Tani du Toit.
Tani du Toit.

Is she a good baby?

SLEEP: Never before has a word lived up to its meaning less than at the start of life.

It might refer to a state where consciousness is practically suspended, but it’s making a large section of society do the tap dance.

Don’t believe me? Ever seen how fast a bleary-eyed new mum moves from A to B to get to the PC as soon as her bub’s asleep? And it’s usually to Google explanations and concoctions that will deliver more of what we all want: sleep. Had you visited me a few months ago, I would have thrown in a pirouette for free.

And know this: while we’re not sleeping, someone out there is making an absolute motza out of our misery.

For a hefty fee, sleep coaches can visit us at our house at night and lurk in the shadows behind the baby room door (or ours, on the night bub decides only our bed will do), to observe how we put her to sleep (or not). Not to mention the books ... a couple of which I so regret spending money on, it went straight to the bin in a bid to save another new mum from heeding advice from an ‘expert’ sans children.

So, as I count on one and a half hand (OK, one) the hours of sleep my four-month-old managed in one stretch last night, I tuck her into the stroller, to, you guessed it, lull her to sleep. And once I’ve executed my wicked plan, I order a hot chocolate at my local for the way home. Bliss. A winter’s morning can’t get any better than this.

Until Sleep Sergeant approaches.

With hawk-like precision her eyes dart over the smooth wheels of our shiny stroller.  Oh, dear. Why haven’t I yet pulled the damn thing sideways through a muddy car park like I used to my new school shoes?

“Naaaww, a new mummy. How sweet.” She stands uncomfortably close.

I smile, try to coax what flyaway (and rapidly thinning) hair I can into a bun to present that unattainable ‘totally-know-what-I’m-doing-here’ look.

Sleep Sergeant comes even nearer, stares down at little one, who has woken up. Bugger.

“So, is she a good baby?”

“Hello, uh, yes, thank you, I ... we think she is ... she’s just started rolling and she makes the most hilarious sounds when ...”

The velocity with which Sleep Sergeant has a simultaneous head cock and fake sympathetic smile interrupts me. She blinks as if confused.  

“Ahem, what I mean is, does ... she ... sleep?”

Oh, of course ... of course that’s what you mean.

“Yeeeaaa, yes.  She sleeps.” I smile.

Fake sympathy turns to a know-it-all grin.

“Mmm, how many hours do you get?”

Let’s pause here for a second. Had this been three months earlier, I would have fumbled and stumbled, thrown my hot chocolate through the air, burst into tears and howled a snotty, snorty cry on Sleep Sergeant’s lapel. But not today. You see, I have become Wise in the Ways of the Mother.

“How many hours ... uhm ... let me count....” I pick at my fingers as I stare at little one’s chubby cheeks.

“Last night, 10 ... no 12 hours. In one stretch. Such a trooper,” I lie. I wait to see if the tremble in my voice will lay bare the deception.

Sleep Sergeant hesitates. Then marches over and congratulates my daughter by tugging at her fluffy socks.

“Well done! What a good baby!”

It seems having a ‘good baby’ means she sleeps – a lot. So when she doesn’t sleep eight or 12 hours a night, does it mean she is not a good baby? Of course it doesn’t. It means she’s a baby. And if he does manage a 10-hours, does it mean mum finally gets to sleep for that long? Of course not. She’s up every two hours checking his breathing and wondering (while Googling) why bub is sleeping so much. 

As a new mum you have enough to deal with, and unsolicited sleep advice from strangers it does not include. So, while I’m waiting for my little one to crack a 10-hour doozie, I’ve collected a few responses I hope you’ll add to your arsenal when faced with this ambiguous question.

Q:  “Is he a good baby?”

A: “Yes, he sleeps so much I have to wake him up so he can eat! Has from day one. Midwives, doctors, they’re all are astounded.”

Q “Is she a good baby?”

A: “Yes, she sleeps more than any other baby at my mother’s group. She hasn’t even been awake for any of the mother’s groups I’ve been to. In fact, I think in the history of all mother’s groups, she has slept the longest of all babies, ever. I’m so lucky.”

Q: “Is he a good baby?”

A: “If anyone told me how much babies slept, I would have had 10 already. I mean, it’s ridiculous. I can’t believe he’s awake right now. Something must be wrong with him! I better check. Bye!”

And my personal favourite, to be launched with fervour at Sleep Sergeants such as the one I encountered:

“Yes, she sleeps a lot ... a lot more than you, by the looks of it.”

Special Delivery is a weekly column.

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