Sleep is for the weak!

I’ve been trying to write this blog for weeks but couldn’t because I was too tired in the evenings… oh the irony!

Sleep is one of those things that your relationship suddenly changes with when you become a parent. I nostalgically remember the times pre-kids when I would fall asleep on the sofa on a Friday night after a long week at work and think how exhausted I was! Ah to only be that tired again! Suddenly sleep becomes a key topic of conversation when you become parents- previously there may have been a brief nod to it in our interactions… did you sleep well? Were you late to bed? That kind of thing. But suddenly when you are the proud owner of a little sleep thief, it becomes the sole topic of conversation in your life!

We are incredibly lucky to own three beautiful, healthy and thriving children! They have however all been terrible sleepers! Have you ever had a friend who can eat whatever the hell they want, do no exercise at all and sit opposite you in a restaurant chugging down Profiteroles and still remain a slim size 8 while you only have to walk past the window of Valerie Patisserie and you clap on half a stone??? That feeling of fleeting but intense hatred??? Well that’s how I feel when anyone tells me their baby slept through from 3 days and they sometimes even have to wake them up at 10am so they can start their day!

George was a super-fussy newborn! I lost a full night’s sleep due to labour and we got through the first few days on Adrenalin but I do remember a point about a week in where I wondered what the hell we had let ourselves in for and asked the midwife if she had a copy of the returns policy as he appeared to be faulty!! I have never had to manage without sleep- I’ve never done shift work or nights… I worked in a late bar while I was at uni but I had youth on my side and a very flexible approach to lectures that meant sleeping in or having power naps would get me through! All of a sudden I was having to get up every 2 hours, averaging 4 hours sleep a night over multiple batches, and my body and mind just couldn’t cope with it! George was a big hungry baby and fed constantly. He also didn’t settle well between feeds so I would feed him, finally get him to sleep and lay him down, only for him to wake up screaming the second his head hit the Moses basket! By the time I had finally got him down we would be back into the next feeding cycle and it would all start again! We tried everything! We’d warm the Moses basket with a hot water bottle while he was feeding so it wouldn’t be such a shock when I put him down- didn’t work! We tried every colic and wind remedy under the sun (I also hated every person who had told me breastfed babies didn’t get colic or wind- they were liars! Liars I tell you!!!)- didn’t work! We had one of those lullaby sheep things that sang soothing tones- didn’t work! I even downloaded white noise tracks to play on my phone at night… guess what… didn’t work (although the water based one did make me need to repeatedly get up for a wee!) We did controlled crying, cuddling, rocking, singing, swaddling… I tried to keep him awake all day so he would sleep at night… I then read that this would make him over tired so we tried to get him to sleep loads in the day! Nothing made a blind bit of difference! I remember him once falling asleep very suddenly and peacefully while I was stood in the hallway in our house and being convinced this spot by the radiator had magical powers and returning back there the next nap time!

About 4 weeks in I reached a tipping point when my mum called round to see me and basically found me rocking in a corner! I’d had mastitis and the antibiotics I was on were really upsetting his tummy which meant that I hadn’t managed to get into bed in 48 hours! The boy would sleep soundly laid upright on my chest but would scream so loud that he’d wake the dead in Chicago if I even considered lying him down! My mum took one look at me and banished me to bed- I fed him, there was some expressed milk in the fridge and she was going to take him for a walk and generally keep him entertained for 4 hours while I slept. It didn’t matter that it was 2 in the afternoon- time had long since lost all meaning to me! I fed him, clambered upstairs and crawled into my bed which basically felt like heaven! I laid my weary head on the pillow and waited for the sweet release of four hours of slumber to wash over me! Only it didn’t! I had reached the point of sleep deprivation hysteria and I couldn’t actually sleep; it made me cry even more! We ended up packing up half the house and going to stay at my parents for the night so they could do the bits between feeds and I could catch an hour or so in the gaps. Jon walked in halfway through the packing process and was somewhat startled as he thought I was leaving him- I still uphold that he looked momentarily relieved at the prospect of a full night’s sleep!

It did get better… we began to acclimatise to disturbed sleep and he eventually got into more of a routine and coped with being laid down! He started sleeping through by about 6 months but it wasn’t until the last tooth broke through at 18 months that we’d get a cast iron guarantee of a full night’s sleep; well for a week or so, then his sister was born!

Esme was better as a newborn- we had a rocky first few nights but after about a week she would feed, go down for 4 hours, feed again and then go straight back down for another 4. It was infinitely more manageable and the world felt less muddled- a good job given that I spent my days running round after a mental 18 month old rather than being able to snooze when I could! She was much slower to sleep through though- she also struggled with tummy ache once she was weaned and would wake and scream hysterically for hours in the evening. Doctors were dismissive and she did grow out of it but it was horrible for a few months.

Ted has been a mixed bag but definitely the worst of the bunch! He was the best newborn- before 10 weeks he started to sleep through and we prematurely celebrated that we finally had a sleeper! After 3 kids though, I’ve finally realised that when it comes to sleep, you’ve never cracked it! You may have a good night or two but there is a night of sleeplessness and pacing the house just around the corner! From 4 months teething kicked in and brought lots of disturbed sleep. Weaning at 6 months brought similar problems to Esme and the boy seriously struggles with digestion of some kind. He wakes in the night hysterical with trapped wind- sometimes it passes quickly and he’ll go back; more often once he is awake you’re done for the night! He will sleep if he’s upright on your chest but laying him down seems to exasperate whatever is upsetting him and bed becomes a distant dream. There is also the standard issue winter cough and snot to contend with and more teeth cutting too. It’s got far worse over the last 2 months; previously it would be intermittent and we’d get the odd good night in between the bad. Now it’s every night and starts sometime between 10 and midnight. We try to tag team it and do a night on and a night off but quite often he is that hysterical that it is impossible to sleep through it. We have been more persistent with the GP this time and are awaiting a referral to the hospital to see a Pediatrician; again I suspect he’ll grow out of it before we get any answers, it’s just a case of weathering the sleep deprivation storm!

Many people have said it, but I can definitely see why sleep deprivation torture is used- its entirely effective as a way to make you feel like you are losing your mind! The current phase is by far the worst I’ve experienced as its so prolonged- I feel tired to my bones! I also feel like it is taking over our lives! We daren’t book a weekend away as staying in a hotel room with all three kids together would be a complete disaster; I hate going out in the evening for fear that I’ll have a night of unsettled sleep ahead of me and I’ll have wasted a couple of hours of potential sleep by going to bed early. I feel ineffective at work- my brain feels foggy and I lack clarity of thought! There are regularly days when I arrive at work and couldn’t tell you a single thing about my journey- complete auto pilot! I’m snappy with Jon and the kids and don’t have any tolerance! No sleep makes me a fairly unpleasant person! It doesn’t do much for my husband either so we don’t make a great pair!

A few things that I have discovered along the way…

It will end! At some point in the near future- you will sleep again! It may be a few months, it may feel like you can’t go on, you may physically ache you are so tired, but one day soon, it will be over and you will suddenly realise that you are not as tired anymore! Ted slept through last night for the first time in 4 months; I spoke to my sister this morning who asked if I felt better for some uninterrupted sleep. Truth be told, I didn’t. I’m so tired one night was just not going to touch the sides. But what I did have was hope! Hope that maybe, just maybe, he will at some point sleep again!

It’s not their fault! At my lowest points with George, I was convinced he was some kind of sleep stealing ninja assassin who had been sent to kill me! I also thought he hated me! It seems ridiculous looking back but I was so unbelievably tired and couldn’t think straight! Ted doesn’t wake now through some kind of willful act or just because he wants a cuddle- the poor little poppet is in pain with his tummy or razor sharp teeth jabbing through his gums and being with mummy or daddy provides a bit of comfort and stops it hurting quite so much.

Get help where you can! We are incredibly lucky that we have nanas and grandads who are willing to do a night shift when we are on our knees. If people offer to take the kids off your hands one afternoon- get your head down and have a kip! The world will feel like a better place!

Advice is great and can help, but not all advice is helpful! Just because a technique or method works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for you. My mum is a midwife and advised me against reading ‘baby books’ when I was pregnant… her cautionary tale was this- ‘It’s all well and good but babies can’t read so it doesn’t matter what the book says- they don’t know that’s what they are supposed to do!’ Try things, but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work for you!

And finally, being up with a screaming baby in the middle of the night can feel incredibly isolating; but you are most definitely not alone! You may feel like you are the only person awake at 3am, pacing the living room and slightly manically singing ‘twinkle twinkle’ over and over and over again… but there are thousands of other mummies and daddies doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time! We should really set up some kind of middle of the night coffee based rendezvous! X

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