It’s a curious thing – we crave, seek and pursue sleep but it’s essentially “dead time”. We don’t remember doing it but it takes up a third of our lives. If we don’t get enough of it we act like an arse and if we neglect it completely we just die. So why has mother nature decided that a newborn baby – something that takes a huge amount of concentration just to keep alive – will rob you of all but an hour’s kip here and there?!
The honeymoon phase
It wasn’t so bad in the first week of bringing Evelyn home. As new parents to a beautiful baby girl we would spring out of bed and glide over to Evelyn on our magic carpet of new baby bliss whenever she so much as murmured. We would both stand over her with stupid grins on our faces. Angels would harmonise with the harp strings in the background and we would make those stupid “aww” and “coo” noises people feel compelled to do around babies.
Fast forward to week 2. Stupid baby. I thought they were supposed to sleep for 18 hours a day…I was sure I was cut out for this dad thing but I doubted Evelyn was cut out for this whole baby thing, she’s shit at it! Is she ready for school yet? A paper round maybe?
Surprising what sleep deprivation can do to you.
How did baby’s mum manage to sleep?
My fiancé has always been a heavy sleeper – her depth of sleep was somewhere between someone on life support and someone who is recently deceased. She will sleep through ANYTHING. If I want to wake her up for any reason (burglary and natural disasters are my only given reasons for being able to do this) then “acute domestic abuse” is the only method by which I can do it.
She sleeps like a starfish with 40 inch limbs rehearsing for its funeral, and sometimes she snores. If I want more room than a coffin affords then I have to shove her over using short sharp shoves with my legs. Have you ever seen rag doll physics in computer games? It’s like that – it’s ridiculous! A punch square in the face wouldn’t wake her – it’d just make the snoring worse.A punch square in the face wouldn't wake her - it'd just make the snoring worse. Click To Tweet
Right now I’ve got that out my system, I have to say that there are two things that temporarily cured this coma-like sleep status for Kathryn. The first was having Pelvic Girdle Pain during pregnancy, and the second was having a newborn baby in the house. I say newborn because this temporary shift has been cured, she’s back to “normal” now.
Pelvic Girdle Pain
Unfortunately, the pelvic girdle pain was quickly remedied by having a pregnancy pillow – a 5 foot long thick straight pillow that she basically cheated on me with. I say unfortunately as it was my substitute in all things except running a bath and passing her the TV remote. My inadequacy complex was made worse by the fact that she’d named this home-wrecker “Phillip”. I mean…who does that? HE WAS IN OUR BED!a 5 foot long thick straight pillow that she basically cheated on me with Click To Tweet
There were 5 Phillips on her Facebook friends list. I stalked them until I was satisfied and made a mental note to compare their features to the baby’s when she was born.
The baby alarm clock
As mentioned, having a newborn baby in the house hindered sleep somewhat. When the baby was a newborn it was mostly Kathryn that seemed to be fine-tuned to her waking up. She used to say it was a mum-thing. I think it was more of a sleeping-closer-to-the-baby-thing though. Either way, when Evelyn was a newborn it was invariably Kathryn who was waking up the most, and this lasted for months.
I wasted a fair bit of time feeling guilty about this in the early days. Now I just wish I’d made the most of it. As Evelyn got to be weeks old, then months old, I think Kathryn’s internal Red Alert system chilled the hell out. She was able to sleep without jolting awake at the slightest sound from Evelyn.
We stuck to the recommended 6 months of having the baby sleep in the Moses basket, then moved her into a cot next to our bed.
8,760 hours later
We somehow managed to survive the first year. Evelyn was still alive too. One trick we had learned was to swaddle her in her blanket (that’s where you wrap her tightly like some baby burrito and she feels secure). We read mixed things about this being related to hip issues so we didn’t do this too often but at this point I was almost willing to make the trade. She could walk in limped circles her whole life if it meant I could have this extra hour of sleep!
We had also formed a habit of sometimes putting her in bed with us when she would cry too much – against the advice of every single person we told.
We were reluctant to follow people’s advice though, and I’ll tell you exactly why. The most popular piece of advice we were given was “make sure you sleep when the baby sleeps!”. These words would be spoken by our visitors as Evelyn slept next to us. To this day I will never know where my restraint came from. “We would sleep, if you’d f**k off! She hasn’t slept all day – now she’s asleep and you’re telling us to sleep when she does, but you’ve turned up unannounced and you’re eyeing the kettle every 10 seconds!”.
But like I said, we survived, and Evelyn was sleeping through most nights now – right when we were on the verge of going postal she reined it back a bit. Like tiring out a fish when you’re reeling it in she knew when to give us some slack.
There was a short phase where Evelyn would only sleep if she was in our bed and lay flat out on my chest. I’m not talking about a cute, comfortable “Aww look at this Facebook picture” position either. She would have her hands on my ears and each of her feet would be lay on each of my testicles. If she tickled my ear, I’d flinch and she’d kick me in the balls – it’s comical torture. On the odd occasion I’d be able to rotate her slightly and sacrifice my eyes for the good of my crown jewels.
There are pros and cons to co-sleeping. It’s certainly easier, and there is more sleep to be had, but it’s a false economy and you WILL pay for it later when you try and dedicate a room to the little one. It makes this whole phase much harder as the baby is expecting to be with you throughout the night. We’re paying the price now and she’s three in a couple of weeks.
Her own bed
We moved Evelyn into her own bed when she was around 14 months old, giving her her own room. I wasn’t prepared for this transition. Firstly, I missed her. I know – with the eye gauging and the ball kicking you’d think I’d be relieved – but I’d grown attached to sleeping next to the little hot water bottle.
Settling her back then was a whole new experience when I had to escape from the room afterwards. I have done some ridiculous things – I’ve crawled backwards on all fours and I’ve rolled over to the door like a discarded drinks bottle. This as how sensitive Evelyn was to any movement whatsoever. If I failed to lift my foot up before moving it and it dragged an inch across the floor – GAME OVER. Back to the start.
After six months of her having her own room we all ended up moving in with Kathryn’s parents for 11 months while we saved the deposit for a mortgage (that’s a separate post in itself so I’ll gloss over it here). Progress was reset, she was in our room with us – I was secretly happy about this but at 20 months old it wasn’t doing her development any good.
If she woke in the night then we were right there in the same room, immediately accessible. This was good as far as Evelyn was concerned but she needed to learn to be more independent and we were’t helping things.
Fast forward to today. We moved into our own house when Evelyn was 29 months old and she instantly had her own room and her own bed again. Her room has pretty colours, soft plush toys and children’s books all organised neatly.
It’s still just a prison cell to me though. Hotel California. A chamber of tangled webs she’s weaved that I keep getting caught in.
We take turns each evening to settle her to bed. The little smart arse can count now so if there are fewer than three stories you’re in for a shit storm. Three stories it is. Then she wants some songs from Spotify. It has to be Alfie Boe and some tracks from the Mary Poppins soundtrack. Brilliant. Glow sticks at the ready…
After the songs she grabs my entire arm in some Brazilian Ju-Jitsu hold so I don’t escape. She uses all four limbs for this and it’s as impressive as it is escape-proof. I have to sit there and pray that my phone doesn’t die when I wait it out.
Asking the important questions
She will be like this for a very long time and then her breathing will become rhythmic and relaxed. “Finally she’s asleep” I’d think – “I can think about my exit route”.
Then, out of nowhere I hear the slightest of sounds, a breeze of the thinnest of air. I hold my breath and pivot my head so I can hear better, it’s as if the wind is talking to me in whispers, rustling the leaves of a nearby tree. Perhaps it’s the souls of those that have perished before me in this slumber pit.
“Daddy?” Evelyn will say, marginally louder than the whisper seconds before.
“Yes?” I say through a sigh, as quietly as humanly possible. The frustration quickly leaves me as I realise she has a very valid reason for staying awake and commanding my attention though.
“Daddy what is your favourite colour?“.
Mum vs Dad. Pay Per View
We take turns settling her, but now with the playing field levelled and the newborn days gone, it has become a battle of the wits to see who will get out of bed to see to Evelyn if she cries out.
She wakes up and she always calls for me. Not in the timid and defenceless way you would expect though. She demands “DADDY!!!” – apparently I’m not allowed to sleep, it’s a sin in Evelyn’s world. I should be stood by her bed like the Queen’s Guard. It’s as if I’ve betrayed her by slipping out of her UFC hold and having some time to myself that evening.
She scares me.
The fact that she calls for me makes it difficult for me to NOT get up and see to her. There are two parents, though, and we both agree that it should be an equal thing. We will take take turns like reasonable people. The issue with this is that NO ONE is reasonable when they get woken up at 4am.
Evelyn will cry out at stupid o’clock – we will both hear her but we both pretend not to. We lie in bed, facing opposite directions, eyes open but squinted in determination. A stand off. I will not lose!
The mind game
Like an alcoholic having “one last beer” though, I was only kidding myself. Kathryn wins every time. I’m convinced she always wins by milliseconds, she’s brilliant at it and it pisses me off no end. The lack of sleep for both of us results in us being snappy on occasion but we recharge every now and again with a good night’s sleep and laugh it all off. At the back of both of our minds we are psyching each other out though. We are waiting for Evelyn to cry out that night, a metaphor for the bell sounding for the next round.waiting for Evelyn to cry out that night, a metaphor for the bell sounding for the next round. Click To Tweet
It’s really not as romantic as it seems in the films – there are still times when Kathryn and I genuinely don’t like each other in the early hours. The loser of the “getting up” game (me) will sigh in a comically exaggerated manner and disrupt the covers on the bed as much as possible. What an arsehole.
Silly, yes, but true. Such is the nature of a tired human.
In some twisted role-reversal I’m the one that’s in trouble with Evelyn when I see to her in the night. Reasoning doesn’t set in at 4am and I always seem to apologise and make some excuse about having to lock the front door or needing a wee. This show of weakness doesn’t help things. She often sighs at me.
I can’t complain too much here though, when Evelyn was a newborn I would go to work each day and she had the arguably harder job of looking after her. That’s always at the back of my mind – it’s not easy and she deserves a heap of credit for it
Our next door neighbours recently told us that their four year old settles himself to sleep without a fight – what?!
Way to make us look like shit parents kid!
We tried that with Evelyn and I swear I saw her slip a pistol from under her pillow and a silencer out of her sleep suit. She was angry – she screamed and shouted and pleaded. After a few long nights we managed to let her cry it out for the most part. Eventually she saw it as the norm and we could finally have a quicker bedtime routine, with less guilt.I swear I saw her slip a pistol from under her pillow and a silencer out of her sleep suit Click To Tweet
I think the key here is routine. It was hard at first, and we felt so guilty with her crying and sobbing, but it needed to be done. As long as we were consistent she would adapt and it would become the norm. It was paramount that we remained consistent.
We weren’t consistent.
Kathryn was ill for the best part of a week, then it was Evelyn’s turn. It all got thrown out of sync and it’s reverted back to the hostage-situation style of things. We plan on trying again soon – she’s almost a threenager for Christ’s sake! I’ll let you know how it goes pretty soon, but you may hear the cries for yourself.