Sleepless in Brighton Le Sands

At 33, I’ve seen virtually all my friends marry and have at least one baby. Some, like me, are on their second. To date, no one has been insane enough to have gone on to have their third but I’m sure that in a couple of years’ time, one couple will get very pissed on a very rare night out and find themselves with a little “surprise” forty weeks later. That’s if the divorce parties don’t start first (apparently, it’s trendy to celebrate the death of a dysfunctional relationship). Statistically, at least, it is inevitable that I will know at least one divorced couple before I bid goodnight to my thirties.

There are numerous reasons marriages fail; growing apart, infidelity, small children… In fact, the third reason can often lead to the first and second reason. Nothing heralds the end of romance in your marriage like having kids. Whether it’s because your husband has seen you crap yourself in childbirth or because the majority of your conversations revolve around the bowel movements of your child, a shift in dynamics is guaranteed. Especially if your children don’t sleep. Sleep deprivation ruins marriages. In fact, sleep deprivation ruins lives and it is something that neither the NCT, Gina Ford or Sarah bloody Beeny can prepare you for. (I swear to god that woman has been pregnant for at least 18 years. No wonder she and her husband bought a derelict castle. It was the only place that they could house all their kids) I hate the cliché of ‘nothing can prepare you.’ It’s so bloody patronising. However, it is, rather devastatingly, true.


I haven’t slept since late 2013. When I hit the 20-week mark in my first pregnancy, my back started to go. I suffered rib flare. I was horribly uncomfortable and no matter how I fidgeted, I couldn’t sleep. No amount of pregnancy pillow or yoga or listening to relaxation CDs helped. The CDs usually just made me need a wee (rolling waves). Then, in February 2014, beautiful James came along. Beautiful James who didn’t sleep.

We nailed the bedtime routine at 7 months. My only real achievement as a parent to date. We used a Supernanny controlled crying guide that I had found on Google and we blagged it. By the end of controlled crying night 3, James could be put to bed whilst he was still awake and get himself off to sleep within 10 minutes. Mornings, however, were never as easy. The latest James has ever got up of his own accord was about 6am. Usually, though, it was a 5am job. In my former life, as a raging drunken mess, I had been known to roll home later than that. It was a tough adjustment.

I have never been one to lie in all day but in the winter, when it’s pitch black and you still have an hour before Cbeebies starts, those early mornings are crushing. Anyone who wishes for Granny Murray’s mush on TV is a person in despair. I would count the seconds until it was time for the inane Scottish child minder, who just seems to put the kids she looks after into nursery, to pop up saying “and remember… {insert allegedly mystical patronising piece of advice to take each adult character through to the end of the show}”

James was about 18 months old when I got pregnant again with Joseph. By this age, most of my friend’s children were sleeping pretty well. So did James sleep any better? Did. He. Shite! 5am became 4 am. We moved house when I was 8 months pregnant. 4am became 3 am. Joseph’s birth became imminent. Suddenly bedtime descended chaos as well. We resorted to one of us holding his door closed (the door didn’t work and couldn’t be shut properly on its own), until he eventually gave up and went to sleep. Quite often we were still holding the door shut two hours after being put down. Child cruelty? Well, I’m coming to that.
We now had a newborn baby with feeding issues, making sleeping that little bit more difficult. A newborn who had to be woken every three hours to feed. A newborn who struggled to breastfeed whilst I nursed a C section wound. Lovely.

People tried to comfort me: “oh it will pass soon enough.” “Mine didn’t sleep until they were six” “have you tried… {insert the bleeding obvious}” Well, I am sorry but I refuse point blank to go six years without sleep and that information is of no use to me. I had reached the point where intervention was needed. I was a shadow of the youthful, fun loving 29-year-old that Rob had married four years earlier. I was deeply unhappy and so was Rob.

James has always been a ‘wilful’ child. This was made worse by his chronic lack of sleep, the terrible twos and a smattering of new sibling jealous. His tantrums were epic. Sometimes, I think the neighbours actually thought we were trying to murder him. He was cranky and stroppy but, then again, so were we. Rob and I were also lacking sleep and struggling to manage a very demanding toddler and a new baby. Our patience with James, and each other, had vanished. Rob would yell at James. I would yell at Rob. Rob would yell at me. I would yell at James. The baby would cry...ARRRGGGHHH!!! I’ve never been in a prison of war camp or Guantanamo Bay but I’m fairly sure that they have played tapes of our screaming, sleep deprived household as a method of torture. Our house was a battlefield and no one was winning the war.  I was so embarrassed by the state of our family life that I couldn’t even bring myself to look at my neighbours. So not only did they think that I was fully mental and potentially abusive towards my son, they also thought that I was an ignorant cow. (I’m using past tense in the hope that I have redeemed myself. There is no guarantee) I hated the fact we all acted like we hated each other. I hated myself for being THAT crank who yells at her kids and her poor, hen pecked, brow beaten husband (FYI, he’s as much of a crank as me) We needed help.

After exhausting every suggestion that nursery gave us, the very lovely but very useless health visitor came to see us. She kept banging on about bed time routines and ignored the whole “well our day starts at 3 am…” Which, for me, was the crux of the issue. I don’t present breakfast television. My day does not need to begin at 3am. I had seen a sleep therapist advertised locally. It was pricey but I had come to the conclusion that I would donate a couple of organs – nothing too major, just a kidney, maybe a lung, anything that I have a pair of – so that we could all get some sleep and start acting like a family again. Maternity pay isn’t brilliant. Having kids is expensive. We don’t have a lot of cash to throw around but I was beyond desperate. Rob was less keen.

The sleep therapist in question was running a competition to win a non-residential sleep training course (you can pay a small fortune for her to come and stay with you and do it for you). Rob agreed that it was worthwhile for us both to enter, hoping we wouldn’t have to pay £300 for someone to teach our kids to sleep. We didn’t win. I sobbed my heart out when watched the draw and saw our names unsuccessfully whizz by on the wheel of fortune. It felt so bleak. This sleep deprivation was never going to end. Rob must have looked at his pitiful, weary excuse for a wife and died a little bit inside. We had barely had a conversation that wasn’t about the day to day running of the house in months and we were failing to find any time to do anything other than co-parent and grab a few hours’ sleep.

“We can’t carry on like this,” he agreed. “Call her. We’ll pay the £300.”

I knew I married him for a reason!

We met with the sleep therapist, who gave us the course at the discounted price of £200. We explained our issues and she gave us a plan to follow. She would be on hand for text support throughout the night and we would have a review telephone call each morning. Rob was cynical and if I was honest, part of me was too. Katie Jane claimed to have 100% success rate. James would be the one to break that run, Rob was certain of it and I had my concerns. He had broken me.

The programme isn’t for the faint hearted. It is similar to controlled crying, but much more structured. Having the text support from Katie Jane in case things didn’t go according to plan was very helpful. James is a bright kid and, like many bright two year olds, he is manipulative. He would try and find gaps in the plan. We had dirty protests (yes, really!) and even an attempt to grab my attention by stroking my arm with the Heffalump’s trunk. Thanks to Katie Jane, I stood my ground. At times though, I felt crestfallen.

The first night training James, I had two hours sleep. I sat on the landing for most of the night, repeatedly listening to him cry and then putting him back to bed. By the end of it, I had literally no idea why I had signed up for it, let alone parted with £200 for it. Torture.

Many people disagree with any form of controlled crying. A child’s cry is designed by nature to cause a parent distress and to ignore it does go against nature’s plan. I am not arguing with that and, believe me, it was distressing. It felt like cruelty, neglect. When my babies cry, I want to scoop them up in my arms, cuddle them and make them feel safe. Even when James is being a little horror, if I see that bottom lip quiver, I’m a mess. I’m no different from any mother. I am not unfeeling. If anything, I probably mollycoddle the boys a bit. I am probably going to turn James into a wimp as every time he is in pain, I kiss better his knee or arm or whatever hurts and make a fuss of him. Except for the time he told me he had a sore willy and asked me to kiss it better. No, son. I’m sorry.  I didn’t think there were any caveats to a mother’s love but it turns out there are. That was mine. I kissed him on the head. I desperately want to look after my children well. After watching my niece fly from newborn to mini woman of 11, I am all too aware that they aren’t babies forever and that quite soon, neither of my boys will call for me when they are upset. It’s the worst part of motherhood; no longer being needed by the people you love the most. I will always be there if they decide that they do need me. But as well as love, babies need sleep.

Our household was not a happy one. No matter how much I cuddled and kissed to try and get them to sleep, nerves were frayed. Tempers flared easily. It was not the household I wanted to bring my boys up in, no matter how much love lay beneath. As reluctant and cynical as we were at first, by night four James slept from 7-7. He did not move from his bed until we went in and opened the curtains, giving him plenty of cuddles and praise for being a big boy in his own bed. He did not cry through the night. Two weeks later, he is still staying in his own bed between 7pm and 7 am, even when Joe wakes screaming in the night. No one can believe it and James is loving being the hero of the day as family, friends and nursery congratulate him on his big achievement. We nailed it!

After experiencing some difficulties with Joseph’s feeding and a sudden four-month sleep regression, we made the decision (thanks to sibling discount!) to train Joe this week. In some ways, this week has been even more gruelling. Night times have been fine but day time has been a nightmare and as we try to ‘bed in’ a day time routine (It was haphazard before. I’m a not great at day time routine, probably where I ballsed up with James), I have sobbed as he screamed. He’s a baby. He doesn’t get it. James is a shrewd player. Joe barely knows what his own hands are. It’s devastating. I’m not sure if this routine is too ridged. I feel like a prisoner in my own home. How the bloody hell do I get out the house with two set nap times? It feels like newborn days again. Katie Jane assures me it will become flexible as my confidence grows and Joseph adapts. I hope so.

So has it been worth it? Overall, there has been a huge improvement in the family atmosphere. James has become a delight. We all almost like each other again. Except for when James wants that episode of Team Umizoomi on. No, the other one. No, the ninja one. But really he wants the first one on all along (arrgghhh!!! FFS!!) In reality, neither of the kids will remember me leaving them to cry for 10 minutes before going back in to settle them. I’m fairly sure that any long term psychological damage I will cause my children will be because of my neurosis. If I had carried on without sleep, it would have been caused by me being a narky dragon who didn’t want to play with them.

The impact on my marriage is also positive. We talk again. Mainly about dirty nappies and how many packs of wipes we need but we throw a few other topics in and we may even start to laugh again rather than bicker. The program isn’t for everyone but it is working for my family. I have said it before and I will say it again. Do whatever the hell gets you through. Hopefully, my kids won’t hate me for letting them cry for short bursts and instead hate me for not letting them get an iPhone and an Instagram account at aged 5. And hopefully, we won’t be the statistical divorced couple by the end of my thirties.

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