Today was our first bottle-free day. I should be feeling triumphant but honestly I feel just as lost as my baby when he realised that maman completely forgot his favourite step in his bedtime routine.
I am also terrified that he will wake at 2am yelling his heart out, tortured by recurring nightmares of going to sleep without his nen-nen, whereupon my husband will growl “I told you so” and I will feel defensive and guilty and he will march off to fetch a nice big bottle while I hang my head in shame and listen in trepidation while the feeding is going on and wonder if Michael will go back to sleep and he does after a little bit of yelping and my husband will slump his way back and we will fall back into fitful sleep and then wake with a jolt at 6am to Michael’s crying thinking that it’s 4am because it’s still dark and we are exhausted.
Just a few days ago, I told Lyn that she had to help me photograph the bedtime bottle process, because I wasn’t sure how long it was going to continue, and I wanted to remember it, because it really kicks ass. It’s possibly my favourite time of the day. And then of course we never got down to it, and now all I have is a mental picture of a slightly puckered forehead, half-closed eyes and the tok-tok sounds of suckling. Well, actually, I have this, which I’ve previously shared:
Will I never see this face again???
Thank God I have this. But my arms should be there, cradling his head. And my hand should be patting his little butt, while his hair flickers over his smooth forehead thanks to the dinky little fan I’ve set at full blast. These ten minutes of complete contentment have always been my substitute for breastfeeding – and the only time that my wriggly toddler surrenders and allows me to hold him “like a baby”.
So I have no real idea why I gave that up today. My husband too has no idea, which is precisely why I planned to make my move on a night that he wouldn’t be around for bedtime. Unfortunately, he came home early and I was too committed after psyching myself up the whole day – nay, the whole week – for this, so I forged ahead despite the heavy atmosphere of doubt and hostility. But hey, baby went down after only ten minutes of protest. Oh ye of little faith.
(Although, look who’s sitting here now, waiting for that 2am wake-up call.)
I’d been working up to this bottle-free moment for at least a month. We started from ground zero – which was feeding Michael a full bottle of milk in his darkened room, seconds before I put him down into his crib. Which is really what you do when your kid is a newborn, not one year old. So says everybody. And well, to give them credit, I can’t imagine still doing this when he’s two years old. Especially when there’s that little matter of brushing teeth and eventually, potty training.
So the first step I took towards de-baby-fying his bedtime routine was to feed him in my room instead, and then immediately bring him to his bedroom. The first night, he was totally confused and cried (yes, babies are super detail oriented!!!) but by day two, he was all “Okay, I guess this is the deal now.”
Step Two: introduce teeth brushing. This usually meant precisely eight seconds of panicky jabbing around in Michael’s mouth while he kind of blinked blearily at me. (“What the…what are you…stop doing that…okay nevermind zzzzzz…“)
Once he got used to that, I progressed to Step Three: a book, while brushing, which had two benefits: 1) I could stretch the eight seconds to something closer to a minute, and 2) he would be distracted enough by the book to allow me to brush his teeth properly. He adjusted to this really well, and there I remained, like a total coward, for at least two weeks, savouring our wonderful tear-free bedtimes until one night when my husband called to say he was going to be late, which I read as an all-clear to undertake risky baby training. I summoned my courage and plunged into Step Four: Bathing baby right after milk, YIKES. Up till then, Michael would be in a groggy state from the bottle all the way until he hit the crib. Now, he would be rudely awakened by cold-hot-cold-warm water gushing over his head and maman soaping his butt (which he hates). And worse, diaper and PJs after! Would he be able to handle it???
He totally did. So I high-fived myself and smugly informed my husband that Michael was now going to bed like a big boy. And then there I remained again for weeks. Until today. I gave him his milk in a cup around the usual time, which he happily devoured, thinking it was bonus/dessert (HA!) and everything went well until I brought out the toothbrush and he realised I’d tricked him. He threw his toothbrush away in disgust and sort of whipped around in a bit of a rage, while I grabbed his pillow and brought him to his bedroom. I had to rock him twice before he went down, and all the while I imagined my husband was in the kitchen urgently fixing up his bottle. He probably was.
I felt pretty bad during those ten minutes of heart wrenching I-miss-my-nen-nen sobs. Honestly, I had no idea why I was taking this intense source of comfort away from him, other than the fact that every expert seems to say to wean off the bottle before 18 months. I think I was driven by the fear that it would just get harder later on, when he is 2 or something. And also, I was curious. Curious if he would be ready for this, maybe even before I was. I figured I would just try. No harm trying, right? Twenty minutes of protest, and then I would give him what he wanted. So I rocked and patted and soothed, and miraculously he calmed and lay his sweaty head on my cheek.
Like sleep training, I guess it gets better every night. Unless it doesn’t, and our peaceful bedtimes are ruined forever!
In the meantime, I’m moving all that Dr Brown’s paraphernalia out of sight, and celebrating perhaps prematurely the demise of little specialized brushes, sponges, and the little bowl I set aside for sterilizing. My baby’s on the cup, yo.