Like most first timers I didn't fully appreciate the extent of sleep deprivation brought on by having a newborn until I was well and truly in the abyss. Only when I had experienced that sinking feeling in the depths of the night when the baby stirs and you realise it's been three whole hours since they last fed but it seems like only seconds, did I understand how it can mess with your mind. Lack of sleep makes you feel permanently tipsy. You can't tell if you're laughing or crying, you start putting the remote in the fridge and leave the house in mismatched shoes. Every waking moment is spent thinking about how to get more sleep. It becomes an obsession. You'll stop at nothing for a few more precious minutes.
In the run up to number one's arrival we visited some friends who had offered to lend us lots of baby gear. For the finale they produced a bizarre-looking contraption they'd used to help their colicky baby get to sleep. You had to attach it to the bottom of the cot, plug it in and then it vibrated vigorously. "That's so kind of you," we told them, "but we think we'll leave it." We didn't want to be rude and say it out loud, but we were both thinking how drastic it was. "You'll be back!" they said, raising their eyebrows. "I don't think so," we said to each other later. Oh, how smug we were. Oh, how right they were.
Before we reached that particular low point though we had a beautiful love affair with white noise. This was old school white noise, before apps were abundant. Our newborn had been sleeping like a dream for the first three weeks of his existence. So much so we were wondering what all the fuss was about. This was a doddle. Then he screamed solidly for 24 hours, like he was mocking us. We leafed frantically through the baby books that I had purchased. Each one told us something different. Burp it, feed it, rock it, leave it - we tried everything until finally the husband had a eureka moment and pointed my hairdryer at him like a gun, switching it on to maximum power. The result was mind-blowing. One second the baby was screaming, the next sound asleep. Of course we couldn't blast a baby with hot air all night, plus we needed something even louder. And that is how we came to fall in love with our vacuum cleaner.
From then on the bedtime routine consisted of bath, milk, swaddle and switch. Unsurprisingly, Gina 'eat toast at 8.03am' left that last one out! The husband even created a system whereby we could switch it on from the comfort of our bed. I knew I married a scientist for a reason. Each evening our biggest challenge was deciding when to turn the beast off. We'd bat the responsibility back and forth before one of us was brave enough, then we'd hold our breath, before having to run back and flick it on ten seconds later. Our mums thought we were bonkers when we insisted on displacing their machines on visits home, but they soon stopped questioning it. At dinner parties friends didn't blink an eye at our unconventional background music. Apparently the appliance was now just part of the family.
Then one dark day it stopped working. Not the machine but the effect. And that's when we emailed our friends. At 2am. "Can we collect the cot shaker first thing in the morning? Sorry! x," we wrote. Oh, how they must have laughed.
Thankfully when number two made an appearance white noise apps had been created and this time around we were blessed with a much better sleeper. Occasionally we gave him a quick shot of the recorded hairdryer and marveled at the advances of modern technology. The vacuum cleaner meanwhile remained tucked away in its cupboard, now surplus to requirements.
With number three the gods were smiling down at us and saved our best sleeper for last. A huge relief really, otherwise I might have been running for the hills. But we still turned to our trusted friend, white noise, when the baby was overtired and passed itself. Then during our first holiday as five, the lengths we sometimes go to in pursuit of sleep were demonstrated. We were staying in a glamping resort in Italy. Our neighbours were a mere breath away. One night the baby fed but refused to go back to sleep. His screams were building to a crescendo. In a hazy panic I searched for my Sound Sleeper app but realised in horror that I had deleted it. So I'm very embarrassed to admit to you (and to the husband for the first time, gulp) that I turned on data roaming.....and played a YouTube baby soother video. Why I didn't just roam long enough to download the app will forever be a mystery to me. But in my defense cumulative sleep deprivation does hinder rational thinking. With the eight hour non-stop video streaming away, the baby and I were soon in a deep and blissful sleep.
It turns out the pursuit of sleep can be expensive. £300 to be precise.
Vacuum cleaners, cot shakers, astronomical phone bills - all for a smidgen of sleep. I'm not proud, but desperate times definitely call for desperate measures. In the end I think it was all worth it. And luckily for our bank balance and eardrums a good night's sleep is now the norm in our house. We all get to this point in the end; we just need a bit of imagination and improvisation to see us through the black hole.
And now I'm off to grovel to the husband.