The torture of sleep deprivation

The pixies have been poorly. It’s been about five and a half weeks since I had more than about 45-minutes of uninterrupted sleep. There have been far too many nights where I’ve had a total of two hours sleep. I don’t know how I’m still standing. As it is, the world is a little hazy and I have a tendency to zone out and concentrate on the tinnitus that’s taken up residence in my left ear.

Little was first. She succumbed to tonsillitis, which is horrible as an adult let alone as a tiny person. She shared her germs with Medium, who, always a generous child, thoughtfully passed them back to Little when she’d finish with them.

Big managed to evade the evil pus-filled tonsils until school was out. The following morning, her temperature started to climb and we made our second trip to the out of hours service in a week. Of course, she then refused to take her antibiotics and had to see a second out of hours doctor the following day to get an alternative.

By Monday, her temperature, though still up, was a little more stable and we set off for Center Parcs where Medium decided to throw a few new spiking temperatures and a few vomiting sessions to keep us on our toes. Big, not to be outdone, developed the cough of doom. We left early.

Today, all three have been seen at our doctors’ surgery and all three have shiny new bottles of antibiotics to combat their rattling chests and spiking temperatures. Merry bloody Christmas to us. Lovely Husband and I are also coughing up a lung every so often, but apparently, my cough is viral. HOW DO THEY KNOW? How do they discern the difference between our children’s coughs and ours?

I am not the type of mum that panics. I thanked my religious viewing of Casualty and Holby City for giving me the foresight to turn off the engine when I was upside down in my car with an arterial bleed and my hand de-gloved. Likewise, when the kids are poorly, I don’t panic and follow my instinct. Until the thermometer says 40 degrees, and then I panic that they’ll fit. If they start throwing up at the same time, I’m dialling 111 quicker than a… Well, a very speedy dialler.

As I prepare for another night of soothing a whimpery Big, trying to stay awake while a hot and fractious Little dozes on my shoulder (feeling the flutters of the Miracle make this quite a special time) and then attempting to get a few hours of zzzs while Medium (who has taken up residency in our bed as she can’t possibly sleep without Mummy when she’s poorly!) lies across me and flings her many stuffed friends at my head, I am most thankful for Lovely Husband. While he can sleep through the nocturnal nursing that the smalls demand (how? How does he do that?!), he’s getting up every morning and leaving me to go back to sleep.

If only he could administer me a general anaesthetic, I think he might just be perfect.

A very Merry Christmas to you all, and a happy and HEALTHY New Year.

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The torture of sleep deprivation

God bless the fairies and all who believe in them

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And desperate measures call for rapid use of imagination.

When I was a child, my mum had me completely convinced that fairies existed. I used to find scrunched up tiny notes in a shaky hand from a fairy called Whilemina. My grandad even made me a wand in his workshop. Delighted with my find, I tried to use it. My quick-thinking mum told me it wouldn’t work until I was 16, by which time I’d moved on to boys.

With three girls of my own, I’ve returned to fairies and I’m finding them incredibly useful. The Doey (Dummy) Fairy was the first to arrive. She happily stole Medium’s doeys and left her a Baby Annabel. Medium was delighted.

Our most recent arrival is the Sleep Fairy. She has, in the space of a week, convinced Medium to settle herself to sleep without me sitting in the room and that, if she wakes in the night, she’s not allowed to shout at me. If Medium complies, she finds a little gift under her pillow.

Big, who currently accepts my word as fact at all times, is delighted. She’s gone from singing herself to sleep to looking at her books in complete silence and then dozing off easily and calmly.

Both are thrilled when they wake up to find their treasure. I feel slightly bad that often their treasure is a manky bit of gift wrapping ribbon that I’ve found in a drawer, but hey – so far, it’s worked so I’m not going to knock it.

Of course, Medium still bed hops during the night and she does kick Lovely Husband out of our bed so that she can assume her rightful position beside me. But she’s calm and falls asleep straight away. Compared to the eight or nine screaming fits per night, this is bliss.

I’m wondering if my mum was right all along. There are fairies at the end of the garden and they only come when you really need them. I’ve since invented the Birthday Fairy, who is closely related to the Elf on the Shelf but appears for a month before birthdays. Of course, my favourite fairy is the Wine Fairy. She and I go way back and at times I really do believe she’s my very best friend. Unlike the Diet Fairy. She’s a necessary evil, but nowhere near as much fun as the Wine and Crisps Fairy. Sigh.

*This blog has been typed with one hand touching wood. I don’t want to jinx the Sleep Fairy’s track record and return the the nights of the screaming banshee. 

God bless the fairies and all who believe in them

A plethora of challenges

How has your summer been, friends? It feels like yesterday that I was wiping away a tear at being handed Big’s registration card as she left Pre-school. I feel like I fell asleep and missed a chunk of the holidays. They’ve whizzed by.

Sleeping is not something I’ve been doing much of, though. Medium has always been a tricky sleeper. Ever since she was tiny, she’s bed hopped in the middle of the night. This has never bothered us. She would just snuggle up and go straight back to sleep. In the last month, this has changed drastically. She wakes several times a night and just screams. She’s awake – it’s not a night terror – but there is no reasoning with her and, as yet, we’ve not found a way to calmly settle her. She can be up for hours, intermittently screaming, crying and settling. A nasty ear infection and perforated ear drum hasn’t helped. That, coupled with her insistence that she can’t fall asleep unless I’m in the room, is both worrying and exhausting.

I had successfully employed the Gradual Retreat technique when she insisted on me being in the room some time ago. I will brush that one off and try it again, but discussions with the Health Visitor about the midnight screaming haven’t really helped. She believes it’s associated to Medium’s developing imagination and awareness of her dreams. I’ve bought books to read to her to help her understand this, but I don’t hold much hope. I don’t hold much hope of ever sleeping again. I’m averaging between three to four hours a night and I can feel my grasp on reality slipping a little. I made a cup of tea this morning, then swiftly threw it in the bin and put the teabag in the dishwasher. It’s amazing how your ability to function deteriorates along with your sleep.

Alongside employing sleep training techniques with a very stubborn Medium, I’ve started my journey back to health and fitness. I’ve joined Slimming World and the gym. Dieting with a side of sleep deprivation is hard. My body is crying out for chocolate, crisps and caffeine to get through the day but, as yet, I’m staying strong. It’s fine to fall asleep in yoga though, right?

A plethora of challenges

And breathe…

Sometimes, keeping your cool is the hardest thing in the world. There are times when the children become mini dictators, their weapons of mass destruction being relentless and irrational screaming. Even bringing out your own big guns (namely, shrieking like a fishwife that Father Christmas is WATCHING and he doesn’t like naughty little girls!) has no effect.

Last night, Big – usually a very compliant and easy child – had the devil in her. I’ve had a few rough nights with Little being snuffly, teething and hungrier as she begins weaning and Medium suffering a bout of tonsillitis. I’ve averaged maybe two to three hours a night and I am a wreck. I have that weird tinnitus thing you get when you’re super tired and my eyes keep going into a stare that’s really hard to break. I really, really needed the girls to go down easily last night. Lovely Husband was out with his cronies and planned to do the Christmas shop on his way home (I told you he’s lovely) and I had a date with a bath, Made in Chelsea (my guilty pleasure) on catch up and a very, very, VERY early night.

At first, it looked good. Medium was out before I’d finished reading their story. Little was out as soon as she finished her feed. Big was looking at her books silently in bed. I retreated downstairs with a sigh and started folding washing. And then it started.

I don’t know what got into Big, but the following two hours were two of the hardest I’ve endured as a parent. Suffering pretty severe sleep deprivation and with no back up, the two hours of endless screaming for absolutely no apparent reason were exhausting. I tried everything; I got cross, I was kind, I read stories, I threatened to phone Father Christmas, I promised a surprise present, I cuddled, I scolded, I pulled everything out of my arsenal but nothing worked. Big didn’t even know what was wrong, so how I was supposed to fix it I have no idea.

Eventually, exhausted, I burst into tears. I sat and listened to her howling through the baby monitor on the sofa and let the bitter tears of frustration fall. I indulged myself for a few minutes then patted myself on the back. Despite the provocation (if you can call it that – I’m in want of another word, but I can’t find one. I told you I’m sleep deprived), I didn’t lose it. I kept my cool and I didn’t lose it when – especially with my eyes stinging and my legs feeling like they are made of lead – she pushed every button. If it had been anyone other than one of my children, I can’t imagine I’d have stayed calm.

My last attempt to settle her was to bring out The Rabbit That Wants To Go To Sleep. You know the one – the book that the Daily Fail reported as THE tool for getting children to sleep several months ago. She was asleep by the time I got to the fourth page. Was it the book? No, she was exhausted and she finally gave into it. It’s been a busy term and she’s so excited about Christmas that she’s ready to explode. I finished reading the story anyway and then I took ten minutes to sit and just watch her sleep: Her lovely eyes closed, her little mouth relaxed and her gorgeous hair tumbled around her shoulders. She really is the most beautiful child. I watched her and I felt the stress of the last two hours disappear. There’s nothing so calming as watching your child sleep peacefully.

Thankfully tonight all three have gone to bed easily. Largely thanks to lovely playdate that wore them out and regular reminders that Big needed to go to bed nicely if she wanted Father Christmas to visit. I know other nights like last night will happen again, but hopefully next time I won’t be quite so sleep deprived, but what I will always remember to do when they finally fall asleep is to watch them. To watch their dreams flit across their faces and remember that I love them and I am blessed to have them, sleep deprivation and all.

And breathe…

Desperate bedtimes

Any parent that says bedtime is completely stress-free is a great, big fibber. By the time the dulcet tones of Charlie and Lola start, I’m ready to grab that smiley CBeebies logo and throw it in the log burner. The witching hour (this is not a myth: The witching hour is a real phenomenon. Designed to drive mums to wine. Or whine. Or probably both) is underway and the Big One and Medium One turn from lovely, fun little girls into WWF Pro Wrestlers jumping on each other and seeing who can make the other cry first. Once they’ve ascertained who wins that round, they try to see who can make the other cry the loudest. The winner of that round is hard to judge: I’m usually wailing above them.

I can remember when the Big One was a baby, and friends would tell me that their little angel was sleeping through already. They’d swiftly follow this statement with something along the lines of, “I only had to jump up and give him/her their dummy a few times.” I would adopt my polite face, and say, “Oh, that’s good.” Inside, my inner banshee was screaming: “THAT IS NOT SLEEPING THROUGH! Sleeping through is eight hours undisturbed bliss.” I haven’t had the latter since 2010.

We’ve been through all the bedtime traumas: The Medium One went through a stage of refusing to fall asleep unless Husband or I sat on the floor by her bed praying to the god of sleep that she’d fall asleep soon. We could be there for hours. The Big One used to want to suck my finger to sleep. Supernanny’s gradual retreat technique was pretty good, but fundamentally it took a strict routine to teach Big and Medium that when Mummy said it was time to go to sleep, it was time to go to sleep.

Part of this routine is a bath. Prior to my Sleep Dictator Mummy guise, bath time was fairly noisy. There was a lot of splashing and brightly coloured toys. It’s a quiet affair now. I leave the main light off and the girls bath with Husband’s cleverly designed mood lighting. There are bubbles, but no toys. It’s 15-minutes of winding down, gentle songs, trying to keep the girls at opposite ends of the bath to stop them resuming their wrestling. After their bath, they have a quick story, a kiss goodnight and, all being well, they’re left to fall asleep.

Tonight I had a secret ingredient and they were both out cold by 6.45. Little was sleeping off her bath (oh yes, I have all three in the bath at once. I’m brave, me) and feed in her rocker and I actually had a hot supper for the first time in forever.

I’m tempted not to share the identity of my secret ingredient, but I’m more selfless than that and I think there’s plenty to go round. InfaCare have brought out an ultra-mild night-time baby bath. Now, I’ve tried night time bath things before and been sadly disappointed but this one nearly sent me to sleep on the bathroom floor. Good job it didn’t. The bottle says it’s a ‘specially selected, safe and gentle fragrance’ but doesn’t specify exactly what it is. There’s definitely lavender in there. It certainly calmed my little wrestlers down and me, too. Instead of coming downstairs in a knot of argh, I was pretty calm.

I have to be careful with bath products; Medium has eczema and Little is too small to use anything but the kindest stuff. InfaCare say their bubble bath is gentle and suitable for littles with dry and sensitive skin. Medium’s skin certainly didn’t seem to mind it, but the proof will be in longer term use.

But why should the smalls get the best stuff? I’m going to let Husband juggle Little later and go for a soak myself. InfaCare, I’m coming to get you.

(I can’t help thinking I’ve jinxed the whole bedtime thing by writing this blog. I might yet be praying to the sleep gods again.)

Desperate bedtimes