“Congratulations” said the strangers to Michael Noll and his pregnant wife. “You know you’ll never sleep well again, right?” Michael set out to prove them wrong. Hilarity ensues.
When my wife was pregnant with our first son, strangers would see her belly and grin. It didn’t matter where we were—the grocery store, the middle of a parking lot—they’d sidle up beside us and say, “Congratulations.” We knew what was coming, “You know you’ll never sleep well again, right?”
We tried to be polite: “That’s what we hear!” But we were annoyed. Why were so many people trying to scare us? When our son was born, our mystification only deepened. He slept as if his life depended on it. Friends would stop by, whispering and tiptoeing around the room, and we’d say, “Lighten up. A freight train couldn’t wake him.” We got cocky. We’d ask, who are these babies who don’t sleep? What are those other parents doing wrong? We thought we had it all figured out. I think that I might have even said something like, “Give me a baby. Any baby. And I’ll put it to sleep.”
Stupid strangers, we thought.
Then our son turned six weeks old, and all of the warnings came true.
Even then, we couldn’t really believe it. Surely he wasn’t really going to scream every time we laid him down. Surely this was just a phase. He’d figure it out. Or we would. There had to be a solution. So we dug out the baby books and got to work reading.
We rocked him. We put our drowsy baby in his crib and then eased, so carefully, our arms out from under him. When that didn’t work, we put him to bed fully awake. We let him cry. But letting a six-week-old baby cry is like sticking your hand in the garbage disposal. Every fiber of your being screams not to do it. So that method was out. Then a friend gave us a bootleg DVD copy of Happiest Baby on the Block. We didn’t get through the video because our son started crying. At this point, he was fussy most of the afternoon. So we tried the method, and it worked—exactly like it had on the video. Bam. Quiet baby.
“Oh my god,” we both said.
We became missionaries for the video, telling everybody we saw about the miracle of the 5 S’s—until one night when they didn’t work. We popped in the video. Maybe we’d messed up our technique. Maybe we were shushing too soft or shaking our son at the wrong angle. So we watched and did as the presenter did. His babies zonked out. Our baby screamed louder.
And still we thought there was a solution. When we ran out of professional solutions, we invented our own.
We ran a hair dryer beside our son’s head—with the dryer on its lowest heat setting, of course. We didn’t want to set him on fire. We slept with him in a chair. When that didn’t work, we took turns dancing with him. My wife and I each had our own steps. Mine was an L shape, the way a knight moves on a chessboard. I shushed to the beat of my feet and found that it put my son and me both in a trance. An hour would pass—was it possible? Ninety minutes of dancing. I was a machine. I could shush a baby all night if necessary.
The moment it all collapsed always took me by surprise. One moment I’d be telling myself to breathe, to Zen out, and then my son would cry out or arch his back, and the next thing I knew, I was cursing in his face. At that point, I’d wake my wife, and we’d trade. For her part, when exhaustion hit, it was scary to look at her. She wouldn’t say, “Can you take a turn?” Or “I need a break.” It was, “You’ve got to take him,” spoken with the absolute certainty that if she took one more step, she’d lose her mind. When we were both too exhausted too dance, we put our son into a swing. When that didn’t work— when the choice became between lying in bed and listening to a baby scream or picking him up and failing miserable to make him stop—that is when we finally understood the threats. We remembered the glee on those strangers’ faces. And we all cried.
photo: pedroklien / flickr