They come in the dead of night to awaken me from slumber. Although truth be told, nowadays I sleep lighter; waiting, one ear listening out. The first appears some time after 12am and before 3. A local fox regularly serenades the neighbourhood at 1am, crying like a baby, and I wonder if this is a subliminal trigger - inciting the involuntary motion of small feet; magically causing them to rise from the bed and climb the stairs.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Not so light of foot these days. He appears in the bedroom doorway, silhouetted by the light from the landing. Usually he wears the guise of a superhero (minus his cape - superhero pyjamas don’t have capes.) Always the same direction around the bed. Always the same creak of the same floorboard; a warning (if we weren’t awake) - I’m coming. He completes the obstacle course - climbing over the sleeping mountain that is his father and burrows deep into the middle of the bed between us.
A small voice in the darkness.
“I want milkies”
I nudge Husband; shake him awake. Within moments they disappear. Pip clings like a monkey to his father, head buried into his shoulder. The floor board creaks again as they depart.
I am alone in the bed. I can stretch out luxuriously, I can savour the stillness of night.
Ah... *ears prick up*
No. I can’t.
Downstairs I hear Pip wailing, resisting his father’s attempts to put him back into his own bed in his own room. The novelty of his Octonauts duvet cover did not last long. Alas, neither did the novelty of being four and a Big Boy. So much for big boys staying in their own bed all night long.
It is quiet. I hear a ping from the microwave downstairs. I lie still, acknowledging that Pip will now be glugging a cup of milk, his eyes already shut, drifting off to sleep in the spare bed next to his father who will already have returned to the land of nod.
My second visitor. This one has been invading my sleep all night. This is the fourth time. It’s now 4am. I’m starting to feel desperate. I am exhausted. Tonight I cannot settle him. I think I can feel a tooth trying to push it’s way through his bottom gum. He is also trying desperately to crawl, even in the cot, when waking at night. Frustration is his middle name.
I lift EB from the cot, plump up the pillows behind me. He latches for my breast instantly, wanting to suckle himself for comfort. I know he doesn’t need feeding, but I am too tired to care. It’s the path of least resistance. I just want to get to sleep.
As he gets older he seems to be spending longer on the breast at night. It is not milk he wants though, I know that. I have become a human dummy.
The hazy light of dawn outlines the bedroom blind. The world outside is coming to life; ready to start a new day. I’m not ready for the day to start. I have barely been asleep. I look at the empty space in the bed next to me and I feel alone. I wish Husband was next to me, for moral support. I envy him sleeping downstairs in the spare bed with Pip.
We can’t go on like this. We have to fix it.
Pre - EB I put Pip’s bad sleeping down to coincidence. 'Just one of those things' I’d say; 'Some people get good sleepers, some don’t.' Now I’m not so sure. I think it must be something I’m doing. Doing wrong. I look at EB’s current sleeping habits and the sense of de ja vu is remarkable. Will EB still be waking in the night at age 4? Please no.
I’ve tried hard with both my boys to give them a good bedtime routine. Give clear cues - ‘It’s bedtime in 15 minutes’. A bath, a story (or two). Then; “Lights off. Time for sleep. Night Night.” Pip at least, will go to bed without too much resistance. EB right now, has to be coaxed. As for being through the night sleepers - forget it, on both counts.
When Pip was eighteen months I called a sleep consultant. He wouldn't go to bed (without Mama) and he wouldn't stay in bed. I reached rock bottom. Controlled crying was not an option, but I found someone who used gentle methods in dealing with sleep problems. It took a little while to get results but Pip’s sleeping improved considerably.
Why didn’t I put her number on my speed dial?
How have we regressed to giving him milk in the early hours of the morning? My NCT friends would be horrified if they knew.
It’s like a dirty secret. One that makes me feel I fall short as a mother.
We’re caught in a circle of sleep deprived hell. When you’re really tired, all you want is to find the yellow brick road to slumbertown - as quickly as possible. I know what I’m doing wrong, and I tell myself when I have more energy, I’ll deal with it. But that time never seems to come, there’s always something that means the status quo of night milkies, bed hopping and interrupted sleep continues.
Husband thinks that EB needs to leave our room. That being in the same room as us is not helping him to settle himself. He is probably right. EB is 7 months now. Small things; the creaking floorboards, Pip coming and going, me - getting up to go to the toilet, wake him. I don’t want to let him go. I like the reassurance of having him close. Come morning, when he wakes for the day at 5.30 or 6am and peeks at me through the bars of the cot, his face is like sunshine; bright, radiant. He has the biggest beaming smile. Whatever has befallen us the night before, however many hours he has had me awake, he has my instant forgiveness. There is nothing that his smile and Touche Eclat cannot solve.
I’m not sure.
Right now I am a lactating zombie. My words are becoming muddled when I speak, I keep getting people’s names wrong. I cannot read more than a few paragraphs of a book without forgetting what I’ve already read. Yesterday I took the dry washing off the line and put it straight back in the washing machine. I can’t function. No amount of make up is going to change that. I have to do something.
The sleep consultant’s book has been retrieved from the bookshelf. We have to commit ourselves to a plan and stick to it. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but I can see no other way.
All words of wisdom on getting night wakers to sleep through the night (especially 4 year olds) are gratefully received.