My favourite word at the moment. My favourite thing to do, too. I’m not getting enough though, and it’s leaving me frazzled and dazed.
It became clear on Tuesday last week that something around here had to change. Iris woke up at 8am, pretty normal for her, but then refused naps all day long. She was still awake, screaming her head off, at midnight. 16 hours wide awake. It’s just not good for a 4 month old baby. Or her very flustered mother. But what to do?
I didn’t put this question out there for a very good reason. I know the answer I’ll get from many and I refuse to listen. Cry-it-out. I just don’t get it. I won’t let Iris feel abandoned and alone, distressed in a cot with nobody to answer her cries, just so that I can get more sleep. No, I won’t. If you can do it and it works for your family then that’s cool. It’s not for me. I’ve always believed in trusting my instincts, and the instinctive need (it’s almost painful!) to pick up my little love when she cries is just too strong for me to ignore. It must be there for a reason. I don’t believe for one second that she’s trying to manipulate me or creating a power battle at bedtime. She simply doesn’t feel safe without me or her dad there, because she’s a tiny helpless little human who relies on us for everything.
Still, something had to change. It took a little while but it finally clicked in my silly head. She must be telling me when she’s tired. Maybe I’m just missing the signs? So I tried to look out for yawning or red eyes or eye rubbing or anything else that might show me when it’s nap time. She’ll lead the way, I’ll just follow. But I can’t see any signs a lot of the time! Occasionally she looks tired. Usually she just doesn’t. Then it occurred to me that I don’t really know when she’s hungry either. I just offer her a feed, just in case. Sometimes she takes it, sometimes she doesn’t. Could I do the same with sleep? For 2 days I tried to offer Iris a nap in her cot. Not happening. I can’t say I blame her. I wouldn’t want to sleep behind bars either.
We bed share at night anyway, and I’d already bought a safety rail for my side of the bed, so why not try there? Whenever Iris became irritable I’d offer her a feed, just like before, only I switched it to a lying down on the bed feed. And she nodded off! Sometimes she falls asleep, and sometimes she stops feeding when she’s full and grins at me. I never push it. If she becomes at all annoyed we get up and try again later. The web cam we use to keep an eye on the dog when we’re out now doubles as a video monitor. I can see her sleeping, anytime I like, just by opening an app on my phone. I’ve ordered another one to use for the dog! We use a normal sound baby monitor too, and now have safety rails on both sides of the bed. Next it was time for a bedtime routine. We decided to try 7:30 bathtime and 8 o’clock to bed. Any earlier and there will just be too many days when Iris and Trev don’t see each other. It worked! The first day! I nursed her to sleep lying on our bed, then crept away. I was downstairs, hands free, watching a sleeping baby on the iPad screen and drinking a big glass of gin! A miracle! Well, it felt like it anyway. It’s continued to work for a week and I’m really excited about it. I get a little bit of time in the evening to spend with Trev and it’s lovely. Ok, so we usually can’t take our eyes off Iris sleeping on the screen, but at least both of us get to eat with both hands. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes to get her to sleep. Sometimes it takes a lot longer. Last night was an hour! We usually have to pop up a couple of times to resettle her because she wriggles herself awake, but it only takes a few minutes. If at any point she gets upset I bring her downstairs and just try again a bit later. No big deal. No bedtime battle.
Of course Iris still takes some brief naps in the carrier while we walk the dog/catch a bus/make our way to baby groups but she has bigger naps in bed too, and that’s what she really needed. If she didn’t nap on the go we’d never be able to go anywhere. The times and lengths of naps still vary greatly. There’s no routine! But sometimes she’ll take 3 or 4 naps, occasionally up to 2 hours long. It’s totally true for Iris that the more she sleeps the more she sleeps. Bigger naps mean easier bedtimes. Although things are generally going very well (I hope I haven’t messed things up by talking about it!) there are bad days too. Today she woke up at 6 and decided it was morning. It’s only an hour earlier than usual (her 8am wake ups moved to 7am with the clock change, which is actually useful as most baby groups seem to be in the morning) it’s really messed me up. Although she only took two very brief and easy night feeds, I was awake until after 2am.
It returns this time of year, every year. The dreaded insomnia. I have other periods of it too, but I definitely have a long run of it around Halloween. I can see all the moaning I’ve done on twitter over the years by looking at TimeHop! It’s worse now, because when I do finally get to sleep it’s broken by a hungry baby.
It’s such a vicious circle. I’m awake because I’m fretting about things I need to do. This leaves me feeling absolutely shattered. So when Iris naps, I sometimes do too. But then I get less done and feel even more guilty at bedtime. Or I don’t nap, and I do housework, which leaves me frazzled and exhausted, which weirdly also keeps me up. I think it’s in Fight Club where the main character says something along the lines of ‘with insomnia you are never asleep, but you’re never really awake either’. It’s probably worded differently from that but it’s so so true. I’m a zombie.
This morning, after our 6am wake up, both me and Iris returned to bed for a long nap. I’m lucky that I can now do that. I’m lucky that I had that little bit of extra sleep. I’m lucky that I now have a baby that sleeps well, that goes back to sleep quickly after a 4am feed. But I don’t feel lucky. I feel terrible. It affects you both physically and mentally and destroys your health. It’s no surprise to me that sleep deprivation has been used in torture, as a way to get people to talk in interrogations. I’d pretty much do anything right now for 8 hours unbroken sleep. Oh, and a tidy house. That’d be nice too.