Many years ago, but not so many they’ve been forgotten, a first-time mum went back to work. She had a certain spring in her step. A joy in her eyes. And while she missed her little angel, she was happy to be back in a world of adults, relishing with new passion the challenges of her job and approaching them with a renewed sense of purpose. Her colleagues were amazed. They were all parents who had been through the sleepless baby years with their own children. Surely she should’ve been depleted? Her little angel was barely only six months after all. But this was not the case. For this lucky first-time mum had scored the sleeping jackpot. While breastfeeding and other things may have been a schamozzle, sleep – that was bliss. This mother’s little angel had slept more than eight hours a night since she was only eight weeks old. And now, this happy little family were getting almost twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every night. But that what not all, their little angel also self-settled. Instead of falling asleep in her parent’s arm, this first-time mother’s little angel, was quite content to gurgle to herself in her cot, before rolling over and going to sleep.
Then this happy little family had a second child.
Our little girl sound asleep
To those who know us, you would know that this is my story. But I’m not going to revisit that constant lack of sleep. Frankly, I’d rather forget it. This post is about answering the question I get asked more than any other:
How did I cope without sleep, for so long?
Our son ended up in the sleep disorders clinic at the SAN Hospital in Sydney. We came home with a diagnosis of multiple night terrors and insomnia… he was only ten months old.
Yes. That’s right. It wasn’t just the fact that I considered myself lucky if I managed to scrape together six hours of accumulated sleep over a twelve hour period… It was the fact that my son didn’t sleep anything longer than four hour chunks until he was over a year old… and for much of that we’d only get one block of four hour sleep – everything else would be 20-50 minute chunks. We now know, and have managed, his health issues that were the reason for this lack of ability to sustain sleep… but it took us over a year to get there. We didn’t have one strategy. We had many! So, here are my bag of tricks for coping with no sleep:
We started with a spare mattress on the floor. Eventually we gave in and bought a bed. When I was doing Monday to Friday by myself, while my husband worked in Sydney, this was how I got by. It meant that my dear, little cherubs were out of my bed, so I could sleep better, and for the most part, I didn’t have to even get out of bed to resettle our son.
Take sleeping tablets
When you manage to find that magic fairy who will get up to them in the middle of the night, so you don’t have to – take a sleeping tablet. I was against this at first, but chronic sleep deprivation caused my sleep cycles to be destroyed. In an effort to re-train me, my GP suggested sleeping tablets. This also ensured that I went into a deep enough sleep that I wasn’t waking constantly thinking I was hearing our children calling out.
Whether you are lucky enough to have a friend drop off meals, or you do what we did – buy take out every so often, eat well. Think simple, salads and pasta, or bulk cook meals and freeze them.
There are numerous research articles touting the mental health benefits of getting outside. Find some time in every day to get outside. As sad as it sounds, outside was my safe place to cry. That was how I grabbed five minutes outside each day. I had a little tear in the sun!
Find someone who will take you seriously
When children have a problem at school, bullying or otherwise, teachers tell them – keep telling people until somebody helps you. My advice is the same. Our first GP dismissed our concerns. So did the second. Eventually I demanded a referral to a pediatrician. Then another, more specialised. I had to hold specialists to account when they couldn’t find answers. If they couldn’t find an answer – send me to the next person up the chain. What saved us? Our maternal health care nurse from our first child. Even though she was now over three hours away, she kept calling to touch base and offer suggestions. She never had any answers, but she always had suggestions and never forgot about us. Most importantly she believed, like us, that our son’s issues were medical and not behavioural. So when I was ready to give up – she’d remind me that there must be an answer, that we needed to find the right medical professional who could help us. And she was right.
Get help from a variety of people
If you are suffering from any long-term thing, you are going need a team of people to get you through it. We had my parents, a handful of friends, our GP, my daughter’s maternal health care nurse, a psychologist and an army of pediatric specialists. We did not go through this alone.
Find your tribe
The people who get you. The people who don’t judge. The people who will send you helpful advice and run interference on the unhelpful people. For a long time ‘my tribe’ was virtual. I wasn’t awake enough to trust myself driving a car. So I’d connect with other mums over Facebook forums. I’d read blogs. Then slowly I got out of the house and could connect with these mums in real life. I also made new friends, who didn’t necessarily have the same struggles as me, but whose journey in parenthood had been just as bumpy – we got each other.
I know it’s hard. I know you want to throw the towel in. But somewhere amongst all this shit, there are things to be grateful for. Search high and low until you find them. Then hold onto them. For me it was my son’s laugh and my daughter’s uncoordinated dancing. They always put a smile on my face. And when times were really horrible, my husband would force us all into the car and we’d drive somewhere nice and escape. After all, we were always going to be tired and our problems would still be there when we got back. But for this ‘right now’ we could laugh together as a family. We would, and did, get through it.