There’s a moment, just between awake and asleep, when I think I’m dreaming. The snuffles are in my mind and I have a delicious few hours yet with my head firmly on the pillow.
I wake before she’s properly awake herself. The snuffles get louder and I lie there in the darkness praying she’s just readjusting herself, getting comfortable for more sleep. And then she cries. I look at the clock – if I’m unlucky just one hour will have passed since she was last awake. If I’m lucky then it’ll be two. If I’m really lucky it will be three. One time it was five, but that’s never happened again.
As I wrench myself from sleep, mouth and mind thick and foggy, I reach for my baby. She’s usually hungry. As she suckles at the breast I take deep breaths and force myself to stay awake. I sway slightly, as sleep threatens to creep back under my eyelids and close them again. There’s the hint of a ghost in the corner of the room – dark shapes that aren’t there in daylight. Probably an echo of my dream.
Once she’s finished feeding I rub her back and encourage a soft burp. Sometimes she’s fast asleep before she’s finished. Often she’s still awake. I lay her gently back in her cot next to my bed. And then I lie there in the dark, praying once again that she will sleep.
If I’m lucky she will quickly drop off into a deep slumber, with me not far behind. If I’m unlucky she’ll cry again, needing to be cuddled. If I’m really unlucky then not even her dummy will do the trick – I’ll still be rocking and cuddling (and most probably crying with her) an hour later.
Good nights are at least one chunk of three hours sleep with no interruption. Bad nights are an hour snatched here and there, in between soothing a baby that won’t sleep and a four year old who’s had a bad dream. Those nights leave me nauseous with tiredness – sometimes the nausea is real and I vomit through lack of sleep. It’s raw and primal, as my body screams for rest – just five minutes! The result is a strange sensation of being awake but not alert. My head is fudgy with treacle. I can’t remember anything. My body is not my own.
The following day I exist in a blur of irrationality. I wonder how many more nights like this I can handle before my body will simply give up and shut down. Can you die from sleep deprivation? I Google it. The answer is not reassuring. I spend the rest of the day thinking I’m dying.
The internet is no help. “Give her a bottle!” scream the forums. “Co-sleep!” shout the others. “Set a routine!” “Feed for longer!” “Leave her to cry!” “Cuddle her until she stops!” My head is a whirl of conflicting advice – but I am too tired to take any of it in anyway. I resolve to ignore everyone and find my own solution.
We try a bottle of formula at 10pm. My devotion to sleep wins against my dedication to breastfeeding. The baby still wakes two hours later. The formula goes in the bin. We try co-sleeping. The baby sleeps soundly for the longest period yet. I, however, am even more tired than before. I get a numb side as I snuggle around my baby. My 31 year habit of sleeping on my front burrowed under the duvet does not suit sleeping with a baby in the crook of my arm.
I resolve to buy a co-sleeper. The treacle in my head is so thick, though, that I can’t decide which one I need. In the end I give up and ask Facebook, happy to leave the decision in the hands of others. It’s £80 but it seems a small price to pay – I’d happily remortgage our house in return for two hours straight slumber right now.
She is only 13 weeks old. Nothing really. Far too young to expect a lot in the way of sleep. But 13 weeks without sleep is a lot. I listen as other mothers tell me of their babies who slept through at four weeks old. I ache for the sleep they speak of – six, seven and eight hour stretches in one go. My baby girl gurgles happily at me and anyone who looks at her, as if playing innocent in the face of her mother’s accusations, “She is allergic to sleep at the moment!”.
My plans to spend the evening catching up on work and ironing are postponed. I have a bath, Googling “baby sleep at 13 weeks” and go to bed.
Tonight is a new night. Wish me luck.