Elly has already extolled the virtues of taking your baby out in the evening here, and while I can appreciate the benefits of being accompanied by a little wingperson, this isn’t something that Mr Cath and I have really done much with Pip. After the first few months, during which his sleep was all over the place anyway, we introduced earlier bedtimes and have proceeded with baby-free evenings ever since. Although it initially made perfect sense for Pip’s first and longest sleep to correspond with ours, this ultimately wore thin and after discovering why baby monitors exist we haven’t looked back. As for actually venturing out of the house, these exciting occasions have been adults-only.
I suppose we could take him out asleep – in the carseat or buggy or whatever – but why would we do that, when instead we can employ one of the most joy-inducing concepts known to parent: the babysitter!
Our evenings without Pip have so far only happened a few times: my parents held the fort while we were in Spain last year and of course Anna and Gwilym, babysitters extraordinaire, have come over and done the honours. The difference is, Pip has been asleep every time (I think Gwilym was secretly disappointed not to practice his bottle-feeding skills).
Last month we reached a turning point, in that for the first time we paid a stranger to watch Pip. We were away for the weekend in Amsterdam, seeing friends but staying in a hotel as they have two small children. Pip had had a bad week in terms of sleep as he was recovering from a cold, and I’d warned Maryse that we might have to take him to their place and have dinner there (as opposed to going out) as I had no idea when he might wake up fretful and want feeding. Fortunately, this settled down in the nick of time and we decided to go for it on our first night – albeit out to a restaurant five minutes’ walk from the hotel. The hotel provided a babysitting service via an agency, and for a very reasonable fee a friendly Dutch girl sat in our room for the evening while Pip slept. The agency sent a baby specialist – not a general childminder – and after a brief pang, we had a fantastic evening and only checked our phones a couple of times!
In fact, it was such a success that we arranged exactly the same thing the following night. Except there was a slight problem this time: Pip was still awake when we left. I was worried he might need a nightcap from Mummy (even though he’d fed for an hour), or he might just need Mummy, full stop. What if he cried? What if…? Mr Cath, propelling me out of the door, simply said “it’s her problem.” With that, we headed out and by my first sip of wine I’d managed to relax. There was no great drama in the end: the babysitter told us that Pip stayed awake chilling for about forty five minutes then peacefully drifted off to sleep (when does that EVER happen?!)
Back home now, and we want more. Pip is nearly seven months now and it feels somehow safer leaving him than it did previously: even though, ironically, he is probably more demanding now and his needs are far more complex! I just somehow feel that he is more robust now, and more interactive. Pretty much anyone can play with him and make him smile. I’d be confident that a professional stranger could keep him happy and possibly even do a better job than me in certain areas such as soothing him to sleep without nursing (alas, a skill at which I am sadly incapable). It’s not all about the breastmilk any more and he can go much longer between feedings, thus freeing us to leave him for at least two or three hours without having to worry about bottles or cups.
Of course it is a risk to leave our baby with someone we don’t know, but everything fun in life seems to contain an element of risk, and I actually think that Mr Cath and I are more cautious than some. For example, I know a couple who propped up one of their phones in their hotel room and took the other with them to the restaurant downstairs; they then used Facetime to keep an eye on their little one. Their reasoning was that it is no different to using a baby monitor at home. Post Madeleine McCann, there is no way we would ever do this ourselves… you are not the only ones who have access to your hotel room, and modern technology or not, that is personally a step too far for us. But whatever you are comfortable with!
Ideally we would like to manage an evening out a bit more regularly from now on, building up to our first night away – which we’re intending to take place at the end of August (if not before!) as we have been invited to a wedding that we would preferably like to attend as a couple. That of course depends on the breastfeeding/sleeping situation, but fortunately our friends are flexible so we can see how it goes. Hopefully that is a realistic target though, even if it does involve leaving some expressed milk behind.
If there are no friends or family available, we may follow the example of a couple of my NCT friends and use a reputable agency such as Sitters. Another local friend found a babysitter on Gumtree (which I do find a bit overly brave!) who she has since used a few times and would recommend, so that is another option.
Finally, if there is a yummy mummy emergency during the day such as a hair appointment or manicure, or you just desperately need some time to yourself, just down the road we have The Baby Drop. This is a drop-in creche where you pre-book and pay by the hour to have your little one looked after and entertained by a professional team of staff. This is for babies from birth to five years old and is actually a genius idea when I think about it. So far I haven’t felt the need to use it but it’s a comfort knowing it is there. I’ve been meaning to book a dentist appointment for over a year – it’s free while you’re pregnant and up until your baby is one – so perhaps that would be a good opportunity to try it out.
In the meantime, we’re enjoying every chance we get to be a couple again, just us: for seven years it was Mr Cath and me and we will hopefully have a lot more together after Pip and any siblings have left home. It’s easier said than done to try and keep focused on our relationship when there is a very small but very omnipresent third person in the mix, but getting a babysitter is definitely a step in the right direction!