07 April 2011

Go to Sleep my Baby

I have been avoiding writing this blog post. I want to write it but even as I sit down to begin I feel traumatized by the sleep deprivation I suffered for the first four and a half years as a parent.

When we had our son, 26 months after we had our daughter, I was working on the illogical and highly optimistic assumption that we couldn’t possibly be unlucky with sleep again, that just wouldn’t be fair. Obviously the world is an extremely unfair place and we are pretty damn lucky in almost every aspect of our lives. When you are averaging about 2.5 or 3 hours broken sleep a night it is hard to remember how lucky you are, or in fact what your child’s birthday is or what your husband looks like.

For those four and a half years between my first child being born and my second child turning 2 and a half, sleep deprivation affected my life in plenty of unforeseen ways. I would freeze when someone asked me what I had done the day before completely unable to remember. I never really felt tired, just like I was in another dimension, removed slightly from reality and certainly not “myself”. I would break things and lose things but what bothered me the most was that I lost my sense of humor and to a large extent my ability to socialize with anyone other than close friends. I remember blankly staring at other moms during playdates wanting to make the effort to be upbeat and chatty but not being able to think of a single thing to say.

I’d like to give some background to the circumstances surrounding our children’s arrivals as I think the stories are definitely linked to my choices when it comes to helping my children to go to sleep at night. It may be a little traumatic to read, if you don’t feel up to it, skip a few paragraphs.

Our start as parents, as I have mentioned before, was rocky. Our daughter had to have surgery at 48 hours old and nobody ever reassured us that she would be OK, the day she was released from hospital at just under 4 weeks old with a feeding tube still attached to her tummy was the first indication we really had that she was going to make a recovery. Still to this day at 5.5 years old nobody has ever told us that she will not have any further problems or that she will be OK. It is plainly obvious to us that her problems are all behind us, she is a perfectly normal well functioning little girl with no serious medical issues. It wouldn’t have hurt for someone to put a hand on our shoulders and tell us “hey you know what, we’ve seen this before, she’s doing really well, I can’t make you any promises but I really expect she is going to do just fine”.  What we got was more than we ever dreamed of so I should definitely not be complaining. For a couple of years after she was born it was hard to understand how we could be so lucky.  I try to remind myself regularly of just how lucky we are, it’s easy to forget on those days when the challenges of parenting leave you frustrated, confused and tired.

When we were expecting our second child I had many scans to make sure our baby would have none of the problems our daughter experienced at birth. Statistically it was more likely he would have the same birth defect and statistically it is more likely our daughter will have a child with that birth defect. Something I’m not looking forward to explaining to her, but hey, at least she’s here, at least she should be able to have children should she choose to.  When our son was born by a scheduled repeat c section on a predetermined morning in December it was a very different experience than my first delivery. With my first child I was in labor for 45 hours and finally wheeled into surgery vomiting and in the firm belief I was dying,  that was before we found out our baby was ill, I shall hold on to that story a little longer.

As with my illogical theory on bad sleepers and not being unlucky twice, I also believed that there was no way my second baby could be born with a medical issue because that wouldn’t be fair. We were reassured by all the tests we’d had but I’d actually had extensive scans in my first pregnancy that never picked up any abnormality. When he was shown to me in the operating room I was overcome with the relief of finally meeting my boy and him being so healthy and strong. What I couldn’t hear in my euphoria was his barking rasping breathing. I’ve had it described to me by husband who was there but I was completely unaware of it, I guess I just believed he was healthy. They made light of taking him to be checked out in the NICU as if it really wasn’t a big deal but he ended up being in there for 10 days. Nobody has ever come up with a definite reason for his breathing problems at birth, it could have been pneumonia, it could have just been that his lungs were immature. The most terrifying part of his stay in hospital for me was how slow his progress was. When our daughter was so terribly sick after her surgery, her body swollen up to twice its width, she still made unbelievably fast progress despite the odd setback.  The surgeon who has been performing these operations her whole life told us our daughter was the best outcome and quickest recovery she has ever had. On Christmas eve 2007 I went to visit our little baby boy in the hospital and was so exasperated by how his recovery was crawling along so slowly it occurred to me for the first time that he really might not make it. This quickly turned into despair, and I became more and more convinced he was going to die. Then on Christmas day he started to improve slowly, I went to see him twice before and after dinner. A few short days after Christmas he was fully recovered and released from hospital. Incredible. Never ever underestimate a little baby’s resiliency; they are so much stronger than they look.

So all that background leads up to me explaining that my kids both woke up, from being a couple of months old, every 20 minutes to every hour and a half all through the night, every single night and would never nap for more than 20 minutes. For my daughter this stopped around 2 years old and for my son a few months later. With my first child, I had the dubious luxury of being able to control her sleeping environment. I bought several books that I read over and over, I tried everything. I tried leaving her to cry it out once, I lasted 20 minutes and then went in to check on her and the sight of her tearstained face sitting up in her crib put me off forever. I still feel guilty 5 years on. Suffice to say I am indeed a MAJOR soft touch, so sue me. I would always think back to my daughter’s first month when she slept alone in the hospital every night. With my son the similar sleeping patterns led me to eventually let him cry, but after 90 seconds, that’s seconds not minutes, he vomited. It turns out, and it is still true to this day, that if he gets too upset he will throw up, copiously, all over the place. So that was that. I went back to trying all these different techniques I had read about really to no avail. I think since my children have matured into their sleeping, my endless sleep research has finally benefitted us, but not at first. Now they go to sleep at 7.30 most nights and wake at 7am, regular as clockwork, and we do not hear from them in between unless they are unwell. Now here comes my finest most “groundbreaking” piece of advice learned from many many hours of research and trial and error: PUT THE BOOK DOWN, CHILL THE HELL OUT, YOU CANT FORCE THEM TO SLEEP, IT WILL BE OK, YOU’LL MAKE IT THROUGHT THIS, ASK FOR HELP. I do wish someone had told me this, although I don’t suppose I would have listened, how could you not try when you are getting so little sleep. I was miserable. Those books convinced me that I could change the situation if only I would follow the steps correctly. But it never worked, so I blamed myself for not doing it properly. It makes you wonder, there are a lot of people making a lot of money from desperate mothers just like me. Making us feel like it’s our fault. It’s not your fault. A baby is a person too, you can’t control her, you can only guide her and hope she does what you want. And by the way, nothing lasts forever, and women are strong as Hell when we need to be.

As an afterthought, anyone else who wants to know if we will try for #3, please see above.


  1. Chloe - I needed to see this today! Summer has had us up every night the last week for a cuddle - no don't get me wrong I love cuddles but not at 2,3,4,5am I like my bed not my 2.5 year olds bed and as she races towards 3 I sure hope that she starts to kick into this night long sleeping before I start all over again with number 2!!! As you say though - they are humans and well if it is exciting to get up at 4.45am to play with toys then I guess that is the call I am just gonna have to answer to for now :)

  2. Oh Chloe, I never realised how difficult those early days were for you. I wish I could reach out and give you a massive hug - only my arms aren't long enough.
    You write beautifully, and I hope to keep everything you have said in mind when the time comes for Mike and I to have a baby. I've always had a gut feeling that following the advise from books could sometimes be more damaging, and I totally understand how you must have felt when it just didn't work. I just have to hope that I can keep a level head when I'm sleep deprived and emotional with a bundle of poopy nappies next to me! lol

  3. Thank you so much girls, I am really touched. Sophia the compliment from you on my writing means A LOT. Dani, I can hardly bear to think about how tired you must be, and that overwhelming tiredness of pregnancy added to that, phew! I hope you're getting plenty of love and support. I think having kids is a lot more raw and messy then you could ever prepare yourself for, but it's also an amazing new world and there are so many benefits. Dani, you will have to let us know when she starts sleeping through so we can stop worrying about you! And if you feel like you want to tell someone how damn tired you are and don't want to leave negative facebook statuses you can always message me, same to you sophia, I can take anything you throw at me :) xxx