Sleep is a funny thing. You don’t appreciate its value until it’s gone. It was a shock, for example, to experience that all-encompassing tiredness that came with having a newborn. Not knowing when you’d be able to get more than a couple of hours sleep at a stretch was mentally and physically draining. It was, hand on heart, the one thing I found hardest about those early baby days.
And then came the emotive side of sleep. The side that you’re totally unprepared for pre-motherhood, where random strangers ask if you have a “good baby” and you come to understand that babies who don’t sleep through the night do not come under the “good baby” category. I was always reluctant to label my baby as “bad”, so I would get defensive about her sleep or, sometimes, just tell an out-and-out lie. “Yeah, she’s slept through the night since she was 6 weeks old. Total dream baby. The best. My baby wins at being a baby.”
In this country children’s sleep seems to be inextricably linked up with ideas of good parenting. Some of the most highly charged parenting debates are around sleep – co-sleeping versus controlled crying and the like. People are passionate about defending their own methods of raising their kids, sometimes taking other people’s different approaches to dealing with the sleep issue as a personal slight on their own parenting abilities. It seems to be the one area (apart from breast vs bottle) where people can get extremely judgy.
I’ve never written about sleep on my blog purely for that reason. I’ve avoided wanting to enter the sleep debate, preferring to do things in my own home in my own way. I’ve tried to trust an instinct, believing that I know what is best for my child without having to take advice from total strangers or enter into heated debates about something that is so personal. I suppose you could say I’ve just been too tired.
My little girl will be four years old in just over two weeks time. And, just recently, she has started to wake in the night again. Regularly.
Frog has never been a particularly reliable sleeper, either reliably “good” or reliably “bad”. She’s always gone through phases of waking in the night – weeks can pass and then BOOM, we’ll get five nights of waking.
This time though, the waking is lasting longer than five nights.
It always begins with a peaceful bedtime – bath, PJs, story, milk, bed. Frog falls asleep on her own. Then, between 11pm and 2am, she wakes up again. And that’s when the fun begins.
It doesn’t matter who goes in to her, she wants me. No one else will do. She wants me to lie in her bed with her until she falls asleep. I have to lie still, and if I attempt to sneak back to my own bed her eyes snap open.
Sometimes, this results in her swapping beds with the NLM (our bed is too small for a 6ft 4.5″ northerner, lanky child and pregnant woman), so that I can get at least a bit of sleep. But then we realised she seemed to be specifically waking in order to come into our bed, like she had some kind of pre-programmed alarm.
A couple of nights ago, in a desperate attempt to get some sleep and stop Frog’s 2am tears waking our next door neighbours, we made a bed up on the floor in our bedroom, so she could sleep near us without either of us having to leave our own bed. This night followed a night where I’d been in her bed with her for most of the night, practically falling out of bed, cradling my bump as it hung over the edge. It seems that sleeping near to us helped and she promptly dropped off, not waking until morning.
But now she just wants to sleep in our room all the time. She says her bed is “rubbish” and bedtimes, once fairly straight-forward, have become a bit of a battle-ground.
I know there will be people reading this thinking, “You’ve got it easy, my child hasn’t slept for eight years.” I was one of those children myself – I didn’t sleep through the night (not once) until I was five years old. I don’t recall ever being left to cry on my own, so I’m not willing (and I physically can’t anyway – I’ve tried) to just leave my own daughter to cry herself to sleep in the dark.
But I’m not sure where to go from here. Part of me says it’s just a phase and it might stop next week. But the other part is worried it’s become a habit and we’re screwed. I’m wondering if we may as well sell up our three bedroom house and all move to a one bed place somewhere as, come the autumn when the new baby arrives, there may well be four of us sleeping in that one room.
I don’t know why I’ve blogged about this really. I’m not particularly looking for advice (I have The Baby Bedtime Book still to read by my lovely wise friend Fi which may well help). I suppose I just wanted to get it out there and admit it’s a bit of an issue at the moment.
If you can relate to any of the above I’d love to hear. Even if it’s just to nod in sympathy and say that, yes, it’s pretty rubbish when your child gives up on sleep.
And now, if you excuse me, I’m going to bed to get some sleep before my child wakes me. Again.