When Veronica was born, we had every expectation that we would use a pacifier to calm her. We made a big deal of letting Lucy buy them (since they were so important, it was something a big sister should help with) and we had more than one conversation about which brand would best quiet her cries. At no point did we actually consider not using a pacifier, but now the question has come up.
With Lucy, the first four days of her life were a haze. She was our first and we were spending our time at the hospital just trying to figure out what to do with the little human life that the doctor had handed us. When she would cry, I would work every trick I had read about in the books. I would rock her back and forth in big, sweeping arcs, attempting to mimic her days swaying in the womb. I would pat her on the back firmly and make loud SHHHHHHHHHHHHSHing sounds until my mouth was dry and my throat hoarse, overwhelming her tiny baby brain until she was so confused she couldn’t cry. These would all work. That is, they would work until I stopped. But hey, that’s how parenting works, right? And she was our first born, so I was more than happy to dedicate my every waking hour to easing her pain. But then, on the last day of the hospital, we were on our way home. The baby was packed up in her car seat and we were heading home. It was time to go, but she needed a feeding.
So she cried. She cried loud and she cried lusty. She cried for the nipple and the warmth of her mother’s breast. Everything she deserved but we were unable to provide. Leah and I bit our lips, looking at each other. I started to half-heartedly rock the car seat back and forth, shaking my head helplessly. And then, just as our hope faded and we confronted the prospect of our first drive with the baby being a noisy one, the nurse appeared. With a pacifier.
Quiet. Just the gentle “thup thup thup” as she sucked on the impostor nipple. From there, there was no going back. We were pacifier parents. Mr. Sucky Thing, as we would call it, had become a part of the family.
With Rocky, there was no question what we were going to do. As soon as the doctor pulled him out of his womb, I reached in my pocket and pulled out a pacifier. I brushed off a few specks of lint and reached over to the new little life, popping the binky in his perfect little mouth. Then I turned to Leah and said “It’s a boy.” Ah, I thought to myself. This was going to be a quiet baby if I have to shove five of those things in his mouth at once. I’m an experienced parent now. Nobody’s going to fool me into shushing and patting.
But, did you know there’s a downside to pacifiers? Oh, I’m not taking about bent teeth or judgmental stares from other parents. No, I’m taking about something much more serious.
I was so tired. In the first month or so of his life, when he still slept in our room with us, Rocky was a fighter. I thought I could swaddle a baby – oh, I was so cocky – but then I met Rocky. No swaddle would hold him. He would wiggle and fight and fuss his way out of any swaddle I could come up with, no matter how tight I pulled it. And then there was the pacifier. It calmed him. Hell, it was probably the only thing that did. He would take it and suck, suck, suck.
“Thup thup thup.” He soothed, working his way asleep. Then silence. He was asleep.
Sleep moved to take me as well, and right as I was on the edge of the abyss, I would hear it.
The quiet, subtle “tick” of a plastic object hitting the bassinet mattress as the pacifier falls from his slack lips. That sound still haunts my dreams.
“Tick,” and then the cries. I would get up and replace the pacifier. And start the whole nightmare over.
And now he’s almost two and a half and still uses the pacifier at night. He calls it his “gobby”, which sounds more like a Harry Potter house elf than an instrument of comfort. We had stopped using the pacifier before age 2, but then brought it back when he moved to a big boy bed to help calm his crazy. It helps him sleep, but we are again paying the price. Every night, around 3 am, it’s “DADDY, WHERE’S MY GOBBY? I NEEEEED IT” And I’m up, desperately feeling around his bed for the gobby that is, invariable, 4 inches from his left hand. But no, calling for me is much easier than moving you hand slightly. That makes perfect sense.
And you know what my solution is? It’s not to let him cry a little and learn a lesson. Sure, some people have suggested that I do that. Some people who write on this blog, in fact. But my solution is to wait until he’s asleep and then throw a half dozen pacifiers on his bed. Then he’s always touching one. And then what do I do? I sneak in after he wakes up and take them away again so he never knows my deception.
It’s been much better for my sleep. I’m not sure how great it is for my dignity.
So, what about Veronica? Well, we still have those pacifiers we bought. But she doesn’t cry. She just…doesn’t. So they remain on the sideline. When she fusses, we’ve taken to using other methods of mollifying her, be it the breast or a gentle rocking. Since she cries so rarely, it hasn’t seemed like much of a hassle. Now, obviously, she’s two weeks old and this calm probably won’t last. So what do we do when she becomes self-aware and really starts to cry? Do we succumb to the pacifier’s siren’s song? Or do we hold tough and hope that she finds her thumb and learns to sooth herself?
And isn’t that what parenting really comes down to? Hoping your kid turns into a thumb sucker to help you avoid tough decisions.