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Getting a Nanny for a newborn - Right or Wrong?

August 3, 2006

Today, I was interviewed by the Australian Newspaper for an article that will appear in Monday's edition. I was requested to be interviewed by the owner of a business whose services I have used in the past - www.nightnannies.com.au. I am the very proud mother of a 22 week old boy, C.A.R.D. (Short version of Constantine-Antonio) Jane, the journalist, asked how I found out about the services of this company. I told her that I saw a print ad in a local monthly free publication, and the idea of getting a decent night's sleep was paramount at that time, so I rolled the dice and rang them.

The proprietor was very helpful and emailed me about the company promptly, and I poured through their website and read every word. Jane then asked, "Are you prepared for the backlash that you might receive from other new parents about using a service like this one?" That question is what prompted this blog. Let me tell you about my son, because every child and situation is different. CARD was born 6 weeks premature (34 weeks), and spent the first week in a CPAP humi-crib unable to be held, and a further 5 weeks in the Special Care Nursrey (SCN) at Prince of Wales Private Hospital (God bless those wonderful nurses!) Although a premmie, he is blessed to be robust and healthy (7.25kgs at the moment) with no physical impairments.

He is a very happy camper, and spends a heck of a lot more time laughing and smiling than crying. Attending to the needs of a premmie is very challenging. It is like being in parenting purgatory because you are not fully in charge and you don't get to retreat into your den with your cub like other parents get to do when they get to go home from the hospital. It is also terribly TIRING! We spent 6 hours a day doing nothing but feeding -firstly through the nose, then attempting to breastfeed, and then a bottle because the breastmilk supply was insufficient due to prematurity. Australian midwives are nazi-like about breastfeeding, but even Hitler could not get my breasts to perform. Add to the six hours important things like the daily bath, dressing, nappy changing, cuddles and entertaining all the visitors who wants to cast an eye on our first born, and I can tell you that it was a three hours on, one hour off, three hours on, one hour off, process. The only positive thing I can think of or come away with out of the premmie experience was at the end of every night, after the 10PM feed and he was tucked safely into his bassinet in the SCN, was going home and going to bed and getting a good night's sleep and knowing that I had the best babysitters my private health insurance would afford me.

Recovering from an emergency Cesearean, post-natal issues about feeling cheated out of the 'birthing process', and the daily stress of life at the hospital got the best of me. I selfishly relished my Egyptian Cotten sheets and fluffy pillows and 8 hours of rest. The happiest day was bringing him home, hands down. But again, as first time parents it is a vast new universe and there is little training on offer. Four hourly feeds and night-time nappies we lovingly and gratefully attended to with a smile, althought sometimes with bleary eyes. Now, I know what you are thinking...Where was the help? Grandma, Auntie, Sisters...? My partner and I do not have any family in NSW where we live, and infact, all my family live no less than a 45 hour plane ride away. (Not close and certainly not cheap). So there we were in the land of the great unknown with no instruction manual, although we do own a plethora of books for new parents (including a very popular blue one, and the Baby Love book that we have read cover to cover) If only our son could read and then know how he was supposed to behave so that everything could run on a perfect Stepford schedule. FAT CHANCE! My partner and I, after our first forty-five days as full time parents, had a benchmark evening. We awoke to cries as junior stirred around 4 am, after he had been up at 1am and had a complete feed. I had tears in my eyes and I said to Paul, "That is it. He has defeated us. I surrender! I give away my need for sleep and my previously memory of a solid 8 hours undisturbed." He got up, I nodded back off, and the next day, over breakfast, he suggested that we get some help. Now I will kneel and bow to all mothers who hit this low and did not crack, but we cracked. We were irritable, exhausted, our sex life was non-existent, we could not exercise, our social life suffered, and we became short tempered. Basically, we were crappy parents because we were not taking care of ourselves. We decided that we were going to take the plunge and 'phone a friend'.

We planned a dinner at our favourite restaurant, and booked a night nanny using the aforementioned service. Elenor, our savior, arrived at 7pm. She was a trained speech pathologist by day and moonlighted on weekends to earn spare cash. She was personable, knew her way around a nursrey, and imbued our trust immediatley. She seemed happy with our guest room accommodations for the evening, and we left with the knowledge that we would come home from dinner, drop off to sleep, and until 9am, not have to wake up. We were giddy like two teenagers, and terrified like two axe murders on death row. Was our child safe? Would she be responsive to his every cry? would she whisper to him and comfort him or throw him around like a case of rockmelons? Through dinner I called once and sent a few text messages, I admit.

I, however, did not ask for hourly photo affirmations to be sent to me via SMS to ensure that all was calm and bright. Trusting my gut had to be good for something, even with my most precious possession. The fact that the agency did thorough background and criminal checks also put us at ease. Leaving a newborn, even with our experience of kissing him goodbye for the first month at the hospital every night, was very stressful. It was harrowing, but necessary. On personal experience and from my mother's group, the sooner the better. We learned from that first evening onward that in order for us to give him our best, we had to be at our best. Wringing the life out of ourselves would not do him any favours, but probably do more damage. It is easy to become resentful, to both your child and to your spouse for all the tests and trials you encounter as new parents. (It technically is not my partner's fault that I am tired because after a few too many cosmos I fell into bed with him and willing conceived.)

Elenor's presence in the house brought not only much needed sleep but also a source of knowledge. We had "Yoda" and could ask as many questions about what our baby was doing or not doing to a knowledgeable source in the privacy of our own living room. We got feedback! With that came confidence. Elenor got pretty busy on the nannying circuit and the agency sent along a Night Nanny. This particular Night Nanny had over ten years experience and is the mother of two children, 9 and 10. While she works, they stay at home with their dad. She came for a weekend and then ad hoc as we needed her. She is an expert on sleep training and weaning. The nannies agree, we are very lucky as CARD is a very placid, happy baby. He is easy to settle to sleep and even during the night, wakes, feeds and drops back to sleep. We have had nearly no unexplainable crying bouts.

Today having the issue raised about whether or not it was the right thing, to invite a stranger into my house to care for my child, made me look back at my actions and what fueled them. First, the nannies were not stangers, but trained, qualified and competent women. If parenting was only permitted by CV, then I would have been one that John West rejects because before my child I have very little interaction with newborns. Quite honestly, unless you come from a very large family and get lots of hands on time as an Auntie or Uncle, who does? Caring for a child is one part love, one part common sense and two parts intuition. All the love in the world will not change a nappy or give a bottle correctly, or know when your baby is ready for solids. My second reason for hiring a nanny was EXHAUSTION! I did not want to become one of these Zoloft-popping new mothers who numbed the emotions of new parenting with medication and frazzled in their nightgowns at noon. I wanted to be the best mom, the one I envisaged that I would be, and I sought help. Getting a nanny meant getting a good night's sleep.

From my experience, the world and its problems looks totally different when you are not looking through bleary, sleep-deprived goggles. CARD is well adjusted and has no seperation anxiety issues. He can be comforted by a kind stranger, and is a better baby for that skill. He is a total "self soother" according to his paediatrician. After a good night's sleep we relish the 7am morning rolecalls at the crib-side of our son as Paul and I race to see who will get the first smile of the morning. (CARD is now sleeping from 11pm til 7am.) Getting a nanny may be frowned on by other mothers but it changed our life. Paul and I have returning to a life of normalcy. We accept that we are not super-human, although we aspire to be super parents.

Nannies are like anything you would expose your child to: do your homework, read the label (or website), check references, and trust your gut instinct.

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