Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nighttime Parenting

I have now been doing one feeding a day for Ira for a little over a week. Some of the feedings have been a little challenging, but overall the project is going well. I have a much better understanding on my son's feeding patterns. I am sometimes deciding when he is hungry and when he is done, and that makes me a more competent and confident parent.

I also get to spend a little more time with Ira. Since I'm doing one feeding a day there is a time built in every day just for me and Ira. I spend other time with him during the day, but it is good to have this guaranteed time. It's also good to have some time that I can just focus on Ira and not have my attention pulled by other things at the same time. And as Lyn mentioned in her post, she is able to get a little more sleep (which was one of my primary motivations for this project).

During one early morning feeding a few days ago, I realized that I could have let Lyn participate in the nighttime feedings more during our last go-round. Feeding a baby a bottle is a more of a hassle than nursing, but it's not that much more of a hassle, and it's considerably less hassle than strapping on a supplemental nurser (which I'm no longer having to do at night). It's also considerably less hassle than pumping five times a day and taking medications and herbs four times a day (note to self: you forgot to take not one, but two, doses today!).

What I'm saying is that last time I could have asked more of Lyn in terms of nighttime care; she did do some, but I could have moved over and shared more of the struggles with her. We shared in Leigh's care at night much less than either of us would have liked, and I thought the reason was that it would just have been more trouble than it was worth for Lyn to do lots of bottles at night. Instead it turns out that the reason for our nighttime inequity was not biology as I had assumed. It was my inability (or unwillingness) to think flexibly and creatively and to share some of the really tough work with Lyn.

Now you might be asking yourself why on earth I would be unwilling to share the really tough work. After all, Lyn was Leigh's primary caregiver for a number of months while I worked full time. I was obviously willing to share the mothering spotlight. Maybe in part that's why I was so hesitant to share the hard and lonely work of nighttime parenting. Perhaps doing that work was a way to prove to myself that I really was the mother and not just one of a pair. I think it was my way of hanging on to primacy. I thought that I was willing to share mothering, and in most ways I did. But maybe I was hanging onto my superior position as bio-mom without even realizing it.


N said...

Whereas, as an outsider, I would've likely said that it seemed as if it is was especially important to you once you went back to work, to take on the majority of the baby-work overnight, since Lyn did the majority of it during the day.

I always love reading your posts, guys. Thank you. :)

Gail said...

N -- That is a more charitable way of looking at it ;) But it was really hard doing the majority of the nighttime care and I felt frustrated and exhausted for much of it (although apparently unwilling to do anything else).

Oh, and to be fair, Lyn did some nighttime bottles (and she probably would have done even more if our first nighttime bottle hadn't ultimately resulted in an abcess)!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this - I'm saving this post and showing it to Fern so we can talk about some of these issues once we're pregnant. I've worried about the very dynamic you're describing and I can picture us having a hard time being equitable in the middle of the night too, for example. Fern has a very strong usually wonderful desire to fix a problem. And I usually don't mind if she wants to stubbornly take over opening a stuck window but I've wondered about this aspect of her personality and the way I react to it in relation to certain parts of parenting.

Anyway, it sounds like you're doing a great job!

Lyn said...

N -- I actually usually hear the opposite logic applied. Virtually every mom I've ever met who is home while her partner is working insists that she should do all the nighttime care so her partner can function at work.

I did try to do more at night, but since night feeding required Gail to pump extra, and she already had to pump during the day, I did defer on this. In particular, I didn't push because my first night bottle (by a huge fluke) corresponded with Leigh's first really long stretch of sleep, and ultimately resulted in a plugged duct and later a freakish abscess. We were both rather gun shy after that.

One thing we did do on this front was that I would get up super early (like 5:00 am) to work for 2-3 hours before Gail went to work. This way we at least traded in my extra sleep for work time that we didn't have to pay a sitter for.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this. you guys are a couple of steps ahead of my family, eventually we will be going through a first time for the second time (or something), too, and you give me a lot to think about. i wonder how my perceptions and my wife's perceptions will change, as we switch up our roles.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to what you are talking about. This is a great distinction and I appreciate you writing about it. I did want to do all of the hard work during the first months. I do think a lot of it is biological but I do think I was hoarding duties as well. Now I think I am at the opposite of the spectrum. I hand him over whenever I can! (I am still BFing so there is that!)
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Sarah Friedmann said...

Wanted to quickly say how I continue to so appreciate your candid thoughts. Your willingness to be introspective and critical of your experiences and decision-making (with much love, of course!) is refreshing.