Dear Sleep

My dearest sleep, I hope you are well. I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I miss you like crazy and wish you would just come home so I could hold you in my arms and never let you go! Love Heather.

Ahhh sleep, I remember it well! ‘Twas a time when I could sleep for 12 hours straight without moving a muscle in my body, have a solid nap in the afternoon followed by another 12 stint of sleep and no, this wasn’t when I was an infant, because this would be physically impossible as babies and children are designed to hate sleep.

After the age of 25 people love to ask when you’re planning on having children and if you retort that you plan on having some in the near future, that same person will tell you not to rush because you lose your sleep (among other reasons).

Going into parenthood, you know you’re not going to sleep. It is literally the one negative thing you can guarantee aside from the manner in which the baby has to exit your body, but we do it anyway because it doesn’t seem like being constantly tired would be too hard to bear. I myself, a shift worker, who was doing 12-hour night shifts and then swapping to day shifts a few days later thought I knew the meaning of tired. I once did 4 night shifts in a row and decided that rather than sleep, I would go to boxing and then go shopping and come home and invite a friend over. When my friend came over I was so hysterical because of exhaustion that she ran me a bath and stayed with me for emotional support until my husband came home. I thought that was my most tired day. I had this parent gig in the bag (She did not have this in the bag).

As the first few weeks of sleepless nights ensued once Charlie was earth side, I had just got on with it and accepted that this was all part of the parenting journey and newborns were meant to wake every few hours. Eventually the sleeping periods got longer and longer and by 3 months, Charlie was sleeping through the night until 6am, only waking once around 3am for a feed. I had survived the no sleep and it was surprisingly easier than I had anticipated.

Then came the 4-month sleep regression. It started with her naps. Trying to get her to sleep took longer than the actual amount of time she was asleep. Hour long naps turned into 15 minutes, 5 times a day and I felt like I was spending my entire day trying to get her to sleep. Then night sleeps started to suffer. Some nights she would wake every two hours and other nights she would want to start her day at 3am. I was doing anything just to make her go back to sleep and make my life easier, which entailed bringing her into our bed for a feed and then back to her cot. As time went on I realised she wasn’t in a regression anymore, but this was now a habit; If she woke, the only thing to settle her back to sleep was milk. I, like so many other parents out there, was in survival mode. I didn’t have the time or patience at 3 in the morning for healthy sleeping habits. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is the biggest joke because by the time it’s time for your babies first 15 minute nap, you’ve already had 3 coffees to get through to that point and there’s no way you’re sleeping; you’ve also just chucked your baby in the pram as a last resort to get them to sleep and you don’t see too many mothers out there sleep walking with a pram do you?

I was in limbo for months between not being desperate enough to sleep train and not wanting to feed her to sleep. When she was around 6 months, we transitioned her into her own room and you could literally see her cot from my bed, so it was just a few more steps to get her at night, but I thought it might help having more space between her and my husband snoring and me moving every 5 minutes trying to get comfortable with my constant aching still hanging around from pregnancy and birth. It had somewhat worked. We were back to one wake up a night, however our days started around 5am

I went back to work when Charlie was 7 months old. Her sleep wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad enough to make me a danger to my patients. I was already up half an hour before my phone alarm due to my human alarm waking us so early. Around 8 months old, Charlie went through another regression, this one went for 2 months. Getting her to bed at night would sometimes take 2 hours, despite the most perfect bedtime routine (if I do say so myself). A normal night would consist of 3 wakes a night and at this point I was the only one who could settle her overnight. I had decided that if I was going to be up 3 times a night feeding her and go to work the next day, that my husband would be my baby uber driver and go get her and deliver her to me for feeds and then I would take her back to her cot. There were nights where she just would not sleep no matter what I tried. 6 hours it took me one night. I had tried everything except driving. Warm bath, signing, reading, lavender, solid food, massage, white noise, dark room, light room, feeding, rocking, shhing, swaying, co sleeping, sitting next to the cot, letting her cry for just 5 minutes so I could catch my breath, skin to skin! Nothing worked! It was 3am and I was officially just as worked up as she was and I just screamed so loud the next suburb heard “WILL YOU JUST FUCKING GO TO SLEEP!” she then had to be pried out of my arms by my mother in law, who was staying with us at the time and was told to just go to bed because there was no way she would sleep if I was that wound up. True.

I still feel intense mum guilt for that moment, but I know I am not alone. A few of my friends, who are mothers have expressed their anger to me many times; anger towards their babies and anger towards themselves for reacting in the heat of the moment.  

I have had moments similar where I feel like my jaw is going to turn to dust from clenching so hard or I just want to cry and scream and tell her how tired mummy is and in order for her to be the best, she just needs a few hours of sleep. I have tried begging her and praying to a god I don’t believe in for help. Just when I think I am ready to go down the path of sleep training, I am lead down a beautiful path that leads to a meadow of sunflowers and she sleeps through the night and punches out 2 hour and a half naps and my faith is restored. I sing her praises; my eye duffle bags turn into eye satchels and every word I utter comes out in song format. “What a time to be alive” I think to myself and then merely as I start to get used to her sleeping like a normal human, she starts worshiping the devil at ungodly hours of the night.

I think the inconsistency is what makes the whole situation worse. If she was just consistently an awful sleeper, I could manage; it’s the false sense of security that bites me in the ass every time- just like your flakey ex partner. I could deal with a solid 5 hours of sleep at night, what I can’t deal with is 8 hours of broken sleep and a body clock that can no longer deal because it is so used to being awake so frequently in the night.

As a gift from Charlie to me for her first birthday, she gave me 4 nights in a row of sleeping through the night. 7pm until 7am. It was like Christmas! Then she had a sleepover with her grandparents, started a leap, her molars started coming down and she got a cold and it was all down hill from there. We were back to 2 hourly wake ups. Have you heard of the 12-month sleep regression? Me either. Apparently there’s a new regression each month. What a hoot!

Last Monday we had an incident with Charlie accidentally, potentially taking a couple of nausea tablet I had put out for my husband who had gastro. There was no way to find out whether she had them or not in the time it would have taken to effect her, so we called an ambulance and subsequently had to stay over night for observation. What could be the worst thing for a bad sleeping baby? Not letting a bad sleeping baby sleep at all. Every night last week Charlie would wake up at 2am and not go back down until 5am. It resorted in her lying in bed with my husband and I, me being on the very edge of the bed with a small finger constantly going in and out of my nose. After nights of no sleep, I went into work and was immediately sent home. My face eczema had flared up badly and my eye bags were so big they could have been mistaken for my boobs and my colleague took one look at me and shook her head. I just cried. I was defeated.

I have since implemented an excellent plan as a bedtime routine and each night has gotten better since. I will not jinx myself, but I am appreciating the small win.

I also asked some mothers on my instagram for tips to share and here is what I have learned. Wine is an essential, be patient with yourself, just feed to sleep, take it in turns with your partner, persistence, vent and cry, know that it ends, don’t stress about house work and consistency. We are all in this together mummas!

I have flicked Charlie onto toddler formula to transition from breast-feeding as I am finding it a bit too much for me to cope with right now. I still feed in the mornings and if she wakes over night and I cant settle her any other way, but my new routine is as followed: warm bath half an our before bed time, we go straight to her room where the lights are dim and white noise is playing, she gets a massage and we get into her PJ’s, she brushes her teeth and I brush her hair and she lays down next to her cot in her sleep suit and has her bottle, while I read her a story (very quietly), I then put her in her in her bed, sing twinkle twinkle and sit there until she rolls over to go to sleep. This is the only tip I have for now, but just know it passes and you are not alone!

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