Most people who see me in public automatically assume I get no sleep – my messy bun, sunken in black eyes and typical mom yoga pants are dead giveaways. Add in the (usually) screaming baby and it’s a no brainer. My daughter has fiery red hair and dark brown eyes, and she’s no stranger to giving people dirty looks when they look at her in the store. I get the comments about how beautiful her hair is, how cute she is, how sweet her smile is (on the rare occasion that she doesn’t give an elderly lady her death stare) but I also equally get comments about how her red hair is going to mean that she will have a temper, or that her attitude matches her personality. My daughter can be a bit of a pain, yes, but she’s my pain so watch what you say. Sometimes I joke back, particularly if it’s an elderly woman who has been a bit relaxed in the sensitivity department, but I have found myself returning a snippy comment if one is given to me.
I started bringing my daughter to baby group when she was about six months old. I sat in a circle with a group of other moms and listened to their triumphs and their hardships. That particular day, every single mom in that room had an angel baby who slept through the night, napped regularly, ate everything under the sun without protesting and pooped on demand. They were textbook unicorn babies. I sat there with a forced fake smile as I glanced down to my daughter who was nursing quietly while taking everything in. I told the other moms how my night usually goes and I got a sea of sympathetic nods, a few ‘oh wows’ and a whole lot of blank stares. She was a two hour sleeper since birth, and she slept in my bed with me. Before I had a child I told everyone who would listen that my baby would never sleep in my bed with me. Oh, how naive I was. Now I had the judging moms with their unicorn babies who slept through the nights in their own perfect primped cribs looking at me as I explained our sleep scenario. They suggested things like “putting her to sleep while drowsy.” I tried that once. My daughter screamed until she was nearly blue in the face and threw up in her bed. I tried the pack and play, swings, rocking her in my arms but nothing worked unless she was directly beside me on my king size bed.
My daughter was labeled as a difficult baby by nearly every professional she encountered. “Strong willed” or “demanding” or the ever so prevalent “high maintenance” baby were the favourite names she received. Although I was slightly insulted that my daughter had acquired all these labels already, it was all true. I had to focus on helping my daughter improve these areas one at a time. My daughter does not like change, so I needed to strategize how to do it with minimal upset.
I started with eating and pooping. These ones went hand and hand. I quickly learned that she preferred savory to sweet, she didn’t like fruit which made fiber intake a challenge. She liked meat and vegetables and carbs. She still refused to take a bottle but I let it slide, breast feeding was working out great for us. It meant her father missed out on some feedings but he wasn’t upset about it. She, in time, learned that food wasn’t the enemy and when she discovered she could feed herself, that was the end of our food problem. I started baby led weaning instead of puréed foods, and I taught her how to bite off and chew pieces of food. She quickly learned how to control how much food went into her mouth, and she was enthusiastic about trying new things. I learned something about her personality that day – if I let her do things on her own terms, and stopped comparing her to the unicorn babies, things were going to be a lot better. The bowel movement situation was resolved with a little help from the pediatrician. Luckily now she is eating more fiber through fruits, drinks a ton of water and gets plenty of exercise so she is a lot more regular. Once in a while she needs a boost from a laxative, but it’s becoming more and more rare.
Next thing I tackled was helping her learn to move. My daughter was a very late crawler. Most babies begin to move around 8 months old. She didn’t want to move at all. She learned that if she screamed enough, that I would come and rescue her. She is an only child, so she didn’t feel the need to crawl. I still took her to baby group and she had no motivation. I had essentially given up. The doctors told me not to worry until she was around 15 months so I decided to let her do it on her own time. I mean, that worked for everything else right? I started a home daycare when my maternity leave was up, and began caring for an infant who was a month younger than my daughter. She was already crawling and stealing my daughter’s toys right from her. My daughter quickly discovered that it’s a lot easier to get what you want if you get it yourself and spontaneously decided to start crawling. I was thrilled. She chose when to do it and she was so proud of herself. Now we are working on walking. She is very timid and it took her a long time to find the courage to pull herself up. She’s now a pro at that!
The final thing I tackled was the sleep. My daughter was never a good sleeper. From birth she refused to sleep in a swing, playpen, crib – basically anywhere that wasn’t in mommy’s arms. Even grandma’s arms wouldn’t do and no way would she sleep in daddy’s arms. The only solution that worked for us for at night was cosleeping – bedsharing. We practiced safe bed sharing (non smoker, light sleeper, king size bed, no pillows or blankets, no alcohol/drugs, husband moved to guest room) and it worked for the first year. She was up every two to three hours every night for the first year of her life. Around the same time that she began crawling, she started fighting sleep in my bed. I started trying her in her own crib at night. She was used to her crib for naps during the day (tackled that problem around 6 months old) and realized now that it wasn’t a torture device I was placing her in – it was a quiet, serene fortress of solitude that allowed for her to get some much needed rest. The night visits began with a few hours in the crib followed by the rest of the night with me until one night she just didn’t get up. It was heaven. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had a blissful, uninterrupted sleep. I felt like a million bucks when I awoke that morning, and my daughter greeted me with babbling and a goofy grin when I went to get her out of her crib.
She still has the demanding personality, the angry growly scream that borders on the exorcist and she continues to voice her displeasure on the daily. We have learned that she is who she is, and we’ve learned how to accommodate her needs and let her discover who she is in the process. She may be a high maintenance baby, but she’s my baby and I wouldn’t take back that first year for anything. She taught me a lot about myself – she allowed me to loosen the reins and taught me to stop comparing myself to those other moms. After all, everyone is unique and my daughter proves that. Hang in there mamas who googled “high maintenance baby.” I promise you it gets better.