Together

Sleep, sleep, sleep. I’ve spent so long thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to fix it. I’ve written several pieces for the blog about Arthur’s sleep and how difficult it’s been, but I’ve canned all of them. They all seem so moany, so ungrateful somehow. How dare I complain about this gorgeous boy, this boy I longed for for so long when he can’t help it and he’s only a baby?

The fact is that even the parents with that amazing baby who sleeps through the night from 6 weeks onwards will eventually come a cropper with sleep. Maybe it’s worse if you’ve had it that good to suddenly go back to multiple night wakings or (shudder) the 2-4am party. I don’t know; I can only go on my own consistently grim experience. Arthur has always been fine at napping and found sleep at night difficult. At his worst he wakes up once an hour (thankfully we haven’t seen those days for a while), at his best he’ll do one middle of the night feed then wake very early to start the day. Those nights have always been rare, but it’s been my mission to achieve that as a starting point. None of this “sleeping through” nonsense for us. I honestly think I’d be awake with crippling anxiety if he did that anyway.

Arthur is very advanced in a lot of ways. He’s been zooming about the place since eleven months, has amassed an impressive vocabulary for one so little (although he’s still to give me any kind of name consistently), can tell you where lots of body parts are and makes some impressive animal noises. He’s great fun. But he’s still only fourteen months old, which by any standards isn’t a long time to be in the world. He’s been poorly for pretty much the entire winter which has ramped up breastfeeding again, and now he’s old enough to ask for it he also understands when he’s told he can’t have it, and that makes him sad. For the last few weeks, in order to try and get him a bit of sleep we’ve given in and pushed him to sleep in the pram upstairs and left him there while we have something of an evening. The problem with that tactic is that he has to be transferred, and as any parent of a newborn knows that’s pretty hit and miss, never more so when the baby in question is a pretty heavy lump rendering stealth unlikely.

However, for the past two nights we’ve managed to go back to those heady nights of one short wake-up. I think I’ve figured out what he’s trying to say to us, why he struggles so much.

He needs to be with us.

We’ve tried him in his own room on and off since six months, but it’s never lasted. I’ve always thought that was just for my convenience; multiple night wakings for a breastfed baby are much, much easier if that baby is in the same room. For the last two nights, however, after his bath (and making sure I’d given plenty of milk feeds in the hours prior to bed), I’ve put Arthur in his trusty travel cot in our room and sat with him. He has books and his teddy; I have my book too. He complains a little, chats a little, picks his nose to make me laugh, reaches out his hand to me in protest. It’s adorable. I smile and ask him to try and go to sleep. More dancing. Then it happens. The key in the lock.

“Who’s that?” I ask him. A huge, beaming smile comes over his face. “Da-dee?” he asks. His Dad bounds up the stairs, two at a time, desperate to see his lad. They have a touching little chat, and Arthur demonstrates where his eyes, nose, mouth and ears are, sometimes getting them wrong on purpose with a little grin. After a few minutes, his Daddy kisses him and goes downstairs to make dinner. Arthur looks at me and cries, so I get him out of the cot and feed him.

He falls asleep. He knows we’re all home, together, and that’s what he’s been missing. That knowledge that his beloved Daddy has come home.

When we come up to bed he stirs a little but just rolls over. He knows we’re there and he’s happy with that. We sleep, all three of us together, just as families have since families began. I don’t wake and strain to hear him; I don’t need to. He’s right next to me.

He won’t be little forever, and when he’s older and more independent I can’t imagine ever regretting the nights he needed us to be together in order to sleep. I won’t get this again. Time to stop wondering how to fix what doesn’t need fixing. Time to start enjoying the process.

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When your baby gets a little bit older you’re sort of expected to go back “to normal”. People stop offering help, and start expecting you to be back to the way you used to be. As if you had some kind of lengthy convalescence and are now back to full health.

The thing is, though, you’re not.

Your joints still ache from breastfeeding. Your back hurts. You get barely enough sleep to survive. Your body feels like it’s been rearranged somehow; it’s still not entirely yours. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological effects of having a baby; the lasting effects of PND or PNA, constantly worrying about the little person you brought into the world and love so much you’re bewildered and frightened by it. After a year has passed you’re probably trying to juggle work with parenting, and, if you’re a stay at home parent, you might be bored out of your brain. Whichever path you’ve chosen (or been forced into due to circumstances) you more than likely feel guilty. It probably gnaws at you.

Whatever you’re doing right now, at this moment, your little person is there, in the background on a loop in your mind as you worry about whether you packed enough snacks for tomorrow and whether that rash us just post-viral and whether it would be selfish to get your partner to take over for a couple of hours so you can meet up with your friend who’s going through tough times.

I don’t have any answers for you, I’m so sorry. I won’t trot out the cliché “you got this” because if you’re anything like me a) you find it annoying and b) you feel very much as though you don’t got this.

All I will say is that I’m pretty sure most women feel like this after having a baby, and that it takes a lot longer than twelve months to get over pregnancy and birth, especially if you’ve endured trauma in either or both. All I will say is it’s OK. You’re OK, or, if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. Try as much as you can to reclaim something you used to love; even if it’s just relaxing in the bath with a paperback. Cling to your mum friends, because they know. They really do. And this:

Well done.