I used to be an expert in sleep.
Bedtime was at 10pm; I slept and woke at 6.50am the following morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
I haven't slept a full night since 2011.
Nowadays my sleep is fitful, broken and filled with nightmares that jolt me awake. Upon waking with a start, I disturb the snoozing baby next to me.
I failed to mention that we're co-sleepers.
My daughter is four and only sleeps if we lay with her.
My partner was a stickler for the rules when our daughter was tiny. He insisted that she remain in our bedroom for six months. She grew out of her Moses Basket; when I suggested moving her into her cot, he agreed. He dismantled it and rebuilt in our bedroom. There it would remain for five more months. When the magical six months arrived, true to his word, the cot was rebuilt in her room. Only then she wouldn't go in the damn thing. When I suggested controlled crying, I was shot down instantly; I was not allowed to do it. There were times when she was left to cry for ten minutes, but arguments followed and tears (usually mine) were shed. Before long we found a routine that worked for us; I gave my daughter a bottle on my bed, she fell asleep drinking it, I would move her to her cot where she would settle and sleep. Anytime between the hours of 12 midnight and 3am she would wake, I would collect her, place her between us and she would sleep.
Then my son was born.
Like his sister before him, his cot resided in our bedroom, but I was to suddenly sleep alone. My partner decided to take the spare room as he was working and I was breast feeding. My son would wake every three hours, feed and go back to sleep in his cot. Breast feeding was easier this time round and I was getting about six or seven hours sleep a night. Sure, it was broken sleep, but who cared?
Six months passed and the cot was reassembled in my son's bedroom. I was ready to stop breast feeding at and wanted to move onto a night bottle. I thought it was going to be perfect. I was wrong.
Firstly, he refused the bottle and I ended up feeding him to sleep. When he finally did take a bottle, he often threw it up all in an Exorcist style way all over my bed (I haven't referred to it as 'our' bed for a while now).
Eventually, the formula started to stay down and after rolling the length and breadth of my bed every night, my son now falls asleep on my bed and I move him into his cot. Sometimes I get the timing wrong; just as I place him into his cot, he cries and thrashes around. Reluctantly, I return to my bed, feed him back to sleep (oh yes, breast feeding didn't end), and there he remains surrounded by pillows that act as barriers and the baby monitor. My partner and I take it in turns to dash up the stairs at lightning speed every time we hear a rustle, burp or fart!
If only that was it for the night.
I can almost set my clock by him.
Every two hours my son wakes and uses me as his human dummy. I admit that I am being lazy by feeding him back to sleep, but I am exhausted and work full time. I love the bond between us, but I miss my evenings, I miss waking up feeling refreshed, I miss not sharing my bed with my partner, but most of all, I miss sleep. According to Shakespeare's Macbeth, Sleep heels. I don't feel heeled at the moment; I don't quite feel whole.
That's why our local health visiting team have called in the 'sleep experts''. When they call and tell us to expect a few sleepless nights as we sleep train our son, we will agree to do as they say. However, deep down we know what we'll end up doing. When he wakes in his cot, cries, thrashes his arms against the bars, we'll argue over picking our son up or letting him 'cry it out'. I'll lose the argument, and I'll pick up my boy, I'll cradle him in my bed, I'll feed him back to sleep and I will soothe him to make him feel safe again.
The 'sleep experts' will not be pleased.
I may be a failure when it comes to getting my children to sleep and I am no longer an expert in sleep.
However, I strive to do the best for my family and, for now, it is this.
This is what makes me sleep easy at night - well, for two hours anyway.
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