*This post was written over a period of a few days, beginning on Monday. Today is now Wednesday and for the past two nights, Beth has slept for 7 straight hours between 10 and 5! To say I feel like a new woman is an understatement. However, it doesn’t mean that the post is any less relevant and I so hope that it can provide a degree of comfort for other sleep deprived parents.*
That’s a question I’ve been asked many times recently, always after I’ve explained Beth’s (non) sleeping habits to someone. Murphy was having a laugh when he decided our babe might give us 6 hours of broken sleep each night if we’re lucky, considering 9-10 hours has always been my optimal sleep allocation. And I have to be honest, 8 months of cumulative sleep deprivation can do strange and singularly un-wonderful things to one’s mind.
So I found myself asking myself that very same question on Monday after a particularly awful Sunday night – how am I doing this? How am I going to keep doing this? Can I do this?
And this is what I came up with. This is how I do it:
Or whatever else helps to get you through the day! I’m still drinking decaf even though I’m no longer breastfeeding, but the ritual of making an espresso, steaming the milk, spooning in the sugar – it is somehow comforting and reassuring, not simply a means to an end. I don’t believe that a “crutch” is necessarily a bad thing, unless of course it is a badthing!
Easier said than done, I know, but I promise you the extra half hour you spend in the evening before going to bed might just save your sanity the next day. Sterilise bottles, prepare as much of your baby’s meals as you can, make yourself a sandwich for lunch, restock the diaper bag etc etc etc. Whatever you can do in advance, do. Because guaranteed in the fog of a new day after a sleep deprived night, you won’t know where to start. It’s worth the little bit of extra time!
Talk about it
You may well be tempted, as I was, to pretend that all is well and you aren’t taking as much strain as you know you really are. Don’t do it! Talk about it! Sure, you’ll be offered a lot of unsolicited advice but some of it may actually be helpful. But mostly, it helps people to understand why you are not in the running for any Best Friend of the Year awards. That you are permanently at the very end of your tether. That you forget everything. That you aren’t not making an effort but are actually using extraordinary amounts of energy that you don’t have just to make it from sunup to sunset (not to mention all the hours after the sun has gone down too). Your friends and family will get it. And seriously, if they don’t, at this point in time don’t waste what precious energy you do have worrying about them.
Make an effort
I love my pajamas. They are so soft and comfortable and they remind me of the sweetness of sleep. PAJAMAS AREN’T CLOTHES! And my husband’s baggy t-shirts aren’t my clothes! And despite what my husband says, I categorically do not look anywhere close to pretty, or to my age, on 3 hours of broken sleep (see previous mention of Sunday night). As tempting as it is to stay in pjs all day and embrace the eye bags, do yourself a favour and get dressed in the morning. Sure, you may have to pop a screaming tyke into the playpen or bouncer or cot for 5 minutes but they will survive. Put on something that you actually like and that you would wear out to a coffee date or casual lunch. Brush your hair. If it’s dirty at least it’s not tangled! Put on some makeup – not a lot and you don’t need to spend hours on it but it sure makes me feel better not to look into the mirror and see an ancient raccoon staring back at me.
Get out of the house
Even if it is just to get a few groceries and even if you know full well you will forget to get the things you really really do need, like nappies and wipes! Go for a stroll if the weather allows or visit a friend for a short while. Just do something. You and your baby will benefit from a change of scene and you will be further away from comfortable resting places like sofas or your bed, so you might lose a little of that desperate hankering to lie down, just for a short while.
Sometimes, hunker down
Having said that, some days it really is impossible to make that effort or to leave the house. And that’s okay. It truly is. Those are the days when you idle in neutral and do the bare minimum. They are the days when your baby benefits from independent play and eats food from a pouch rather than a homemade, gourmet meal presented as a smiley carrot, tomato and cucumber face with cauliflower hair. When you supervise a great deal and interact a little. As long as your baby is safe, fed, warm, dry and loved, one quiet day every now and then is no biggie. In fact, it teaches them that we all need to slow down sometimes and that life is not one big sensory fest.
Know when you have reached your limit
This is, I think, the most important point. I reached my limit on Monday morning. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I absolutely could not cope with one more night like Sunday night. It’s really difficult to be in that situation without family nearby to reach out to and to ask to help out. Their unwavering support from afar is unquestionable and I know they feel desperate to help, but the reality is that we live on a Caribbean island in the middle of blinking nowhere! It was hard, but I had to reach out. I emailed a few of the mums I have met through a little music group and asked if they knew of a night nurse or nanny. I met another friend for a play date and a chat. That friend proved a very special sounding board and encouraged me to be strong both for myself and for Beth. I spoke with the mum of a little girl who I know also has reflux to find out how she copes. I asked our amazing housekeeper to back me up throughout the day by helping to change nappies, choosing an outfit for Beth to wear and dressing her, holding her while I made my coffee… The laundry didn’t all get done that day but I stayed sane. I am also going to get some professional medical help for sleep deprivation – I don’t really know what the solution will be but at least I will know that there is a professional out there looking out for me.
Lean on those who love you
My goodness am I blessed with loved ones. My husband is a rock. Much as people don’t know how I do it, I don’t know how he does it! We hold hands in the dark when the hours are so small they are distorted beyond recognition and we laugh at each other’s comically haggard faces in the morning! Our parents are but a whatsapp and a Skype chat away and Beth’s godmother constantly checks in, as do various friends who know it’s not always easy.
It is odd that I am putting this in my blog because Faith has always baffled me. Some say it’s meant to be baffling! But sleep deprivation baffles me too and so this prayer helps, whoever I perceive God to be:
God of peace
Be with us through this night which waits for us
Bless us if it brings us sleep
Support us if it brings pain or anxiety
Till we come once more to the morning light of another day
And finally, Beth
This post was never meant to be sappy or melodramatic and I hope I don’t go down that route now, but I cannot stress enough how worth every sleepless moment is a million times over just to have our baby girl happily and healthily in our lives. She brings such abundant joy and love, and her zest for life peps up the sluggiest day. Who could not be enthused and motivated by this little being? My energy may be limited, but somehow when it comes to Beth it is inexhaustible.