They say sleep deprivation is the worst form of torture. I've been tired before, but nothing like what having a newborn baby does to you. And the irony of the situation hasn't escaped me- you lose sleep over getting them to go to sleep! And it's quite often the basis of conversation about baby- people ask 'are they a good sleeper?', 'are you getting any sleep?', or comment- 'get your sleep now, it will get worse!', or 'sleep when the baby sleeps' (which, for the record, is next to impossible to do. Am I supposed to eat and shower and converse with other people when the baby does that too?!).
Sleep has been one of my biggest worries with having a baby. I don't cope well when I'm tired, and I panic when I can't get the sleep I need. During pregnancy, as my body became more and more cumbersome, I began to not sleep, and it distressed me greatly. And then when Tilly arrived, I became obsessed. Obsessed with getting her to sleep, and obsessed with getting sleep myself.
I don’t remember the first few days at home. As in, literally do not remember the nights and feeding her. I remember her being in the bassinet, but I can’t for the life of me remember how often she woke, or where I fed her, or any of it. What I do remember, is being introduced to the concept of sleep training, and suddenly thinking I could control how and when we both got sleep. It gave me a new lease on life, pulled me from that first baby blues funk, and I charged ahead with a purpose to my day.
But, being a person who thrives on control and knowing what’s supposed to happen when and where, I didn’t realize that I was already setting myself up for failure. Not for attempting to sleep train, but for expecting it to be the answer to everything, and expecting it to just click into place and never have a problem with sleeping ever again. And yes- that unfortunately is how my brain works sometimes!
So I read all the information, set alarms on my phone for sleep times and feed times, and began working on 'teaching' Tilly to sleep.
It took over my life. It became everything, of every moment, of every day. Suddenly, I could only leave the house if it coincided with a designated sleep time, and then it had to be for the entire sleep time. I would walk her in the pram for hours, basically forcing her to stay asleep for the expected amount of sleep time. I would wake her at the designated feed times- even if it had taken most of the 'sleep' time to actually get her to go to sleep, because if she didn't, it would all go wrong. I read and re-read and googled and read again, sitting watching and waiting, blindly determined that it MUST work, because the information said it should.
But oops, there's the key word. Should. And its other variants- must, needs. All words that lead to the feeling of failure or of something being wrong, when it doesn't work the way they say it should. And that's not right. For starters, why are we so obsessed with making babies sleep through the night? Yes, we need our sleep- believe me, I know that (holy cow, don't I know that)- but newsflash, babies are supposed to wake up at night. They have little tummies, they need to feed more often than we do as adults. They're also brand new, discovering their world, discovering their bodies. It's the same concept as what happens when they go to school, having spent the first five years learning to walk and talk and play, to suddenly telling them to sit still and be quiet. They've spent 9 months forming inside the womb, and then they're forced into this big, bright, loud and unpredictable world, and we then expect them to just sleep when we tell them to.
But secondly, everybody is different. The basis behind these sleep training/sleep programs comes from research based on averages. I don't even know what sort of numbers would be involved in the research that they are devised from, but whether it's ten or a thousand, settling on the average results of that group still doesn't necessarily cover YOUR baby. Because your baby is their own person- and we are born already formed as our own person. Babies are not cookie cutter. They have their own personality, their own dreams, and their own sleeping needs and patterns. So how can you expect them to conform to an average?
So I tried to implement the routine. And when it didn't work, I started to panic. Why wouldn't she go to sleep when the program said she would? How do I keep her awake for as long as it says she should be awake for, when she's screaming the house down? Why wouldn't she stay asleep when I finally got her to sleep? Why why why?
I began to fall apart. I developed post-natal anxiety (more on that in a future post). I would find myself on the floor, in floods of tears, inconsolable because she was awake AGAIN, after spending forever getting her to sleep, or holding a writhing, screaming child who was so clearly overtired, but the program said she 'needed' to be awake for a certain amount of time. It made me miserable, anxious, and dehydrated (I cried a lot). And it made our home a tense and stressful place. I felt like it was never ever going to get any better.
But it will. Firstly, she's still so young. The fourth trimester is a real thing- and as soon as I let go a bit, and focused on what she needed, instead of basically telling her what I thought she needed, my baby was happier, I was calmer, and our days were less stressful.
Now, don't get me wrong- I am still a firm believer in routine and structure. When I worked as a nanny, with every new family I joined, the first thing I did was instigate a routine to our days. Children thrive on routine- they like to feel safe and secure, and know what is happening in their day. But what I'm beginning to understand is that in time, we will find a routine that works for us. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen. The chances of her reaching 19 and still only sleeping in catnaps of 45 minutes is pretty much non-existent, so it must end at some point (ha!). It might not be exactly what the programs and books say, but it will be right for Tilly, and right for us.
Sleep is golden. It is where we grow, recharge, repair, and revive. Without it, we cease to function. We all have the ability to sleep- babies included. What we need to remember is that they just do it a little differently to begin with. And yes, I'll be tired for a long while to come, but perhaps that is preferable to a 24/7 atmosphere of anxiety about what baby should/must/needs to do. Perhaps letting her just be a baby, and paying attention to her signals and learning her rhythm along with her, will make life much more enjoyable.