"So, are you enjoying the sleepless nights?" It's a question I'd ask friends and colleagues who had just had kids, every time I met them. This was during my good old bachelor days. I wasn't being malicious, I just didn't know better. I'd heard that once you have a kid, there would be many, many sleepless nights. It was par for the course. No one made a big deal of it. It's not like you were working on a big and important project at work which allowed you to flaunt your late nights like a badge of honour and expect your boss to give you-as Gabbar Singh put in in Sholay-shabaashi!
No. Back then, I hadn't heard any parent cribbing and complaining about a sleepless night. I figured these sleepless nights were a result of late nights for the child. Surely they were happy sleepless nights, joyous sleepless nights; spent cuddling, tickling and playing with the little bundle of joy. Or, at worst, your kid wakes up late at night for milk and you feed him and he goes back to asleep. Indeed, who'd make a big deal of such harmless sleepless nights? This is parenthood. Only khushi, no gham. And so I'd go around happily, merrily, cheerfully asking all my friends and colleagues "So, are you enjoying the sleepless nights?"
They'd smile politely at me. Some would shrug it off as if it was no big deal. Some would ignore me. A few would glare. I'd wonder about it, but I never quite figured out the reason for it. Till I experienced my own first sleepless night. Technically, the first sleepless night was when our son was born. But, that night was spent feeling excitement, nervousness and thrill in equal measure. And, at the end of that enthralling sleepless night, began a whole new life for me and my wife and our son, of course.
Now that I was a father, that seemingly harmless and innocuous question came back to haunt me for a long, long time.
Part of the job
It's not like you're not prepared for sleepless nights. You've heard about them. You know they're coming. It's part of the job description under the designation that reads "Father". Your daft friends or colleagues, who aren't fathers, ask you dumb questions like, "So, are you enjoying the sleepless nights?" and you tolerate them with the same patience you'd have tolerated a baby you can't yell at because, well, your daft friend or colleague doesn't know better.
But no one enjoys a sleepless night, let alone a series of them. Like any other undesirable experience you have to go through, you tell yourself that it'll get better. And then it doesn't. It goes on. You begin valuing the few nights you do manage to get good sleep. And remember guiltily that as a father, you're already getting the easier part of the deal. It's the mother who goes through the tougher test; with feeding added to the list that includes sleepless nights.
The Colic Challenge
Some babies sleep well. Some babies don't. As it happened, our son didn't sleep well. One of the reasons, we were told by the pediatrician, was colic. We can't forget that word. When I Googled it, I was taken to some medical organisation's site that told me, 'Colic is among the early challenges of parenthood.' Wait. What? Parenting is a challenge? Says who? What about all those lovey-dovey-cuddly-cute-smiling babies in the arms of happy, joyous, ecstatic parents? That's the picture I'd been sold. No one had warned me about parenting being a challenge. And that was the first reality check I got as a parent. There were, of course, more to follow.
I don't know if our paediatrician was right or wrong about colic. When it's 1am and your 1-month-old wakes up and starts bawling for no reason, you can't really think straight. When that pattern is repeated every couple of hours at ungodly hours of the night, you might not be in the mood for calm, rational and logical thinking. You need a solution. Unfortunately there isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of answer available. Ever. You have to keep trying stuff, failing and learning. Sometimes the same thing works and another time it doesn't. Then you try new stuff.
Burps and bumps
Burping, apparently, works. But we found that getting a baby to burp isn't very easy. Not for us, at least. Those nurses in the hospital had made it look so easy. We just assumed that in no time, little Varun would be letting out big, noisy burps under our watch too. What we didn't realise was that those nurses had dozens of babies and many years of grueling experience under their belt. Us? We had to learn it. Slowly. Awkwardly. The paediatrician trained us a bit; showed us how to gently hold the baby over the shoulder, while lightly patting him on the back. Keep doing it till you hear that little frisson of air that is music to a parent's ear. And so we juggled and struggled with our 1-month-old son. Sometimes nothing happened, and sometimes we would be rewarded with a tiny, almost inaudible burp. Once in a while we'd be lucky and get a loud one. The very sound we find disgusting in an adult can be so relieving when coming from a baby! A burped baby sleeps well, we'd been told. We could only hope.
Hitting the road
There were nights when burping didn't work. Our son would just toss, turn, bawl and repeat. That's when we discovered the one thing that could always get him to nod off: a drive. Mumbai's bumpy roads gave just the right vibrations to get our kid to slip into a deep slumber. So off we'd go driving around Mumbai, well past the bewitching hour. No traffic, no noise, not much pollution and with a nice wind blowing at times.
So, did we enjoy our sleepless nights? No, we didn't. No parent does. Going out for a drive at 2am just to put your baby to sleep sounds like a whacky idea. But as a parent, you know you have to keep trying. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't. But it's all part of this job of a lifetime that comes without any salary and all the hardwork. And yet, you wouldn't have it any other way.