Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Good Night's Sleep

Are you getting enough? Are you getting any? Do you miss it? Do you want more? Would you give almost anything for it to last just five minutes longer?
If reading that aroused you, congratulations, you are childless and have a one track mind. And I'm not talking to you.


I'm talking to the woman crying over her smart phone as she reads this post in the early hours of the morning. The woman with dark circles under her eyes, the woman whose teeth hurt from tiredness. The woman with the vacant stare. This post is for you.

Sleep becomes a dirty word when you have a baby. It's all people want to talk about. Everybody you know, and lots of people you don't, want to know if you're getting any.

I dread getting asked about sleep, because if I haven't had much the night before, there's a very real chance that I'll punch the asker straight in the face. This wouldn't be a very good example to set for my daughter, especially considering most of the enquirers are elderly.

From about six weeks till six months of age, Ebony slept pretty much through the night. From 11pm until 8:30am she would be asleep in her cot right next to my bed. Occasionally she would stir, and I would watch from my bed as, without waking, she would soothe herself back to sleep by sucking her thumb.

Then, at six months, it all changed. She learnt to crawl, she cut her first tooth, and she decided sleep was for the weak. It's bearable for the first few weeks, "this too shall pass" you repeat to yourself at 4am as you cuddle your crying child.

But the weeks quickly turned into months, and I was still being woken frequently in the night. I would put Ebony into the cot fast asleep and after an hour or so she would wake. She would quickly realise she was alone and couldn't reach me, and then she would start to scream.

Waking up to the sound, and sight, of your wailing infant; arms held out in a desperate gesture of needing you, is soul destroying. You jerk awake terrified of what is making the love of your life so miserable.

I soon realised that the answer was me; I was making Ebony unhappy by withholding myself from her. I'm her Mum. Before she was even born, she knew who I was. The very first time I held her in my arms, already recognising my smell and the sound of my voice, she felt calmed by my face.

I'm her protector, her food source, her everything. I reassure her when she's scared, I make her happy when she's sad, I feed her when she's hungry, I understand her. And she knows it. That's why she screams when she wakes up and I'm not there; because she needs me.

I’ve given up on the cot now. Well, I haven’t thrown it out, I use it as an oversized bedside table, and I have it pressed up against the bed to stop Ebony falling out. She sleeps with me now, all night. Not just from 4am when my eyes are stinging from the exhaustion of repeatedly soothing her back to sleep. Now she’s with me all night, and she sleeps much better too. Now if she wakes in the night, she just has to reach out and touch me and she feels safe. She doesn’t wake up cold and alone in a cot, she wakes up next to the two people who love her most in the world.

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When people ask me about sleeping, I don’t tell them this. I don’t tell them that I co-sleep with my baby. Mothers are expected to Gina Ford the hell out of their babies as soon as they depart the birth canal. We’re not meant to feed our babies on demand, or let them share our beds, or pick them up when they cry. We’re meant to discipline, and put them on a schedule, and make sure they’re not manipulating us. Oooh, and we mustn’t spoil them. And if we fail to meet society’s expectations, then we are hormonal over-sensitive over-protective idiotic fools.

I met a Mum at a baby group last week and we engaged in a typical auto-pilot conversation about sleep. She told me that her baby wasn’t sleeping well this week so she’d had to let him sleep in her bed. Her face said it all, she had to, otherwise she wouldn’t, because she knew it was wrong.

She seemed almost ashamed to admit she was allowing her six month old baby to cuddle up to her at night.
I told her that I always co-sleep, I find it easier because it lets me get a good night sleep. I’d never described myself as a co-sleeper before. I didn’t plan to bedshare it, it came about due to sleep deprivation. I haven’t bought any books about it, although I have read a lot of guidelines about safe co-sleeping on the internet.

The other Mum then confessed that she had co-slept with her baby from birth and she reeled off a list of books she had read about the subject. She was obviously a committed and well-versed co-sleeper, and yet had felt unable to say it without first testing the waters. If I’d told her I was a card-carrying member of the Gina Ford fan club, maybe she wouldn’t have told me at all.

But, luckily for Ebony, I’m not.

Since I accepted that Ebony wants to sleep close to me, life has become easier. She goes to sleep earlier, she wakes less during the night, and she still naps in the day.

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