I never thought it would happen. Honestly, at one point last year I felt so deranged through lack of sleep I just assumed this would be how I’d feel until my youngest child turned ten or eleven.
Back then, we were co-sleeping. That worked for a while, but one day it didn’t. Baby Girl just woke up in the middle of the night and refused to sleep until we put her in her cot. It was a bit of a relief when she started sleeping in there, as much as I missed her warm little body snuggled into me. I could finally lie on my stomach and spread out. I would sleep deeper for the short stretches of sleep she allowed me, but the wake-ups were still multiple and regular. I was lucky to catch four or five hours of broken sleep a night.
I coped with it in the way that all parents cope with lack of sleep – sporadically. Some days I felt fine and others not so much. At one point last September I wondered if I might be a touch depressed, but then I had a full nights’ sleep and felt fine again.Turned out I was just supremely knackered.
Long term sleep deprivation does that to you – it makes you feel disconnected, flat, mentally drained. I’d flip from feeling happy and content to desperate and panicked. Everything would be coasting along fine and dandy but then something would happen and my reactions would be ridiculously out of proportion. I found myself sobbing over a spilt cup of tea, for example.
The worst thing was the un-asked for advice. There’s a real competitive edge to the whole baby sleep thing. Babies who don’t easily settle by themselves in their cot are not “good babies”. People want to solve the sleep issue and it’s often the first thing you’ll get asked as a new mum. If your bub doesn’t sleep for four hours straight at a time you can feel like you’re doing something wrong. Well, let me tell you new mum – you’re NOT doing anything wrong. Your baby (like many others) just didn’t get the memo.
We’d get periods where Baby Girl would sleep better and we’d kid ourselves we were into a new “phase” (FYI – is “phase” not the most over-used term when it comes to kids?!). Those “phases” lasted a few days and then the normality of multiple wake-ups would resume.
We never got to the bottom of what was waking her. Actually, I think lots of things woke her. Aside from the fact she’s a very light sleeper anyway, Baby Girl also seemed to suffer with teething, silent reflux, developmental milestones, colds, coughs – you name it, she would have it. What woke her one day would not necessarily be the same thing to wake her the next. There really was no rhyme, reason or predictability to any of it.
The irony of the whole situation was that she was a happy, contented, easy going baby (and then toddler) during the day. She’d sleep for a good two or three hours every afternoon and was a breeze to look after in ways her older sister – a fairly brilliant sleeper – never was. Both my girls are SO different.
Anyway, here we are. I’ve waited three weeks to write this post for fear of tempting fate. And I’m fairly sure we’ll probably get an awful night tonight. But still, we’ve had three whole weeks of Baby Girl sleeping for twelve or thirteen hours every night, in her cot. During those three weeks she’s even had a couple of sleepovers at my parents’ house – and she’s slept well there too.
So what did we do differently to provoke this spate of sleep? The answer? Ready for it?
We’ve stuck with the same bedtime routine (bath, boob, bed) since Baby Girl was tiny – mainly because it’s what we’ve always done with Frog. We’ve always been flexible with our approach to sleep, taking the “whatever works now” approach. I probably tend towards the softie side and could never leave her to cry as a baby, but now she’s a toddler some nights I do leave her to cry – and she’ll settle within about 2 minutes. I can now recognise the difference between a tired grumble and a panicked desperate wail. But still, we’ve never followed any strict “approach” – we’re far more mix and match parents (some nights I’ve even tried getting in her cot with her – those were low points).
Now I’m functioning like a normal human being on a normal amount of sleep I realise how hard sleep deprivation really is. When you’re in the midst of it you don’t really feel put together, as such. Days that followed really bad nights were gotten through in a haze. I felt out of it, with a head full of treacle and a nauseous stomach. I’d gulp down tea and rub my eyes until they burned. I have literally no idea how I managed to string two sentences together of speech, let alone get any work done.
There’s not really a whole lot of point to this post, except to bring some kind of sleep update to this space where I’ve written so extensively in the past on the subject. I’m no sleep expert – I firmly believe no such thing exists – but I’m a mum who’s been through the mill and come out of the other side still (vaguely) intact.
Now I need to find a new excuse to eat cake, I guess.
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