When we brought Hannah home from the hospital, and when she was very, very young we often joked in the middle of the night as we put her back to sleep that “we do not negotiate with terrorists young lady”…fast forward almost 18 months. It seems as if actually, we do, in fact, negotiate with terrorists after all.
Sleep deprivation has been used for centuries as a form of torture. Psychology Today quotes it as “less overtly violent than cutting off someone’s finger, but it can be far more damaging and painful if pushed to extremes” and goes on to say that “sleep deprivation is an especially insidious form of torture because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health”. Well, sign me up for the CIA – because I apparently can withstand this sh*t.
Hannah started off sleeping beautifully, by 8 weeks she was going down at 7pm, waking for a feed at 4am and then sleeping through until about 7 or 8 the next morning. Yes, I thought, I can do this parenting thing, it’s not as hard as everyone made it out to be. Somewhere between then and now the wheels fell off. And not just a quaint little wagon wheel falling off on the side of a country road – I’m talking tyre bouncing across a freeway smashing into multiple cars causing a pileup miles long and requiring every emergency service imaginable to clean it up.
Somewhere between then and now, she’s gone from letting her Dad rock her to sleep in 20 minutes, while Mum reads or cooks or showers or sleeps, sucking a dummy beautifully and sleeping for hours on end, to taking upwards of an hour to fall asleep – only when attached to a breast (and as I’m the only one in this household that has functioning mammaries, it’s now completely my job), waking every hour to 2 hours at night and screaming blue murder if anyone else tries to put her back to sleep. She has a few other party tricks up her sleeve…9pm every night like clockwork, usually as I’ve just turned off the light to go to sleep, or I’ve just drifted off, she wakes up. Another favourite is to be FAST asleep in my arms on the feeding chair in the nursery, and then the second she hits the cot mattress she’s screaming blue murder. Her Showstopper move however is waking at 2 am (After being awake at 9, 11 and 1) and staying awake until 4:30. It’s fun that one.
So I can already hear your cogs turning in your brains and your fingers itching to type…have you tried? The answer is Yes. We have tried it. Done it. It doesn’t F*ing work. My favourite is “does she have a good bedtime routine” – No Doris, we just let her run around the house naked and screaming until she passes out. Who do you think I am? This child had a bedtime routine before she was born! We eat dinner, bath her, storytime, wind down in a darkened room with the alpha wave lullaby music playing, nice little feed on the chair and then into her cot. According to every self righteous mommy blogger out there with 7 children who sleep perfectly – A good bedtime routine will help your child sleep through the night. Nonsense. And yes, we’ve tried tweaking it and changing it up….silence instead of music, fan on, fan off, sleep sack, baby massage, sleepy time lotions and potions – hell I’ve even tried dosing the kid up on medication that knocks other children for a loop.
The next one is have you tried sleep training? Just let her cry it out…Now call me a hippy, but I’m not a fan of this. In my mind it’s teaching your child that no matter how much they cry for you (their only means of communicating their distress) that you’re not coming. So they give up out of despair and exhaustion. Did I try it anyway? Of course! I was exhausted, and my boobs hurt, and anyway, my brother was sleep trained and he hasn’t been jailed for a mass murder or crimes against humanity (yet). 3 hours later she was still crying fit to burst a blood vessel. Did I persist – yes, I’ve tried it a number of times with no level of success. We’ve had consultations with a sleep trainer…side note – you know how you can send your dog off to be trained as a security dog/guide dog/service dog etc – why can’t we send our children off and someone else who obviously knows what they’re doing train them to sleep?
Have you tried a dummy? No – I enjoy my body parts being used as a pacifier. Of COURSE I’ve tried a dummy, she flat out refuses – in fact it makes her really angry if I try to give her the dummy. And by really angry I mean throwing things across the room, biting, arching back, kicking, screaming – I’m sure you get the picture. (Don’t ask me where she gets her temper from – it must be her father :p)
Have you tried formula? This one just makes me angry. Super angry. I am an advocate for #fed is best, and I have nothing against formula if for whatever reason breastmilk is not an option – but there’s this free miracle substance on tap in this household called breastmilk that contains sleep inducing hormones at night, and most of the nutrients that a baby needs for its first few years of life. I spent months agonizing over building and maintaining a good enough supply to feed and grow my child (more on that in another post). Science and biology have shown time and time again the benefits of prolonged breastfeeding to a child’s health, mental well-being and overall development (our ancestors only fully weaned their children at the age of 4 upwards). I know that she is using me as a sleep aid at night, and that weaning her from night feedings should theoretically “teach” her to self soothe, you guessed it – I’ve tried it! Cue screaming, demon baby right on cue that doesn’t pass out or tire. Our record for trying to put her down without milk after night time wakeups was 2 hours 45 minutes….I gave in. I’d already spent almost 5 hours that night trying to put her to sleep without the boob.
I would be here for a week if I typed out all the things that I have actually tried. I think you’re probably reading all this and going – don’t give up – carry on with at least one method, you have to be consistent. I hear you. But I’m also exhausted and drained and very likely on the verge of a breakdown. So for the moment, I’m negotiating with the terrorist – when she demands I give in, in the hopes that this time she’ll sleep for 3 hours rather than 2.
There’s a lovely phrase “This too shall pass” – and I have a friend who tags on “like a F*ing kidney stone but it shall pass”. I know deep down that I’m answering to my child’s needs, she obviously needs love and closeness and reassurance that she is not alone multiple times a night and I know that biologically speaking not even adults “sleep through” but it’s exhausting on every level. I’m not asking for a miracle cure here, this is just therapy, venting, getting it off my chest.