15 October 2013

A Sleep Journey

It 1:00pm and the house is quiet. 

I like to just stop and absorb that comment for a moment. It has been so long since I've been able to celebrate peacefulness in my home. Let me take you on a little journey.

It started like this....

A little over eight years ago I gave birth to my beautiful first child. He was lovely and perfect and I'd read lots of books. I was going to respond to his every need, I was going to show him he was loved every moment, I was going to be the perfect parent..... And I did just that. 

I talked to him, I read him books, I played on the floor with him, I showed him the world, I left the tv turned off, I kept the snacks healthy, I jumped to his attention when he cried, I demand fed. Day and night. It was exhausting but I was full of energy and enthusiasm and a belief that I was doing it all right. 

Fast forward six years and I am now a busy mum with four children and a lot less energy than before. My kids are beautiful and good fun and well behaved. My first born has attention to detail, is an anxious child and a deep thinker. My second born is the most tough skinned, chilled out energy bunny I've ever met. My third child is a social butterfly and a performer with strong emotions. Number four is just a baby so the jury is out on her personality for the moment. The point is, its busy and the needs are varied and contrasting. But I still believe I can do it all. 

Then the sleep deprivation sets in. None of my kids have ever been "good" sleepers. Generally we didn't get full nights of sleep until around 18 months to 2 years. Around that age I have then added another baby to the mix and started all over again. I have spent six years ignoring those who tell me the only answer is to "let them cry it out" and I have believed in my every word. The difference is that now I am starting to cry it out. 

My fourth child turns out to be gorgeous. Of course. The whole family loves her to bits. She is funny and cute and has a great sense of humour already. She is cuddly and strong willed and plays beautifully by herself and with everyone else. We have the perfect family. Two boys at school, two girls at home. happy kids who eat well and appreciate their place in a big and loving family. The problem is that mum is slowly losing faith in herself and her family. I feel I have bitten off more than I can chew. I am tired and short tempered all the time. I am unable to enjoy the special moments. I am physically in pain a lot of the time with neck problems and exhaustion. I am loosing touch with my husband and we are arguing constantly. I am snapping at the kids and parenting in a way I never thought I would, nor wanted to. 

I have become unravelled because for six years I haven't slept. But I soldiered on. I stuck to my guns and stuck to my old routine. I fed her to sleep while it still worked. When she cried at night I jumped up and resettled her with a feed. I was so tired I couldn't remember what time the last feed was anyway, so the demand feeding worked well. Until it didn't. She had stopped feeding in the daytime and my nighttime feeds were no longer working. She would feed but no longer fall back asleep. I tried resettling in her bed but I was tired and she was sharing a room with her sister so I popped her in my bed, and she went back to sleep. So we co-slept part time, which was working well. Until it didn't. 

Then months are ticking by and now its been eight years without sleep.

Our little angel is still gorgeous, but she is tired and cranky all day. Just like mum. She has become clingy and cautious around others. She wants to be held all the time. The cuddly part is beautiful, but I am tired and in physical pain. Her sister is also cranky. Sharing a room I think they are waking each other a little. Something has to give.

In desperation I call a stop to the whole bed sharing thing. I can't cope with her in my bed anymore. I am not against co-sleeping: it works for many. I am not against attachment parenting: it works for many. I am still uncomfortable with letting children cry alone. But I am desperate.

The first night she wakes as usual around 1:00am and I try resettling in her own bed. Of course, she was expecting to be taken to my bed, so she cries. I am gentle, reassuring, but firm. She screams instead. After 5 mins I move her into the spare room, alone. The screaming goes on for about an hour, with many reassuring visits from me. That's it. The rest of the night she sleeps alone. I feel mean but at least we all get some sleep.

The second night I feel encouraged and decide to stick with it. She wakes sometime in the middle of the night and I commence the same process as before. The screams start quicker. She's onto me. I stick with it. And stick with it. And stick with it. Three hours she is awake, switching between crying, screaming, and being quiet just long enough for me to nod off. Three hours! I am a mess. I've lost faith in the whole project. But I don't give in and eventually she finishes off the night sleeping alone in the spare room.

Naturally the next day we are all miserable. I decide its not going to work. I resign myself to sleepless nights for a few more months.

Night three and we are all keen to sleep. She goes to bed happily. This is a surprise. I follow suit soon after in exhaustion. Around the usual time I hear crying but not from the usual spot. I pop out of bed and find her in the hallway, just past the nightlight. She has gotten herself up but frozen in the unexpected darkness. I pop her back in bed and await the screaming. At some point I fall back to sleep. Next time I wake it is morning. The screaming never came. She slept!!

Suddenly, she is a new child. Back to her old contented self. Happy and bubbly. And at nap time, she climbs into her own bed and lies down waiting for me to say goodnight!!! I am speechless.

Its been a week or so now. Sometimes she fusses at bedtime if she's had a good nap in the daytime. Most nights she sleeps all night in her own bed. A couple of times I've moved her to the spare room where she's resettled alone. Just like that.

I still don't believe in people who claim that you "have to let them cry it out". It works for some children. I am sure it would be detrimental for others. I do believe you have to do what you are comfortable with, and what works for you. And every now and then it pays to step back and assess what is actually working, and what your priorities are.

 For the moment, I am just enjoying feeling human again. I am not a perfect parent. I still lose patience and get over tired. I have, however, regained my confidence and my faith in myself. I can communicate more effectively with my husband. I'm happier and more energetic and loving the change! I'm pretty sure the kids are feeling the change too. 

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