It’s hard to understand before your baby arrives, when you are still the perfect parent, just how important sleep is going to become. And not just the fact that you aren’t going to get any for a really long time. But your obsession with someone else’s sleep. I’m talking apps, graphs, watching the clock, desperately keeping track of minutes spent awake, putting baby in the sleeping bag and turning on the white noise and giving the dummy and singing the same song every time like a superstitious athlete with the same routine before every game lest you put one foot wrong and THE BABY DOESN’T SLEEP. Or the baby does sleep, miraculously, and you try to figure out why, even though it’s like workshopping the meaning of life, ultimately futile because you are a mere mortal who will never understand such magic. Was it just the right temperature? The level of light? Was it because there was more protein at dinner? Less TV today? A more pleasing lullaby? Seriously. People without kids think I’m joking, but I’m not. This is why new parents do not just look sleep deprived, but genuinely crazed.
Yes, parenting is hard. Sleeping is really hard. If you are deep in the trenches of it, and desperate to fix it, don’t let anyone tell you it will sort itself out and just to go with the flow. Unless that makes you feel better! It works for some (very patient) people, but it’s not for everyone. Definitely not for me. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We are not allowed to do it to prisoners. So why anyone expects parents to just put up with it indefinitely, affecting their mental and physical health, marriages, parenting of other children, ability to drive and form a coherent sentence and so on, is beyond me. Anyone who doesn’t understand how you can be so tired you forget there is a baby in the back seat of the car has never had a baby. There’s lots of things you can try to stop the torture, noting none are easy nor guaranteed, no matter what the internet says. Start with the top experts (your mums group) then the other experts (MACH nurses, sleep consultants, books). Find something that sounds bearable to you and give it a go.
Finn has not been as good a sleeper as Emma and I won’t bore you with what that means except to say that when he was 8 months old I reached my limits and declared it was time to sleep train. We used the Gift of Sleep that had worked for some of my friends. Like a good blogger I kept a diary to show the world what the books don’t tell you about sleep training. Which is that it is also a form of torture, but short lived and with a happy ending. Hopefully!
6.40pm into bed, sans dummy as per the book
Set microwave timer
Have a slice of pizza
Still crying, same level
Then calming down? Extend by two minutes, but no.
Still crying. Maybe worse?
Give it 2 more minutes
Knocking, resettling. Seems to make the crying worse
Pizza all gone. Wine nearly gone. Distract with washing up. Can’t put TV on as need to hear. Loving life.
But your husband thinks the world of you and loved you to bits (Toby made me write that)
Now up to the 30 minutes the book says it will take most babies. Still going strong.
And yet getting much quieter by the end of this 5 minute block. More stop and start.
Knock and resettle
Really getting into it now. Did not think this kid loved his dummy so much.
Knock and resettle
Back to the washing up. 45 minutes and counting. Lucky Emma is a heavy sleeper and our walls are double brick
Getting quieter so I extend by 2 minutes. Having to listen now during the pauses
And then … Silence! 50 minutes and he’s out. I finish the washing up and pour more wine to celebrate.
I do feel the sense of accomplishment the book promised! I do feel like I’ve given my son the gift of sleep. An even better gift that Toby draws my attention to – Netflix has released new episodes of Vikings! Friday night is looking up.
9pm all is quiet. I’m going to bed, apprehensive but OK.
2am woke up, settled himself apparently
2.55am woke up, crying
Waiting, still crying.
Toby takes over because he is the best husband ever (also, he was already out of bed unable to sleep because a bureaucrat’s work is never done)
3.45am I can still hear crying and knocking but it did sound like it’s calming down. I fall asleep.
6.55am I’m awoken by Finn waking up. We made it!!!
He’s happy, not at all traumatised. Still loves us.
Toby tells me it took over an hour of resettling until he finally gave him a cuddle which then calmed him down enough.
He ate a big breakfast!
Went down for his nap at 10am without any help and slept solid for 2 hours – we had to wake him up.
Tried for another nap at 2.45, less successful. Maybe because his sister got the shits and came into the room leading to much gnashing of teeth? Anyway. Slept for 30 minutes.
Decent witching hour tonight, I’m flying solo so read stories to both while finishing off his feed. Then into bed about 6.50pm. Was silent for a couple of minutes, long enough for me to think my god he’s figured it out already. He’s a genius! Of course not, this is why you never celebrate too early!
I set the alarm for 10 minutes (the night 2 maximum) and he keeps crying as I clean the kitchen. But then, when there is still 3 minutes to go… All is quiet. Success.
We watch House of Cards and off to bed before 10. Fingers crossed!!!
3am woken up. He’s not exactly crying – more chatting. Then a bit of a cry but then back to chatting. I get up anyway, ready to do battle. Let him whinge for a little bit then do the knock and resettle. Which kind of seems to make it worse. At least, he cries harder while I’m in there. Lucky this isn’t my first rodeo or that would be heartbreaking. Put the timer on for 10 minutes. Wish I brought my book.
After 10 minutes he is definitely quiet although I get the occasional little noise just in case I was thinking of going back to bed. Decide to wait another 10.
It’s getting worse. Trying to decide if it’s worth going in our not, because that will probably make it worse again before it gets better. Starting to wear me down a bit.
Then it gets better. Start another 10 minute wait. He’s trying so hard bless his cotton socks.
Dog starts barking outside. Grrrr!!!! More crying.
Only make it 6 minutes before I start the knock. He quietens right down but starts again when I stop. I go in. Instead of moving him I just tuck his flat bear under his hand and put my hand on his back and say ssshhhh long and slow. He quietens. Tempting to do this until he falls asleep but the whole point is for him to sleep without props. I leave. Crying starts again. It’s 4.10am.
4.16am there’s still no sign of stopping and it’s getting worse. He almost sounds like he’s saying dada. Time for the cuddle.
But by the time I get to his door, all is quiet. I can hear him tossing and turning so I stay and listen. The crying starts again after a few minutes so I knock and go in. I just put two hands on his back and say ssshhhh. He immediately calms, I can hear his breathing getting slow. One hand off, then the other. I keep sshhhing a few more times then leave. The crying starts, worse than before. It’s 4.30am.
4.37am crying is the worst it’s been so I decide it’s cuddle time. But – he thrashes in my arms, keeps screaming. This is the worst thing of all – I can’t even comfort him. Tears start. Toby arrives and I hand over the wriggling, screaming octopus that is my child and go to the couch to cry.
4.40am Toby emerges. Didn’t want to cuddle him either. We listen to the screams and tell each other we are not terrible parents
4.46am I do the knocking, the sshhhing. He’s beside himself. I return to the couch where I feel my will to live ebbing out of me.
5am Toby goes in. Still screaming. He must be exhausted and starving after all this activity. It’s so hard to not give in. Silver lining – I might get my run in nice and early?
I decide I will get him up at 5.30 if he’s still crying. He will be due for a nap by then but I don’t think I can do any more than that.
5.07am Toby has gone back to bed. I go in. He quietens right down when I put my hands on his back. I can hear him trying to catch his breath and my heart breaks a little. The screams start again when I leave. Only 20 minutes to go and I can get him up. I’m actually starting to look forward to that now.
5.13am the first quiet moment in nearly an hour. But then we are back into it. I’ve read all the internet by now so start listening to a podcast. He is definitely calming now with long stretches of silence.
5.19am all is quiet except for the neighbour’s rooster. I go to bed, feeling drained and not at all like a good or even half decent parent. Please forgive me, beautiful boy.
5.24am I’m finally in bed when I hear crying coming from his room. “That’s it, I’m getting up!!” Toby grunts his agreement. I get to the bedroom door and all is quiet again. I fall back into bed.
7.05am woken up by the toddler after a series of weird early morning dreams.
7.10am Finn wakes up
8am I go out for a 9km run, which is the last thing I feel like, but in fact I feel amazing and I’m so glad I did it. Even if I fall at the 2km mark.
Finn has a one hour sleep in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. No resettling required. I think it’s safe to say we have successfully weaned the dummy.
6.50pm off to bed. No crying.
He sleeps through! On Monday morning we have a new child, happy and well-rested just like the book promised. It all seems worth it.
Until two weeks later when against all common sense and the book, we go to the coast for a weekend and undo all our good work. And since then his sleep has been very hit and miss, mostly miss. For various reasons we haven’t done the training again but now, finally, at nearly 14 months old, just in the past two weeks, Finn is sleeping through at night. Not every night, but more nights than not. And I have no advice for how to get to this point. I’ve tried everything over the past few months and I can’t say what, if any of it, worked. Like I said to my mums group just this week when discussing sleep, sometimes babies are just a-holes. And that’s all you really need to know.