How to win at sleep regression

First of all, get your baby sleeping through the night. This is very important. Sleep regression is hell with any baby, but it’s a particular kind of hell when your baby has been sleeping through the night and you’ve been smugly congratulating yourself on his wonderfulness, and, consequently, your own amazing parenting. ‘Oh yeah, he can be a bit of a nightmare during the day but he’s so good at night!’ You say breezily. Even better if he’s been such a good sleeper since the beginning that you’ve never felt that sleep deprived at all. This ensures that when sleep regression hits, you’ll feel every hour of it. Every long drawn out, floor pacing, frustrating, rocking, crying, hour. At the end of week 1, you’ll be crying. By week 2, you’ll be homicidal. If it lasts into week 3, you might need to be committed. 

Once you’ve established that it’s not a horrible, unwelcome fluke that he doesn’t sleep through the night any more, you hit the Internet with a vengeance and discover that 3-4 month sleep regression is an actual thing. Google tells you, as is google’s wont with any type of motherhood question, that it’s your fault. You’re feeding him too much. You’re not feeding him enough. You’re comforting him to sleep too much. You’ve broken his trust because you let him cry that once for 35 seconds while you fled downstairs screeching at your husband that you needed more milk and what the hell is he doing, not providing it instantly, the very second that you needed it? You need to rock him to sleep or co-sleep, because that’s what animals do in the animal kindgdom and humans are very neglectful, putting their own selfish needs for sleep and worries about cot death and suffocation ahead of that.  You need to teach him to self soothe. You’re not cuddling him enough. You’re cuddling him too much and spoiling him. You leave the internet feeling a wrung out husk of your former self and with no solutions. To make yourself feel better, you turn to your birth group Internet forum (yes, these are actual things. They’re a whole blog post in themselves) You discover that the forum is full of despairing parents ready to throw themselves off bridges over the lack of sleep/ the broken sleep/ the fact that their babies have NEVER slept and are now sleeping even LESS and they didn’t even know that was possible/ the fact that they were a perfect sleeper and now they…well…aren’t. You instantly feel better, because misery loves company and also you don’t want to feel like it’s just your baby because that would be a whole new world of worry. 

You resolve that this sleep regression will not beat you. You decide, in the middle of the night out of desperation, to sleep train, because it’s definitely best to sleep train right in the middle of the baby’s worst patch of sleeping ever, at 2am, and during a growth spurt when they need food. You give up on sleep training somewhere around the third cry, because he’s just too little, and the way his face crumples and he stares up at you beseechingly through the darkness breaks your heat. You’ve never been good at sleep training. You google some gentler methods. You pick the baby up and put him down approximately  one hundred and seventeen times. You keep your hand on his chest, because every baby loves a hand on its chest instead of being snuggled into its mother’s arms. It’s practically the same thing. The baby has no truck with this. He cries. And cries some more. You eventually feed him to sleep like always, because food is the answer to everything (except when Calpol is the answer) and you’re exhausted and he falls asleep perfectly contentedly and you feel validated. Look, you’re practically an attachment parent. You’ve learned from the animal kingdom and he’s a happier baby for it. Until he wakes up again two hours later. You have only just gone back to sleep because: google. And also the fact that you got yourself unwittingly and somewhat foolishly embroiled in a particularly vitriolic anti-vaccinations thread which seemed of paramount importance at 2am. 

You curse google and sleep regression and babies and everything else in the world.  You look at his cot resentfully through the darkness and think dark thoughts about your husband, sleeping peacefully and obliviously. You stumble to the cot, longing for sleep, and he smiles up at you in the dim light and your heart melts. 

Your daughter arrives, and cheerfully announces she’s been woken by his crying and can she help? She speaks exactly as if it’s 8am and not 4am and sadly in her head it obviously is because then she lies beside you in the bed for the next two hours, not sleeping. You are not especially pleased to see her because right now you wish someone else was entirely responsible for all of your children and you were in a dark bed in a dark room by yourself anywhere apart from here.  You feed the baby and then also lie awake for the next two hours, worrying about the lack of sleep you’re having and cot death and the packed lunches you haven’t made for the morning and that bill you still need to pay and how you will cope if this continues when you go back to work and how you’re probably creating bad sleep habits FOR LIFE (look at the other child, bloody lying awake at 4am) and that girl who didn’t get the B you wanted her to get in 2007.

 Around 6am, precisely one hour before the other child will be up for the day, full of the joys of his ten hours of uninterrupted sleep, you fall into the depths of a dreamless sleep, congratulating yourself on the way. You’ve survived. You’ll be a zombie by 1pm, but right now, you’ll take it. 

Disclaimer: the child is now back to his lovely sleeping self so it turns out Google was wrong. But I’m saying that in a very un-smug, non tempting fate, whisper. 


All ‘that’…

We were out for dinner with some friends this evening, and, as is usual in the evenings or when he gets tired, I was standing holding the baby, endlessly swaying (which I now also do even when I don’t have a baby) and waiting for him to go to sleep. ‘I don’t think I could do that again,’ my friend said, watching me sway from her comfortable position of being the parent to two seven year olds who were sitting with our older two, talking like grown ups, being wholly un-needy, and doing some colouring. By ‘that’ I knew she didn’t just mean the standing up and swaying while everyone else had nothing more to worry about than their pizza and their drinks. She meant all of ‘that’ with a baby – the walking the floor in the evenings instead of lying on the sofa watching the telly, the waking up in the night to feed instead of knowing you’ll sleep the whole night through, the trying to persuade a baby back to sleep in the early mornings instead of a lie in while your older children get their own breakfast, the reading of Where’s bloody Spot on a weekend afternoon instead of reading a nice new Lisa Jewell with a cup of tea. And I know exactly how she feels, because when I was baby-less, I also used to look with faint horror at those newer parents, who were rocking, walking, entertaining, pacifying, chasing, comforting, holding, instead of sitting in solitary splendour and watching their children order their own dinner. We had reached a stage where the children were pretty independent – and at heart perhaps I’m pretty lazy, because I loved that. I loved turning over in the morning and going back to sleep. I loved not having to do up car seat belts. I loved not having to force little limbs into clothing, and not having to change nappies or get a high chair or persuade the baby to stay in a high chair or follow them around the house while they relentlessly try to thrown themselves down the stairs. I loved all of it. 

But now he’s here, here’s the thing. I didn’t love any of it as much I love him. It was nice, all that independence and me-time and Friday nights on the vodka and Saturday mornings at gymnastics reading my book and meals out where all I had to do was decide what food I wanted – but it didn’t, not even a tiny bit, compare to having him. Nothing compares to having him. 

 I didn’t know I would feel this way. I didn’t know that a third child could creep up on you and steal your heart as completely, as wholly, as overwhelmingly, as the others. I didn’t know that just as each of them changed me, shaped me, transformed me, he would too. I am obsessed by him, by the wondrous perfection of his innocent, brand new smile, by the softness of his perfectly round head tucked beneath my chin, by his tiny, finely shaped fat little hands. I am besotted by the way his face lights up with his huge, gummy grin when he sees me. I am captivated by how he hangs on to me grimly while he his in the sling, as though his ineffectual little finger hold could anchor him.  I could cry just looking at him sometimes, this little boy who is so ordinary to the outside world and so dazzling to us. I lie in bed with him in the evenings, tucked into the crook of my arm while I wait for him to fall asleep, and my heart swells thinking how lucky I am to have this brand new tiny little human, with his soft skin and his pursed mouth and his little bald head. I live my days sparkling in the brightness of his existence, this little gift that I did not expect. 

And all ‘that’ is nothing beside this – the wonder of a new little being who has, like his sister and brother before him, taken my heart in his hands and made it new. 

A baby at the beach….

It’s entirely possible that I have been baby-less for so long that I’ve blocked out the memories of taking any of them to the beach. This is the only explanation I can come up with as to why I have booked two separate seaside holidays this summer – either that or I just forgot I would have a baby. This happened often during the pregnancy. I found myself either forgetting it would somehow actually happen and a baby would emerge and then I’d have to do stuff with the baby and, you know, take his existence into consideration. Along with the possibility of forgetting either the difficulties of having a baby or having a baby altogether, I possibly had a distinctly rose tinted view of life with a baby. A bit like that one you have before your first baby, when you don’t realise that they are actually quite a lot of work. 

This weekend is a trial run for my two summer holidays – both of which are husband-less. Fortunately this weekend he was with us, and I feel like making a spreadsheet of all the many, many ways I may not cope that well without him on our two weeks in the summer. 

Our time at the beach went like this: 

I’m excited! Everyone’s excited! We’re at the seaside for the weekend, the sun is shining brightly in a distinctly unBritish fashion, and the buckets and spades have been bought. The baby will love the beach! How can he not? All that sand….and sea….and sand. Babies love that! Let’s go! 

I start getting together all the things that we’ll need. This takes approximately four hours. I’m interrupted continually by the older two screeching about how the other one won’t play the game they want/ has stepped on their toe/ isn’t obeying the pretend rules of their pretend game, and by the baby wanting food/ company/ sleep. (He doesn’t fall asleep by himself. He didn’t read that chapter in the baby manual) Foolishly and optimistically, I have allowed the husband to go for a run. ‘Of course you can go for a run,’ I had trilled cheerily. ‘I’ll just get everything ready for the beach.’ Thinking dark thoughts about the running, and my own stupid use of the word ‘just’, I achieve almost nothing. 

The husband returns, mediates and soothes. I have a cup of tea on the decking to recover – it being a little early for vodka – while looking sadly at the clouds that have gathered in the intervening period. 

We pack the car. This takes some time. It’s as full as it was when we drove down, with a weekend’s worth of crap that babies seem to accumulate. I worry briefly about how we will get it all onto the beach and push that thought aside. These are just details. 

We drive to the beach, trying not to look at the black clouds, and pay the equivalent of a second mortgage for parking. But that’s OK, because we’re working on holiday money, which everyone knows doesn’t count. 

Even with the marvellous invention of what the Americans call a ‘sand cart’, it takes three trips to get everything we need onto the sand. The older two, temporarily friends again with the appearance of some sand and sea, disappear into the sand dunes before we’ve left the car park and are no help whatsoever. Other holiday makers assume we have made this trip just for an oblivious sleeping baby and give us indulgent oh-you’ll-soon-learn-and-spend-your-holiday-in-the-pub type looks. 

The older two return and ask for an ice cream, seemingly oblivious to the fact that WE HAVE PROVIDED THEM WITH AN ENTIRE BEACH TO PLAY WITH. I foolishly make vague promises about later, which guarantees they will return approximately every three minutes to find out if it’s ‘later’ yet. 

The baby wakes up and, unsurprisingly, finding himself in the middle of gusting wind and bright sunshine, neither of which are particularly favourable conditions for a baby, screams. Dark memories of the older two’s first trips to the beach are starting to creep in over my consciousness, but I briskly banish them. We feed the baby, attempting to keep sand out of his eyes, mouth, and the bottle, and the sun off any uncovered patches of skin. This is equally as difficult as it sounds. He is not impressed. 

We set up the baby tent, bought at vast expense for just such an auspicious first-trip-to-the-beach occasion, and put him in it. The wind threatens to blow it and its precious cargo away. We frantically read the instructions and hurl sand into the side pockets while shouting at each other. A sizeable percentage of it blows into the tent and into his face. The older children appear and ask if it’s later yet. 

He doesn’t seem to mind the sand still blowing over himand lies in the tent cooing happily at the patterns the sun is making on the inside. The other two are throwing themselves off sand dunes. All is calm. We sit back down in our chairs and congratulate ourselves. The worst is over. We love each other again. Now we will reap the rewards of our hard work and can scroll through Facebook and not talk to each other unimpeded by needy children. I take a picture of child 2 doing gymnastics in front of a sunlit sea and post it on Facebook with appropriate #soblissful type hashtag. To be fair, for those thirty seconds, it was.  

The baby starts to cry. I can’t blame him really. So far he’s had sand thrown over him, a rushed and wholly covered up feed, and almost been carried off by the wind in his little tent. I feel like crying too. We tell the other kids we’re going home. There’s hysteria over the lack of ice cream. 

We send them for ice cream and attempt to cram the baby tent back into its unfeasibly tiny bag. I understand precisely none of what seem to me to be overly complicated instructions. The tent refuses to collapse. The baby screams. We hiss at each other over his outraged head. The tent is no closer to collapsing. 

The husband, who is good at these things, finally manages to stuff it into the bag. I have no idea how I’m going to do this by myself in August. We trudge off the beach, trailed by children with ice creams dripping down their legs, carrying the eight million bags and the still-screaming baby. As soon as he is in the car seat and off the terribleness of the beach, he reverts to his smiling, charming self. 

We go home and sit on the decking in the sun. With vodka. The day takes on a much rosier hue. (Alcohol does that I’ve found) 

Say it after me, I say to myself – beaches and babies do not mix. Don’t let this be like birth – time needs to not dull this. Beaches. And. Babies. Do. Not. Mix. 


In the afternoons….

Some days I’m tired. Some days I’ve been up in the night and had a stressful school run and he hasn’t slept enough, snatched as his naps often are in the car or the sling, sandwiched between two school runs, both of which begin after he’s got so tired he doesn’t know what to do with himself (except sleep; he doesn’t do that in the day unless persuaded and there’s no time for persuasion at 8am when neither of the others have their teeth cleaned or their shoes on.) Some days the hours disappear and I don’t know where they slid away to, swallowed by hours of feeding and trying to get him to sleep. Some days I’m irritable, snappy, and long for sleep or an hour in which I am not responsible for a tiny human being who can do nothing for himself. Some days I remember when I thought pregnancy was hard work and think now how ridiculous that was. Some days he’s grizzly, tired, irritable and I long for the night and a few hours of oblivion. 

But every afternoon I get into bed and lie him in the crook of my arm to get him to sleep for his afternoon nap. He gazes up at me, his blue eyes dark in the dim light, and his look is so trusting, so adoring, that I can feel my heart swell. Sometimes he’ll smile up at me because he can’t resist, even though he’s tired, and that smile of his, so perfect, so wondrous, so new, can bring tears to my eyes. And then he’ll gradually close his eyes and drift off to sleep (thanks to the white noise app that has changed our whole lives) and I lie here in the dim light of a curtained afternoon, trying to persuade myself to put him in his cot and sleep myself, but unable to tear myself away from the warmth of his small sleeping form. And I remember that one day soon I won’t have this. One day soon he’ll be crawling, walking, running away from me, and I will remember these afternoons, and the tiny perfection of him snuggled against me, and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, and his small, fat hand flexed on my skin. And I will remember that in those moments in these afternoons, I had everything. 

As I watch the Manchester tribute concert….

I tucked the children into bed tonight and stood for a moment, looking down at each of them. Child 3 was sound asleep, and I leaned down and kissed him, gently, on his warm, soft skin. He didn’t stir, sunk in the depths of his baby sleep. Child 2, as is her usual delaying tactic, reached out her hand and asked to hold mine, ‘just for a minute, Mummy.’ Child 1 wanted to tell me many, many facts about some space probe or something he is reading about. Usually I can’t get away fast enough, especially since the birth of child 3, because I’m tired and we’re at the end of a long day in which I have already heard far too much about the space probe, and in which child 2 has already crawled all over me too many times. But tonight – tonight I waited, and I held my daughter’s hand and watched as her innocent, pure little face smoothed itself into sleep. And I waited and I listened to my son tell me all about this probe that he is so fascinated by, and I gazed at his face, lit up by his fascination for it, and I felt lucky. I felt so lucky. 

Because two weeks ago some parents, who felt exactly as I do about their children, waved them goodbye as they walked away from them into a pop concert. They probably drove home, or watched them walk down the street, thinking fondly of what a good time they’d have. They had probably listened to them talk about the concert for months, years even, and had felt happiness that their children, the most precious objects on their earth, would soon be experiencing such excitement and joy. They probably watched them walk away, those children who were everything to them, and maybe they wanted, just for a moment, to run and grasp them back, to freeze these moments in the way you do as a parent – take the perfection of these creatures you made, each miraculous inch and each miraculous bone – to kiss their hair and hold their hands. Perhaps they didn’t want them to go – perhaps they felt sadness that they were growing up too fast – perhaps they saw in those moments the years ahead in which they moved gradually further away. But they let them go, those parents, and thought of the experience they would have and how they would see them later.

But they didn’t see them later. For those parents, their lives were destroyed in a single moment. I think of them all the time, those parents who are just like me, and they didn’t know. They didn’t think that they needed to snatch every moment with their children, to hold them more tightly when they said good night, to watch them sleep and imprint on their memories the slight curve of a cheek, the silkiness of some strands of hair, the shadows cast by a fan of dark eyelashes. They didn’t know that only a few hours later, that would be all they would have. That it would always be all that they would have, in this unimaginably bleak and awful new existence. 

It is too trite to say that my heart breaks for them. It is too trivial to say, as I sit here with all three of my beautiful children safely asleep upstairs, that I cannot imagine how they will go on, with just those memories. It is too superficial to cry tears for those people who dropped their children off at a concert or a train station and never imagined for a moment that their lives would, only a few hours later, be bleakly, horrifically, irretrievably changed. So instead I will stand by my children’s beds for those moments longer. I will hold my daughter’s hand for as long as she wants me to. I will listen to all those tedious details about the space probe and then give my son an extra kiss goodnight. And I will hold the baby those moments longer in the middle of the night, feeling unutterably fortunate, and think with fathomless dark horror and hopeless, futile tears, of those parents whose children never came home. 

The first month….

And so the first month of his life has been and gone, just like that. In the blink of an eye, he has emerged into the world and become a tiny, definitive person, with likes and dislikes and a personality and presence all of his own. As with the others, I can’t really remember a time when he wasn’t here, or a life in which he didn’t exist. 

It’s been a month of….. 

Getting to know him: the way he likes to sleep, curled into my side, his face turned trustingly into mine. The evenings that he’s spent wide awake and wide eyed, overwhelmed by his brand new world. The times he’s stopped crying, instantly, when I’ve picked him up, his soft head nestled beneath my chin. The moments when I’ve put him down and he’s turned towards the sound of his sister’s or brother’s voice, murmuring his baby sounds, watching them with what feels like wonder. The way that during the day, he likes to sleep on me, his little heart beating against mine. I sit watching him sleep, his cheek resting against my chest, and wonder how it is that a month ago he wasn’t here, and yet now he is everything. 

Siblings. My pride in their love of him has battled with an innate protectiveness and abject fear. They have little understanding of how they could hurt him and some days all I’ve seemed to say is ‘don’t do that!’ Some nights I’ve gone to bed and cried because I’ve felt like a terrible mother, torn continually between my love of the older two and a fierce, overwhelming need to be with him. Even when I’ve known they have their dad, that they’ve had fun and love and attention, there have been days when I haven’t been able to shake the paralysing guilt. Some days I’ve shouted and they haven’t had enough of me and when, after finally getting him to sleep, I’ve put him down and gone into their rooms and found them sound asleep too, their little innocent faces turned towards the door, waiting for a mummy who didn’t come. And some days we’ve gone out as a family and I’ve watched them walk with pride beside him and stroke his head and run to fetch everything we might need and my heart has swelled with their joy in him.

Fear. Giving birth makes you raw, vulnerable, helpless. Some days I’ve felt flayed just from having him alive in a world that could so easily hurt him. I’ve seen the worst of images flicker in my mind, seen his pushchair disappear beneath the wheels of a passing car, dreamed that he’d slid from my hands into the bath, imagined him unmoving in his cot. I’ve taken his temperature a hundred times. Ive watched his chest rise and fall. I’ve woken in the night and counted his breaths. This, the greatest of loves, is accompanied by the sharpest and darkest of fears. 

Mostly, though, it’s been a month of love. Just like the others, I couldn’t imagine how I would feel until he was here, this little creature with the soft hair and the tiny wrinkled hands and the round cheeks. I couldn’t remember how he would so quickly become everything,that the three of them would make up a world that I feel fortunate to inhabit every single day. 

 And it’s been a month of the purest of joy. When he gazed up at me this morning, his eyes seeming to fix on mine, his arms thrown above his head and his mouth stretched in a hesitant, wondrous smile, I wanted time to stop, just for a minute so I could have it for always: frozen on that moment, that joy, that love. 

Mornings in the brave new world of maternity leave….

5-6am- wake up and feed the baby. Have a little stress about the time he’s feeding, because whatever time he feeds, it’s inconvenient for the school run and his next feed. Put him on my chest when he’s finished and lie there with him knowing i really should  go back to sleep and I’ll regret this later, but cannot bring myself to move his warm little body back to his bed. Optimistically plan how I’ll move shortly, be extra organised this morning, and have packed lunches and breakfast done by 6am. 

6.30am – realise I’ve spent much too long admiring the baby and his little breaths, mourning how these tiny newborn days go by too fast, and feeling unreasonable grief that he’s already grown out of his first babygros. Put him in cot. Hold breath, waiting. He doesn’t stir so creep, ninja like, from the room, still holding my breath in case it wakes him. He’s silent and I pull the door to, congratulating myself on a job well done. Meet child 1 outside the door, who cheerfully shouts ‘Morning Mummy!’ Get the baby back to sleep. 

6.45am – wake child 2. Persuade her that no, she cannot stay in bed all day no matter how warm and cosy and much nicer than outside it is. Point out the clothes laid out on her chair, which she will then ignore for the next 45 minutes. Find child 1 reading his book. Suggest he could get dressed before reading. This is greeted with a vague agreement which is designed purely to shut me up about any dressing that needs to be done and make me go away so he can ignore his clothes and read more. Go downstairs, safe in the knowledge that they are both awake if not actually doing anything productive. Filled with a misplaced sense of satisfaction that the morning routine has begun, wash bottles, attempt to find time for breakfast, do packed lunches, get their bags ready, occasionally shout up the stairs for status updates on the dressing, (‘I’m on my pants now Mummy’ from child 1. Ominously, no sound from child 2) and get in the shower. 

7.15am- return upstairs and find child 1 reading his book in his pants. Only his pants. Take deep breath. Think dark thoughts about maternity leave. Resolve that this morning, there will be no shouting. Tell him we’ll be late for school. Child 1 displays no sign of being bothered about this at all, probably because, thanks to my abject horror of being late, it has never happened in all the time he’s been going to school. Find child 2 still in bed. She’s awake, but her pile of clothes remains forlornly untouched on her chair. Take more deep breaths. Threaten the removal of television this evening. While this doesn’t disturb her hugely – the evening is much too far away for real concern at this time – she does at least get out of bed. 

7.25am – physically tear child 1’s book out of his hands. Stand over him while he gets dressed. 

7.30am – make breakfast. Naturally, they want entirely different things. Agree to this for expediency’s sake while muttering more dark thoughts about spoiled children and the house not being a hotel, etc. 

7.35am – referee five arguments and a physical fight while they grudgingly eat their separate bloody breakfasts together. Have a little stress about how the baby hasn’t woken up yet and will now definitely want his feed in the middle of the school run. 

7.40am – consider own breakfast again. Realise I don’t have time.  Eat a chocolate biscuit. I’ve only just given birth, after all. No one will expect me to be thin until at least Christmas. 

7.45am – remove evening television from both children. Try not to scream like a banshee about the fact that they are ONLY EVER NICE TO EACH OTHER DIRECTLY BEFORE BEDTIME. Fail. 

7.50am – choose between waking the baby for a feed that doesn’t fit in with his three hourly pattern in any way, drying my hair, and putting on make up. Ignore the screeching from the other room. I’ve already taken away the television. I have no way forward from here. Leave them to it and hope there is no actual bloodshed. 

7.55am – think longingly of work and how at this time I could be peacefully replying to emails with a cup of tea. 

8am- panic that we should be leaving. Shout instructions about teeth and shoes into the abyss of the children’s general unbotheredness. Remove second book of the morning from child 1. Remember that I had every intention of listening to child 2 read this morning. Continue to feed the baby (with wet hair) and reassure myself that, you know, she can read now. Whole novels. Surely the hideousness of reading every morning can now be despatched, even though it did make me feel like a really good mother. There’s another child now. I have the hell of Biff, Chip and that bloody Kipper to do all over again in a few years. Child 2, still without her shoes or coat on, comes to remind me that we haven’t read. 

8.05am – makeupless, and still with wet hair, stuff all three children plus bags and lunches into the car. Perform complicated manoeuvres involving moving the baby several times from car seat to sling in order to complete two drop offs. Remain patient when children, whose only job is to bring their own book bags and water bottles, leave them several times in the hallway and the car. 

9am – drive merrily away from child 1’s school, the baby asleep in the back, singing along full pelt to some Time Tunnel 90s classic that reminds me of my university years. A day of sitting on the sofa with the baby asleep on me, watching a few reruns of 16 and Pregnant awaits.

 I love maternity leave. After 9am.