Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

by Victoria

I was just reading a mother's account of caring for her newborn baby and dealing with sleep deprivation in the papers and it struck a chord. She talked about hallucinating that her baby's head spun around like Chucky when she was in hospital, after giving birth. She continued to breastfeed, even though that was causing her to have little sleep, because of the relentless advice she was receiving that breast was best (it is but at what cost?). She would have at most, a 45 minute unbroken sleep at night. Once, when she was advised to pump her breast milk so she could sleep through the night while her husband tended to the baby, she woke in the middle of the night to see their baby asleep on her husband's chest. She snatched the baby up, which woke everyone up. While struggling to get sleep, she was also struggling to be the perfect mother. It all sounded so familiar and speaks of an inner battle most new mothers and fathers would understand.

Our Miss P is now 21 months old but it was only 3 months ago that she started to sleep through the night. Before that, she would have slept through the night less than 5 times since she was born. I never knew what torture was like until I suffered sleep deprivation. I was angry, impatient, and tired physically, mentally and emotionally. Everything was a drag. I would think of my day ahead and wonder how I would survive the day feeling so tired and having to care for her. Some days I still feel like that but these days, it's usually because I was up reading late into the night, so entirely my fault.

I remember that when Miss P hadn't yet slept through the night, every evening, before Mr B and I went to bed, we would wonder how many times she would wake up and how long it'll take us to get her back to sleep. I remember feeling quite depressed knowing that we'll have an interrupted night's sleep ahead of us. Even Mr B would comment about how depressed he was thinking about the night ahead, which was unusual for him as he tend not to be as forthcoming with his feelings as I am.

I recall feeling sad for myself when I would read my friends' facebook statuses either that their child slept through or that they had one bad night. I was thinking "one bad night? I haven't yet have one good night!" Here I was struggling to get 5 hours of unbroken sleep and I found myself sometimes resenting having chosen to be a mother. I didn't resent Miss P, just the difficulties of motherhood and sad that I didn't have another pair of hands in the day when Mr B was at work.

What caused Miss P to begin to sleep through? We have no exact answers but there were a few things that happened during that time. One, after being stubborn about it for so long, I gave up my cappuccino fix that I would have several times a week. It was also around this time that we took Miss P to a playschool concert and bought her a Jemima doll which she took a liking to and would take her pretty much everywhere with her. We tucked Jemima in bed with her and found that over time, when she would cry out at night and my husband would get up to her, she would cuddle Jemima, kiss her several times, and get back to sleep. We tried to give her several comfort options previously but she never took to them. Now, she has found her comfort doll. We were so happy! It was like the antidote we were looking for but had no idea which one would work. I had also chosen then to give up the night feeds which meant Mr B got up to her, instead of me.

After the experience of sleep deprivation, what would I say to parents who are currently sleep deprived? Take turns to get up to the child at night, ask different people for help in the day so you can nap. Make sleep your 1st priority. Even if you can't actually sleep, lie down and rest. It is calming and gives you a chance to take a break. With practise, it is likely you would fall asleep more easily the next time. Don't be disheartended if someone remarks that your child should sleep through the night by now. Each child, like every adult, is different. They will sleep through the night in their own time. For now, catch sleep whenever you can, and don't take on the mothering role alone. Remember the saying, "it takes a village to raise a child".

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