“And does your baby already sleep through the night?”
I found that one of the most irritating questions I heard during the time that we had three children under the age of four. Hello, of course not! All three were awake at every turn. The solution came from my midwife, who found us exhausted after the umpteenth time with our eldest. She shook her head and said: Why don’t you just take him to bed with you?
Mercifully, that worked. The cradle went out the door and we hammered a guard rail onto our bedstead. From then on, we slept with all five of us in one bed. Not always peacefully, to be sure. There was usually someone sick, weak, or had a scary dream, or had to pee. I think back to those years full of endearment, but I remember very well how tired we were often.
But fatigue did not fit in with the plan of the banker and her consultant husband I recently met at a reception in New York. They are brand-new parents, but they look preternaturally well-groomed and fresh. No pallid faces of exhaustion. No drool spots on her dress or his tuxedo. A picture of their little girl is proudly displayed. She is less than six months old and already a model of exemplary babyhood in her designer dress and shining Mary Jane shoes with buckles.
“She sleeps through the night?” I blurt, breaking my own rules.
“Not at first,” says the mother, as if she was completely surprised by the question. “She cried all night. Our live-in nanny could not make her stop. It was a painful shock for me. How could I still work and lead a normal social life?”
But there’s no problem so big that people with money cannot find a solution. They hired a designated “baby sleeper coach” who came to live in the house day and night. “When that lady arrived, I knew her approach would work,” she tells me. “She had experience and turned out to know our child better than us. She taught us to differentiate between tears. There’s the cry of boredom and the cry for attention. This was an eye opener. To us they all sounded the same. But we were told we had to ignore most times they cry.”
“Wasn’t that difficult?” I ask. This was an approach that we could not understand at the time. To let our children cry.
“No,” she says. “The lady slept in our house and forbade our resident nanny to pick her up. She got ear plugs. Only a few weeks were needed. Our baby has been sleeping through the night ever since then.”
She pulls out her cell phone. I watch a live video connection with her babycam. There lies the small child, sleeping wonderfully through the night in her designer bedroom. Mary Poppins sleeps in the room next door. Without earplugs. The parents sip the champagne at a reception. That also works.
“How did your parents treat you when you were a child?” I ask.
“In Italy, where I come from, we all slept in a big bed,” she says. “I can not imagine doing that at all now. I think that is all very primitive now. Really medieval.” I suddenly get a big need for earplugs.
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at piadejong.com.