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A Letter to the Sleep Deprived

You’re a parent now, so you expect late sleepless nights. You’re prepared for the all-nighters feeding; you know it’s coming. You listened attentively in all the classes and read all the books. It’s normal. Sure you feel a little more exhausted and a little less patient but all in all, it’s what you signed-up for. You think as they get older and their feeds change so will their sleep pattern.

As time rolls on, the routine changes. There’s more awake time now, and even though you’re a little more exhausted and a little less patient, you push yourself to love every minute of awake time. Sure you feel guilty because you’re secretly counting down until nap time but all things considered, you’re handling it quite well.

As time goes on they’re even more active; tummy time, play time, crying time, 100 nappies, around the clock feeding, less sleep for them and even less sleep for you. You’re more exhausted than ever with barely any patience, and it feels like your day is a marathon, and the finish line is bed time. What you didn’t expect, however, is that after all this, after running your daily marathon – there might not be a finish line. After the rocking, the song, the story, the night light, the comforter and the shusher – there’s no guarantee of a sleeping baby.

As a new parent, I expected to be sleep deprived. I heard many iterations of ‘you can kiss your sleep goodbye,’ and I thought I got it, until the third night of no sleep. Three days is my breaking point; it’s where I come undone. Adrenaline subsides, and I’m pure emotion. Who knew a lack of sleep could break a person.

These aren’t my favourite parenting memories. I yelled, I screamed, I cursed and cried; rocked in a corner and had to walk away because I couldn’t cope. I would ask other parents, and it seemed everyone was having some kind of sleep battle, so I thought, hang in there this is normal, this is parenting (pass the wine). I was comforted by the army of exhausted parents doing their best and that the small percentage of parents who just read a book, sung song and put them down without a bottle,’ were obviously liars.

Queue Ashy Bines. There were a solid three months that she’d taken over my life on Snapchat. I was intrigued by her lifestyle and admired her drive, but I felt mostly connected because of our new found motherhood. Amongst the workouts, clean eating and catch ups with Gretchen and Sammy, one thing stood out for me – how well her son slept! I was envious! Their routine was a bottle, cuddles and sleep. Literally, that was it! No fuss, no night time circus; what a lucky unicorn I’d think.

One day on Snap Chat, she was distraught and crying because her baby wasn’t sleeping. I empathised and secretly revelled like a cynic. It made me realise even celebrity parents go through the whole ‘sleep deprived' thing. She said she was getting her sleep coach to come for a consult and to help get them back on track

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“Sleep what?” I thought. Okay, this must be a rich, quinoa and acai bowls-esque thing that celebrities do. I’d never heard of it, and frankly, I didn’t want to pay some hippy to tell me what I already knew; my child just wasn’t a good sleeper.

So three days turns into a week and then it feels like a month of feeling like a zombie. Sometimes I genuinely felt good, but I was always tired. That parent tired where you function, or so you think, but you feel exhausted right down to your bones.

I got to a stage where my son’s crying was bothering me less , and we had somewhat of a routine that involved around car trips, bottles, and rocking. The rocking chair was his kryptonite. A good 10 minutes of rocking and he was out; but what to do on our first plane trip just him and me? It’s quite hard to rock a restless, overstimulated baby to sleep on a plane. This was a taste at just three months old of what we'd done. As he got older, the routine got more elaborate. We started giving him bottles in bed to calm him. Yes – win! We'd set up an elaborate bottle rig so we didn’t distract him in the room. Two bottles when he woke up, one at 2 pm and one at 4 pm but other than that, this new routine was a success.

Then we moved to Qld. He was six months now and rocking a 10kg child to bed was a full body workout. New place, new bed, new time zone; see ya routine. The stress of moving combined with an out of sorts child while trying to start my own business was a recipe for a full blown mumma-meltdown.

A girlfriend of mine rang on one of our ‘go to sleep drives’ to tell me about this magical witch doctor she’d found (my interpretation, not her words) that had ‘completely changed her life.’ – direct quote.

She said frankly, “it’s expensive, but it’s worth every cent.” I mean “life changing,” – that’s a pretty big claim but my life without sleep looked pretty depressing, so I was willing to give this so called ‘Sleep Consultant’ a chance. I didn’t contact Sleepy Little People for about two weeks. I had so many thoughts; it’s too expensive, I’ve tried everything, and there’s no guarantee, but my child was suffering and so was our whole family.

I felt so comfortable with Tracy. Having had her own sleep struggles with her son Hurricane Cooper, she was approachable and relatable. She assured me that I was doing my very best and with just a few tweaks, my son would be in a healthy sleep routine. ‘Righto,” I thought; I believe in miracles.

Tweak one: No more bottles in bed and he should be awake when you put him down. This caused me the most anxiety, how would he a) go to sleep without a bottle and b) he will starve through the night without his bottle.

Tweak two: Let him self-settle during the night because he can sleep through. I was sceptical. First, he wasn’t having his bottle and how he’ll just magically go to sleep? There was a lot more to this but to achieve these two things would’ve been a miracle I thought.

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Night one: he cried for 20 minutes before going to sleep and woke up at 2am and cried for 40 minutes before going back to sleep.

Night two: he was a bit more settled, but it still took 20 minutes to go to sleep but, for only the second time since birth he slept through the night. Our consultation was over a month ago, and he still sleeps through the night. There’s a lot more to his sleep plan and routine with tweaks along the way, but the peace and serenity around bedtime was worth every single cent. Come 7pm every night it’s my time, it's wine time and most of all he is getting a good night’s rest. 7pm-6am like clockwork each night.

As a parent I expected it to be hard, I expected to be tired, and I expected sleepless nights. What I didn’t expect was the person I would become at the end of all these expectations – short of patience, emotional, withdrawn, too exhausted for social activities, wishing time away, too focused on everything he wasn’t doing and too tired to think of a healthy way out. A Sleep Consultant worked for me and addressed issues that seemed impossible. For me, it was an objective, caring third party who had the knowledge and experience to look at our family and our individual needs. She provided a real plan tailored specifically to our lifestyle. She was there for support and adjusted the routine according to his response and we achieved restful sleep for us all, and saved my sanity no less.

Sometimes as parents we can’t or won’t ask for help. We can feel trapped by impossible standards and unreasonable expectations and feel it’s just a part of our job to ‘suffer.’ We’re often too close to the picture; we’re invested for life. We feel deep pride as parents and sometimes saying you need help feels like you’ve failed. I got to the point where I felt I had to start something. I wish I did something earlier. I wish instead of breaking point I’d felt it perfectly normal to establish healthy sleep habits from the start and that seeking professional help was ‘the norm.’ I wish mother’s guilt and suffering hadn’t kicked in automatically and so aggressively.

I had such a positive experience with my Sleep Consultant. My child thrives when well rested, and our whole family is happier and more functional. Maybe a sleep consultant isn’t for you, but if you need help of any kind PLEASE ask for it. We aren’t meant to just 'suffer' through parenting; we are meant to thrive. It’s not always easy and sometimes it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So here’s my greatest takeaway; parenting is an adventure, a scary, exciting, rewarding adventure. We’re all doing our very best; it takes a lot of love, patience, great support and sometimes a little extra help.

You got this!

X O Storm