I remember feeling Savannah move inside me when I was just four and half months pregnant and everyone telling me that she would be a live wire. She didn’t stop from that point onwards and even thumped me from inside the womb every time I put my seat belt on in the car. She was too active for any sonographers to take pictures of her at my scans, and she stopped me sleeping for more than an hour at time from about 6 months on. And things didn’t change when she made her grand entrance into the world!
She had her eyes wide open from the minute she was born and moved her hands and legs, fingers and toes constantly as if she didn’t know how to stop. Even in her sleep she moved. And as she got older the movement changed from twitches into kicks and shakes, flailing arms and head bobbing. We got her a Baby Bjorn baby bouncer and she was like a perpetual movement machine inside it; she moved so much that it just bounced away without any interference from us and one day she bounced right out of it.
The moving was matched by constant feeding. She loved me feeding her and was attached to me so much that everyone started to question whether or not she was getting enough milk. As a new and therefore inexperienced parent I worried that something must be wrong with me or her and so I consulted every book and every website to try and find out why she fed so often. Friends told me that their babies fed every 3 to 4 hours and slept for the same at night, but mine fed ever hour day and night. I was told that if she’d been fed and changed to just let her try and sleep, but she wouldn’t. She cried with such intensity if I didn’t feed her straight away that you would have thought she was ill. Her weight gain was fine, and when she wasn’t hungry she was such a happy and lovely baby, so I knew that she couldn’t have anything wrong with her, but still no one had seen a baby feed or move like mine did! It made me recovering, functioning and having any free time impossible, and made it very difficult for Ian to bond with her or look after her as she only wanted me.
She wouldn’t go in a Moses basket, or a a crib, or a Sleepy Head. She wouldn’t fall asleep being pushed in a pram and hated being restrained in the car seat. All this small child wanted was for me to hold her and feed her. I tried introducing a bottle and dummy out of sheer desperation when she was about 3 months old but she physically wouldn’t take them. We tried dipping the dummy and bottle teat in my milk, we went through at least 15 different brands and types of bottle and had Ian, my mum and my nan try to feed her whilst I was out of the room, all to no avail!
I didn’t want to give her formula, and so in a way I felt very guilty and like it was my own fault that neither of us were sleeping for more than 45 minutes at a time. Without meaning to, I slipped into attachment parenting and took it to a whole new level. Months went by without me having more than an hour away from her, or without feeding her, and apart from everyone being concerned about me and doubting my methods, we seemed to plod on with it. But she didn’t seem to develop the ability to sleep as people and books told us she should. To get her to nap during the day was a complete battle, and she would only fall asleep in the car or at the breast, and even when she had been asleep for 25 minutes or so she would be wide awake if we breathed or tried to transfer her to a bed. Night time was even worse because by this point I was shattered and a lot less patient. She used me a human dummy, but it was easier to let her do this then let her cry because she wasn’t or held or fed.
She has not learnt to self settle and I honestly believe that she cannot just put herself to sleep. I say believe because it has not happened, and this may in part be to the fact that I will not let her cry it out, and leaving her in a cot, even with toys and a bottle results in floods of sad, desperate tears. We have spoken about the idea of one day just leaving her to keep going and seeing if she just conks, but the problem is we just don’t have the energy to do this all night. This has been especially hard since she learnt to say mum as every time I put her down its all she says and it makes me feel incredibly guilty. I do worry that she is not getting enough sleep, especially when I hear about babies who fall asleep on their own and sleep near enough straight through from 7 to 7.
Although I have managed to cut down our day time feeds to 3 or 4 with solid meals and snacks in between, the napping is still not happening. Every time I think I have mastered the art of getting her to sleep she seems to change tactics and I am yet again spending the large majority of my day and night reading, rocking, singing, feeding and walking her to sleep. We have only managed to have 3 nights out as a couple in a year and have not had our beds to ourselves for a whole night for the same time. I can cope with the breastfeeding gymnastics, the obsessive comfort nipple tweaking she has taken up, and the open bar all night, but not having an evening to myself, or more than an hour during the day makes doing anything so difficult.
When she does finally settle we have to creep around as even a butterfly flapping it’s wings in a different town could wake her up. I once spent 3 hours trying to get her to sleep, only to wake her up when I was walking our the room due to my foot clicking. It also makes me doubt our decisions and Savannah’s progression when I am told how other babies sleep through the night and how changing their nappy isn’t a two man job. Why then is nothing with Savannah easy? At 10 months she started throwing temperature tantrums when she didn’t get her own way, and it came as a real shock to two parents who hasn’t expected it until she was at least 2 or older. These tantrums involve streams of inconsolable tears, screaming fits, cleaned fists, pulling her hair and skin till she’s red and sore all over, and can be from me standing in front of the television, to me not feeding her dinner fast enough!
Savannah is not a delicate little princess, and she demonstrates her strength and determination to climb every day. Some days she will lug a 2ltr bottle of Coke through the house, others she will throw a walker out of her play pen to hear it bang and yesterday she dragged her highchair across the living room. When she can’t do these things due to us stopping her or her own physical restrictions she gets beyond frustrated and we worry about how often she ends up hurting herself when we can’t move quickly enough to stop her. She is forever covered in bumps and bruises and it feels like every time we see her she has a new one!
I’ve got to the stage where I have started feeling a kind of sick satisfaction every time she plays Ian up as well; it’s the same strange pleasure I feel when I hear about other mums that can’t cope with their babies or toddlers. It’s the pleasure in knowing that it’s not just me, or her, and that it might be a bit more normal than I imagined. My Google search history is full of searches relating to one year old unmanageable and tantrums, and it’s relieving when you read about other mums who have the same problem. I often feel like Savannah must hate me, but then I have to remind myself that she’s only one and with me most so it will be me who gets the brunt of it!
On the flip side though she is extremely intelligent. Obviously as her mother I would boost her up, and in my mind she clearly has an Einstein developmental, but others see it and comment too. Last week she said chocolate and car keys within minutes of each other; this week she perfected the art of climbing furniture by taking pillows off of chairs in order to build a makeshift staircase for easy access and she is up to about 40 very easily recognisable and well articulated words. She also scrunches up her nose every time she sees flowers so that she can smell them, and puts her teddies to bed by tucking them in and saying bye bye before kissing them. I feel very lucky that she is so inquisitive and bright, but as the above may demonstrate, she is rather tiring! Trying to entertain a toddler who won’t sleep for 12/13 hours straight is no easy feat!
We are experiencing the “terrible twos” at one and feel a bit short-changed that already she is throwing head-banging, fist thumping, leg kicking and hysterical tantrums all because we say “no!” She has mastered the art of escaping her car seat, and on more than one occasion we have had to pull over quickly because she has manoeuvred her way out of it and is standing up with a proud, smug smile on her face! She knows no fear, and chooses not to know the words stop and no, and this inevitably leads to us shouting at her, leaving us both wracked with guilt. I was shit scared of my dad growing up because of the way he shouted at me, and I am so fearful of her hating me, or being scared of me, but at the same time, she is extremely difficult to control and even more difficult to console when she doesn’t get her own way!
Don’t get me wrong, she’s not always this way. She has her moments of not wanting to cooperate, but for the majority of the time she is a wonderful little girl; even when she is being difficult she tends to make us laugh by attempting to lift objects way bigger than her tiny frame, or by shaking her little bum to music when we want to distract her. The problem is, with so little sleep comes so little patience on both sides, and tempers fray quickly leading to tears all around!
As Savannah has grown up in the past year and changed from the wriggling baby into the semi-independent toddler I have sleeping on me now, I have reached the point of total exhaustion and returned to the Internet to find out why my baby is so different to all the other ones I see and hear about.
I’m not a huge fan of labelling people! I know from experience that everything I did was blamed on my bipolar for a long time, and I don’t want to take away Savannah’s individuality, creativity and personality by giving her any unnecessary labels. But, and this is a big but, us knowing more about how to deal with her would be amazingly beneficial for not feeling that we are doing something wrong.
I came across Dr. Sears, a very famous American paediatrician, on my Internet trawl and started reading up on his articles on High Needs Children and seeing more than a few similarities. His daughter awakened him to the difficulties of some children, and how physically and emotionally draining they could be, and this resonated with us and our experiences. High Needs children are described as intense, hyperactive, feeding constantly and demanding.
We started to understand her a little bit more and could see a different way of seeing her behaviour and how to respond to it. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with her, but more that we need to see things from a different perspective. We cannot compare her to another child, because she’s not them! We’ve also learnt not to talk to other people about how tiring she is unless we want advice that isn’t relevant! People might mean well but we don’t need to be told let her cry it out, or that we’re spoiling her or that she’s too old to be breastfeeding / co-sleeping, so instead we just say she’s getting on well and leave it at that.
She is her own person, and by reading up on Dr Sears’ articles we learnt to just protect her against things that she will inevitably want to try. Instead of getting frustrated and preventing her from attempting to walk straight off of chairs into thin air, or mount/pull down gigantic TVs, we now know to distract her or make sure that she is safe doing certain things. It may sound like common sense, but trying how to distract her when she keeps returning to the same spot has got us stumped.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that I will say she’s hyper because she’s high needs etc. But it’s helpful for us both to know how to handle her and how we can change our expectations to fit with how she is. It’s also served as a good warning of how she may be in the future! The articles and books are a great read and helpful to anyone that feels a little like everything you do is controlled by a small toddler. It is also good for allaying any fears that you are destined to have a child that is also so independent, demanding and high-spirited that you cannot keep up with them.
I wouldn’t change any part of her for all the money in the world, and despite the absolute exhaustion I seem to constantly feel, she is such a wonderful individual to be around and she makes me a very proud, if amazed and exhausted, mummy!