So what has been the reason for starting this today? What has spurred on this desire to write and share the musings of a 40 something woman with a fairly run of the mill life? It is not, as I thought it might have been, in my 20’s, when I knew I wanted to write, a lottery win that afforded me take a year off to pen the next Margaret Atwood or Jeanette Winterson. This was the dream of the newly graduated Literature student in sleepy North Wales. Nor was it in an effort to make the most of those long summer holidays being a teacher has afforded me, with eclectic Fremantle and the Indian Ocean as my muse, as imagined when arriving in WA eight years ago. Nor is it the mid life panic of seeing in 2018 and wondering what am I really contributing to the world in my 40’s. No, it comes at a time when I am chasing a 2-year-old, planning new programs for the next academic year, completing assessments for Uni and trying to get some semblance of order and stress-free living into my life. Do you know what the secret of this new drive is? It is the most underrated thing by child-free individuals and the most precious of commodities to parents. Guessed it? Yes….sleep…
And I don’t mean a post New Year, post hangover, I’m finally getting that holiday feeling, 12 hour, hollow pillow maker. No, I mean a solid 7 and 3. Yes, 7 hours of sleep and a ‘back it up’ of 3 hours. Of course, I don’t mean I had a 7 and 3, I mean Little M. had a 7 and 3. I, as every mum will know, still woke every 2 hours to check she was ok. But she did it. It’s been a long time coming as Little M. has never slept more than a couple of hours. This love of the late night party started whilst she was in utero, and has continued to this day. However, the joy of her first wake up being at 3 am to ask for a drink of water, followed by the obligatory, “well, you’re awake mum, may as well have some boob too” (This is what I believe she says to herself, ten times a night usually) This was followed by a 30 minute shuffle and kick session as she resettled and then bang! another 3 hours.
Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with sleep, or the lack of it. But like I said, no one can even comprehend the mind games sleep deprivation plays on you like another wrecked and weary parent. For the majority of new parents, it is just the first 3 months of a baby’s life that plays havoc with your sleep. Mothers are likely, but I know not always, off work during this time. They have friends and relatives and co-workers and shop-keepers and delivery men, that all understand that being the parents of an under three-month old is going to cause physical, mental and emotional disarray in normally competent adults. “Baby brain” not a problem, “Forgetfulness, that is fine. It will pass soon enough”. But there are a few of us, (maybe more than a few?) whose little delights don’t get the memo about sleep being necessary for proper adulting. So we go back to work – in some capacity. Aim to sleep when baby sleeps – and hang the house work for well over 18 months. Continue to forget the name of household objects like…um…the cold cooker.
I think it was about 9 months in, after a series of appointments with doctors, chiros, homeopaths and other alternative practitioners that I had to admit to myself that there was nothing at all wrong with Little M. She was perfectly healthy, but just wouldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours. I refused to go down the path of CIO, sleep training or anything else that meant I left her alone, in any state of upset or feeling like we, her primary carers, wouldn’t respond to her. This, for me and my hubby, wasn’t something we felt comfortable with at all. Neither was the option of weaning her to see if that helped. I was determined to breastfeed as long as M. wanted it. I was thinking she’d have enough before she was two – I was hoping for a celebratory overnight away from her on my ’21 again!’ birthday bash. “She’ll do it herself, probably between the first two birthdays” Yet another memo that she appears to have missed. In reaction to sleep and really all tings baby, there is just so much pressure out there trying to force something that obviously isn’t going to happen on a fixed schedule. It appears very ‘inconvenient’ to developed cultures to have a child that frequently wakes, and I’m sure those of us who have or are experiencing it, will agree it’s tough. But this is a infant we are talking about, and there is nothing ‘inconvenient’ about the joys a toddler can bring just by saying your name, even at 2 am. As soon as we accepted it, that M would make her own way to longer episodes of sleep, it wasn’t a problem any more. Of course, I still have a constant, nagging, sleep deprived headache, struggle with the post 2pm slump, eat way too much sugar to help me get through the day and flounder when trying to recall the name of things like… um… the fork wardrobe ( I know, seriously, cutlery drawer is so much easier to remember than fork wardrobe, or so you’d think.)
Despite this acceptance and willingness to let her find her own way, this last week has been torture. Little M, as I’ve mentioned is a healthy, happy girl. However, as is her nature, she states a few days before Christmas that she has a sore ear. Oh great, ear infection, just before the holidays. Off to the doctors we go, a little fluid, but all fine. “But a little fluid can turn into something worse like infection or even a burst eardrum at two in the morning, so keep an eye on her”. ‘Keep an eye on her’, to me is THE worst phrase anyone can say. As I’ve mentioned, I have anxiety. This anxiety revolves purely around the health of Little M. I am petrified of illness and do everything I can to prevent becoming sick. I am terrified of doctors and only registered with a GP when I found out I was pregnant in spite of being in Australia for more than nine years. Now I have this precious girl and I spend so much time stressing about her health, her physical and mental wellness consumes me. This is probably due to the sleep deprivation, but also comes from something else in me that I can’t quite afford the sessions for just yet! Over the holidays, I have ‘kept an eye on her’. I have jumped at every cough, stayed awake whilst she cat napped upright on me through the night, frantically prepared and cooked all her favourite foods to keep her nutrition up, just have her say she doesn’t like them. I have been taking temperatures, wiping noses, stressing like crazy, over a simple upper respiratory tract cold. Yesterday, she appeared better, the cough had almost gone, the temperature was nearly normal, just your average, slightly grizzly toddler. She isn’t a sickly child at all. The last time she had anything wrong with her was July. Which considering she is in daycare three days a week, is nothing short of a miracle. And yet I stress.
Then she goes and does it, a 7 and 3. She was probably knackered after a week of having a cold. She was probably exhausted from running on the beach over the long weekend with her dad and me. Whatever it was, she did it. I feel rested, ready to take on a new challenge, determined to share the good, the bad and the sometimes so dreadful it’s plain funny. Who knows what tonight will bring, but today I am hopeful. Things pass, nothing is forever and those months and months of sleepless nights, may be coming to an end. To other parents who know the struggle of continued sleeplessness, we share a special bond. Our babies will be strong and independent as they feel our attachment to them deeply. Why else would they want to touch base with us so much and so often? When we answer their calls, their bids for attention, we are making sure they are developing that feeling of safety so necessary for healthy development. As we feed them, clean them and keep them warm, we are meeting their physiological needs as shown in Maslov’s hierarchy. By being there whenever they are in need of us, we are actually moving them through to the next stage of met needs, that of safety. This can look like many things to many families. For me it’s a pat and a hug and the offer of a boob in the dark (thank my stars that we co-sleep, or I don’t know what we would have done. “Whatever gets the most amount of people the most amount of sleep” a wise father of two told me whilst I was heavily pregnant and stressing about sleeping arrangements. How I now look back and laugh at my naive, ‘baby will be in its own room sleeping all night by 6 months’, self) They feel secure and listened to so early on in their little lives, they can move through into other stages of development and become independent little people, They know that we have their backs for certain. They are blessed to have us, just as much as we are to have them. And finally remember this, payback is real. Apparently I didn’t sleep through the night until I was 22 months old. Just imagine how many months Little M. will have to put up with when she’s a mumma! A snooze button, ha! who needs one anyway.