There is a part of me that thinks people don’t talk about some of the “horrors” of becoming a parent for the first time because if everyone knew what it was like, the population would die out pretty quickly. It is arguable that I was one of the lucky ones when it came to sleep. Although BG was 4 weeks premature, she still had a fairly ‘routine’ sleep pattern. In the first 8 weeks or so she would wake in the night every 2-3 hours for a feed but would sleep contentedly between feeds.
The constant waking up and disturbance of my treasured sleep, however, was like torture I’ve never known. I certainly didn’t feel “lucky” when it came to sleep (or lack of it more accurately) and my heart goes out to those who’s babies seemingly never slept, and even more so for those whose babies still don’t sleep.
You mentally prepare for the fact that your sleep will be interrupted frequently when you first become a parent – you have to accept that. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt or it isn’t difficult to deal with. Sleep deprivation is like no other torture I’ve ever had to deal with – and I’ve lived with a chronic pain condition, I thought that was bad… nothing compares to disrupted/disturbed sleep.
It puts a strain on just about every aspect of your life. Your mental faculties and your relationships all feel the full force of sleep deprivation. Getting the motivation to even put clothes on (as opposed to staying in your pyjamas) all day can seem impossible. There are times when it seems life is a competition as to who is more tired in the household. Everyone becomes fraught. I’m sure everyone has a sleep deprivation story to tell… putting the TV remote in the fridge, realising your clothes are on inside out after you’ve been out of the house for several hours, forgetting to put the tea-bag in the tea pot when you’re trying to make a brew, forgetting your own name… the list goes on. There were days where I would feel like a complete zombie, or “mombie” as it seems to be called in the world of social media. Some days I had to force myself to get up, dressed and out of the house – and I am so glad I did force myself, I do believe my mental health survived because of this… and my lovely NCT group of course – I’d be nowhere without them. I say nowhere, I mean curled up in a corner somewhere gently rocking and simultaneously crying. I’d also probably have punched several non-parent friends in the face for daring to compare their tiredness to mine. Definitely the one who said “it’s all relative” (they shall remain nameless for now).
I remember the first night that BG slept for 6 hours solid – I woke up feeling like a new woman, it was amazing and as her periods (and therefore mine) of uninterrupted sleep got longer, disrupted nights seemed all the more challenging. Growth spurts, development leaps, teething, moving her into her own room, illness… all of these evil elements of life really put a spanner in the works of my treasured sleep!
Again, there was one particular evening where “controlled crying” happened because I had reached the end of my tolerance for screaming and general grouchiness from BG… my husband was on his 3rd night shift in a row and I was exhausted. There came a point where I just put BG in her cot and let her cry it out whilst I sat on the top step of the stairs and just cried myself. It was 20 minutes before she went to sleep, but it felt like 20 hours and I felt so incredibly guilty it was unreal. The following night, she cried for 5 minutes when she was put in her cot, the night after that is was about 30 seconds and the 4th night she let out one solitary shout before going off to sleep. Since then we’ve been very blessed with a child that sleeps for 11-12 hours a night without a wake up. I know this will be hard for those struggling with sleep deprivation and I’m sorry… I really do have sympathy for you. On the rare occasion we get a disturbed night now – teeth or illness are usually the culprits, we are both ruined for the next day – it’s a killer. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for someone with an 18 month old who doesn’t sleep, the realities of that for me are just too horrific. BG is also reliable for a 2 hour nap during the day!
We’ve just about got a sleep routine sorted now – thanks to a fairly strict bedtime routine. In all honesty, it’s probably the only element of BG’s “routine” as it were that I am strict about (see Routine Schmoutine).
There is help out there though if you are struggling. Sleep coaches and manuals, strategies to try. Trial and error even. My very lovely friend over at milknfizz is hosting an event in St Albans all about sleep and how to get your little ones to sleep (so that you can too):
Have you got a sleep deprivation story to share? Are you also one of the “lucky” ones? What strategies did you use to get through? Sharing is caring and you never know, you may even be able to help another fraught mum out… at the very least, you might get invited into a 3am WhatsApp group chat for the sleep deprived!