For the first eight months of Theo’s life, the longest stretch of sleep I had was two hours. I think I was partly to blame for this. I rocked him or fed him to sleep and spent what must have amounted to approximately 5,000,000 hours pushing him around the living room in his pram trying to get him to drift off (being careful to avoid all eye contact of course). I don’t feel I’m solely to blame though, it didn’t helped that Theo was generally just a bit of an arsehole. I’m fairly certain I’m in the majority here. Find me a mother who didn’t pander to their first born.
I was lucky enough to be blessed with a husband willing to help with the night shifts on weekends (and even on the occasional weeknight when I had my meltdowns on the landing, ensuring I was within ear shot of his cosy, silent little nest in the spare room). But I breastfed Theo until he was four months old, which always resulted in Zac feeding Theo expressed milk in the main bedroom, with me sobbing into my breast pump in the spare room desperately trying to avoid the indignity of exploding boobs. Even after we made the satisfying move onto formula, I still woke on my nights off whenever I heard the slightest noise from Theo. It didn’t help that he often woke with a blood curdling scream with no prior warning, causing both of us (and probably several of our neighbours) to leap from our beds and shit ourselves in the process.
There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. It’s utterly horrific, and probably the main reason I’m set on not having anymore children.
I’ve actually blocked a lot of those dark day from my mind. I would go so far as to say I found sleep deprivation to be worse than the pregnancy and birth combined. I remember googling ‘can you die from sleep deprivation’ because I was so concerned for my well being (I also googled ‘how easy is it to get your baby adopted’; apparently not very easy at all).
I experienced an interesting mental, physical and emotional journey during that time, and can pretty much categorise my slow descent into total defeat in six clear stages:
1. Shock & Panic
For the first couple of days of my wonderful new baby’s life I genuinely didn’t notice being too tired. I put this down to the insane adrenaline rush from finally being united with my gorgeous little bundle of loveliness. But after a while the visitors and gifts started to dwindle and it hit me that this is now my life. This increasingly fussy tiny being wasn’t going anywhere and I was solely responsible for keeping him happy. By about night five I started scaring myself by consulting google on how long it takes for babies to sleep through the night. Don’t do it if you haven’t already. The results are hideous. I laughed at my former pre-child self; I thought I knew what tiredness was but actually I had no fucking idea. Suddenly being woken four, five or even six times a night is a huge shock to the system, and I started to desperately wonder if I would ever sleep properly again. Oh yeah, and the colic and reflux didn’t help.
2. Anger & Denial
For me, the anger really hit when Zac went back to work after his paternity leave. We were fortunate enough to have a spare room, so he skipped off there every week night. Bastard. And I was stuck with a tiny screaming beast in a Moses basket in what was fast becoming known as ‘the shit room’. A lot of my anger was directed at Zac. He was in the army at the time and went away on exercise when Theo was three weeks old for a month and a half. This did not help my general grouchiness. My favourite night was when Zac asked if I could remember to turn off the hall light after getting my usual 3am packet of biscuits because it was keeping him awake. I won’t repeat what I said to him but I may or may not have googled ‘how long will I go to prison for if I murder my husband’ once I got back to the shit room. There was definitely more anger felt at night, but during the day I spent a lot of time in denial. I would try and reassure myself by pretending Theo was just going through a ‘phase’ and that ‘tonight would be better’. It never bloody was though.
3. Caffeine & Positivity
After a few months of feeling very angry and hard done by, I started to develop coping mechanisms. When Theo was about three months old I stopped breastfeeding and took this opportunity to up my caffeine intake. I drank enough coffee and cheap Aldi energy drinks to kill a small horse on a daily basis, but it provided me with a small lift and gave me the illusion that I was regaining a tiny bit of control. I started to feel a bit more positive about the situation and convinced myself that I was lucky to have so much time, night and day, to bond with my son. Looking back I think I was possibly having some sort of delirious mental break. I started talking to myself a lot more and laughed at things that I never used to find funny (I found that robot in Justin’s House frickin hilarious). The positivity came and went in waves. When I wasn’t trying to stay upbeat I experienced overwhelming feelings of…
This was when I started ringing the health visitor in tears two or three times a week. I also bought a couple of books on sleep training. I recorded sleep charts, religiously noted down everything he ate and when, and the colour, consistency and frequency of all of his shits. All in a desperate bid to make sense of the hell I was living in. We tried giving him a teddy bear and a top that smelled of me, white noise, hungry infant milk, changing his formula brand, weaning early and various other little tips and tricks from a plethora of sources. Nothing worked. Obviously.
5. Confusion & Numbness
After several months of poor quality sleep, one will naturally experience difficulties carrying out tasks which were previous second nature. Things like having a conversation with someone, preparing a cup of tea, going to the toilet or driving a car. I feel thankful that all I lost was a wing mirror. I really don’t think I should have been driving at all, but I challenge anyone to stay indoors all day everyday with an increasingly mobile seven month old.
You sort of get to the point where you resign yourself to the fact that this is your life now. People will keep telling you ‘it will get better, I don’t know any 18 year olds that wake up every 2 hours at night’. I actually believed that Theo would be the one teenager that does this.
Then suddenly, a miracle happened. Somewhere around eight or nine months, he slept through the night! I felt like utter crap for the whole of the following day. It was such a huge shock to the system I felt as though someone had shoved a chainsaw through one ear and out the other. All my limbs ached and the taste in my mouth suggested I had swallowed something along the lines of a dead badger in my sleep. But I felt something I hadn’t felt for months… hope.
Needless to say it took another three or four weeks for Theo to repeat it, but things slowly started getting better. I started to see the world with a little bit more clarity and was able to participate in proper conversations with other grown ups.
Then just before his first birthday he had a random week of sleeping for FOURTEEN HOURS STRAIGHT each night. This was when I got pregnant again, the complacent fools that we were. And now we’re back to square one. Although I have to say Daisy has been a dream in comparison, thank god. I’m not going to gloat though, karma being a bitch and all. I’m sure she will be providing us with plenty of interesting challenges in 12 to 13 years or so…
So for anyone in the midst of any of these stages, I want to reassure you that it really will get better one day. I realise we got off pretty lightly compared to some of the horror stories I hear about. I found the greatest comfort wasn’t anything I had read about in any of the books, but rather imagining the joy I will feel seeking revenge when my two teenagers are fast asleep, and I decide to hoover the landing or hang a picture at 7am on a Saturday morning in 2031.