“Sleeping is one of my favourite things” said my little boy! How is that even possible when I haven’t slept for over six years?!
Before Rory had turned one years old, we had moved 3 times. They were traumatic and unsettling periods. I never expected him to sleep all through the night, but I did think/hope/pray that he would sleep for more than 2 hours at a time.
As a Nursery Nurse with 20 years of childcare experience, I was often employed to help families ‘sleep train’ their babies. Whilst training for my childcare diploma, routine, routine, routine was always drummed into me. ‘Gina Ford’ insisted that babies should be sleeping from 7pm – 7am. Burn that book if you have it. It was books like that, that made me feel like an inferior mother. My child just wouldn’t sleep.
When he was six months old, I began the transition of moving him into his own room. It was equipped with lovely mobiles, low lighting and a comfortable breastfeeding chair. Every 2 hours throughout the night I was sat in that chair with my boob monster!
I thought by the time he was having solid food, he would sleep longer. I was wrong! Keeping him awake in the day, getting more fresh air, non stimulating activities past 5pm etc. etc. etc. were all recommended but to no avail.
By 16 months, I wanted to stop breast feeding. Rory didn’t agree!
I turned his cot bed into a toddler bed, hoping that it would encourage longer sleep. However, it was at this point when the night terrors started. If you have ever witnessed your child having a night terror then you will understand how helpless I felt. I couldn’t offer any comfort. I had to just sit next to him, gently reassuring him I was there until the terror ended. It was exhausting and upsetting.
By 18 months, I had stopped breast feeding. I was so proud to have got that far but I couldn’t keep functioning on very little sleep. The night terrors were getting worse and I was an emotional, sleep deprived mess. I wasn’t feeling very well either and knew I didn’t have the energy to be up all night so I brought Rory into bed with me. He slept all night. Of course, I didn’t sleep a wink!
If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to co-sleep with my son. As a single parent, every minute of every day was spent fulfilling all of his needs. I loved being a mum. But at night time, I just wanted a few hours to myself, my own space. But this was never meant to be!
Luckily I joined a Gentle Parenting group where co-sleeping was the norm. As the weeks progressed, both Rory and I were sleeping very well and I wished we had co slept sooner! His natural biological clock of waking up for the day at 5am gradually moved towards a much more respectable wake up time of 6am! I was thrilled.
I am a very light sleeper. Being solely responsible for another human being means I usually sleep with one eye open. I can hear a feather drop and I’m ready for any eventualities in the middle of the night! Being elbowed in the face, kneed in the back and kicked to the edge of the bed did have its drawbacks. And although I still didn’t get that much sleep, I was rested and that was what I desperately needed.
If only health care professionals such as Midwives and Health Visitors, as well as all of the baby literature given to us during pregnancy, gave a much more realistic account of a baby’s sleeping habits during the first year. If only they said it was ‘normal’ for babies not to sleep for long periods of time. Why would a baby that has been used to hearing a mothers heartbeat for 9 months, want to be alone? Why would professionals advocate leaving a baby cry themselves to sleep? I have been beyond exhausted and I’m not ashamed to say I left Rory in his cot crying whilst I attended to my needs for a brief period of time. But I would never contemplate letting him cry himself to sleep. As an adult, I have cried myself to sleep. I would never want that for my baby. However, I do understand the desperate needs of sleep deprived parents, therefore I do not judge anyone’s choices. I understand. I empathise and sympathise. It is simply my opinion.
Rory was nearly 2 1/2 years old when I started my cancer treatment. We had been co-sleeping up until then. I was worried about our separation at night time. I moved into Rory’s bedroom and moved his toddler bed into my room. The room he would share with my mum until my treatment side effects eased. He slept from 7pm – 7am! Might I just add that my mum is amazing. She is the gentlest of souls. The bond that my mum and Rory have together meant that he was totally comfortable to sleep knowing she was only a few feet away should he need her. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Anyone who knows Rory, knows he is a confident and articulate little man. He does however, have separation anxiety at night. Since he started full time school, I have tried to be a little firmer with his bed time routine which includes sleeping in his own bed. He knows that if he needs me, he can just come into my bed and snuggle up quietly next to me. He comes in every night!
The weekend is another story. I let him self regulate. He decides when he wants/needs to go to bed. He may stay up with me for as long as he likes and usually does. There is nothing worse for me than going to bed and not being able to sleep, it shouldn’t be any different for my son. He follows in my footsteps and doesn’t need a lot of sleep and that is roughly 6-8 hours on a good day. One thing that helped me, was accepting my sons sleeping pattern. For years I tried to change it. Once I accepted it, life became easier.
I never thought there would be any advantages to single parenting, but when my son goes to his dads for a sleepover, I sleep! I really sleep! Slowly but surely, I am catching up on 6 years of no sleep!
For whatever reason, my son needs extra comfort and reassurance at night time. I am never going to turn him away. I know for a fact that this won’t last and my baby will be all grown up before I know it.
Sleep deprivation has been one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. IT DOES GET BETTER! I just hope anyone reading this, who is dreaming of an uninterrupted night of sleep, appreciates how absolutely amazing you are. If you can survive on no sleep, you can survive anything!