Up until the birth of my second child, there had never been a moment in my life when I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind.
But after being deprived of anything that resembled “decent” sleep for 12 months on end, exhaustion had altered my laid-back, approachable and relatively chillaxed self into a hyper-sensitive, darty-eyed person who tended to laugh at people when they politely asked me how I was doing.
To my family, I was a raging, fragile mess at home in the evenings, living on a bunch of 45-minute sleep cycles from about 8:00pm until 6:00am. I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t feel sick with tiredness.
It took just one night collapsed on the kitchen floor with a crying, tired little bub to make me realise that no-one was winning. My partner was amazing, but unfortunately, he wasn’t lactating. I suddenly found myself angrily hissing at my child to “go the f*** to sleep”.
Yep, I just admitted that. I was desperate.
That’s the moment when I decided I needed some help.
My GP handed me a referral to a baby sleep centre in Brisbane, and I’d always trusted her judgement. But deep down, I figured it would turn out to be some kind of archaic, anti-attachment type of place where I’d be forced to leave my baby to cry in a dark room and sort himself out. No thanks.
More importantly, I told myself, that would mean I had failed to fix the problem all by myself, something that I wasn’t ready to admit. I was extremely committed to fulfilling the role I’d set out for myself — being a gentle, responsive parent — and I’d already decided that sleep training didn’t fit the brief.
On my quest to remain a “selfless” mum, I decided it was better to suffer than to train my kid to sleep in a separate room. Never mind the fact that I completely lacked the energy to enjoy being a parent.
I spoke to a psychologist with a special interest in postnatal depression. Her words resonated with me. Why do we have to choose between sucking it up, or crying it out? Wasn’t there a gentle way to help both parent and child to get some sleep?
I had never thought controlled crying was fair on babies, but co-sleeping wasn’t working at all because he was waking up constantly throughout the night.
During my four-night stint at sleep school I found the answer — responsive settling. And I haven’t looked back.
Here’s what I learnt:
The nurses at the sleep school actually cared about my baby, and my sleep deprivation wasn’t their main focus. They wanted him to self-settle, get some decent sleep and feel better. He was the patient, after all.
My baby didn’t like change, but it was ok for him to be upset. I wasn’t neglecting him. He’d known only my nipples as a way to fall asleep. That might be perfectly fine for other mums, but I couldn’t go back to that. Yes, there were tears from both of us on the first night. But I didn’t abandon him — I stayed with him in the room until he was ok, I cuddled him, I sang to him. It wasn’t my job to stop him feeling unhappy, it was my job to soothe him while he discovered that he didn’t need me in his bed to feel secure at night.