It’s really not a very catchy title but the truth is you’ve got to be one lucky mother-punting parent to not need to survive this shizzle at some point or another in the first few years. (There will be people reading this who think that their child is a champion sleeper and it will never happen. Well, (mwahahahahaaaa) tread carefully now, the phrase “This too shall pass”, a mantra for the suffering parent, goes for the good stuff too, you know.) With a very small baby you can generally plug them into a boob or a bottle and this will relatively quickly see them off for another few hours (<ducks for cover> I am well aware that this is not always the way that it works). With an older baby, however, at some point along the way you will have lost this weapon in the war of parenting. When the molars start to surface, or the baby is learning something new, you are therefore left with a sorry looking stash of a bow and some broken arrows to fend off the demon of sleep deprivation.
In our house, the BSCB’s sleep has never been great and the reasons for this are endless. At the moment it is particularly poor and if we score two undisturbed nights of sleep per week we actually start to float. Yes, of course we could sleep train, in fact we have done before and what we have now is an improvement(!), but Second Child Syndrome has weaved it’s wiley web around us and quite frankly we can’t be arsed.
On the off-chance, therefore, that anyone else is aboard a similarly sinking ship, I thought I’d construct a handy photo-essay-guide-thingy to summarise the survival tactics that we find work for us.
*Disclaimers* (1) The “baby” is not real. He is a brown doll that my mum bought The Eldest to prepare her for the arrival of her brother.
He has a mouth and a bum hole that you can insert things into(!) and his head wobbles more than it should. This is thanks to The Eldest who took a liking to shaking it back and forth while shouting “He’s nodding!”. Very reassuring behaviour for a heavily pregnant mum about to give birth to a floppy newborn. (2)Clearly I realise that putting the baby to sleep in a brightly lit room won’t help his sleep. (3)I don’t sleep in a sweatshirt and lurid lycra yoga leggings. The lights and the leggings are in the photos as I had precisely 6 minutes and 37 seconds for the “husband” to take the pictures in between the football ending and The Eldest erupting into a “You promised me the park” triggered tantrum. (4) My hair is always a mess.
Tactic 1: preparation Clothes by the bed, unfolded. Arrange them so that in the dark you can put them on easily. Folding them increases the danger that you won’t be able to find the hole for your head. NEVER attend to your child without putting extra clothes on – you will be colder than an eskimo’s dingle-dangle within minutes and leaving your child’s side to find extra clothes WILL result in them fully waking up, screaming themselves into a state of hyper-ventilation, and subsequently staying awake for another two hours. If you’re in a similar situation to us, the other child sleeping in the same room will also wake up and want attention. Avoid this at all costs. Wear extra clothes.
Also important for successful preparation is that you ensure that ALL the drugs are within easy reach. In our house Calpol, Nurafen, Olbas Oil, Vicks Vapour rub and for good measure a cup of water, all have a permanent home on the stairs that lead to the children’s room. This way we can scoop up our ammunition of choice on the way in. See above for why you don’t want to have to leave their side to go and collect any of this.
Tactic 2: be pessimistic. Preparation completed, you’re ready to go to bed. Under no circumstances imagine having a full night’s sleep. Repeat the mantra “I can survive on no sleep” several times before passing out, this way if for some reason the child(ren) do(es) sleep through the night you’ll wake up pleasantly confused. Spend even a second imagining the unicorn-fart’s occurrence of a full night’s sleep and the inevitable 2.30am wake-up call will turn you into a raging Cyclops. Your one eye will swivel only in the direction of your (probably) still sleeping other half and growl something indecipherable about him having his manhood attached to his forehead. He still won’t wake up. You will be in danger of losing all of your shit. Save you all the pain. Be pessimistic.
Tactic 3: assume Soothing Position One. The baby is awake, you have dressed, and you have made it unscathed to his/ her room. Assume Soothing Position One – this one is optimistic. You stand and bend over the top of the cot. Support your weight with one hand and use the other to pat/ stroke the small person.
This will be fine for a few minutes and the child may well start to resettle. Do. Not. Move. Moving now will reset the baby and you will have to start all over again. Except you will need to move. It is likely that your post-pregnancy body has no core strength remaining, and if you have had more than one baby there is a very good chance that where your pulvarised-pelvis hinges onto your spine there is considerable creakage. Bending for any length of time is challenging. Add to this the fact that your body has clocked that it is night-time and you should be lying down, and you will need to move. At this point you will be tempted to just pick the baby up and take him/her to bed with you, but your resolve will be strong. You know it’s a “bad habit” and you quite like sleeping on the bed, not clinging to its edge, so you resist.
Tactic 4: assume Soothing Position Two. You kneel next to the cot and hang your arms over the side.
This is good because moving into this position can be achieved while continuing to pat/ stroke your child. This reduces the risk of resetting him/her and having to start again. Unfortunately, however, it is also bad as the cot rail will dig into your armpits and you will soon start to lose feeling in your hands. You can maintain this for a small amount of time but everyone needs feeling in their hands or the worry sets in that they might fall off. It is the middle of the night. You want to be asleep. Your mind will try all kinds of tricks to get you to pick the small person up and take them to bed with you. See above.
Tactic 5: assume Soothing Position Three. This is a favourite of mine as your own knee offers up a handy (bony) pillow, while the upright leg supplies the support required to prop up your weary body. You push your now numb hand and arm through the cot rails easily enough and are able to continue the patting/ stroking.
If you’ve been lucky, the momentary pause in patting/ stroking while you moved has not caused the child to completely reset therefore you are able to pick up where you left off.
After a while you stop stroking/ patting to see if it elicits a head-raise or grumble from the baby. If all remains snuffly but still, you hold your breath and start to withdraw your arm. This goes well until you come to extricate your elbow. Since you started your elbow will have doubled in size and it now jams firmly between the bars and refuses to slip through. You twist your arm in your efforts to free it, and your head expands with every passing second because you are still not breathing. Finally, with a rasp of sweatshirt cotton against the rails, your arm is free and you gather yourself to creep out of the room. But no. The child is stirring.. wait… no, his eyes are still closed…wait…ah bugger the head is up… Damn you extra clothes – a bare, numb, freezing-cold arm would have slipped through no bother.
Tactic 6: Assume Soothing Position Four – the ignore.
Turn your back on your child, rest your head on your knees and whisper an incantation to summon the devil. If by some chance he arrives you are fully prepared to strike up a deal that buys you some sleep. The small person is now fully reset. He/ she will most likely stand up at the cot bars and grab those tiny hairs at the nape of your neck that really effing hurt. You are desperate. For at least 15 seconds you resist the thought of picking up the small person so that they can invade your bed. Then you realise you have been there for an hour with no end in sight…
Well, that was worth it.
On your slow walk out of the room you imagine the sly smile that is creeping across the small person’s face. Somewhere deep in the depths of your mind there is a flicker of annoyance but you are unable to figure out from where it comes and your tiredness snuffs it out. Your bed is calling and lying down on a one-inch-wide slither of mattress while the child star-fishes in the middle of the bed is looking like bedtime perfection. You gingerly make your way to your bedroom, all the while aware that getting into bed with the baby is no guarantee of sleep. You could well end up lying on your own bed, torturously drifting in and out of snatches of sleep as the baby inserts his/ her fingers into every orifice on your head, and probably attempts to create some new ones. Luckily the little sod fell asleep on your shoulder six steps out of his/ her bedroom and as gently as a furious, exhausted person can manage, you lay the baby down on top of your bed.
Now it’s your turn to climb into bed but you belatedly realise that when you laid him/ her down you failed to adjust the duvet leaving you with just enough to cover one half of your body. What do you do… get a little bit colder than is comfortable for sleep, or risk disturbing the sleeping
monster baby…? Either way, it’s likely that you’re screwed and I have nothing else left to offer other than my condolences…
So, those are my tips for surviving the sleepless nights with an older baby – the ones that no one ever tells you about therefore leaving you to assume that once you’ve made it through the early months everything returns to a blissful state of snooze. These strategies must work to some extent as we’re not dead, but has anyone got any more to add? I’m all ears – we love (need) a good survival tip and who better to ask? After all, Bear Grylls is basically a bumbling amateur at survival shit compared to the average parent staggering, mostly awake, through the small people years…