I’m not a big fan of The Simpsons but I definitely know who Maggie Simpson is. Doesn’t everyone? I see her on the street, in passing pushchairs, at friends’ houses. She has a disproportionately large face featuring two big round eyes and one big plastic plug. And puffer-fish cheeks from the sucking. It’s that dreaded slash beloved dummy!
Like a lot of people, I had always scoffed at dummies. Dirty, teeth bending plugs to keep your child quiet – what was to like? If you think about it, it’s just mean! Let them talk mean Mummies! And wasn’t it just another thing to try and wean them off? The name also got me. Was it intended to be a mannequin nipple? I wanted to meet this chic it was based on because she has some funky shit going on in her bra. Or was it something to do with labelling babies stupid? That just seemed mean, it’s not their fault they’re a dribbling mess for the first 12 months of their lives. The word dummy just didn’t help. Then, everything changed. Girly no1 was born. After those first few days, when you think you’ve been given a dream baby that never cries and only eats and sleeps, reality hit. She started making all this noise and wailing. She was only happy when she had a nipple in her mouth. As they were splitting and tender (at one point, if you looked from the side, my nipples looked just like the Himalayas), I couldn’t bear to put them near her mouth for feeding time, never mind for comforting suckling. I had to make a choice between being stabbed repeatedly in the eye or the ear. Which would you prefer Mrs H?! Being slightly autistic about loud noises (if ever you want me to stop doing something, make a high pitched wail and I’ll just curl up in a ball, rock and ask for my Mummy), someone suggested a dummy. My immediate thought was “I hate dummies”. Then I looked at my baby whose moan was my kryptonite, put two fingers up to pre-baby me and Usain Bolt-ed to the Boots down the road. I bought two different kinds of dummy, mentally re-named them the far more apt, but American, name of ‘pacifier’ in my head and spent the rest of the day forcing them into her mouth. Sadly it didn’t work, she was having none of it. They flew out of her mouth like a jack-in-the-box, littering the carpet, and the grizzling continued. As I was approaching the end of my tether and considering stopping breast feeding altogether, she suddenly found this tiny little stump on her hand, which was the perfect size for sucking. Despite having little to no control over any part of her body, she managed to get that tiny little excuse for a thumb into her mouth almost constantly and noisily suckled away. Peace reigned once more. Nights improved significantly because if she woke up, she had her thumb. And best of all, I didn’t have to get out of bed! We tried a dummy again after so many people said “what about her teeth?” but it flew across the room in disgust. Who needs a rubber nipple when you have the tiniest thumb in the world to suck on?!
That thumb became our saving grace. It was always there. It didn’t need sterilising. It obviously tasted good, even when the skin went all white and flakey. And it was funny watching her learn how to position her hand (for us, not for her). In the early days, her tiny little palm would cover her whole face and her little deathly-weapon fingers would poke her in the eye. But eventually she nailed it. Her first trip to the dentist was inevitably filled with the sideways head and the you-really-should-discourage-her-from-sucking-it. To this I laughed. I wondered how we might achieve this…Create some sort of thumb hat to cover it up (or just put a glove on)?! Pin her arm to the side of her cot in Houdini-esque straight jacket? Permanently cover her thumb in broccoli and mashed potato? Continually shout at her to take her thumb out all day every day alongside all the other things I told her off for, then at night physically remove it from her mouth? No. She was one. And that thumb was the key to our happiness! We agreed to worry about teeth later, we have a whole spare set yet.
Girly no2, when she emerged from that initial 3-week period I like to call a lie, was a real screamer. Given my slightly more relaxed attitude toward dummies, after one day at about 4 weeks old when she had screamed for almost 3 hours, Husband gave her a dummy. The first couple of times she spat it across the room like a chicken-eating-foot-dragging-cap-donning teenager hucking up spit, but on the third time, she loved it. She went straight off to sleep. Husband couldn’t wait to tell me how he had done it. He was beside himself with excitement, he had found the answer to our increasingly desperate sleep deprived prayers. I umm’d and aaah’d a bit as I didn’t want us to fall into the dummy trap. I felt a bit uneasy about it having heard some recent horror stories about parents trying to get their little one to give their dummies up. One such story involved some ceremonial burying of the dummy in a field, only for the Dad to return and dig it back up in the early hours of the morning. I hope I read this and a friend didn’t tell me, otherwise I’m sure I would have asked about the mechanics of finding the spot – was there a dummy equivalent of a gravestone? And was the dummy loose in the dirt? How do they know a cat hadn’t pee’d on it? I digress. Despite thinking I wouldn’t really use it, the next day no2 wouldn’t stop screaming after I’d fed her for 40 minutes and was in a rush to get out the house (appointment plus newborn equals stress induced twitch) so I popped the dummy into her mouth and there was instant peace! Aaaaah! Who gives a shit if we have to dig a dummy grave?! We’ll make it fun! We can decorate lollipop sticks! Cognitive dissonance at its’ finest. Like before, I went straight to Boots and bought four different kinds. We did the grown up thing and talked about ground rules and when it would be ok to use one and when it wouldn’t be ok. 3 hours later we completely ignored them all when all we wanted to do was sleep. Strangely, after a couple of nights hopping in and out of bed to put the glow-in-the-dark plastic plug back in, I decided it might not be the way forward for us. We wanted her to be able to sleep without needing it. If she needed it in the daytime, particularly at that delightful period of the day just before bed when Girly no1 becomes the devil incarnate and Girly no2 emits a constant high-pitched wail regardless of what you say or do. You know the time…the one where you constantly check the clock to see if it’s acceptable to drink prosecco; where you question how much is ok to have before they’re in bed because there’s no way you can wait until they’re in bed; and when you wonder why the minutes last 120 seconds between 5.30 and 6.30 when the rest of the day goes so fast. She ended up using a dummy as and when we needed it for a week or two, then like her sister before, she also found a podgy little stump on her hand. Her forefinger became her pacifier, helping her go to sleep. Unlike her sister, she doesn’t suck it very often, just when she’s falling asleep.
My conclusion is that babies suck. Not like that but they have to suck, for their own happiness and contentment. And frankly they are much easier to love when they are quiet and sleeping. If you don’t want it to be your bleeding, cracked Himalaya nipple they’re sucking on, then give them something – a digit off their own hand, a rubber teat, anything. Within reason obviously. I’m a convert to the put a plug in it approach. And I’ve learned to love Maggie Simpson.
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