When we had our first child, it goes without saying that life changed. Less spontaneity, less sleep, less time to do just nothing. But once we got through the first three months of the newborn stage, our firstborn developed into a happy, easy baby who slept pretty much through the night on a consistent basis.
When we had our second child two years later, our lives seemed to be turned upside down. We were somewhat caught off guard at the reality of having a 25-month-old and a newborn, and it certainly didn’t help that by the 6-week mark, our son was fussy morning, noon and night, and woke up every hour all night long.
After several weeks of walking around like zombies, we decided to get help, in a somewhat unconventional way. We hired a night nurse.
I honestly can’t even recall where or how we got the idea to hire a night nurse, but I do recall that once the idea entered my head, it seemed like the only reasonable solution. For those who aren’t familiar with a night nurse, it’s basically a midwife, doula, or sometimes a retired RN, who comes into your home and helps you care for your baby in the middle of the night. I don’t think they’re used as often here in the U.S. as they are in Europe, and I certainly never knew of anyone personally that had used one before, but by the time we decided to try a night nurse, I was willing to try anything to get some rest.
My son was 11 weeks old when I decided to start looking for a night nurse, and his sleeping patterns had progressively declined since birth, going from decent, to bad, to what seemed like torturous. Right before we found Peggy, our night nurse pictured above, our son was waking up every 30-45 minutes consistently throughout the night. On top of that, he was fussy all day and slept very little. I felt hopeless and helpless.
I had discussed the possibility that he might have reflux with our pediatrician on several occasions, but because he continued to gain weight and didn’t visibly spit up or projectile vomit, he dismissed it as it just being a case of having a “tough baby,” and he assured me it would get better with age and time. But when you have a newborn and a toddler to take care of full time, and you’re getting virtually no sleep, you tend to have a hard time with patience.
We found Peggy through a local list of practicing doulas who also were willing to help out at night. She had great references, was an experienced mother of five herself, and had a soothing nature about her that just felt right.
After calling her references and confirming a background check, we hired Peggy to come and help us out 3-4 nights a week for 6-8 hour stretches at a time. Financially it was a stretch for us, but for our sanity, we decided to scrimp and cut back in other places for a few weeks so we could just catch up on some sleep. Plus, I was due to go back to work when he turned four months old, and I knew I couldn’t go back and function like as I was. The goal was to get us through the next 3-4 weeks when our son would be technically out of the 3-month-old “newborn” phase, and by then we just hoped that things would turn around and he would miraculously grow and mature into better sleeping habits.
Now I’ll be honest: We encountered some skepticism from friends and family when we told them we would be hiring help. First off, I personally felt a bit uneasy that I was having to hire help in the first place. I felt as if I was failing, since millions of mothers did this every day without help. In addition, the most common question from others was, “How can you sleep at night when there is a stranger in your house taking care of your baby?” Someone even suggested that perhaps the night nurse would kidnap our son, or our daughter, or both!
People also asked about the money and how we could afford it. We told them at this point we couldn’t not afford her, because I would quickly fail at my job if I returned in the state I was in.
With everything, I guess there just has to be a level of trust. I’ll admit, the first couple of nights were a little uneasy, but we quickly got used to Peggy being there and, very quickly got used to the extra sleep.
Because I was nursing, and also pumping, Peggy would give my son a bottle of pumped breast milk for one of his feedings in the middle of the night. For the other 2-3 feedings, she would bring him into me to nurse, then once I was finished, would take him back out of the room, change and burp him, and then put him back to sleep. If he woke in between feedings, which he always did, she would try to settle him down and soothe him until it was time for is next feeding. I still woke up at the sound of his cries, but I didn’t have to get out of bed, and I was able to fall back asleep knowing Peggy was taking care of him, allowing me to rest and recover.
After about four weeks, his sleep had not improved, nor did his fussiness. Peggy was even herself a bit perplexed by his unsettled behavior. Upon her suggestion to get his neck checked out because it seemed to be leaning to the side a bit, I took him into his pediatrician. It was confirmed that he had torticollis, a condition where the muscles in the neck are basically strained and pulled too tight so that the neck leans or tilts to one side, and the baby has trouble turning his neck. It’s not serious, but can be uncomfortable for Baby. He also confirmed that he might have reflux because he had lost some weight since his last checkup.
We put him on some acid reflux medication, and started him in physical therapy to help stretch out the neck muscles. The poor guy was in fact miserable, which hadn’t helped his mood or his sleeping! Within a week of his new treatments, he was like a different baby, and his sleeping started to improve!
The lessons I learned from our whole experience with my son’s sleeping, and hiring help, is twofold. First, never beat yourself up about admitting to need (or even just want) help! Having a newborn is beautiful and cherished time, but it can also be very, very hard. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you can’t do it all on your own, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to find help in new and different ways that may not be “conventional.” Second, always trust your mother’s intuition. I knew deep down that the fussiness and sleep habits of my son indicated that something was not right. I’m so glad I didn’t back down and we got my son the help he needed to be a happier, more comfortable baby. After he started his treatments, his little personality started to come through, and I felt like we were finally able to get to know each other a bit more and truly bond.
Hiring a night nurse was one of the best things we did, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, although I certainly hope that with this one I won’t have to!
Have you ever hired help, either at night or during the day, just so you could get some rest?