When your pregnant and you turn to women who are mothers – whether that be to a brand new baby or to an eighteen year old – for advice, the most common piece given is to rest as much as you can before bubs arrives. Now, if you were a pregnant woman like me who had horrific pelvic pains and couldn’t get in a comfortable position laying on either side due to the humongous weight attached to your stomach who used your nerves as their own personal harp, you’ll want to laugh at these mothers and say ‘no I asked for useful advice, not making a wish to a magic genie.’ By the end of my third trimester, it was the one thing I dreaded hearing from any mother because as much as I wanted to just sleep, it was not possible. Thanks to a small person who decided to consistently starfish into my bladder, I was waddling my way to the bathroom multiple times an hour and in between those trips I was trying to find any position that wasn’t uncomfortable. In this time, where I caught up on my Netflix, I thought about the silver lining of pregnancy insomnia in that it would help me to prepare for the sleepless nights to come and that actually, being up in the night wasn’t all that bad. Oh how naive and stupid I was. Pregnancy insomnia was a 5* holiday retreat in comparison to new mother sleep deprivation.
It all started when we first brought Miss Alice home for the first night. In the hospital she had lulled us into a false sense of security – she had an adorable little cry that made your heart melt and happily snoozed away in her portable glass crib. My husband and I looked at each other dopily, drunk on the love of meeting our baby girl, and thinking that this parenting lark wasn’t as terrifying as we had been led to believe, that really, it seemed quite easy as our daughter slept peacefully. In hindsight, I think this was actually a ploy of hers so that we didn’t leave her at the hospital. From the moment we left those doors and headed for home, the screaming began. It hasn’t stopped and that’s over three months on – it’s just got louder and at a higher pitch.
What kind of design flaw is it in human babies that once they become tired, rather than go to sleep like a rational being would, they just scream more and continually force themselves to stay awake. Why?! Every time with Alice it becomes a battle of willpower between herself and me, usually resulting in her clawing at my face as I try rocking and shushing her to sleep as she fights back with every fibre of her being. I find myself ranting about how I would love to have her life when I could just nap whenever I wanted, and she’ll regret this when she’s older and can’t nap anymore. And as her eyes, filled with furious tears, glower back at me, I can see her thinking ‘Good for you – I don’t want to sleep, and here you are trying to force it on me, you vile woman, as I wish to sit up and stare at the bookcase!’ The worst part is once I eventually have convinced her to give in and have a nap, which can sometimes take up to an hour, she can be wide awake and fully refreshed within ten minutes. I can’t even fall asleep in ten minutes, how can she reboot herself so quickly?! I haven’t even had time to make it to the bathroom and back by then. At those moments, with my spirit completely crushed after having the opportunity to actually eat lunch snatched from my grasp or to go to the bathroom without screams filling the air, I can’t help but admire my daughter’s ability to use sleep deprivation as a tactic of breaking me down and rebuilding me in the image she wants.
So, after three months of trying various techniques or pleading to get Alice to cave and realise that staying up for six hours straight results in her being foul-tempered, pulling out my hair that she impressively wraps around her fist so I can’t easily get it back and achieving a skill to cry consistently for hours without dehydrating; we have finally nailed down the sleep techniques that usually gets her to enter into some form of slumber, in an elaborate process that I did not think babies were capable of concocting:
- Harry’s Wondrous World – Neither my husband or I have any idea why this piece of music from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has become an auditory sedative to our daughter, but we thank the heavens above that it has. Granted, I have had to play it so much that there are times that I don’t know whether it is actually being played or if it’s just in my head, hearing it constantly on a loop all day, but if it allows for me to have a happy Alice than a she-demon as a child, I’ll take it.
- A fluffy, fleece blanket – We now have three of these in rotation, stashed in several places around the house prepared for any outbursts from our daughter who has a set of lungs on her that can be heard from halfway down the street. Like Harry’s Wondrous World, this is a sure way of getting our daughter to calm down when she is in the throws of a full-on lets-scream-the-entire-house-down-and-ruin-my-mothers-eardrums tantrum and is a staple for getting her to have a nap. It does not matter that we are in the midst of summer (ha – just kidding, it’s Britain), when it comes to nap time, Alice is wrapped up looking like a Jedi in her blanket and stays that way until she wakes up. Previously the most precious belongings in my home could have included our large Hogwarts crest or our wedding albums, but now if it came to it, I’d save the fluffy blankets over everything else (possibly even the husband, sorry pal). I’m almost certain Alice loves them more than she loves me, and it would not do well to dwell on what the consequences would be if they were not available to her at her whim.
- The John Lewis Nursing Pillow – Ironically, bought for me when I was pregnant to help with sleeping, this has now been commandeered by Alice. Our usual nap routine will be: nursing pillow on my lap, my knees propped up at a slanted angle (lying flat will not work), with Alice cuddled up in the middle, wrapped up in the fluffy blanket, being gently bounced up and down with Harry’s Wondrous World playing in the background. In all fairness, this cushion does feel like you are resting your head on a cloud so I can understand her attachment, but still, is the fluffy blanket not enough?!
- The 8hr Youtube Video Loop of Henry the Hoover – When all else fails, and the screaming has reached a pitch that has the dogs of the neighbourhood howling whilst Alice’s face has become so twisted that she looks as if she is being dragged into the underworld, we turn to Henry the Hoover. God bless you, Henry the Hoover and whoever decided to record an 8hr loop of him happily hoovering away. This will make Alice stop crying in seconds, and it was discovered by accident one day when my husband was hoovering the living room, we noticed that Alice just seemed to go into some sort of zen-like trance at the sound of it. Since then, my most watched YouTube video is that 8hr loop, played at full volume. As much as I appreciate how hard he is working to calm Alice down so she’s not sobbing hysterically at the prospect of sleep, I have truly become to despised this sound and it remains ringing in my ears for a good hour or so after it has been finished. But I’ll never stop playing it. Even if I do hear it in my dreams.
- For Bedtime Only: Ewan the Sheep and the Harry Potter Illustrated Editions – When we can eventually convince Alice it’s time for her to not use one of us as her own personal bouncing chair, we’ll bring out Ewan the Sheep and Harry Potter to get her set for bed. To be honest, I think the husband and I just prefer reading Harry Potter for ourselves and wanted an excuse to get the illustrated copies to add to our ever growing collection, but it does slot in nicely into our early indoctrination plans for Alice to develop a deep love of HP (which she already instinctually seems to have – win!). Once we have managed to slip her into her Sleepyhead, done our silent victory dance of getting her in there without stirring too much, and taken a well-deserved sigh of relief, we’ll turn on Ewan’s womb noises to quash any remaining fight Alice has left in her. Now Ewan is great and all, but he’s no match for Henry the Hoover in lasting power and effectiveness. In the early days, before Henry came to save my sanity, I remember cursing Ewan as he switched off after 20 minutes and Alice’s eyes immediately popped wide open. I’m sorry Mr Sheep, but you do not need a break every 20 minutes, just keep playing the womb noises until your batteries run out.
As I finish typing this, I look over to my daughter, currently engulfed in her favourite pink fluffy blanket, one arm sticking out but her face almost entirely hidden under the hood she has fashioned for herself, the Harry Potter soundtrack playing for the umpteenth time this hour, and I think how much I’d like to give her a cuddle. Then I remember what the consequences will be. I’ll just stay at my laptop admiring from a distance, I think.