Like most new mums, bringing my baby home (around 12 hours after she was born) was a total shock. I had done so much preparation for the labour and birth (which seemed to pay off – my birth experience was really positive), but felt like a total idiot for not (apart from one antenatal class where we learned to put on a nappy and watched a breast-feeding video) even contemplating what the heck I was meant to do with this little creature once we got home.
And the thing that caused the most shock was sleep, or more accurately, the lack of sleep. It wasn’t as if I’d thought it’d be easy to get my baby to sleep, I just hadn’t thought about it at all. Sure, I’d heard of ‘sleep school’ and tales of parental sleep deprivation, and I knew, especially in the early days, that there’d be feeds at all hours, but I just didn’t expect getting a baby to go to sleep (and as an extra bonus, stay asleep) to be so darn hard.
The point of this post isn’t to detail our sleep woes or to provide advice about what has worked and what hasn’t, but to call BS on the stories of sleep fixes that fill books and blog posts, and that are desperately lapped up by tired and anxious parents like me.
I feel like I’ve read a bazillion of these and they follow a pretty standard formula…
[REAL OR FICTIONAL NAME OF BABY] was [AGE – generally between 4 & 18 months]. [BABY] [DESCRIPTION OF SLEEP PROBLEM – multiple night wakening, catnapping, distress when putting to bed, having to rock to sleep etc]. [BABY]’s parents [REAL OR FICTIONAL NAME OF PARENTS] were exhausted and increasingly desperate.
On the first night, [BABY’S PARENT] completed their bed-time routine, put [BABY] into their cot awake, and left the room. [BABY] started crying shortly after. [BABY’S PARENT] followed [MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN STEP]. It took almost 2 hours, but [BABY’S PARENT] persevered and [BABY] went to sleep. When [BABY] woke a few hours later, [BABY’S PARENT] [MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN STEP]. Again, it took another hour of consistent application of [MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN STEP] before [BABY] returned to sleep.
On the second night, [BABY’S PARENT] put [BABY] to bed. This time [BABY] settled to sleep after 45 mins of [MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN STEP]. [BABY] woke once overnight, but [BABY’S PARENT] resettled them in under 5 mins using [MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN STEP]. On the third night [BABY] settled to sleep in only 10 minutes and slept right through the night. [BABY] woke happier, and having enjoyed their first full night of unbroken sleep since [BABY] was born, so did [BABY’S PARENTS].
And this is where the story stops. And it’s implied that BABY and BABY’S PARENTS all lived happily ever after. You just need to be persistent and consistent in your application of MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN over a number of a nights and then you can tick ‘sleep’ off your parenting to-do list. (And if MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN hasn’t worked for you yet, then the problem is most likely your lack of persistence and consistency).
I’ve decided that these stories are BS and are probably causing many already anxious parents more angst. It’s not that I think that these stories are false or that the authors of the MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN are lying. Rather, these stories are just a snapshot in time (usually over a few days). What happened on day 6? Or day 60? What happened when BABY started sitting up themselves, or standing? Or when they cut their first tooth? Or when they weaned? Or when they dropped a day sleep? Or when daylight saving started (or ended)? Or when they stay at grandma and grandpa’s?
For months I’ve being bemoaning the nights/weeks where I’ve felt like we’ve gone backwards with sleeping. ‘But she knows how to self-settle, so why isn’t she? Isn’t this meant to be getting easier?’ I’d often think. But recently, I’ve decided that the problem isn’t my baby or me, it’s the unrealistic expectations that these MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLAN stories create.
I’m only a year in to this whole parenting thing, so I don’t pretend for a second to have any idea what I’m talking about, but one thing that I’ve learned (and feel like I’m still learning) is that you’re never ‘done’ with parenting. Getting to the first year milestone felt like a massive achievement and worthy of celebrating (for us as parents, more than for Ella!). But it’s not like shipping a product or finishing a project. It keeps going. You wake up each morning and get to do it all again. And these little people keep changing and so you need to too. I expect that I’ll continue to have days that feel easier than others, and there will be different challenges that dominate my time, energy and desperate internet forum trawling!
While I don’t doubt that the MIRACLE BABY SLEEP PLANS are written with good intentions to try to help babies and their parents to sleep more, the ‘real life’ stories and testimonials that they include aren’t doing anyone any favours by creating the impression that there will be this exponential improvement in the time/effort taken to get your baby to (or back to) sleep, and that once you ‘solve’ your sleep ‘problem’ then you’ll have your happily ever after ending.
I agree with everything you are saying, but you and every other parent survived it and there are very few only children so we do it again. It was hard to cope with as a parent though I think in my day it was slightly easier because on the whole we were younger when we had our children. I was an older first time mum at 25, 37 years ago and while I had no family support we had less expectations about it all but less husband support. My husband had 3 days paternity leave and played golf as he was tired.
Watching it all again as a grandmother was I think was harder. I told my daughter-in-law that a number of mums should write a real book about it all. Her answer was that other mums to be would not believe it or would be so traumatised by the book that they would not have children.
So perhaps we just need to chalk it up to the hardest journey of our lives that never ends. Your mum would say that it is still hard some days being a parent. I would say the same. But remember the joy that some days bring and enjoy each milestone as they come.
jac pulkkinen says
Well said Clare. Sleep has easily been the most fraught issue for us, too. Well, that and food! Being a parent has been difficult, exhausting, challenging and frustrating. Luckily, for me, it’s also filled with the highest of highs – joy, laughter, and sheer delight. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s nice to have the sleep issue normalized.
Rachel Harris says
Amen sista 🙂 So agree with you, and well written as always. I was the opposite, me being me (well OK, pre baby me – super organised) I was given a copy of SoS and thought to myself a week before Ollie arrived “oh crap, I had better read that” So I did, cover to cover. I even highlighted bits and made myself a quick reference guide in the front, suspecting I would not have time to find what I needed at 3am. I followed the settling guide and routine from the second week…and by week 8 was thinking “wow, this is awesome, the hard work is paying off, what are people talking about…sleep deprivation??” we were getting 6 hour stretches, a night feed, then another good stretch (note -we are definitely NOT talking day sleeps here which were a totally different story). So had I have filled out some kind of survey at that point in time – yep, things would have looked pretty rosey, and I would have attributed it to the advice in that book.
Then 4 months hit…and that’s when I found out about sleep deprivation. What had happened to all my hard work?! And since then (as we so commonly share stories about our little monkeys who seem to be on some kind of linked sleeping pattern) we have good weeks and bad weeks….and I don’t believe that any amount of sleep school would help us in those times. The only thing that gets you through is a supportive partner and an awesome group of friends who a week either side, have gone through the same phase. What you do learn along the way is that everything really is a phase and you just have to ride the wave. But you do need that awesome group of friends to remind you of that when it looks like it’s never going to pass.
It’s always a gamble wondering if what you are doing has actually worked, or if our little humans are just over their phase and it’s all a coincidence. I know of a person who went to a sleep consultant, posted on a public page how wonderful this person was and that everyone should totally go to her (and pay a healthy fee to do so). But a week the other side of this miracle, I get told a story from a very reliable source about how she was bitching at work about how bad the sleep was. So yep, life was good and the world knew about it…at that point in time. It is a pity there are very few follow up stories attached to the immediate results.
What makes me sad is the price people pay for this miracle advice, and the miracle sheets, cots, mattresses and the thousand other miracle remedies….based on those reviews written during a good point in time. But in times of desperation, most of us will give anything a go (says she guilty of buying miracle sheets).
And 12 months in I have learnt something else too – you can do all the right things to do with sleep, but once they go to nan and pops, childcare, wherever you are not when they need to sleep, you have no control over how they will reach the point of sleep. Yesterday, I saw a photo of Ollie asleep on the couch in front of the TV. A few months ago I would have gone nuts, trying to convince nanny that this is not the done thing. But the current me just goes “ah whatever…she’s asleep”
We can look back on this in 13 years’ time and laugh…when we are trying to get them out of bed!
Writing a book isn’t a bad idea – we have 6 different stories with babies the same age all ready to go!