Zero Sleeper to a Hero Sleeper!

How we went from a Hero Sleeper to a Zero Sleeper and Back Again

There is almost fourteen years between our first and our second child. We’d got past the sleep deprivation years ago with our first and so had been enjoying many years of lazy lie ins and good, decent nights’ sleep. So when our baby girl came along and brought sleep deprivation with her, it was a shock to the system. Of course, we knew it was coming so we had tried to prepare ourselves mentally for the situation but nothing can really prepare you for the twelve hour long scream-and snot-a-thons and the getting-up-to-put-the-dummy-back-in marathons that see you greet every single half hour on the clock through the night. I hate to digress but when is someone going to finally invent a contraption that keeps dummies in babies’ mouths? I for one would be screaming at Peter Jones from the other side of the telly to invest if someone took that invention into the ‘Den.

Having been through the sleep deprivation that the baby and toddler stage brought with it with our first, and having regained a better quality (and quantity!) of sleep, we desperately wanted to try and implement a healthy sleep routine for our Little Miss. Unfortunately this was impossible when she was first born due to her needing special care (I’m certain there is no night and day in special care – just lots of round-the-clock nurturing and care and lots of lovely, jolly Doctors and Nurses who do an incredible job regardless of the time of day) which saw her needing treatment round the clock. Once we got her home it was essential that we continued with that care and so we had to wake her through the night periodically for her medication. This really disturbed her and interrupted her sleep routine and so, for the first couple of months we just went with the flow. Once she was weaned off her medication though, that was when we really started to think about her routine and how we could promote a better quality of sleep for her (and us!).

Many years ago I did my training to become a qualified Baby Massage Instructor so I was aware of the benefits of using something like massage as part of a baby’s pre-bedtime routine. So, every night whether it was following her bath or her top to toe wash down, I would do some baby massage with her, with the lights low and any sounds down. I didn’t want her to become accustomed to needing silence to chill out and sleep so I was always very conscious to keep some noise going on but I kept it low enough to create a relaxing environment. Little Miss loved a bit of classical music when she was teeny so I used to play that sometimes when I massaged her. She wasn’t keen on lying on her front and being massaged but she did respond positively to lying on her back so I would massage her scalp, her face gently, and then move down slowly to her shoulders, arms, tummy, legs and all the way to her toes. I would always finish with the same stroke; using my two hands across her front and moving them towards each other in the shape of a heart. I would then quietly, and without much talk, slip her into her sleepsuit and give her her dummy and comfort blanket. I then gave her her evening feed and placed her down in her moses basket awake. I was really wary of getting drawn into the routine of having to rock/shush her off to sleep myself and I really wanted her to learn how to self soothe and get herself off to sleep. She did this really well and after looking around for a bit, her eyes would get heavier and heavier and she’d eventually drop off to sleep without any fuss.

It didn’t take long until she recognised this routine as being ‘bed time’ and I was really encouraged by the fact that she was able to get herself to sleep (which helped when she woke for night feeds because I could put her straight back down in the moses basket after a feed and she would go straight back to sleep which meant we weren’t up for long periods through the night) and she was soundly sleeping for sustained periods in between feeds. I was just starting to feel really smug thinking I had totally cracked it, when another month or two down the line she decided that she didn’t much like sleep on a night time anymore and decided that she was going to challenge the beautiful routine we had in place by constantly waking up all the time!

I was gutted. I really had thought that we had nailed it. She got poorly with a bad cold and she developed a night cough that disturbed her sleep terribly and I think, that because it went on so long, she just became accustomed to waking regularly through the night and then she wanted the comfort of a cuddle or a bit of the old ‘rock and shush’. We decided at that point to move her through to her own room. I wasn’t sure what else I could do to improve her sleep and I was acutely aware of the fact that my Hubby snores like a wild boar with a blocked nose so I did wonder whether he was disturbing her (as well as me!).

Things just deteriorated from this point. It got to the point that Little Miss would wake within half an hour of being put down on an evening and then I’d be back up there pacing the floors with her to get her back to sleep, then she’d be up again three or four times before we even made it to bed. Then the graveyard shift would commence and there were many, many nights where I spent more time pacing the floors of her nursery than I did in bed. This went on for months. She wouldn’t settle for my Hubby when he went through to see to her during the night so then I would go in to settle her (which was a big mistake because from then on she would only settle if I went in) and I would spend hours (I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not) and hours trying to get her back to sleep then transfer her in to her cot and exit the room like a stealthy ninja whose life depended on it (only with very creaky joints that like to creak at the most inopportune time). I sometimes hadn’t even made it back to my bed before she would wake again and start crying for me.

I know we all joke about sleep deprivation and we all know it’s coming when we have a baby but when I say I was sleep deprived and barely functional, I am not in any way exaggerating. I was surviving on a couple of hours sleep a night and most of that came from the naps I had when I was sat in the rocking chair in her nursery with her in my arms. I lost the capacity to think straight, to remember, to cope with the smallest of worries. I was an absolute mess. Throw in to the mix a return to full time work and I became ill with exhaustion.

It got to the point where I dreaded night time. I actually put off going to bed on an evening because I couldn’t face the thought of the up and down marathon that would start as a result. I would burst in to tears at the drop of a hat and I felt drained. I had no energy and no enthusiasm. I struggled with that in itself because I consider myself to be a positive and upbeat person most of the time (terms and conditions apply!). I started reaching out to friends and family for advice and I received a flood of ideas – some I knew instantly wouldn’t work with our Little Miss, and some I thought were worth a try. We tried things like the LUSH sleep cream, playing white noise, tweaking her day time naps and lots of other things to no avail. I also did my own research, scouring the internet for any advice or sleep aids that I could try with her. She was reaching one year old at this point and I worried that all of the advice I was reading seemed aimed at younger babies. I worried that we had ruined the possibility of getting her in to a positive sleep routine because she was too old. But both my hubby and I decided that we couldn’t not do anything because we couldn’t carry on with things the way they were.

We decided that we would try controlled crying with her. This wasn’t ideal for two reasons – firstly because her sustained crying would keep our eldest up through the night and he had school to go to in the morning and secondly because I’m the biggest softie to walk the planet and can’t bear to do nothing when she was crying. Her standing at the end of the cot and crying ‘Mama’ so I could hear it on the other side of the door was so hard. I know that this approach gets a mixed response from people. I totally get why some people can’t or won’t try it but I can equally understand why people do it and how they get good results from it. Our experience of it was initially quite bad. We did controlled crying for several hours one night, going in to reassure her every few minutes, lying her back down and so on but the second we left the room she was straight back up again and she almost made herself sick crying one night. It was awful. I know there are much worse things to experience in this world than your baby crying but I found it almost impossible.

We decided to attack the ‘all new and improved’ sleep routine from all angles. We cut out one of her daytime sleeps and we made a point of building in some good quality one to one (or one to two!) play time between collecting her from nursery and her going to bed through the week. I moved her bedtime story up to her room so we now have a story in dimmed lit room before her bed time bottle. We decided to take the leap and purchase a ‘My Hummy’ bear which plays white noise continuously for 60 minutes and has a sleep sensor so the white noise kicks in automatically if she stirs in bed and then it plays for another 60 minutes. I considered it quite an investment and considered buying one for a few weeks. Consequently we ended up ordering one at around 2am one morning when we were both stressed and exhausted and desperate to give anything a try. I had seen the positive reviews on Facebook so I was encouraged but I was concerned that my Little Miss was too old now to start using white noise. But I was desperate and thought anything was worth a try.

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I was concerned because she didn’t take an instant liking to the lovely bear called Filbert – in fact she kept giving it back to me. I don’t know why because it is a beautifully made toy and despite its sound function it is lovely and soft and light. I introduced it to her as a play thing as I had hoped she would connect with it but she was really disinterested. However, I was determined to give Filbert a whirl and give him a chance to make a difference. I placed Filbert in her cot and start the white noise immediately after we finish our bedtime story and just before I start her bottle. She is very sleepy by the time she gets to the end of her bottle and I place her in her cot. She still wakes after half an hour which is really frustrating, it’s almost as if she can’t get in to that deep sleep phase initially. She cries when she wakes but she settles a lot quicker with the white noise going. I go into her room and stroke her head for a minute or so then come back out. We’ve had to do a bit of controlled crying on an evening after she first wakes but she’s not getting half as upset as before with the white noise going on at the same time. We are in there three times maximum before she goes back over to sleep. This happens maybe once or twice on an evening before we’ve gone to bed at the moment; I suspect that despite the best will in the world to be as quiet as possible, the noise of us downstairs and the Big Lad in his room next to hers, she must be being woken by the odd noise here and there. Once we all go to bed she really settles now. She is up maximum once through the night but (and this is HUGE but – get the fanfare at the ready and start up the drum roll…) she has consistently SLEPT THROUGH for three nights now!!! I could never have imagined that introducing just a couple of minor changes could have such an incredible impact.

What a difference it makes too! She greets us with a beautiful smile on a morning because she is well rested and content and I’m not having mummy meltdowns on a daily basis because my brain is actually getting some rest! I appreciate that it is still very early days and I’m acutely aware that all it will take is for her to get a bad cold and it will throw us off course completely but I am feeling so much more confident about her sleep (and my sleep!). Life really is brighter when you’ve knocked out a few decent hours of zeds. It may have taken us a while to find a routine that worked for our Little Miss but now we have, I am strictly going to persevere with it against all the odds if she has a little relapse. As recently as just last night we were doing controlled crying at around 9pm, I was returning to her room every few minutes to lay her back down in the cot and tuck her back in and she was stood crying at the end of the cot. Every bone, brain and heart in my body was screaming at me to pick her up, cradle her in my arms and hold her close. It’s not easy seeing your little treasure upset. Luckily common sense prevailed and I realised we’re in this now – we’ve started this sleep routine, now it’s down to us to ensure that we continue to provide consistency for her. She was fresh out the bath in a freshly laundered sleepsuit and I literally yearned to pick her up and hold her. Then a moment of harsh reality kicked in: my Little Miss didn’t NEED me to pick her up and cuddle her. She might have wanted it, but she certainly didn’t need it. That was more of my need than hers. And it was her needs that mattered. She certainly wasn’t impressed when I simply laid her back down and left the room but within ten minutes or so she was flat out enjoying a lovely sleep – exactly what she needed more than anything.

It’s been a tough few weeks and the lack of sleep has challenged me physically and emotionally but I am so glad we decided to tackle the issue head on. The easy way out would have been to carry on dozing with her in my arms in her nursery but that wasn’t helping anyone. It’s good to just face these things head on and get the right result for our little cherubs.

One final thing, I’m acutely aware that this may sound like a bit of a sales-pitch-type-all-round-love-in for My Hummy. It’s not. I’m not being paid to write this post and my opinions and views are 100% informed by our own experiences of using it. The team behind the My Hummy bears are a bit spesh though. They deserve all the positive reviews and credit they receive. We are totally thrilled with the impact little old Filbert has had on our wee one.

Dear Perfect Parent,

Dear Perfect Parent,

I see you. But you already knew that; you wanted me to see you.

I see your posts on Facebook, Instagram and the like. Whether it be the perfectly poised photographs you post or the self indulgent status updates you put out there, they always leave me drawing comparisons. I try not to. I tell myself I’m a good mum, secure in the knowledge that my children are clothed, fed, clean, loved and happy, but sometimes your life appears to be so dramatically different to mine that I can’t help but compare.

Sometimes the comparison is even laughable. I read your ‘Yay! I’m back in to my size 8 jeans three weeks after giving birth!’ post whilst sitting in my maternity leggings almost a year after my baby was born. I saw the selfie you took in a nightclub mirror looking all glamorous with a full face of flawless make up, holding a pretty looking cocktail whilst I nursed a cup of tea in my frumpy pyjamas watching a boxset at home with the day’s mascara smudged across my eyes.

I see your ‘she’s only 7 weeks old and she’s sleeping through!’ posts too by the way. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting ‘mummy wins’ as, let’s face it, we all know that parenting is a tough gig but when I’ve had all of about twenty minutes kip in three weeks, I don’t feel much like celebrating with you. On that subject, where do you find the energy to go out on a night time? I’m in my PJs by 4pm. I don’t blame you, though. You should have a social life. I’m glad you do. It’s just my eldest is almost 15 and I haven’t actually regained my social life yet. So it just makes me wonder where I’m going wrong.

Then there’s the mummy video’s. You know the one’s – the video clips of your child playing the violin on one foot whilst reciting the alphabet backwards. In French. You certainly make smart babies. If they carry on like this, one day they might run the country. I can’t even begin to imagine how many posts would be dedicated to announcing that on your social media if that happened.

And then there’s the photographs. Gah. The photographs. The ones where your kitchen looks absolutely immaculate bar some carefully placed icing sugar sprinkles across a home made cherry pie sitting proudly on a hand carved wooden chopping board or some jars of home made jams with hand written labels and gingham checked cloth lids. Your kitchen looks like something from the Bake Off tent whilst mine more resembles ‘the morning after the night before at Glastonbury’ type look. And the fact that you have your shit together enough to make homemade jam impresses me on a whole new level. My kids are lucky if they get offered a spoonful of Hartley’s for their toast. Not a single gingham cloth lid in sight.

The truth is that I admire you. I admire that you are doing such a sterling job of raising your family whilst keeping an immaculate home and I admire that you have a baby who sleeps through, an exciting social life, the energy to make home made jam and the time to document and video every one of your child’s talents. And so you should. That’s totally your prerogative.

But on the days where I am feeling really pushed. Pushed for time, energy, lust for life or whatever else, seeing someone making such an amazing go of being a Mum can only serve as a stark reminder of what I could be doing better.

So when I see the photograph of your family sitting around a pretty looking camp fire at the beach roasting meat on the barbeque to go with a side salad made up of organic vegetables you’ve grown yourselves at home, I compare it to what I’m seeing; my children, most likely sitting at my very chaotically laid dinner table, stretching their necks to see what’s going on on the television ,whilst they eat their very average pasta and cheese.

BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’) does that mean I love them any less than you love your children? Absolutely not. That’s one thing that is simply not up for debate. But it is part of my genetic make-up to be hard on myself, be self critical and continuously feel guilt at not being a good enough mum.

I do think that a lot of that guilt comes from being a working mum. By the time work is over and the nursery pick up has been done, it’s very usually a case of throwing whatever is quick and easy in to a pan for tea whilst running a bath for the baby whilst helping the big’un with his homework whilst trying to reply to five and a half work emails (and usually whilst pouring a sizeable G&T) all at the same time. It gets too much some times. In fact, it gets too much a lot of the time. And yet in the same vein it never feels enough. It doesn’t matter what I do, I always feel that my children deserve better than what I can give them.

So when I see your photographs or your posts on social media sometimes they serve as a reminder of the mum I would love to be one day. But one thing is certain: I may not have an immaculate house all the time, and I might not grow my own organic vegetables in the back garden and a year on I might not be back in to my pre-pregnancy clothes (there’s no ‘might’ about it actually, I’m definitely not.) but one thing is for absolute sure: my children know they are loved. They are loved to the ends of the earth and beyond and I’m sure if they were asked they’d say their mummy does her best by them. And that’s enough for me.

I have no doubt I’ll hear from you soon (via your chosen social media outlet),

Keep going Supermum! You’re doing an awesome job.

 

Mamma_B x

How many minutes a day do you dedicate to yourself?

What does ‘me time’ look like when you are a mum?

Being a mum of a boy who was hurtling through his teens saw me regain a huge amount of time that I could dedicate to myself so when I fell pregnant (incidentally I hate that saying – who ‘falls’ pregnant? Like, woops, I tripped over your foot. Bam! I’m expecting!’) I knew that going back to nappies, night feeds and colic was going to have an impact on the amount of time I found for myself.

In fact, for the first few months of my daughter’s life, ‘me time’ wasn’t even on the radar. At no point did I have time for me; at no point did I make time for me. But actually, at no point did I even register that I was having no time for me. That was the scary bit. Once my husband was back at work after paternity leave, there were many days where I didn’t even find the time to get changed out of my PJs or take a shower. He’d come home from work around 5pm and find me in exactly the same way he left me eight hours previous – hair not brushed, not showered, not changed. I would think ‘how do people do this? How do people have a baby and still manage to shower, get dressed, have a hot cup of coffee, chat to friends?’ I felt like I was failing at life.

Of course the reality was that whilst I was sat there in a zombie like state, my baby girl had been bathed, massaged and dressed immaculately. She had milk in her belly, clean nappies on, she’d been cuddled, winded, rocked, shushed, read to, sang to and played with – she had had my undivided attention all day long (and all night long most of the time too!) so I’d clearly had the time to do all those things; I had simply chosen to dedicate that time to my baby rather than myself. I thought that made me a good mum.

I think she was around the five month mark when I started to feel more than just the ‘I’m tired from the sleepless nights’ type of tiredness. Little Miss was having a rough time with reoccurring chest infections so sleep was at an all time low and I was constantly in a state of panic, checking her temperature, watching her breathe for any signs of struggle. I was not only physically exhausted but exhausted in every meaning of the word. I felt drained. I remember sitting in her nursery for hours, holding her upright on my chest so that she could get some sleep without coughing. I sat there for as long as I possibly could, ensuring she was in a deep sleep, before trying to put her back down in her cot again. I crept up to the cot and gently laid her down, as if she was fine glass. I held my breath and said a prayer internally that she would remain asleep so I could get to bed.

And she did. Until I laid my head on my pillow and closed my eyes and then the coughing started, and then the crying resumed. I sat up and felt so emotionally fragile. I cried. I was so desperately in need of some sleep. But not only that, I was desperately in need of time for me. I felt drained, physically, emotionally and in all other ways. This was more than just tiredness; I felt like I had lost myself almost.

I felt guilty for thinking about ‘me’ when I was so blessed to have a beautiful baby daughter that needed me but in five months I hadn’t left her side once. I hadn’t met a friend for coffee as adults, I hadn’t spent any child free time with my husband, I hadn’t so much as had half an hour to read a trashy magazine or a book. This wasn’t for the lack of offers either, whilst we don’t have a massive family network, we have family members that had offered to look after her, but I had not wanted to leave her. I don’t know whether this was because she had had such a traumatic start to life or whether I’d have felt the same regardless, I don’t know. I had waited so long for my beautiful baby girl, spending time away from her just hadn’t occurred to me.

It was only during a chat with my Reiki Healer about how rubbish I was feeling that I fully realised that I had really done myself an injustice in not ensuring that I had time for me. She asked me ‘what do you do for you?’ and I couldn’t answer. I had a small baby, I thought. I don’t have time for me. She asked me to identify one thing I had done out of sheer enjoyment just for me in the last week and I couldn’t answer it. I hadn’t read, I hadn’t written, I hadn’t sat in the garden and enjoyed the peace and quiet, I hadn’t met a friend – nothing. She told me (in friendly but no uncertain terms) that it was absolutely essential that I find time for me in every single day. I almost laughed. Time for me? Every single day?! That was going to be impossible. She maintained that it was essential for my wellbeing though. She told me to start by reserving one ten minute period for me every single day. It was acknowledged that we all need more than ten minutes of ‘me time’ a day but we needed to be realistic here or it just was never going to work.

I thought about what I could do in ten minutes. I could (probably) drink a small coffee (whilst hot maybe!), I could read for ten minutes, I could meditate or listen to some music, I could pamper myself or you know what? I could just lie down in a dark room and drink in the peace. Ten minutes isn’t long but when you have deprived yourself of any time for you for several months, you’ll take it with open arms and you’ll run with it. Fast.

I scheduled these ten minute periods. I mentally popped them in the diary for when my husband got in from work and could take over on baby duty, or for when I got Little Miss down for one of her naps. Instead of opting to get the bottles cleaned and sterilised or hoovering or being in a rush to do something practical like changing the beds, I took that time and thought ‘this is for me.’

Happiness is created through our enjoyment of things. I enjoyed my baby so much but there needed to be an acknowledgement that I had a right to enjoy something for me too. The Reiki Healer was right, once I started to dedicate time for me, doing something I enjoy, even if for just ten minutes, I felt happier. I felt more balanced. I felt stronger. This had a hugely positive impact on my ability to be an upbeat all-singing-and-dancing mum too.

Those ten minutes each day may not be much but they are a nod to the fact that us mums are people in our own right. We shouldn’t need to accept that every minute of our day should be dedicated to doing things for others. It’s Ok for us to be selfish some times and say ‘this is what I’m doing for me,’ not for the husband, for the dog, for the kids, the mother-in-law or the neighbour down the road – for us. For me. In fact, that isn’t selfish at all. It’s doing what is right for us. What is healthy for us.

When that Reiki Healer asked me what I did for me, I was confused. The fact that I found that question so confusing is exactly what was so very wrong. In my head somewhere, I subconsciously believed that as mums, our whole lives should be dedicated to our little people. And for all we love our little people and for all they make our world go round, it is not good for our health, our state of mind or emotional wellbeing to neglect ourselves in the process.

Ask yourself the question, what have you done for you today? If you can’t answer it, I hear you. You are probably just as exhausted as I was. You may be thinking it’s not possible to have ‘me time’ and be a mummy but please, give it a try. Reserve ten minutes out of your day tomorrow and find something to do that you enjoy, do something that makes you happy. See the difference it makes to how you feel.

I know that having time for me makes me a better mum. I’m more patient, I’m more energised, more balanced and I’m happier.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you found the right balance?