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Sleeper cell

Sleeper cell

Illustration: Angela Keoghan

New babies spend lots of their time napping, right?

Enjoy this special time, they said, and when they said that, I felt bad. We spent a week in hospital with bossy midwives and a wailing baby rapidly dropping weight — but the really bad bit was when an angry red infection spread around Hannah’s caesarean scar, at which point they readmitted her and for the next few weeks we bounced between doctors and hospital and district-nurse visits and midwives.

Apparently, babies sleep between 11 and 14 hours a day and they can really only be awake for about an hour and a half before they get cranky. I say apparently, because Ira never got close to this, and by seven at night he would start to wail and the only way we could get him to stop crying was to rock him for half an hour while our arms ached with the weight of him.

One weekend, he cried all Saturday afternoon and into Sunday from something we never really worked out but which we think was wind, and we were very careful about burping him for a couple of weeks until he started doing it himself, and when he does this we exclaim with praise. And I realise in a pleasant sort of way how much our world has shrunk.

He did sleep on us, and he did sleep in the car — until one weekend we drove to Muriwai for a walk and he started crying when we put him in the car seat and stopped only when we got to the beach, so we turned around and drove home. He slept in a frontpack, until I spent an afternoon walking around the park with him while he grunted and wriggled and flailed. Eventually, I put him down on the grass and sat down beside him and wished for my old life back.

A sleep consultant told us to — I kid you not — put him down in his bassinet and “shush-pat” him until he went to sleep, which is when you say shhhhh and pat him on the bum. (It didn’t work.) The Plunket lady said he had reflux, and told Hannah to feed him less — less! — and not to eat kiwifruit or onions. (Powdered onion soup is okay, she said brightly.)

Stuffed so full of formula he smelled like yoghurt, he — miraculously — slept.

Four days later, the Karitane nurse told us he was hungry, and put us on a regime of ups and downs and precise feeds and expressing of milk and assured us he’d soon sleep through the night. Stuffed so full of formula he smelled like yoghurt, he — miraculously — slept. And we felt guilty about all of the preservatives and fillers he was drinking and which we never planned to give him — though at least he learned to go to bed on his own.

Around that time, something broke in us. We trashed the schedule, stopped looking at the clock and put the formula in the bin. We invited really good friends for dinner: they brought a roast chicken and we opened a bottle of champagne. The next day, Ira slept, and every time he woke, he wanted to go back to sleep. He has now done this for the past two weeks and, in my head, these events are connected.

So finally, yes, it was a special time. There is the slow gummy smile that spreads across his face and his talkative gurgling giggles and his fantastic loud farts. The jerky hand movements and the concerted pout and the beautiful way he is learning to jump if you hold him, though he is not very interested in “tummy time”. The way he grips your forefinger, and the warm weight of him in bed in the mornings when the three of us have a cup of tea. The mop of hair, patchy in the front like a balding middle-aged man. The tender lurch in your chest when you see him fast asleep in his bassinet. Sometimes he’s grizzly, sometimes he’s not. He’s asleep as I write this, and the house is calm. For now.

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