Most parents can only dream of sleep. It’s one of the most discussed topics in parenting circles. Your children are either awesome at it, or crap at it, and it’s the Olympic gold of parenting if they are champions of sleep.
It’s a tricky thing, because if you get a sleeper you have to keep your trap shut because parents of non-sleepers will think you’re a liar or hate your guts. I know because my first born was an awesome night-time sleeper. We’d plop him in his crib at about 10pm, he’d sleep until about 5.30am, have another feed and then sleep until about 8am. He hated day sleeps (which tortured this obsessive well-read on anything about babies mother) but slept like a dream during the night .
Listen: The Sleep Whisperer shares some sanity saving tips on teaching your baby to self-settle.
I learnt very quickly to keep this routine to myself. Out with some new mum acquaintances early on in new mother life, I innocently joined in my first sleep discussion, “Oh he’s pretty good, he wakes about 5:30ish and I give him a feed, then he nods off again for a few hours.” This went down like a lead balloon. I was faced with a room of irritated mothers who ignored me and then proceeded to outdo each other with horrific tales of screaming babies and multiple nightly feeds. What had I done? Did I just outcast myself? Apparently, I had.
On our second gathering, one of the mothers from that group declared that her own mother had told her that women who claimed their babies slept through the night were liars. You what? You mean me? The one with the awesome night time sleeper?
Yes, I made up that my baby slept through the night so that I could be excluded from all future conversations. Note to self: shut up about sleeping baby.
From then on I just sat back and watched “my child is the worst sleeper in the history of the world” play out. I felt for these women, I don’t want it to sound like I thought they were being dramatic, I just wasn’t expecting that my sleeping baby would cause me so much social grief. I couldn’t join in what clearly became to be the hottest topic of mother gatherings. Once I even lied that he was a bad sleeper, and regretted it immediately, but was tired of sitting there like some kind of well-slept freak.
Fast forward a few years and it would appear that we had been met with sleep karma. Let me unravel this one…
The youngest of our three boys was a great sleeper to begin with, a standard silver medal style sleeper. That was until he slept a lot. Too much. This was the result of his (undiagnosed) heart failure and the fact that he was very unwell. (You can catch up with that story here). Anyway, basically he was put on a range of medications to prevent his heart going into SVT (crazy fast heart rates), and those beta-blockers upped his status to GOLD medal sleeper. Here’s where the karma kicks in, you know that old rule, never wake a sleeping baby? Well, we were forced to wake a very contented sleeping baby. It was torture.
We had to wake him every four hours for medication and to try and encourage his sleepy head to feed while I caught up on the latest Love Boat rerun (pre-Netflix). By the time he had open heart surgery at 11 weeks old, I was so tired. I felt the need to tell everyone how tired I was, mostly because it consumed my foggy brain. I became one of those sleep deprived mums, a fierce contender in the battle of the title for the most exhausted of exhausted mums.
He was cared for in ICU for a week after his surgery which meant he had one to one care, in other words, I could sleep. I still had to wake during the night to express milk, but mostly I could sleep. And I loved it. And I didn’t even feel guilty- he was so tiny and so well cared for, and I was in the same building as him, so I just tried to catch up on months of lost sleep.
Once he came off those beta-blockers he barely slept for two days. I took him to my GP who laughed and told me that sometimes that happened when children come of that medication, he was feeling full of energy and we just had to ride it out. Four years on and this guy can still stay up until midnight. And if he even blinks for too long on a car ride home, forget getting him to bed until well after the early hours of the morning. How do we deal with that being the ace parents that we are? We chuck him in our bed and put a Fireman Sam DVD on while we cram sleep. Brilliant.
Apparently, the sleep gods felt I needed even more experience with exhaustion in order to be an actual parent, and with that came the diabetes diagnosis of my eldest son. In short this means lots more broken sleep, especially of late. Sometimes I’m up every two hours checking his levels when they’re erratic. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all when he’s had a bad high and I worry I’ve given him too much insulin, other times I worry he’ll have a bad low and not wake up. Either way, sleep has again become an estranged friend to me.
Recently the planets aligned and we slept in. We all slept soundly in our own beds until 9am. Our bed is often home to all of our family, and I’ve always proudly boasted that I will allow that until they no longer want to come in. After all, one day they won’t want to anymore, and I won’t get this time back.
I regret that statement and I take it back. I know better now, they grew such long limbs and pointy elbows and they are mean sleepers. They are incredibly good at getting a great spot and forcing my husband and I to sleep on the very edge of the bed with our heads resting on the bedside table to allow more room for the little princes.
So to actually have everyone wake in their very own bed at such a late hour in the day was miraculous. But this was so foreign to us, after years of waking before 6:30am, we felt like we’d lost half of the day. By the time we headed to the beach for a coffee the day was nearly done, and we all agreed that early mornings aren’t so bad after all.
We’ve decided that it’s okay to be early risers now, the early bird catches the worm and all that. And by worm, I mean coffee.
After years of fantasising about long sleep ins, we have a classic case of the grass not being as green as we’d thought it would be on the other side. So if you are in those early years of losing sleep to the little people that belong to you, feeling like you didn’t appreciate those years of child-free sleep ins enough, it’s okay. You wouldn’t enjoy them that much anyway. Probably.
On that note, I need to drag myself to bed so that I can watch unnecessary Netflix episodes of my latest show addiction until midnight and warm the family bed up for the long legged, pointy elbow tribe.
Goodnight (or good enough) x
Listen to the full episode of Year One: Getting Sleep Started.