I hope the title of this article isn’t too misleading; however, I am a sleep expert! In the evening when I feel sleepy, I go to bed, lie down and fall asleep. It comes so easy to me you’d almost think it was natural. Right? You could be fooled into believing that we are instinctively born knowing how to sleep. My two children have taught me that sleep is actually, for some, a learned behaviour.
I know there will be some mums reading this whose babies are what some in the business call ‘angel babies’: they sleep through the night from the first month. I’m extremely happy for you and a little, ok a lot, jealous. My son has only recently started to sleep through the night. Yeah, victory for me! He is, however, just about to turn 4 years old and his bed is now in our room.
Let me take you back to when he was born. This gorgeous little thing hated the car from the first journey home; also his pushchair was a place to scream uncontrollably until someone picked him up. ‘He’ll stop eventually’ they said ‘ leave him to cry’. I tried, but in the end, his screams won through. So I purchased a sling and carried him everywhere.
He would wake in the night and scream for hours on end. I’m happy to say I am an expert on every kind of sleep method out there. An expert on trying them and also in failing each and every one. The only one I haven’t done is cry it out; I just couldn’t. But I have tried the others, such as: controlled crying – you start off with leaving the baby to cry for 3 minutes, then re-enter at intervals 5, 10 etc… I also tried the Baby Whisperer method, you go in pick the baby up the minute the baby stops crying, you put them down, you repeat this as many times as necessary, 50 plus even! I would have some success for a few days/nights. Then there would be a cold or teeth and we’d be right back where we started.
I’m using humour in this article, but I can honestly say sleep deprivation with Dylan, my first-born, almost led me to a nervous breakdown. It really can be serious, and if you are reading this, going through the same, my heart bleeds for you. Never be afraid to ask for help. You are not failing; you are an awesome mum, but you do need sleep and rest, too.
Along comes my daughter Willow 10 months ago. Things are going to be different this time, or so I thought. Surely you wouldn’t get two babies who don’t sleep?! Or so I thought.
Willow still wakes a lot during the night. With her, I have also tried and failed said sleep training methods. So I decided it’s me who needs to change. I look at my son now and he seems so big, so independent. I made the decision instead of swimming against the natural flow of Willow, to jump in with my whole body and enjoy and savour every minute of her.
I know co-sleeping isn’t for all, but it is for me. I love to wake in the night and hear her little breaths. I love the way she wakes, feels for me, touches my arm, lets out a sigh of relief as if ‘your here I’m safe’ and drifts back to sleep. I don’t actually believe I’m getting more sleep but I feel more rested and more content, as if now I have made a choice that feels right to me. I have let go of the guilt of what people tell me is a bad choice. My feelings may change and if they do I’ll honour them without guilt for the decision I made in the now.
Our bedroom has wall to wall: a cot, a double bed and toddler bed. We all sleep together, and when I hear my little boy call out in the night ‘daddy, hold my hand… thanks daddy, I’m safe now’ I drift off to sleep with a happy heart. The plan is when they’re both ready we’ll move out and this will become their shared bedroom. We’ll see.
I know there are some who don’t agree with co-sleeping for safety issues. This is how I make sure we are safe. Willow sleeps between me and the wall. Her daddy is a heavy sleeper and I’m not sure he’s always aware of where she is. She is still breastfed, and I do not drink, smoke or take drugs (even of the prescription variety).
My advice to anyone reading this is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to parenting, just what is right for you and your family. Don’t feel guilty or angry if things you try don’t work. It just means you haven’t found your way yet. I am an expert sleeper but I am a novice at being mum. I’m learning as I go, stumbling sometimes. I made the promise to myself that I will follow my heart. If it feels right, it is right – for me.
Natalie Turner is a pediatric nurse from the UK. Also a certified Child Birth Educator and Breastfeeding Counsellor. With this experience and credentials she thought she would have motherhood in the bag… life is teaching her otherwise. She is currently living in Budapest with her partner and two children, Dylan 4 and Willow 1. Her motto is ‘When life hands me lemons…I always check they’re in season, organic and locally grown…then I make Lemonade!’ said with tongue in cheek : ))