“When you’re in the trenches of the first year, no matter what number child, it’s war like no other.”

courtney rothberg

In the last trimester of my first pregnancy, I lost count of times other mothers jokingly told me to enjoy my sleep while I could. Giggles were shared and we’d make light of the fact that I was up every few hours to pee anyway, baby residing on my bladder and all. But honestly, how bad could it be? Brutal. Really, really brutal.

I thought my first son Baker was a fussy sleeper but I realise now he was probably more in the mainstream category. So as I entered into motherhood for the second time I thought, I got this. I’m good. Jones arrived and I did things differently. More baby wearing, gentler parenting.

I had no intention of letting him cry it out. I know the difference between a grizzle and that moment of complete silence in between strong tears. That, I cannot do. Sleeping wouldn’t be a stand off. It just had to work for both of us.

parenting sleep deprivation
"But honestly, how bad could it be?" Image: Supplied.

Fast forward to today. He’s 10-months-old. I sat rocking him in the feeding chair after he’d been asleep for 29 minutes. I tried to resettle him. I tried to get him back into his cot four times in 20 minutes.

He’d be dead asleep in my arms and as soon as I moved him, he’d wake up. He’d burped, farted, had a fresh nappy and was fed. In the last 10 months I’d tried everything.

Dream feeds, formula feeds, more solids, less solids, chiropractor, osteopath, bat cave dark room, my husband putting him to bed, self settling, white noise, rain drops, my t-shirt on a giant elephant in the cot to mimic me being there… it was endless.

But this day, I just broke down. Where did I go wrong? Why won't he sleep? What is wrong with him and me? His big eyes staring back up at me with a cheeky grin finding it’s place on his face and instead of smiling myself, I just stared.

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sleepless with baby
"He’d be dead asleep in my arms and as soon as I moved him, he’d wake up." Image: Instagram

I called my husband and within seconds of answering he knew something was wrong and the flood gates opened. I could not stop crying. The kind where I had uncontrollable sharp inhales between speaking. The truth, this wasn’t the first time I’d had a day like this.

Usually they happen every few months. When the exhaustion built to an unmanageable level. First time I was crouched on the floor next to his cot, my knees tucked under me and my forehead resting on the ground.

I sobbed. Hard and heavy. Jones in the cot grizzling after I’d nursed him for half an hour trying to get him to sleep and wouldn’t go down, despite how tired he was. The second time my husband walked up the stairs and before he even got to the landing heard me crying and rushed into the room to take Jones. My eyes puffy. My body weak.

sleepless with baby
"I sobbed. Hard and heavy." Image: Instagram.

The sleepless nights are one thing, the incessant nights always being sleepless is something else. 10 months of 29 minute day naps and being up every two hours during the night more often than not is a slow form of torture. It breaks you down at snail pace.

Until I hit the wall on the most unsuspecting of days and the remainder of the day unravels. I realise my emotional tank is empty. My eyes sting. My mind is a cloud filled sky where the rain has been unrelenting and you’re left with the quiet aftermath of grey nothingness.

Blank stares. Slow movement. Waiting for the next downfall. I know it’s coming, I just don’t know when. I approach every person I come across that day with caution. I slink into my shell and hide behind my glasses and pray they don’t ask how I am. But they do.

And every time the tears well in my eyes and I say okay with a closed mouth smile that doesn’t so much as leave my cheeks let alone reach my eyes. They’re already spoken for. The tears, remember. I usher along as fast as I can in the hope of reaching the car before the next wave of emotions take over.

parenting sleep deprivation
"Blank stares. Slow movement. Waiting for the next downfall." Image: Instagram

I make it back home again from the kindy pickup, the baby asleep in the car, the transfer to the cot as bad as the one earlier that day. I fight the good fight for thirty minutes before I realise it’s futile.

It’s 2pm, his whole sleep routine is out of whack for the day, there is slight panic that he may remain awake until 7pm and then I realise I haven’t eaten since breakfast. Vegemite on toast is all I can rustle up.

As I stand over the toaster staring into oblivion my phone rings. It’s my husband. He tells me he’s on the way home. I couldn’t get anything out before the next tidal wave engulfed me. Help is on the way.

I put the milk back in the cupboard and realise I forgot about the appointment I was supposed to be at half an hour ago and I know they charge a cancellation fee, so I call, make up a story about my child being sick, the receptionist senses the desperation and probably knows I’m lying but wavies it anyway. Exhale.

sleeplessness parenting
"It’s my husband. He tells me he’s on the way home. Help is on the way." Image: Supplied.

I sit and think and know what my last resort is. A sleep consultant. But they don’t come cheap. I’m supposed to find $800 to pay for a specialist to come to my house and help me get my baby to sleep. I’m on mat leave.

We’re a one wage family. $800 is a lot of money. But is it the best money I’ll ever spend? I’ll let you know. I’m waiting on a call back.

After a day like today, it always goes the same. Tomorrow, I know I’ll wake up feeling better. I’ll have found a little pocket of resilience to keep going. A chat with a friend about how tough motherhood is and how she combats it on those really crappy days.

A text from my mum to say she loves me and can take the boys tomorrow so I can nap. Flowers and a packet of stress less tea delivered to my door, sent from a dear friend living over 2000km away. The village in some way culminates to ensure I don’t stay down for too long.

sleep deprivation with baby
"A text from my Mum to say she loves me and can take the boys tomorrow so I can nap." Image: Supplied.

I know this phase will pass. But when you’re in the trenches of that first year, no matter what number child, it’s war like no other. These days, they are the ones nothing can prepare you for. Motherhood is glorious and messy and beautifully chaotic.

It’s heart breaking and uplifting and character building in the same way I imagine torture in modern day warfare is. Bottom line, it’s hard. Really hard. This is no room for ego or pride. Find your tribe and let them in. It’s the only way to survive it.

How did you get your baby to sleep through the night? Tell us in the comments section below.

You can follow Courtney Rothberg on Instagram here.

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