When I was pregnant with Jamie, I spent a great deal of time researching those lists that tell expectant parents what they need to buy and what they don’t. The latter was just as important to me. I knew, because of all the reading I’d been doing, that parents and parents-to-be were major potential targets for advertising and liable to buy all sorts of stuff they Didn’t Really Need. Which, of course, was not good because it meant you were getting sucked into the trap of buying your child Things instead of giving them the time and love that they really needed (it was, of course, an either-or). Since I’m the earner in the household and financial considerations were therefore going to limit my maternity leave somewhat, this had something of an immediate practical application as far as I was concerned – if I spent as little as possible on buying Things for my child, I would save money and therefore be able to afford to spend longer at home with him. So, I was very picky when it came to spending money.
One of the things I decided not to buy was a Moses basket. Sure, I could see that it might be a nice thing to have – but the books and lists I consulted agreed that it wasn’t necessary. After all, I would be getting both a cot and a travel cot (the latter being a necessity with grandparents who live far enough away that day visits would be impossible in the one case and impractical in the other), and that would provide my child with quite enough sleeping places. Providing him with a third alternative that would only last a few months anyway appeared to be firmly on the non-essential list. That settled that, then. Didn’t it?
My son, when he arrived, had something of a different opinion on the matter. He had no interest in settling happily to sleep in either his cot or his travel cot despite the hours I spent trying to persuade him to do so. I think that some of the people on the parenting forums I consulted for advice on how to get him to sleep may well have mentioned that buying him a more comfortable, snug sleeping place was an option worth considering, but, if so, it was one I firmly discarded. After all, I had done my research on the matter and that must mean that I was doing things Right, so of course I shouldn’t change course. The books had assured me that I did not need a Moses basket. Buying unnecessary items = frivolous materialism = Bad Motherhood. Everyone who knew anything about such things knew that. QED. By gosh and by golly, I was not going to buy a Moses basket.
And by gosh and by golly I didn’t. I spent the first six months of Jamie’s life carting him around everywhere in my arms during the day even when he napped, interspersed with bouts of trying to persuade him to settle in his cot for naps the way The Books assured me I should be doing. At night I struggled on for two months of miserable long-drawn-out sessions sitting in a chair or hovering by his cot trying to get him to sleep, interspersed with increasingly long periods of falling asleep thankfully on the camping mattress I’d installed on the bedroom floor while trying to pretend to myself that I wasn’t really co-sleeping (because, of course, that was another thing that I’d decided after reading all The Books that I wouldn’t do) before deciding that the hell with it, I was officially a co-sleeper, and simply falling asleep with him on the mattress every night. That last did at least make life easier, but the whole issue was still one of the major contributors to my less-than-blissful experience of the first few months of motherhood. However, as you may have noticed, I am a
pig-headed stubborn determined person; I stuck it out. I made it through those months without buying a Moses basket. I arrived triumphantly at the end of his first six months a Moses basket-free zone. At which point, I thought to myself "Congratulations, Sarah. You managed not to buy a Moses basket. Which means you saved – what, £30?"
It was at this point that I started to realise that building Moses baskets up in my mind into the symbol of all things materialistic and of Bad Motherhood in general had, just possibly, been the teensiest bit excessive. Perhaps they might have been more constructively viewed, instead, as something that would make my life somewhat easier in return for a sum of money that I would, now that I thought about it – maternity leave or no – have found quite piddlingly affordable.
Of course, the nice thing about having a second child is that you actually get to do all the stuff differently that you wish you’d done differently with your first. So, when I was pregnant with Katie, I did what I should have done long before and bought a Moses basket. It didn’t even cost me £30, as it happened – I just went to the local NCT sale and bought one there second-hand. As far as I can remember, it cost me £12, plus another £2 for the stand (I hadn’t originally planned on buying the stand, but for that price I figured it was hardly possible for it not to be worth it).
And it was brilliant. Katie settled down in it perfectly happily, although I don’t know how much of that the Moses basket gets credit for – I think she’s just better at falling asleep than Jamie was at this age. But it was so convenient. It took up a lot less space next to our bed than the cot did, and when she got sleepy during the day I simply carted the basket downstairs, parked it in a shady corner of the dining room, put her down in it, and got on with doing some of the many things that are more easily done without one arm being occupied by a baby, knowing she was comfortably within earshot and checking on her when I went past. It was all just so relaxed, somehow.
(By the way, the stand did indeed come in useful too. As well as saving me a fair bit of stooping, it was somewhere handy to hang those old cloths you always need to hand when you have a spitty baby, thus saving me from having to grope round drawers or the floor for them in the middle of the night. And it was something to prop my toes on as I sat on the edge of the bed for night feeds.)
This, of course, couldn’t last any more than anything in parenthood can. Within sixteen weeks, the tiny baby who’d looked so lost in the basket when I first put her in it had almost doubled in size and practically filled it. While we probably still had a few weeks before she started exploding out of it Incredible Hulk-style, my maternity leave was about to finish, and we knew that free time to get anything done would be hard to find once I was back at work; accordingly, on the last weekend of my maternity leave Barry took the chance to put the cot back up next to our bed. So the Moses basket has now been relegated to the aforementioned corner of the dining room. It’s still used for the occasional afternoon or evening nap (I put Katie in it while writing part of this, as it happens), but its days are clearly numbered, and they aren’t very large numbers, either.
Katie made the transition like a little trouper, looking temporarily bewildered at suddenly finding herself in a cot but settling to sleep there almost as willingly. And, now that she’s managed to keep breathing for a whole four months, some of that without me hovering over her, I feel quite happy to tuck her up in the cot for naps and head off to distant parts of the house with the baby monitor in hand. However, I still found it quite a wrench when the cot went up and I realised that the Era Of The Moses Basket had, for practical purposes, passed. This was, of course, worsened by the whole Last Child Syndrome – the knowledge that every phase you move out of is gone for good, never to be revisited. I will never again settle a tiny new baby comfortably into that snug basket so handily next to my bed.
And I feel sad about saying goodbye to the Moses basket. For one thing, now we have a great big clunky cot filling up all the space next to my side of the bed, which is something of a nuisance. But, more than that… the Moses basket has once again become a symbol. A symbol, this time, of how much better motherhood is second time around. A symbol of the fact that, this time, I’ve found my way to being the relaxed, laid-back getting-on-with-life mother that I meant to be when Jamie was a baby but somehow lost sight of in the anxious scrabble to Get Motherhood Right. A symbol of the fact that I’ve finally got it the only ‘right’ that counts – right for me and for us, not bothering too much about what The Books say but doing what works for this family.