I stood in the heater aisle, bleary-eyed and confused. One kid was perched on my hip, dribbling down my top and the other had flung off her shoes, grabbed a toaster and raced off to the flat screen tv section.
A man came over to me and said, “Can I help you with anything, ma’am?”
I looked at him and my voice caught in my throat and I gave myself a stern warning that I must not lose it in the middle of Good Guys at 4 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
“I need an oil heater”, I said. “It’s just that I really need my baby to start sleeping. He’s not sleeping, and some people have told me he might be cold and I’ve tried everything so I think maybe he’s cold. He’s happy. He hardly cries much but I just think he’s cold. And these people, they’ve told me to get an oil heater, and I don’t know anything about heaters and I really just need one that will make my baby sleep.”
Ella returned, dumped a box full of pegs onto the ground, looked up at me and said, “Here, mummy! Pegs!”
I looked back at him wearily and his eyes crinkled in the kindest of ways. “My kid is three now,” he said. “Everybody says how bad sleep-deprivation is, but no one really knows until they go through it, hey? It’s truly awful. Turns you crazy.”
I inhaled sharply and my throat burned and I tried really, really hard not to lose it. But I was tired as all hell so self-control was not on my side. I started crying, right there in the middle of the 11-columned standing heaters, right there in front of this man who – two minutes earlier – was quietly just trying to stick some sale stickers on a couple of washing machines. But he didn’t miss a beat, this man. Like it happened all the time; haggard mothers with their unwashed hair falling to pieces as they purchased winter appliances.
He brought out his phone and showed me a photo of his boy – a cute red-haired ball of a thing – and he told me how he had to send his wife and their kid to a sleep clinic it got so bad. I nodded through tears because I couldn’t really speak yet and then I watched as he crouched down to play pegs with my daughter. “Your friends are right”, he said. “An oil heater is best, especially one with a timer. They keep the room at a steady temperature all night. Plus, they’re a bit cheaper to run.”
I could have handed over my credit card and bought anything he told me to, but I was grateful he was more concerned with what I really needed rather than making a hefty sale. I bought a standard middle-of-the-road one, and he gave me a very kind discount. I watched with heavy, thankful eyes as he carried it out to the car for me, buckled my daughter into her seat, wished us good luck, then waved us goodbye.
Sleep training is one of those things which divides people. You’re either for or against it and people tend to have strong views either side of the fence. Honestly, as with any parenting choice, you swim in your own lane and you choose your strokes according to what fits in best for you and your family. I was anti-routine, anti-sleep-on-your-own with Ella until it wasn’t working for us any more – her in fits of over-tired hysteria, me beside myself with exhaustion. We began giving her set feeding and sleeping times, and gradually taught her to fall asleep on her own and our home life became extensively more harmonious. We all slept again. I became a calmer more patient mother, she a more content baby.
However, if she was a naturally good sleeper I would have never considered a routined life for her, nor trialled methods of self-settling to improve her ability to get the sleep she so needed.
The same went for Billy.
He landed in our arms and slept his way through life perfectly, not so great in the day, but at night only ever waking up once. I was high-fiving the stars and flapping about spontaneously, on a whim, all hey-routines-are-good-if-you-need-them, and letting his own rythyms fall into place. He didn’t need help sleeping, this one. I was praising every God I knew for giving me a good one.
But then at about 12 weeks he turned on me, sleeping in 10-30 minute fits at night, and no better during the day. Initially, I kept up, my This-Is-Fleeting mantra holding me in place. But after two weeks of it, my mental health started deteriorating, as did the peace in my home and the relationships within it. I didn’t want to be the mother I was becoming – the one standing in her kitchen yelling rage and smacking her kid for spilling milk on the floor. I started disliking myself and it was then that I recognized something had to change. I had trodden this path when Ella was small. Exhaustion, despair and a scary dose of lack of control were not places I wanted to revisit.
So, I opened up the book I hadn’t looked at in over a year and our sleep training journey with Billy began.
I do not think our way is the best way, and that all of you unroutined, rock-to-sleep mamas out there are wrong. You are right. If your home is a happy one and the people inside it thriving, if you are managing fine and things are at a level you can cope with, then your way is the right way. I cannot stress this enough. We stick to our own lanes. And we high-five each other across the ropes.
I’m only sharing this because chances are another mum is out there somewhere exhausted and weeping and glancing sideways hoping like hell someone is swimming in the lane next to her shouting me too. Me too, sister.
So here goes.
Tizzie Hall is as loved as she is hated. And truth is, I’m a middle-roader when it comes to her sleep training advice. I don’t do everything she says and I certainly don’t think she is the only authority on how it is we get our babies to sleep. But she has taught me to read the cues of my baby, to detect the difference in the cries they have, and by taking on board her suggestions and routines, my baby can fall asleep on his own and sleep for bigger chunks of time. Her methods worked perfectly with Ella, and after only one day of following her advice, Ella slept through the night and we’ve not really looked back since.
However, what I’ve come to realize is that despite all the work and effort one can put into guiding good sleeping habits, sleep regressions are very real and common things, and can severely disrupt the hardest of work, no matter how much you are “following the rules”. There is lots of information about sleep regressions on the net, so I won’t go into the why’s and how’s, but they typically occur around 4 months and then at around 9 months, mirroring a time when a baby’s sleep cycles are changing and big developmental shifts are occurring.
There are also fantastic tips online to help you survive this gut-wrenching time, and at the moment we are trialling all sorts of different techniques, hoping that one will click and Billy will settle for periods longer than he is. I’m in the deepest of hazes and I cry very easily but what we are doing feels right and I have come to accept my exit from the functional, engaged world of normal life until things improve. Calls don’t get returned, emails aren’t replied to, and Joel is accepting that I can’t be all that nice to him right now. All I can offer my friendships is a thumbs up and a Facebook like from the depths of my living room and the hope that this season will pass soon enough – the one where I need more than I can give. One day the coin will flip and I’ll be out the other side – my hands outstretched to give rather than take. Then, meals will be dropped off, chocolate will be bought and tears will be mopped up, so the next sister in line can breathe a little easier as she trudges through this era of desperate sleep-deprivation and frustration.
And to my dear friends who have texted me photos of their laundry pile to make me feel better, who have listened to me fall apart, who have bought me chocolate and who have offered to clean my house and be with my babies, you are the exact reason why women hold up half the sky. You are life lines and I’m grateful to be cared for by you.
Love is all you need, yes, plus perhaps a massive rant session and a shitload of chocolate.
Leaving you with Friday’s Photo Dump (theredtent on Instagram if you want to follow the feed) because, you know, I forgot.
Have a lovely day friends