A whole night

He slept through the night.

For the first time, since he was born, he slept longer than four hours. Four hours was his previous achievement. That four hours? Incredible. Indescribable.

But a night? A whole night?

When he woke, he popped his fuzzy little head up. He rubbed his eyes with his tiny little fists. A look of wonder rushed across his little fat face. Even he was surprised he’d managed to sleep. All night.

My husband and I woke disorientated and comically bewildered. How could it be morning? We were due at least three to six wake-ups over the seven hours we class as “night-time” slash “lose all hope and will to live time”.

The Ham giggled. He flung himself backward onto the bed and dissolved into fat, ridiculous chuckles that turned into absurdly loud shrieks of laughter. While we stared in amazement until we all gave in and fell into the moment too. All of us howling, tears pulling at my eyes as I pulled the battery from my phone – surely the time was wrong. My husband peered out the window “It’s morning?”

A beautiful smile.

The Ham had finally achieved what we thought was the unachievable. It had taken him 13 months. And oh, those 13 months, waking every 45 minutes, screaming for hours while we rocked and sang and hissed and cried and cried. There were torn nipples. Whispered fights “IT’S YOUR TURN!” Sleep apps that we had to stop using because I couldn’t handle my day knowing for sure that I’d had only two hours and 45 minutes – broken so very broken – sleep. There were moments when I really wondered what the Hell I had done to deserve a child that hated sleep. In my worst moments, those 4am desperate moments when you know your other child will be up soon, and you STILL haven’t slept – I thought about running away. Far.

How can we, how did we, how do we, keep doing this? Day in? Day out? Each night I felt as if I was staring out at the sea from a steep and ragged cliff-top. I felt so lost. So guilty. So confused. There were some nights where I cried buckets even before I climbed exhausted into bed.

I have never, in my entire life, even in my first born’s first year, wanted sleep as much as I wanted it near the end of this 13 months. Needed it. Desperately. I would have traded anything. Anything.

I had begun to feel like I was fraying at the edges. Little bits of me kept catching on things and I was becoming less of myself every day. Sleep deprivation does that. It steals from you and you don’t notice at first. You’re surprised by how well you’re coping. You make comments about how it’s amazing that you are getting by and doing so much. But you catch yourself running into the kitchen and you can’t remember what you went there for. Or you get home from the supermarket and you’ve forgotten the one thing you went there for. They’re the little things. You laugh them off.

But then it’s the bigger things. You start to feel as if you’re living in a fog. You retreat. You keep getting sick. You hurt a lot. Your bones and your heart. In the evening, you find yourself sitting down for a minute to collect yourself but then you look at the time and you’ve been in that one spot, staring at the wall, for almost an hour.

You don’t know where time goes. But every moment is waking.

I have been accused of being melodramatic about sleep. Told parenting is tiring.

Why did I have children if I couldn’t cope with a change in sleeping patterns?

There’s no point trying to get someone to understand the sleep deprivation many parents have with their child in that first year, or more. There’s no point.

You know or you don’t know. Some people are blessed with babies who sleep 10 (sometimes even more) hours a night. For most of my son’s life I have lived on around 20 hours sleep a week. Sometimes more, usually less.

This is not unusual.

People like to pretend it is. It makes them uncomfortable so they suggest it’s not really happening. If it is – it’s the fault of the mother. She’s not trying hard enough to get her baby to sleep. She’s not having naps. She needs to put herself first. She’s not practising self-care. She’s a martyr.

All of the judgements and assumptions and ignorant comments sit at the bottom of a clifftop. Above are countless mothers who stand and face the roaring waves each night and say:

This will pass

We are doing the best we can

Tonight might be different

Tomorrow is another day

We are doing the best we can

It won’t always be like this.

And it won’t. And when I’m on that clifftop, I’m not alone. And neither of you. This chorus in the night is one we share. We are together alone in this. It won’t always be like this and we will get there together.

One night you will kiss your baby’s sweet little face – expectant and full. A little moon peering out in the darkness. You will kiss them and silently wish or maybe you’ll be too tired even for that. You’ll fall into sleep – maybe easily, maybe it’ll take a while.

And you’ll wake up in the morning after they’ve slept all night.

Hours of blissful sleep that will sustain you until it happens again.

You’ve got this mama. You’re not alone on the cliff top. You’ll make it. I know you will.

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  1. Go Ham! What a frikking legend. Four years in and I still hang out at the top of that cliff, sometimes once or twice a night, sometimes more. People definitely either know, or don’t. Those that don’t are full of “helpful” suggestions and quiet judgement. I find the cry it out brigade can be particularly sniffy, there is an assumption “well I left my baby to cry and it was the ONLY thing that worked, so you need to do THAT”. I answer with a nod of the head and a small smile usually, inwArdly quoting studies of cortisol levels and such while thinking “Fuck. You. For judging me.” Nobody wants to hear about a four year old that doesn’t sleep for twelve hours straight but I think it’s not that unusual in kids, I’m not sure how we got to the point of deciding on how much sleep a kid “should” be having. Yet I passionately feel we need to learn to be kinder to each other, parenting is hard work at the best of times without running on empty constantly. When you stand in the face of that storm of sleep deprivation day in day out a little kindness goes a long way. Enjoy your day after a full nights sleep, you awesome momma you xxx

  2. See, my little guy is also doing the occasional full night’s sleep. Like, maybe once or twice a night. He’s nearly 14 months. The problem is that although HE sleeps the whole night, I start waking from 2am, convinced he’s strangled himself/just about to wake/been stolen/climbed out of his cot and started the car…etc. None of these thoughts are ones I would entertain in the cold, logical light of day but somehow they pop into my head as I stir. My husband does not have this problem.

  3. I remember the first time my boy woke up and laughed instead of crying, what a joyful day!
    Well done Ham, you little superstar, keep it up for your wonderful Mama.
    x

  4. Awesome piece. You’re right, you either know or you don’t know what sleep deprivation post-baby feels like. You can’t explain it to those without kids. You just can’t.

  5. Congratulations 🙂

    My 16 month old has managed 8 hours twice, and 9 hours once (she was ill at the time). I was back at work after 5.5 weeks off sick yesterday, and I couldn’t switch back off after her 4 am waking (she was properly settled a bit after 5, so I should have got 2 hours more). I might have been hallucinating a bit while driving home…

  6. TRUTH! I just night weened my one year old because I had to break the cycle somehow before I became irreparably broken. We’re still not full night sleepers yet…but the first 5 hours in a row we had was like a light at the end if this long, lonely, painful tunnel. I’m hopeful!

  7. Oh my. Congratulations! I’m shouting it from my cliff, when my little one has gone back to waking way more than I’d wish on anyone. I feel myself catching on things, too, little stray strands of myself getting snarled as I walk around.

    I’m so happy for you. Rest well!

  8. “Why did I have children if I couldn’t cope with a change in sleeping patterns?”
    Patterns? Patterns? Not a single one I could discern…

  9. Brilliant! Completely understanding this one and living it with you this week. After my husband and I being ill with a hideous stomach bug for three days (where he retires to bed and I carry on looking after everyone, obviously) my little one gave me the best present in the world – he slept through for the first time after 14 months, 1 week and 3 days of being on planet earth. His timing was amazing. I of course woke at least 4 times in the night and wandered into his room to check he was still breathing! Darling husband slept through it all, as always. Next night he did it again but this time I slept too. Next night, back to his usual ways! We’ll get there. One day!

  10. Awww Emily I am SOOOO over the moon for you and your family! My son didn’t sleep through till 17 months and once it happens it actually changes your life (no exaggeration lol) May it last for you xx

  11. I love this. This is me. Ever since my daughter was born 3.75 years ago. Now’s we’re 7 months in with our boy and reliving the nightmare. Lol but not lol ?
    Love your writing and thank you. I fucking needed this.

  12. Ditto, ditto and ditto. My darling 8 mth old is currently waking and wanting boob 4-6 times per night. I work full time and am just lucky I have a low sleep requirement! She is a a delight through the day so the lack of sleep isn’t affecting her. So, we’ll just ride it out. I love hearing everyone’s stories. We’re all in this together. It makes me feel normal! Thanks.

  13. 2 and 1/2 years in and still waiting (almost without hope now) of that full overnight. Made harder by miss 9 month old being a worse sleeper!!
    Life is kindof grey at the moment.
    Thanks for a peak at the colour to come one day.