Sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading (exhibit A: sleep training diary)

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!
Friday night

​6.40pm into bed, sans dummy as per the book

Crying

Set microwave timer

Pour wine

Have a slice of pizza

Knocking, retucking

Still crying, same level

More wine 

More pizza

Then calming down? Extend by two minutes, but no.

Knocking, retucking.

Still crying. Maybe worse?

Calming down

7pm

Give it 2 more minutes

No love

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)

Knocking, resettling.

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

Knocking, resettling

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.

Saturday night

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.

Sunday night

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.

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Reclaiming ordinary

My mum saw a blackboard outside a café once (I think that’s what it was) that made her mad. If it were me, a misplaced or missing apostrophe is what would get my goat. But mum? Mum was mad that the hand written sign was imploring her to live an extraordinary life.

‘What’s wrong with an ordinary life?’ she huffed.

I’ve grown up surrounded by messages to be extraordinary, so I think I’m a bit immune. Is this a recent thing? I feel like once upon a time, there was maybe more value placed on just living an ordinary, good life. Apart from the fact there was no internet to make you think there was something wrong with your life, I suspect most people just couldn’t afford to imagine anything much different to working and raising a family – and that’s if you were lucky. There were also different social norms that came with certain expectations around what was considered “normal”, which was not necessarily a good thing. I might be romanticising the past, of course. Readers older than me (uncle John) please feel free to set me right.

I’m talking about messages like: Do one thing each day that scares you. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Do something you love and never work a day in your life. Every single meme in my Facebook feed. Sunrises and seascapes and triumphant people wearing expensive hiking clothes standing on clifftops with their arms in the air, all encouraging me to be extraordinary, to live my dreams, to hope, to believe. The signs on the walls at Emma’s gymbaroo class, imploring me to feel joy, every moment of every day of my beautiful life. Girls at the gym wearing singlets telling me to run faster, jump higher, dance like nobody’s watching. Entire sections of the bookshop dedicated to living a life less ordinary, to taking the road less travelled, to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Inspiring articles everywhere I look about people who left the corporate rat race to sell jewellery or make natural cleaning products or grow their own kale. Yoga teachers who spend the meditation telling me I’m amazing and haven’t yet discovered my own potential, when they don’t even know me or my potential. Tony Robbins and all the people like him – an industry that’s popped up encouraging us to want to be extraordinary, a whole industry, an actual job called motivational speaker. I barely notice it anymore. The whole (Western) world is one big pep talk.

But mum’s right, of course, as she almost always is. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life, and thank goodness for that, because it’s what most of us end up living. We might have glimpses of the extraordinary – even mum’s been 4WD-ing in East Timor, after all – but wherever we are, whatever we do with our days, whoever we spend them with, most of it is utterly, relatively ordinary. And I think it’s time to reclaim that. To see the dignity and value in it. It’s enough to be good enough, to be a good enough partner and parent and friend and colleague. It’s enough to work – in fact for most of us, “doing what we love” is a privilege we can’t afford or just don’t have. It’s enough to have a hobby that everyone else has (cycling if you’re a man aged over 30) or no one else has (yes I’m still enjoying jazzercise classes), and to spend time with people you like, and to have the occasional holiday. It’s enough to feel sad some days, and joyful other days, and to take your family and health for granted sometimes, and be overcome with gratitude other times. It’s enough to eat good food sometimes, and crap food other times, and watch good TV sometimes, and crap TV other times, and read the books you want to read even though you know they’re also crap. It’s all enough, and we should never feel that it isn’t. Indeed, if this is your life, you are already incredibly privileged and to think there should be any more than that – or else there is something wrong with you, or the life you are living – is almost perverse.

I have friends who live by inspiring Facebook memes and I love those friends. I love how they approach life and I come away from our conversations feeling inspired and interested in everything, which is exactly how friends should make you feel. And I would never want people who naturally gravitate towards this sort of philosophy – or who want to – to rein it in. I want them to keep posting sunsets and cute baby gorillas and inspiring quotes from historical figures in fancy font. All I’m doing – for myself, for my sanity – is reclaiming the word ‘ordinary’. And if your Facebook feed and all the blackboards outside cafes are making you feel like the ordinary life you’re pretty happy with is actually something you should be ashamed of – something that needs fixing – then feel free to join me. Because it’s not. You, in your ordinariness, are perfectly fine. Ordinary is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice if it’s what you want. Even if it will never spawn an aspirational lifestyle website a la Gwyneth or earn you a book deal. I hope to enjoy a long, healthy life as a decent human being and if I can achieve that, that’s extraordinary enough for me.

Lessons in Humility (Part 6: Love)

This is my last lesson in humility to share about the very animalistic process of becoming a parent. Despite my smugness at being super prepared for having a baby, I was completely kicked in the butt right from the beginning with a pregnancy that gave me 17 kilos, ‘morning’ sickness, sinus issues and dizzy spells, going on to a birth plan that did not go exactly according to plan with a 26-hour drug-free labour that was as fun as it sounds and finally a weeks-long recovery that was much tougher than I could have anticipated. None of this makes me special, in fact it makes me very lucky in the grand scheme of things. But it’s still been a good lesson in how amazing our bodies are, how not in control we are, and how it doesn’t matter how many yoga classes we go to or books we read, nothing can ever prepare us for this process. This final lesson is the biggest, the most important, and the only one that I will never forget because it will be a part of me until the day I die.

Within minutes of Emma being born, while she was still writhing around on my chest, all naked and slippery and screamy while Toby tried to clean up poo with paper towels and the doctor was still busy at the other end of the bed, I had a stark realisation that kept hitting me over and over again, and still does.

This is how mum and dad feel about me.

That realisation was probably the most humbling of the whole experience of becoming a parent. I’m not one of those people who thinks having children is the only way to truly understand life, or the world, or even love, I’m really not. But I’m not sure one could ever fathom a parent’s love without being a parent yourself.

I loved her immediately, not in a lightning bolt kind of way but in an entirely natural, this-is-how-it-was-meant-to-be way. There was nothing she could do or say that would change that. Whether I was gagging at a messy nappy, begging her to stop crying, cursing her for having too short a nap, wishing for time to myself, envying friends’ nights out or overseas trips, I loved her. I missed her immensely when we weren’t in physical contact, even if she was just asleep in the pram while we were shopping. Now she’s older the sounds of her laugh and babbling are pretty much the best things I’ve ever heard. Every day I watch her do something, or even do nothing, and marvel at how utterly perfect she is. When she’s asleep she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. When she’s awake she makes me laugh like nothing else, and my heart leaps now she’s able to recognise me from a distance and her face breaks into a grin and her legs kick in excitement and I still can’t believe she’s ours.

And all the while, I am completely overwhelmed by the knowledge that there are two people who feel exactly the same way about me.

I am lucky, because I know not everyone is in the same boat as me. I’m lucky to feel this way about my baby, and lucky to know, to have always known deep down – even when they were disappointed or angry or tired or busy – that mum and dad loved us to pieces. I’ve always known that, in the way you know the sun will rise and the sky is blue and all those other things you take for granted because that’s the way the world is. But I’ve never understood, not really, even though I love them to pieces as well. But it’s different. Suddenly I understand how they must feel when we move out of home, or miss curfew, or travel around Europe on a motorbike, or have our hearts broken. I get why they tell their friends when we win awards or get new jobs or graduate uni. Even with all our flaws and quirks, they think we’re perfect. And that is a humbling thought.

Because this is how I feel about Emma, I also know now that I don’t have to worry about making anything up to them – they don’t need anything from us, because they would do anything, have done everything, for us. But just in case, I gave them a granddaughter.