baby

"Sleep deprivation is the side of parenting you don't see ...and it is torture."

A few short years ago I remember telling friends I was ‘exhausted’ after another night out filled with laughs and a few too many vodkas. I was tired because I had gone to bed at 2am and had to get up for a family breakfast at 8am. How was I going to survive on a mere six hours sleep?!

Everyone has the right to complain about being tired, but as a childfree 28-year-old I could slink off post brekkie to have a leisurely afternoon nap. Now as a mum of two, I might get the odd 10-minute nap on the sofa, but mostly I just drink more coffee, wear more concealer and get on with it.

My second son is nine months old and a real beauty, but sleep this year has been something of a luxury. Four hours in a row? We are nailing it! Only two wake-ups last night? Legendary!  My expectations have changed quite a bit, I still crave sleep but I’m getting a whole lot less than I used to.

I am essentially always tired. Sometimes ridiculously, mostly just low-level sleepy, and while it is normal at this stage of life, it doesn’t mean it is okay. For me – it is the hardest part of parenting.

True sleep deprivation is literally a form of torture and as any new mum will tell you, those bad nights sure as hell feel torturous. I know because I have just survived the newborn phase, various sleep regression phases, some fevers, colds, teething and it’s all awful.

sleep deprivation after baby
"I’m sure that all parents can relate to that sinking feeling of hearing the start of a baby’s cry at 11pm, 1am, 3am, 4am or all of the above." Image supplied.

I’m sure that all parents can relate to that sinking feeling of hearing the start of a baby’s cry at 11pm, 1am, 3am, 4am or all of the above.  At first you hope you might be mistaken but wait, nope that was definitely him.

You prise open your eyes and hear it again, it starts slowly and sounds just like a bit of whingeing. Maybe he’ll go back to sleep you think. It stops for two minutes, you start to close your eyes and then BAM there it is again, and this time there is no doubting it. "Sweet Jesus here we go again" you think, and up you get.

Every night I try to be positive about how I will handle baby wake ups and my husband and I take it in turns to go in to settle him down. The evening passes by relatively uneventfully with the occasional squawk while we watch Netflix and eat chocolate. We creep into bed around 9pm ever hopeful that tonight he will sleep through, or even just sleep well for a few hours in a row.

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Lights out and maybe we get an hour or two of peace but then there it is, the unmistakeable sound of an unhappy baby and my stomach lurches. We groggily ask each other the same old questions, ‘do you think he’s hot?’, ‘is he sick?’, ‘is it your turn or my turn?’ and we start the back and forth routine. Sometimes it takes one of us five minutes, sometimes both of us four hours.

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If he is unsettled and crying for more than an hour in a row, I start to lose my mind and on top of trying to work out what to do about baby, my husband has to talk me down from the edge of madness at 3am. Sometimes I get myself so worked up that even after he has resettled I lie there awake, fretting about the rest of the night and annoyed at myself for not sleeping.

All the books suggest different things and we like most other parents have tried them all. Some nights they work and some nights they don’t. Some nights we wake up well slept and refreshed, full of compliments for our champion baby, and other mornings we are grouchy zombies, going through the motions of breakfast until we can grasp that first coffee.

There is a six-year gap between my children and I know that I had forgotten the mental torture and physical exhaustion that comes from having a young baby and a poorly slept household. It puts a huge strain on relationships and makes everything feel so much harder.

sleep deprivation after baby
"I’m learning that the key to surviving these sleep-deprived early years second time around is knowing it will pass, and that being tired and grumpy is normal!" Image supplied.

I’m learning that the key to surviving these sleep-deprived early years second time around is knowing it will pass, and that being tired and grumpy is normal! With my first son, I felt shocked at being so ill equipped to cope with all the hormones and tiredness. This time I still get cranky at 3am but I am trying to be less unkind to myself, more aware of my mood and more relaxed with my beautiful little ones. I also very much appreciate the love and support of my husband, family and friends.

The fact is, some nights are good, some nights are dreadful and most are somewhere in between, but whatever happens during those darkened hours, the sun still comes up. One day I’ll look back and it will all be a beautiful distant memory and until then, there’s always good coffee and concealer.

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