My story, or:

How pyramids helped me decide to help babies sleep

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Hi, I'm Heidi, yours truly and today I'd like to share with you the real story behind Baby-Sleep-Advice.com. Spoiler alert! It has to do with pyramids ...

Did you say pyramids?

It was late at night, that Thursday in November when we landed at Cairo International. I can't say "that cold November night" for dramatic effect because it was a pleasant 75 degrees (23-24 Celcius) so that was actually quite comfy.

But everything else was kind of a nightmare.

There were 3 of us: my husband, our tiny little newborn son, and me (that's our boy in the picture with the pyramid at Giza near Cairo, he was a sturdy 4 month old by then!).

I'd given birth to our first baby boy 7 weeks before this night. 7 weeks. My husband just got relocated for work, quite suddenly and with no option to refuse. And if we wanted to stay together, we had no other option than to move, the three of us.

Our little boy was our very first baby, we knew barely anything about parenting, we were in a strange foreign country and the very first thing we did was: forget his travel crib inside the airport terminal. Yay ...!

That travel crib was our son's only safe sleeping spot for our first nights here so we kinda needed it.

We asked our cab driver to turn around and very politely asked airport security to let us back in. It was late 2002 and things were mostly calm there at the time. They were very kind and helpful and let us go back to get the travel crib. Phew, first hurdle taken!

On to the next one ...

We settled into the hotel that would be our home for the first couple of nights. Exhausted but happy to get my baby boy changed and fed. Then suddenly while nursing he started coughing. Choking really.

And for the very first time in my life, I felt that motherly panic. I was scared but would move the world not to let him or anyone notice. Terrified. That kind of panic. My baby – my sweet always-happy giggly boy – cried. Screamed. On our first night away from home.

Now, many years later, I know he was just a little congested of course, likely from the aircon on the plane or the airports. Now I know it was harmless and he'd be alright in just a few days. But I didn't know that then.

It was horrible.

He tried to nurse, but couldn't. Tried to spit up, but couldn't. He was choking and I didn't know what to do! I just kept him close, rocked him a bit, and offered to nurse if he wanted to try again. And somehow we made it through the night. I hadn't slept a wink, but we made it!

The next morning, after a lot of gesturing and international sign language the hotel manager directed us to a nearby hospital. Now this was a really decent hospital and I have nothing but respect for the people who worked there. But it just didn't have the high end facilities we were used to back home. So let's just say I wasn't completely at ease right away.

But the pediatrician who saw us was very friendly and helpful, and for a moment I relaxed a bit. He'd help us and we'd be alright!

Until ...

the next second, he lifted my tiny 7-week-old love-of-my-life, very roughly, threw him on his arm and started hitting him on the back! ("to loosen congestion").

For a few seconds, I was petrified. Literally.

That's why it took me a few moments to decide to take my son back. (I still regret today that I didn't react sooner, even 3 seconds would make me feel better!). But I got him back, and we sort of rushed out of that place. The pediatrician – a bit surprised about my reaction but he probably knew inexperienced new parents when he saw them – just had the time to tell us our son was absolutely fine and would recover within a few days.

And he did! A few days later we were all settled in our apartment that would be our home for the next 6 months. To help my little boy get better, I did the only thing I could think of. I let my instincts take over. I held him next to a running shower in the bathroom, nursed whenever he was up to it and held him as much as he seemed to need it.

And lo and behold ... not 3 days later I had my happy giggly baby back! And I'd learned a thing or two about motherly instincts.

Then our regular life in Cairo could begin. I can't say that it was easy. I was this completely fresh mom, my husband had to work nearly 24/7, a health care system I didn't know, I had zero local support system and an unreliable dial-in* internet connection to my family and friends back home.

* Dial-in: this was in 2002 and if you're too young to know what a dial-in connection is: it's what we had to do before Wifi and Mobile Data. You literally dialled in via a phone line, and then got a crackly connection via an early version of Skype. It worked sometimes, not all of the time, and when it worked it was slow. But it was a connection!

So it really wasn't easy. I felt quite alone, unsure what to do and was I even doing anything right for my baby? Once he got over the cold, we were truly blessed to have him sleep mostly well, feed well and he seemed to grow and develop well. So that was really really nice.

It was a daily challenge though for me to keep our little household in order, to make sure my baby boy was safe and happy, and still feel a little bit like myself at the same time.

But you know what, I was happy.

I spent a lot of precious quality time with my beautiful baby boy, hours and days and weeks I'll cherish forever.

Local people crossed crazy busy streets and jumped off balconies (low ones, but for real!) to get a glimpse up close. Or to ask if they could please carefully kiss his forehead.

Everyone I met was super kind and friendly and always helpful. Nothing but very warm welcomes.

So we settled into a peaceful routine. Until that one night ...

... when our baby boy suddenly didn't settle to sleep as usual. And kept waking at night. And then didn't nap at all the next day. Or the next day, and the next, ...

And I'd thought our first few moons had been rough! Silly me, not even realizing what a blessing it was for our little boy to sleep 8-9 hour nights in those first months.

Gone were our easy 8 hour nights. Gone was my me-time during his naps.

Gone was my confidence of "Look at him sleep and smile, what a great job I'm doing!"

And I was SO. VERY. TIRED.

I know now how very normal that all was. I'd just lucked out those first few months. Now reality was here.

I felt so vulnerable.

And you know, it's that exact feeling of vulnerability as a mom that I can still feel today and it's what led me to do what I do now. It's what led me to this passion of wanting to help other moms and their babies sleep better. With kind support. And in ways that feel right for both mom and baby.

Because I'd felt the vulnerability, and the panic, and the utter sleep deprivation, and I knew it could spring out of nowhere, or be there from the start. And it can make this parenting job in the world, that's already the hardest job in the world, so much harder still. But it shouldn't be and so that became my mission: to support you in these vulnerable times, with real-life effective sleep help that would help you truly enjoy these precious times with your little baby.

So back to that time when my little boy suddenly stopped sleeping. I still had to find my own way first, to help him sleep better again. I researched and read and studies all the info I could find and, thankfully, my instincts kicked in again to support my research.

That helped me observe my son and work to understand why he wasn't sleeping as before, and what would really help him feel better and therefore sleep better again. I also quickly understood that the cry it out advice many tried to give me, wasn't really my idea of caring for my son. So I devised other ways. And found out what didn't work and what worked.

And that's how my work here with Baby-Sleep-Advice.com was born. The very start of my mission. And I'm super happy to be able to share it with you here! And now you know what pyramids had to do with all that ...

If you'd like my more formal bio, with background and certifications (or if you wonder what it is between me and nuclear physics), hop on over to my about me page.