doesn't make it into family albums. I'm not going to get my iPhone out and Instagram my daughter drifting from wakefulness into the soft unconsciousness of sleep.
How I wish sometimes that, rather than juggling work and going out with my daughter's babyhood, we lived like my parents used to, my mother taking a few years off work to raise her babies in a farming village in Yorkshire. She breastfed for longer than I managed to, didn't need pain relief with her natural labour. Until I went to the chemist and he gave me Phenergan , a sedative antihistamine that knocked you out.
We were all using that. But even that wasn't enough, so the doctor prescribed you Vallergan , and then we all got some peace.
My parents drugged me to sleep! If my mother hadn't gone on to have such a long and illustrious career in child protection, I'd be tempted to make some enquiries. So I ask her what happened when she took me off the drugs. She looks into the middle distance.
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