Monday, 9 January 2017

What's Sleep Got To Do With It? - well, everything actually...


Right now as I write this, I am looking up at my baby boy happily playing on his own.  So immersed in his own little world, curiously turning the pages of his books, chewing on his Lego, crawling to his teddy bears and staring at them intently.  I would love to know what is running through his brain, how much he is learning when I am not present.  I have learned some hard lessons over the last week, it's probably been the hardest yet one of the most rewarding weeks of my life - I asked for help.  I really, truly, seriously needed help. 

As Mums (most Mums I know anyway), we like to think we have it all under control, that we always know what's best - there is an inherent Mum sense that will always be able to tell what our baby wants and needs.  I think that's true to a point, but there is also a time when we need to accept that things aren't as they should be, that things could be better and maybe you can't do it alone.  That maybe it's something beyond asking for your Mum's help, or your sister's advice.  The term "it takes a village" is seriously true.

I have mentioned Isaac's sleep before.  I have talked about it in great detail in fact - it got worse.  It just kept getting progressively worse and worse.  Every night was like a battlefield.  He needed to be rocked to sleep for every nap and before bed at night, he would need to be well and truly asleep before we could even THINK about lowering him into his cot.  His day sleeps were half an hour at best, his screaming was heart breaking, our frustration and tiredness levels were so high.  I was barely functioning.  I appeared to be functioning, but I was and still am at the minute just a complete mess of anxiety and dread.  Not only was I completely exhausted, I knew Isaac would be too.  We tried everything.  Music, Lulla Doll, dummy, rocking, patting, shh-ing, singing - nothing would keep him asleep for longer than thirty minutes through the day and he was waking at least every hour overnight; usually ending up in bed with us which was less than restful for all of us.

I heard about a family therapist who helped babies and families get more sleep using a scientific, psychological process that was not "cry it out" or controlled crying (I personally just cannot handle those methods while I fully understand that it can be the only option and I try my very best not to judge other parents because I don't know their circumstances), and offered babies lots of support as they learn to put themselves to sleep and to stay asleep.  I just can't listen to Isaac scream until he falls asleep.  Reid and I discussed our issues in depth and decided to book in the therapist who came to spend time with us in our own home over two days, and we also receive three months of follow-up support afterwards.  The first day was incredibly difficult.  I'm not going to go into too much detail concerning the process itself, mostly because it is far too much to write and it isn't my place to discuss exactly how it works (plus, it is different for every family and baby anyway) but after only a few hours, I was able to understand more about Isaac's brain, his instincts, his needs and ultimately the things he didn't need to help him sleep.  Isaac is a particularly active baby, as lots of ten month old little boys are.  His brain is going non-stop, he is almost walking, learning so much every minute of every day.  The simple fact that we have learnt how to help slow that little brain down enough to understand that it is OK to go to sleep is such a huge eye opener.  After only a week of using this process, Isaac is having two big day naps 1-2 hours each and is sleeping through the night (occasionally stirring but putting himself back to sleep within minutes).  No dummy (we are still using it at times if he is distressed), no music, no Lulla Doll, no rocking.  It seems like a miracle and too good to be true.  All the while we are supporting him, showing him we are there for him and that it is OK for him to go to sleep without us there.  Such huge steps for such a little person.  It sounds silly to say you are proud of someone for sleeping but I really am so proud of him!  He has come so far so quickly and is just more settled and happy now that he is finally getting the sleep he needs.

Learning about this process has made me realise that I have often been the barrier to Isaac getting sleep.  Spending those six weeks in the Mother Baby Unit where I didn't have my son with me overnight has riddled me with such a horrendous amount of guilt, I think part of it will always be there.  I feel guilt so much, about so many things.  I think it is a sign of good parenting to a degree but it can be crippling and is ultimately just unnecessary and unhelpful.  It's not just Isaac who has been learning over the past week, I have been learning too.  Learning that it's OK not to rock my son to sleep.  Learning that it's OK to miss it.  Learning that it's OK if I give him his dummy occasionally still.  Learning that not every nap is going to be perfect and that I can't control every aspect of every day.  Learning that letting go of my guilt isn't going to happen overnight, that every aspect of my parenting journey so far has been riddled with challenges that I will and have overcome.  But I have needed help.  I am not ashamed to admit that.  I do not have it all together.  I am still an anxious wreck who can't leave the house most days.  But I love my little boy with everything that I am.  This past week has shown me that more than anything.  Such small changes have had such a big impact on my little family.  We are so grateful to have received help, so grateful that we had the opportunity to learn so much about our baby boy and how to best help him to rest and relax.  He is secure and safe and knows how much he is loved. 

Every family is so different.  The words "sleep training" make me shudder, which is why I think I put off getting help for so long - but this really didn't feel like sleep training.  It felt like someone who wasn't emotionally involved in our situation coming in and helping us see more clearly.  Opening our eyes to the potential our baby has to learn and to play and to rest.  Making us really pay attention to the small things he does through the day.  Making us appreciate more than ever how lucky we are to call him ours and helping us get enough sleep to actually see that.  Sleep is so important.  It is such a basic human instinct and yet it can be such a problem.  If you aren't getting enough rest, it's like living life in a fog.  Our fog is slowly lifting and my goodness ~ it is a really beautiful day.     

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