Last night we did something that I said I never wanted to do. It is a discussion Eddie and I have had many times but I am trying to maintain my ground on. We took Elbie into our bed when she woke at 2am and co-slept for the rest of the night. It’s not that I am against it or frown upon it as it is something that works for many families but it is just not right for me.
I was brought up in a family where my parents room was theirs and theirs only at night. It wasn’t some scary mysterious place that we were never allowed to enter. I spent lots of time as a child in there playing around with my mum’s make up and trying on her shoes or sat on their bed reading my books. I would sometimes prance around in front of their full length mirror when no one was looking pretending to be Madonna singing into my mum’s hairbrush. At night though it was different. If I had a nightmare or felt ill in the night I knew getting into my parents bed wasn’t an option but sneaking in to wake them up for some comfort definitely was. My mum would then get up with me and take me back to bed and if I really was feeling unwell or scared she would sit with me until I drifted back off, comfortable and snug in my own bed. Not getting into my parents bed was never an issue as it was never introduced to me, I didn’t feel like I was missing it or ever want to get in. I loved my bedroom and my bed and who doesn’t prefer to sleep in their own bed? I believe that it is important to show children that their own bed is a safe and comfortable place even when they are having a scary dream and it also shows them some independence. I don’t want Elbie to be reliant on us to sleep or get into a habit of having broken sleep.
Now that I’m a parent myself I can understand wanting to keep some space sacred too. A small place that we keep as a couple and child free. We live in a small flat so there isn’t much room that is not shared but our bed for me, is for Eddie and I. I want to be able to roll over as much as I want and stretch out if I need to. I want to have the option of pulling the duvet up to my ears if I’m cold and most of all, some privacy for Eddie and I as husband and wife.
When pregnant I dreamt about the days our small little child would burst through the doors and jump on our bed waking us up at the crack of dawn. Lazy Sunday mornings with the three of us tucked up in bed chatting and being silly. This is not a dream now but our reality and these mornings are something that I cherish. Some of my favourite times that I want time to freeze so that I can capture the moment and make sure I never forget. This is all wonderful but only past 5.30am. That is my cut off. I know it probably sounds mean but before 5.30am it’s still sleeping time and sleeping time is for sleeping in our own beds. This is where Eddie and I disagree. Eddie is a firm believer in letting Elbie get into bed with us if she wakes in the night. He says that if she is frightened or simply can’t sleep then we should move over and make some room for her to hop in. We agree with most of our parenting but this is something we are struggling to agree on.
Last night happened by having no other option as Elbie was sharing a room with her big cousin and we didn’t want her to be woken as well. This is the first time she has woken in the night in months so it took us by surprise and we panicked a little about how to settle her again without the whole house waking so we chose the easy option. Elbie fell asleep curled up like a little warm football between us. And just like a football she rolled around all night long and kept me awake. I agree with Eddie in that having her so close and feeling her warmth while you sleep, or at least try to sleep, is amazing. Listening to her little breaths while she dreams is one of the best things ever but not while I am trying to get some shut eye. It of course has brought up the whole debate between us again and I’m sure it won’t be the last time it comes up either but fortunately for me, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, Eddie doesn’t often wake up to Elbie in the night if I’m there. This is where I’m hoping I can win this battle but only time will tell if this was a one off or if I will be sleeping on the edge of the bed.
I’m not entirely sure where the saying “sleeping like a baby” comes from but if what they are actually referring to is someone who screams everytime they go to bed, wakes up almost every hour and actually has no idea how to sleep at all then OK I agree with it but it doesn’t mean that does it. So in fact it is total rubbish and extremely misleading. Babies don’t sleep, well mine doesn’t anyway. Elbie used to be a great sleeper and treated us to whole nights of sleep at one point. We could put her down in her moses basket, she would have a little look around if she wasn’t already asleep then close her eyes and off she went for at least 8 hours. This was for a very short period of 5-6 weeks but we thought we had nailed it. We tried not to be but deep down we felt pretty smug. We thought we had produced a sleeping angel but that halo didn’t just slip a little, it came tumbling down and crashed right into a sleepless hell.
Although smug and secretly hoping that Elbie was now going to sleep through the night until she moved out of home and went off to university, I knew down in my boots it wouldn’t last. What I didn’t think was that she would revert back to sleeping the way she did just days after she was born. I don’t want Elbie to sleep just for selfish reasons either. Well at the moment it’s mainly for our benefit but in the not too distant future Elbie will need to concentrate during the day on school. I don’t want a kid who is up all night and unable to sleep and settle themselves. I want her to be able to get the most out of her days without being tired.
Those first nights of Elbie’s life are all a bit of a blur of sleeplessness but I do remember people saying “it gets better”. They lied to me along with that stupid saying. Things have most definitely got worse. At least when Elbie was a new born she had no idea if it was day or night so it didn’t matter if I sat up at 3am watching Mad Men to keep me awake and entertained. Now though I have to promote sleep at night so when she wakes it is nothing but tears and feeding in the darkness, that goes for myself and Elbie. Struggling with all my might to keep my eyes open and my frustration at bay. For the last few weeks Elbie has pretty much been waking every hour and now her new thing is to wake in the middle of the night wanting to play. I think she feels like she needs to practice her new skills and party which I totally understand but mummy really doesn’t want to join in on this party.
It’s so difficult to know what to do for the best. I have read many books, blogs and forums and each and everyone says something different. Advice from health visitors is different and of course offerings from friends differs too! We have tried one strategy one night which seems to work then fails catastrophically the next night so how do we know what to stick to?!
After many many conversations about our little party monster’s habits the one thing that crops up time and time again is the “crying out method”. Although controversial it seems to be the only thing that has had a blanket effect (no pun intended) on sleeping issues with most of my friends and friends of friends. Eddie has been keen to try this method out as we are close to the end of our tether but all that we have read says not to attempt until 6 months. I would definitely prefer another way of gaining some much needed shut eye back but we seem to be running out of options. I have definitely found the sleeping issues of parenting the hardest so far and I’m sure we still have a very bumpy ride ahead of us. For now though I’m just going to have to embrace and treasure that Elbie still needs us to fall asleep. One more month of hourly awakenings for cuddles with mummy and daddy isn’t the end of the world. A lot is going to change at 6 months so I need to cherish her being so small and needy as I’m sure once she figures out how to settle herself I will somehow miss our night time snuggles, even if it doesn’t feel that way now.
Elbie and I are now day three into our second week on our own. This is pretty good going considering Elbie will be four months old on Sunday. We have been spoiled over the summer with Eddie being a teacher and having the whole summer off. It has been incredible to be able to spend so much of our first few months as a family together and know we are very lucky to have had that time. It has been one big holiday for the three of us and with holidays comes freedom and no routine. Of course this is a great thing and there is no one who would say that they would prefer to be stuck in a routine over a carefree holiday, especially Eddie and I. Before Elbie came along we were both mad about not letting the baby rule our life and getting ourselves stuck in routines. It’s just a baby right, they have to fit in with our lives not the other way round. Well I still believe that the baby has to fit in with us but I have now realised that we also have to make some changes to fit in with them too. Eddie and I are social creatures and often get cabin fever pretty quickly so the thought of having routines that interfered with our social lives was something of a nightmare for us. That is before we experienced sleepless nights and the four month sleep regression hit.
Elbie was a great sleeper and started sleeping through the night at around six weeks old and then consistently sleeping through at eight weeks which lasted until she was fourteen weeks old. She teased me with offering me my sleep back but only to then take it away again. I knew it wouldn’t last as she is a baby after all but boy its exhausting. Being a nurse I was used to doing night shifts and long hours which mostly left me being tired all of the time. So I thought I would handle the sleepless nights well and had a head start on most new mums. I could not have been more wrong. Absolutely NOTHING prepares you for the sleepless nights. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, because that is exactly what it is. At the moment I exclusively breast feed Elbie so Eddie can’t help much. He has done a few of the nights with expressed milk but we soon realised that Elbie falls asleep much quicker on the boob than she does with a bottle so it was just easier for me to do the night feeds. Eddie doesn’t get off completely though as he often gets up with her first thing to give me a much needed sleep in. We have worked well as a tag team throughout the summer but now with Eddie back at work he can no longer give me those extra hours in bed, so this is where the problem lies. I like my sleep and I would like to get some of it back and it turns out that babies like routine.
Although we have come to the realisation that we need some sort of routine we are definitely not a Gina Ford style family. Parent led schedules are way too rigid and do not fit in with our lifestyle. I don’t eat at the same time everyday so I don’t see how I should expect my baby too either. Yes we have rough times of the day but generally we eat when we are hungry. Saying this though I do feel that Elbie needs some sort of structure and I am most certainly not judging parents who do decide parent led is for them. Baby led or “Attachment Parenting” seems to be a little more suited to us as I tend to let Elbie guide me to when she wants certain things. I feed on demand and I put her down for a nap, or at least attempt to when I can see certain cues that tell me she is getting tired. Although I am leaning towards baby led routines in my sleep deprived desperation I went to the library to borrow some baby sleep books which have helped a little, albeit seeminly very unrealistic at this point. I have found Your Baby Week by Week by Simon Cave and Dr Caroline Fertleman pretty useful which I was lent while pregnant. This book has given me a rough idea on how much sleep Elbie should be needing throughout the day and I have combined it so far with a loose routine which seems to be suiting us all as a family, even if we have to say goodbye to our late evenings out for now.
Everyday is a learning curve with this little one and it is still early days but I’m going to try and stick this whole routine thing out as I have definitely seen some small improvements. Elbie still isn’t sleeping well but things are starting to become a bit more predictable with the routine. Despite all of this I’m sure this will change again soon as that is one thing I have learnt so far is that babies like to change things up just when you get used to it! Watch this space.