I had planned to write about something else for my first post. I absolutely will cover that topic but something momentous has happened!
Quite by herself, my non sleeping, ‘up-20-times-a-night-when-all-the-other-babies-were-sleeping-for-longer-and-longer’ baby did it. She did what everyone has been telling me and her she *should* be doing since birth.
What you may ask?
What should a perfect, healthy baby be doing other than feeding and growing and being loved?
Sleep. Of course it would be sleep!
My beautiful baby girl slept for 12 and a half hours.
At the age of 12 months and 2 weeks my girl slept for 12.5 hours.
TWELVE AND A HALF HOURS! By herself. Because she was ready to do it. She felt secure and loved and knew if she woke Mummy or Daddy would always come and comfort her.
Not because we sleep trained her. Not because we left her to cry. Not because she gave two hoots for anyone else’s thoughts on what she *should* be doing. Funnily enough she hasn’t read any of the baby books. She slept because she naturally got to a point where it was possible for her.
She may never do it again. I hope she does, (I can’t tell you how much I hope she does) but you know what? If we return to our pattern of waking every hour or every 40 minutes, we’ll cope. It won’t be pretty. Certainly now I am back at work it won’t be easy. There will be tears (mainly mine) and a return to the gibbering wreck, incapable of all but the most basic functions, that I was at points during my maternity leave (definitely an entirely different issue now I am once again being paid for my time). But she needs us and we will cope. We have no choice.
I am not writing this to be smug. It is not possible to recount the number of perfect strangers who having asked me whether she was a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ baby (what does that even mean?) then told me and her that it “isn’t normal” for a baby of her age to wake so much. Or some other nonsense. Some have even said to my gorgeous baby girl that she needed to sleep for Mummy and stop being a ‘bad girl’.*
There were also family members who told me I was ‘making a rod for my own back’ and she couldn’t possibly be tired/hungry/in need of comfort (delete as appropriate) that many times a night. For them, I tried to think that their comments, no matter how well meant and driven from concern for me, came from inter generational differences. “When we know better, we do better” became my secret mantra as I smiled down another piece of ultimately useless advice. Some thought her so intelligent that it was all manipulation that I should not give into. The ridiculousness of those statements made me even more resolved to respond to my baby, my way. I’d like to say I always knew this day would come, but some days it seemed distinctly unlikely!
I know for those of you still in the midst of sleeplessness, this post might seem like another baby doing what they are ‘meant’ to while your continues to need you. But please if you take nothing else from this post know, that whatever age your baby, there is nothing more you need do than love them and respond to them.
I understand more than anyone the desire to try and change things, to create the optimum environment for your baby to induce sleep. I bought a white noise machine, in addition to the Ewan the Dream Sheep we already had, we read story after story. I had a red nightlight lest the blue light be what was causing her to wake. I tried lots of things that well meaning parent friends (with sleeping babies) would suggest, I tied my pyjama top to the cot so she would have my scent and feel close to me. We had a solid bedtime routine from the get go. We tried nearly all of it. It was always predicated on some future event, “when she is bigger, when she eats more, when you stop breastfeeding, when she is moving….then she will sleep”. Well, as I said, she hasn’t read those books and did it precisely on her own terms.
In the interest of completeness, the only thing that did change was that after a year I stopped breastfeeding. This meant my husband could start getting up at night (he was delighted obviously). I am certainly not advocating that as a technique for inducing sleep, there might be absolutely no relation. It was just the right time for me and my girl in our breastfeeding journey. I certainly did not stop breastfeeding to get her to sleep. I would never, ever go so far as to say one categorically led to the other or that the two things are even linked.
For all of you feeling like you can’t carry on like this, for all of you unsure how you will cope on your return to work, for all of you wondering what you did to deserve a wakeful baby, for all of those wondering what you are doing wrong and how other people manage it, this is not something you need (or are able) to fix. Your beautiful baby is not broken, bad or naughty. Your baby simply needs you.
The truth and injustice of the matter is that some babies just don’t sleep. I am not sure there is rhyme or reason to it. Just like some have brown hair and some have blue eyes. Some don’t sleep. It is a rotten truth; wholly unfair but a truth nonetheless.
There is a burgeoning industry in ‘fixing’ infant sleep. I don’t criticise anyone who feels so overwhelmed, so completely broken and so unable to cope that they feel tempted to try it. Sleep deprivation is successfully used as a form of torture and in the training regimes of the special services around the world.
I know just how painful it is. I know what it feels like to feel like you are not in control of your mental faculties. But despite all that, sleep training was never for me.
A sleep consultant (as they term themselves) was only going to tell me to try all the things I already had, or repeat again all the advice I had already received or looked up in desperation, and no one but no one was ever going to convince me that leaving my girl alone to cry it out was the right thing to do. Ever.
But I worry how tempting it might appear to those so tired they would do anything, pay anything to remember their own name. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that my baby needed me. Sometimes she needed me again and again and again and often before I even made it back into bed, sometimes she needed me every 40 minutes throughout the night, regularly she needed me twenty times a night.
So, for all of you who are barely hanging on, take a deep breath, drag your weary bones out of bed one more time and remember you will absolutely never, ever, look back on your life and wish you had comforted your baby less and left them to cry more! It will change. I can’t tell you when or how but it will and then you will look back and realise just how strong you’ve been, and just how proud of yourself you are! Most of all, your small ones will learn the most important lesson of all, that they can rely on you every single step of the way!
Natalie, writing for The Mother Side x
*Luckily my beautiful girl would not yet understand someone calling her a ‘bad girl’. Often because it would be delivered whilst smiling and in a baby voice I am sure she thought they were telling her how perfect she was. So she would give them a wave and a toothy grin as we walked away (I on the other hand struggled, as only an extremely sleep deprived person can, not to lose my very soul on the spot and maintain civility, doing my best to walk away with a fake smile plastered on my face whilst thinking murderous thoughts).