Part 3 of 6
Who needs sleep?
Whoever said ‘sleeping like a baby’ meant a getting a nice eight hours on the pillow was certainly not a parent, in fact sleep is by far the biggest luxury I’ve sacrificed at the altar of motherhood. From the moment Izzy came into our lives to now, over six months later, a full night’s sleep (not even a good one) has become mythical, something I cannot even remember.
It’s not that all nights are bad, but they’re definitely all different. As an emergency c-section baby, Izzy and I had to spend a night on the ward at Lister hospital whilst James was sent home. Throughout that night Izzy clusterfed on the breast, 40 minutes on, 20 minutes off and each time she woke and cried for me I had to press a button and hope there was a member of staff free who could pass her to me as I couldn’t reach her crib whilst my epidural was still wearing off. I felt exhausted and helpless, but also immensely grateful to our incredible NHS, not least the wondrous nurse who took Izzy and bounced her around the ward so I could get a solid hour of sleep in.
“It’s not that all nights are bad, but they’re definitely all different”
Those first three days at home were, I’m not going to lie, hellish. Izzy wouldn’t settle unless she was being held by one of us, and she refused swaddling. Unlike many babies who find it soothing as it replicates the comforting closeness of the womb, swaddling stressed Isabelle out, probably because she’d been stuck in the splits inside me for at least six weeks and the swaddling feeling was alien to her. Instead, my husband James and I took three-hour shifts with our tiny baby curled in our arms whilst the other slept.
When we eventually managed to transition to the next-to-me type crib we had another surprise. Although Isabelle was slowly uncurling from her twisty position, she had a tendency to throw her legs up and over to the side uncovering herself over and over again in a Battle of the Blankets. And what of the night where she suddenly screamed for five minutes solid (at about 2am!) but was still fast asleep? We were under no illusions that bedtime pre-baby and post-baby would be the same, but two-week-old night terrors were something we definitely weren’t expecting.
The thing is, having a baby will change everything. Literally everything. Even if your tiny person is a little miracle who sleeps through from day one, you as a person, as a parent, will not. You will panic at every snuffle or hiccup, when they’re quiet you’ll hover your hand over their chest to see if they’re still breathing, you will spend hours scouring the internet for dimmable lights so you can check on your bundle of joy without waking partner or poppet, and you will invest in not one, not two, but quite probably three different types of sleep aid to play white noise, rain sounds or creepily human shushing in the hope that one of them makes the bedtime routine easier. In short, you are changed and that worry and concern for your little one as they rest will never leave you. (According to my parents, not even after they leave home.)
After the fear of bringing your new addition home and getting them settled into some form of routine, the next big shift came for us when moving Isabelle into her own room. The NHS recommends that you do this at six months but for various long and complicated reasons, the first time Isabelle had to sleep in her own cot was at about 8 weeks old. I was solo parenting as James was working away and, I’m not going to lie, utterly terrified. That night we did the usual routine – story, milk, song, bed – but instead of putting her in the snuggly little crib my tiny baby seemed to disappear in the expanse of her not-even-full-sized cot. Any fears I had though were quickly dispelled, she settled quickly and slept well for the first part of the night whilst I stared anxiously at the video monitor screen and listened, with the rest of the house in silence, for any sound that she might need me. Eventually I fell asleep myself only to be woken at 3am when the mattress sensor alarm screeched into action. I scrambled to her room to find her smiling away at the top of the cot, legs over her head, playing with her feet! She was about as far away from the sensor as possible and despite it being fitted according to the instructions, it still couldn’t pick her movements up! I slept on the floor the next night until we could get back to the next-to-me!
But routines do become a thing and babies find their own rhythms. Until very recently Isabelle had become a brilliant sleeper. She dropped the night feed of her own accord and would generally only wake once at about 5am and be resettled easily. Then Leap 5 and the six-month sleep regression hit us and sleep now seems to be a thing of the past again! We’re back to waking several times a night and struggling to resettle and of course that’s not helped by the fact the weather is crazy hot and Izzy is teething. We’ll just have to ride through it, smile that we’re fortunate enough to have a little one to keep us up, and keep calm through the tired tears (both hers and mine) because, like all things, this too shall pass.