Nobody said it was easy. No-one ever said it would be this hard. I’m going back to the start.
Arriving at the centre, the yellow rendered façade of the building shines like a golden beacon of hope. I realise I’ve set my expectations high, and a pang of panic hits me where it hurts – right in the pit of my stomach (or maybe that’s just my jeans irritating my surgical scars). The sun’s shining and I manage to nab the last available parking spot – with such a late admission time of 11.15am, this is a very pleasant surprise. Ooh, I feel quite lucky. See? Things are looking up already. I get out of the car, sporting my new signature look – big sunnies to cover bloodshot red eyes, a grande-sized latte, and an oversized tan tote, full of bibs, dummies, wipes and other random baby stuff. Basically at any time before noon, I look like I’m doing the walk of shame, in the unsexiest way possible: it’s such a shame my baby won’t sleep. I manage to push my pram, pull my suitcase, and not spill a drop of precious coffee. I glance into the pram at Rosie, who gives me the stink-eye from hell, telling me I hate it here already, Mum, and I want to go home. She hasn’t had a nap yet today and she woke up at 3.45am. I wish that was a typo. She looks the perfect picture of pure, p’d off-ness. Good, I think. Give them all you’ve got baby girl. That’s why we’re here. We enter the reception area and undergo a quick pre-admission health check. I recognise the nurse undertaking the assessment, and I remember her name. I don’t let on that I’ve met her before… twice. She clears us, we sign some documents, and we’re in. We’re shown to our room. Along with a group of zombie-like, exhausted parents I’m given the grand tour by the same nurse who is still unaware (thank God) I’m a frequent flyer here (how mortifying!). Just as the tour comes to a close, another nurse comes by and announces “You don’t have to do the tour, Bronwyn, you’ve been here before!”. Yeah, thanks, lady. Cover blown. Now everyone knows I’m the Billy Maddison of the EBFC. My lovely allocated nurse is currently run off her feet, gathering information from patients, writing care plans for their stays and settling screaming, angry children. I don’t remember everything being so stressful and rushed last time, and I wonder if recent health system cutbacks have caused this. I settle Rosie to sleep in our room the “usual way”, as instructed by my busy nurse. And, in the “usual way”, she falls asleep at the breast, I place her into the cot asleep (I know, I know!), and within fifteen minutes she’s awake again, crying inconsolably and we abort that mission. We head down to have some lunch in the dining room. I’m still impressed with the cleanliness and modern nature of this facility. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s comfortable. The food’s healthy and familiar. I’ve got a cheese sandwich, and apple and a cup of tea, Rosie has some organic vegetable mash. Just like at home. All is well in the world. (Meals are provided, but snacks are always available in the form of cheese, crackers, baked beans, toast with condiments, yoghurt, fruit, custard etc). Rosie feels like socialising now, because she’s never seen so many babies sitting in high chairs in the same place, at the same time. They’re all squawking and babbling at each other so vociferously, we parents can hardly hear each others’ lacklustre self-introductions. Seriously, the loud, animated baby-talk conversation is reminiscent of Look Who’s Talking. Very cute, indeed. At around 1.30 I decide to try and settle Rosie to sleep again, as she’s showing those dreadful “tired signs”. Actually, these ones are the “way too tired in a really bad way” signs. I attempt to find my allocated nurse, but she’s still flat out, so I attempt to go it alone… again. This doesn’t end well. An hour later, we have a blotchy, blubbering, exhausted, teary, overwhelmed mess on our hands. And then of course, there’s Rosie. Ba-da-boom! We lay on the bed together staring at each other, and wondering what the heck we’ve gotten ourselves in to. She looks at me with one eyebrow raised. Whose bright idea was this? Finally, my nurse (and new best friend, I’m so happy to see her I could hug her!), arrives. She suggests trying hands-on settling today, so I pop Rosie back into the cot, and pat her little bottom. She sobs, I pat; the saddest rhythm I’ve ever heard. Finally sleep takes hold and she nods off. I walk out of the room with a very heavy heart and tributaries of mascara-tears winding their way down my cheeks. I’m a total wimp. When you check in (sounds fancier that way), you’re asked to nominate one of the two options for Responsive Settling – Hands-on Settling, or Comfort settling. This time I think I’ll change it up and we’ll go with Hands-on to begin with, before moving on to Comfort later in the week.
Here are some flow charts I’ve adapted from what I learned at the centre, which are printable PDFs (just click the pink or blue image to take you to the document):
There’s an information session I want to go to at 3.30pm, which I found out about via the whiteboard timetable in the main lounge (which is adjacent to the nurse’s station).
I pull myself together and head into the class, which is facilitated by Rowena Bennet, child health nurse, midwife, published author, and sleep and settling Guru. One hour listening to Rowena speak gives me such clarity and insight, and helps me to regroup from the afternoon’s disillusioning disaster. Everything she says is gold. But the one thing that stands out to me is this (which I’ve paraphrased because I was just writing dot points in my phone): We don’t know if babies’ brains can be damaged in the long-term by sleep deprivation. Research has shown us that their brains need REM sleep in order to form neurological pathways necessary for successful learning and development. Babies are born with all the brain cells they’ll ever have, but require adequate sleep for the pathways to form between those cells. We don’t let babies cry indefinitely here. We respond to them as we need to. Having an upset baby for a few days here while they adjust and learn how to sleep is preferable to months or years of having an upset child because they’re sleep deprived. This was the confirmation I needed. As I look around the room at all the other tired, frazzled, confused (desperate, even) mums, I realise that we’re all in the best place we can be. Our babies have led us here along different paths, to this beacon of hope (and with a 8-12 week waiting list, at times it’s seemed like a mirage on the horizon). A room full of strangers, united in our quest for a full night’s sleep. At the end of day one of sleep school, as we sit in the dining room eating our nutritious dinners, our babies squealing and babbling, we agree in a rather clichéd way that it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.