BEST STARTS FOR KIDS
Unlike many others, my babies were both appalling sleepers. Both of them were premature and required more regular feeding than most, especially my first. He was 'an hour on and an hour off' both day and night.
I remember after about ten weeks of almost no sleep saying to him, 'There's no one else in the world I'd be nice to at this time of the morning.' And it was true.
And I'm not going to pretend that I found being sleep deprived easy. It was constant, mind-numbing and nothing prepared me for the exhaustion. I think the effect was compounded because I went back to work when my eldest son was four-and-a-half months old.
And before you judge me it was a different time back then and work practices were much less friendly for working women.
Because I needed to go on bed rest for the latter months of my pregnancy and I needed to keep my job, I also needed to go back to work earlier than I originally planned. And then again while I was pregnant with my second son the thing I'd been worrying about over years happened.
My husband lost his sight and needed multiple surgeries to eventually restore it. So finances were really tight. Again I returned to work. If anyone gets how tough it can be, I probably can as I was working with two young children and a blind husband over years.
I can remember being at yet another early morning staff meeting... The boss often called them an hour early in the morning. And unlike many of the other staff I drove for forty-five minutes as well with two little children to drop off on the way.
I clearly remember one particular morning, when I felt like some of the other staff members may as well have been speaking another language. They pedantically discussed which word was the most suitable to include in one sentence of a policy document and I felt like an alien.
I looked across the room at the other two young mums on the staff, and I realized we all were wearing the same dazed facial expression and wondering why on earth we were there at that time of the morning. But the thing I learned was we all felt similarly.
And there was another day when my girlfriend (who's babies didn't sleep either) and I were in a baby-feeding room. A gorgeous, trim, young, mum walked in. Both her and her baby daughter were dressed in matching colours and each had a beret strategically positioned on her blonde bob and her daughter's fair curls. They looked like they'd just walked off the pages of a Burberry or a Dolce and Gabbana catalogue.
I remember after she left the room my girlfriend said 'How do you feel?'
I replied, 'Inadequate would probably cover it.'
And she laughed.
When we both looked in the mirror, we looked like we'd been through a wind tunnel.
However later that day, fate intervened and we saw the same pair again. This time the hats were long gone. The child's had been ripped off and thrown into the street, and her daughter was screaming as the mum was trying to unload everything back into the car. The tousled mother had a grim look on her face that implied... Just don't get in my way.
I smiled. My girlfriend smiled. And I never forgot it... It wasn't easy for anyone all the time.
It's easy to buy a 'travel brochure' lifestyle that someone appears to have, but if you look a little deeper there are always the back alleys and garbage bins somewhere in people's lives. And in a world that increasingly values perfection I was so grateful for this extra insight while I was struggling.
So these are some of the strategies I used. They're not earth shattering but sometimes worked for me. I did the obvious first.
1. Check their nappy is dry and that they are neither too hot or too cold.
2. Try feeding them
3. Try burping them with the weight of their stomach either on your shoulder or along your arm
4. Put on some soothing music, or a track of the sound of a heartbeat and hold them and rock them to sleep
5. While asleep leave the music on and place them back in their cot. Leave the room quietly.
6. Send my partner in some times to put a pacifier in, so my baby didn't always smell my milk. Or getting him to bring the child in to me to feed when I was exhausted.
It's not unusual for babies to have difficulty sleeping unassisted for the first six months or so.
And sometimes babies develop some bad habits around sleeping.
If your baby continues to be a bad sleeper discuss it with your GP who may give you a referral to Tresilian or other similar agency. And do it sooner than later.
If you're feeling depressed realize there are a lot of others who are right there with you, also feeling alone and overwhelmed. Asking for help is the brave, sensible thing to do. And if you're dismissed go somewhere else. You'll eventually find people who are supportive.
Even if you have a cooperative partner it's often hard for them too. The more you can work as a team the better chances you have of lessening the negative effects of tiredness.
But one thing I learned and accepted was the first three months or so of your baby's life your child is expressing a need rather than trying to make your life difficult. I think there are a lot of young mums who are facing sleep deprivation on their own, afraid that if they let on how very hard it is, they'll be judged. So all I can say around that is choose your confidants carefully, because sadly some other women will make you feel even worse as they relay how easy it all was for them.
And even for those of us who had babies who didn't sleep, over time it became easier.
But if we put ourselves in our baby's position, being tiny, vulnerable and away from those who will protect us we realize it might be scary for us too, especially if it's dark and there was a noise. So a change in perspective helps us to see things as they are.
Some of the coping strategies I used in the interim were:
Using extended family to mind my baby for a while so I could catch up on an hours sleep when I was totally wiped out.
Giving my partner the baby so my arms got a rest
Having a shower first thing in the morning before my partner left for work so I got one
Taking the baby for a walk or a drive on those really bad days. The motion usually put them to sleep
Getting a trusted girlfriend or family member to take my baby for a walk in the pram for half an hour so I could have a rest, a 'hot' cuppa, a 'hot' meal, a shower
Using a pacifier
Avoiding confiding in those who made me feel bad about my mothering
Telling myself 'he won't want me to be cuddling him to sleep when he's a teenager.'
Making sure that there was something in every day for me. e.g. It might be listening to some music I like, chatting with a friend, sitting in the sun, going for a walk, etc
Having a good laugh with my closest friends about some of my worst days and them sharing theirs.
If you can keep a sense of humour and access some of the goodwill you have, it will be easier to get through this stage.
And the earlier you can put routines in place, the easier it will be to find time for yourself.
Playing soft music and singing like I did when I was pregnant which softened outside noises from nearby builders
Walking around with very young babies along my arm so their weight was on their bellies making it easier for them to pass wind
Carrying them around in a pouch or sling on my chest so I could get some things done.
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