Tuesday 5 January 2010

Sleeping like a baby

I've ummmed and ahhhed about writing this post. In a lot of ways the memory is too raw, I just want to forget. I don't want to bore everyone about something that I was essentially obsessed with for almost three years. I don't want to be too self-indulgent.

Then I realised that a lot of people are going through it. Writing about it may help others, it may also help people who aren't going through sleep deprivation to understand. It may also exorcise some of the demons that are still lingering from the whole experience.

So as a warning now - 1) I am going to be brutally honest in my account.
2) Feel free to ignore, I will be writing all about babies and sleep - not the most thrilling topics for some.
3) I'm probably going to be focusing on the negatives, but the whole of this time wasn't terrible.

So let us begin...

When I was pregnant with Lil-lil I heard terrible tales about babies who didn't sleep until they were well and truly toddlers. These stories filled me with dread, because I loooooove my sleep. Though I didn't truly believe that I would be one of these parents who suffered with sleep deprivation for an extended period of time. Hey, I used to write articles for parenting magazines about how to get your bub to sleep through the night. I would be fine.

When Lil-lil was less than 24 hours old, I was holding her in my arms as she serenely fluttered her eyes and started to drift off... only for her lids to flick wide open and hers eyes begin darting around the room. She must have done this a dozen times. The dread, though small, began to well in me. For the rest of my hospital stay, Lil-lil didn't really sleep much. Constant cajoling from the midwives didn't really help send her off to sleepyland. They all assured me once we got home and my milk had come in she'd settle down.

Once home nothing changed. She fed well, but never really slept much. Well-meaning advice ensued - wrap her; unwrap her; get her into a routine; just let her scream; just curl up and sleep with her. As well as not sleeping, she was never really a happy chappy. Then one day when she was about 3.5 weeks old she started screaming, it was about 7am. She continued screaming all day. I mean all day. The only time she was quiet was when she fed. The Skip came home from work at 5.30pm to find me wandering around the backyard - Lil-lil was screaming, I was weeping. I called the Tresillian helpline who asked me: "Have you tried rocking her?"
Skip and I then walked the streets and tried anything to get her to settle. At 8.30pm we took her to a local medical centre and a doctor examined her. His verdict - "Hmmmm, there seems to be something wrong but I don't know what it is." At 9.30pm she collapsed with exhaustion, 14 hours of screaming will do that to you. Breathing a sigh of relief I went to sleep, only to be woken two hours later to - yep, you guessed it - more screaming.

The next day I looked at my little doll (and yes, she was a little doll) and thought: "It's only taken me three weeks, but I've completely stuffed her up." I cried to my mum, my sister-in-law, anyone who would listen: "Am I doing this completely wrong? Am I just being a wuss? If I am, please tell me and I'll suck it up."
I was then on the phone to the early childhood nurse and requested an emergency appointment. They told me to wrap her tightly and give her a good burp. I then went to my GP who diagnosed reflux. Thank god, I thought. Maybe we can help the poor little cherub and we can all get some rest. We spent the next three weeks juggling medications to find something that suited.

During this time I did a day stay at Tresillian. They couldn't get her to sleep. The nurse told me that she'd only seen a handful of cases of true reflux before and that Lil-lil was definitely suffering from it. We meddled a little bit more with the meds and it definitely seemed to help her. She wasn't sleeping but she wasn't screaming. Life was an endless blur of feeding and rocking and patting and shushing. I thought there would never be a time when I wouldn't be holding her in my arms. After terrible nights, Skip would throw her in the car and take her for two hour drives so I could rest. I remember lying in bed and hearing the gate clink and Lil-lil crying - it couldn't be them, they only left 5 minutes before, but alas I'd look at the clock and two hours had passed.

Christmas 2006, we went away with family for a beach holiday. I spent the entire trip gently coercing Lil-lil to sleep. Christmas Day I spent rocking her. After finally getting her to sleep I walked out to find Christmas lunch over. Skip had made me up a plate. I remember thinking: "The whole world is moving and I'm completely stuck. I'm invisible." It was like being dead yet still alive.

After yet another night spent upright, the dawn peeked through the curtains. Exhausted I threw Lil-lil in the car and drove. I drove through the gorgeous countryside of the NSW north coast. I now look back and think that was probably one of the stupidest things I'd ever done. Drive at high speeds on country roads, so sleep deprived and with my 8-week-old baby in the back. I was desperate. The only other way I had gotten her to sleep was to carry her in the Baby Bjorn - fabulous that she slept, terrible that I couldn't 'sleep while the baby slept'. All this time I had comments like: "She's just unsettled cause you're stressed at being a new parent" and "You don't look that tired, I'm sure you're getting some sleep".

After we got back I was admitted to Tresillian residential unit. It was such a wonderful time. I felt so supported. I started to feel that I wasn't a complete failure. I got some rest. We got some routines happening. I believe Lil-lil had associated sleep with pain due to her reflux, we needed to help her get over that. It certainly did help, she slept in her cot for longer periods. It took a huge amount of work though. A lot of bending over the cot side, shushing and patting.

At home things definitely improved. I got to sleep for a few hours in my own bed! Bliss. Things still weren't great though, but they were getting better. Over the next couple of months I expected her to start sleeping longer. That's what babies did right? Apparently not mine. Lil-lil still woke many times throughout the night. I wasn't completely crazy but I wasn't far off the mark. Most nights I was up to her four or five times. As she got closer to 7 months I was getting ready to go back to work. Full time. I wasn't sure how I'd manage it, but manage it I would.

Once back at work, I was still getting up every 1.5 hours during the night before waking for the day at 5am. I would then trudge into work with my eyes hanging out of my head to write pieces like: "Five easy steps to get your baby sleeping through the night", "Your sleep problems solved!". I would write these articles feeling like the world's biggest fraud. So many people in real life would call and ask me about there baby's sleep problems. "You have a bad sleeper, so maybe you can help me??" I thought I would be the last person people would want advice from.

By this time the sleep deprivation had a massive effect on my life. I stopped speaking to people who were my good friends. Skip and I would just plod through life, getting through step at a time.

I then went back to Tresillian. Which again was wonderful. Lil-lil at 8 months started sleeping longer stretches at night. She still screamed whenever she had any inkling it was bedtime. It still took a VERY long time for her to settle to sleep. She still woke several times overnight. She still woke for the day at 5am. Around this time I stopped talking about sleep to most people. I had bored everyone. No-one really understood exactly how little sleep I was getting.

She continued exactly the same way until she 13 months. I then discovered I was pregnant. I was terrified. How on earth could I do this all again? I didn't think that I could. Everyone kept telling me: "Next time will be different. Don't worry, the next one will sleep." I had to keep believing this!

I started to get excited about the thought of another baby. Besides the sleep issues, Lil-lil was a gorgeous, clever little thing. I was still getting up several times a night, my back aching as my growing belly made it harder to settle her in her cot. I was completely exhausted and started getting ocular migraines regularly, they would get so bad I would be completely blinded for up to an hour. I was also secretly picturing me, Lil-lil and the new bub up all night together.

Goosey finally arrived and she was a little doll too, though completely different to her sister. While I was in hospital, Lil-lil decided it was time to sleep through the night. I couldn't believe it, her timing was unbelievable. Was there some force out there not wanting me to sleep a whole night ever?

This is the end of part one. Part two will contain the sleep shenanigans of number two and my descent into insanity. Until then, sweet dreams.


  1. Oh my lord that sounds heart-wrenchingly awful. Thank you for sharing though. Even if you only help one other person - there's not enough honesty out there...

  2. Gosh Corinne, that would have driven me mad. The not sleeping is torture by itself but not sleeping and screaming?! I take my hat off to you.

  3. thanks for sharing Corinne. It sounds like you have a really rough trot of it, Monte still doesn't sleep through the nights most night he is just over 12 months, I know the pain of sleep deprivation - though yours sounds a lot more severe with the screaming. Thanks for posting this, look forward to the next one - and trust that you are now getting your well deserved sleep and there is a light at the end of the tunnel

  4. Thanks for posting this Corinne!
    I have been reading the odd book in preparation for the impending birth of our baby but I much prefer to read about people's real and honest experiences. It's much more helpful.
    Your experience sounds unbelievably difficult and I for one think you deserve an Order of Australia!

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  6. Oh. My. God. You could have been so easily describing Oscar, who also suffers from Reflux and thinks sleep is the devil :| We've done a week at Karitane, next stop Tresillian! I'm glad you've lived to tell the tale, it gives me hope x

  7. Thanks for the comments! Stay tuned for part two, which involves a lot more sleep deprivation and another trip to Tresillian when the sleepless duo team up to send their mum insane. It does have a happy ending though...

  8. OMG. That sounds truly horrendous, how hard that must have been. There is a reason sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture, it's a wonder you could function at all. Thanks for a very honest post.

    And on that note, I left you an award a little while back (but am hopeless at coming back to let people know, sorry about that!)with that very honesty in mind, very deserving I would say xxx


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