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Don’t worry, Small Girl, there aren’t any tigers!

on September 19, 2012

I’ve been having trouble sleeping recently. This is not my fault.  For the past week or so, Small Girl has been waking up at 11 pm, 1 am, 3 am and then on and off until around 6 am, needing to be fed back to sleep. This can take twenty minutes.  So I’ve been surviving on two or three hours’ sleep.  This is roughly as bad as it sounds. Or possibly worse.

We’re still breastfeeding and we’re still co-sleeping – you might remember that I love co-sleeping so much that I bought a bed specifically with that in mind. But I decided to try sleeping in separate rooms, to see if she would sleep better.  It made me sad, but on Monday night I made my way up to the spare bed in the attic and settled down for the night.

I don’t like sleeping in the attic.  It’s too dark. And it feels… spidery.  There’s a hole in the skirting board underneath the bed which I’m sure has spiders in it, and the eaves are boarded up and are almost certainly harbouring spiders. However, the bed is very comfortable and I did sleep – Small Girl woke around 1-ish and then at 5, and when I resettled her at 5 she put her arm out just to check I was still there, so I decided to get back into bed with her (one night in the spare room and already I’m talking about getting back into bed with her, rather than the other way round…). And when I got up I felt amazing – clearly I only need three hours’ sleep to feel invincible.

So last night I tried the spare bed again. Except every time I tried to put her down she cried and was hard to settle, and she was reaching for me, as if she didn’t want to be left. So I ended up sleeping in bed with her again. And she cried when I tried to put her in her cot, cried when I tried to put her on the bed, and every time there was a little arm reaching out for me, a little hand just checking that I wasn’t leaving her. And this morning I felt knackered again.

There’s a theory that babies have an innate need to sleep with their parents – just like we have an innate fear of the dark and of heights and of scuttly things, babies have an innate need to know that their parents are around to protect them from tigers (there’s a lovely cartoon to illustrate this but googling ‘tiger baby co-sleeping cartoon’ didn’t find it for me). And I am concerned that one night on her own has made Small Girl insecure.

(Actually, at the moment Big Girl is imagining that our house is over-run by invisible dinosaurs, lions and dogs and I have to say, “no thank you, dinosaur, go away”. So maybe Small Girl should be worried).

But there’s also a strong argument to be made that for everyone’s sake I need to sleep: I need to be doing well at work, particularly just now; and I need to not be grumpy; and I need to be happy and well-rested and enjoy being with my children.  And she will get used to it. But I want Small Girl to know that she is safe and secure and loved all the time.

I don’t think I actually want anyone to tell me what to do. I’ve heard all the arguments for both sides, and it’s a decision I have to make, by myself. And it will be ok. I’m actually thinking about seeing how she sleeps in with her big sister. I think she might like it. But just now, I feel like I can’t make a choice which works for my family, and that makes me sad.

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5 responses to “Don’t worry, Small Girl, there aren’t any tigers!

  1. celeste says:

    Much sympathy, and support for whatever you decide. It’s so hard. We’ve been having similar sleep patterns for the last couple of weeks. Ours is 7, 9:30, 11-1:30 then 4 onwards. I do doze off during feeds usually, but it’s still exhausting and not proper sleep. I keep hoping it will get better, but it’s just getting worse, so tomorrow we’re going to try him in his own room, before he gets to the tiger stage. I’ve even tried getting him to have a dummy, he thinks they’re great to play with in his hands, and he likes chewing the hard section!

    • I can’t sleep while feeding and if I lie down it tends to be uncomfortable. I have been told that around 16 months there are often developmental advances and growth spurts so it’s quite common to have lots of night-feeds. I’m really hoping things improve as it feels untenable to continue like this. A few people have suggested trying a dummy but Small Girl has never really been interested. Let me know how your baby gets on in his own room.

  2. Jenny says:

    I remember those times with dread, people would say, it will pass and I’d hate them for it, because I could only life in the present and that was a very painful place to be. Now my small boy is 3.5 it is (mostly) a distant painful memory, painful enough to prevent me from being brave enough to attempt a 3rd. Our way round it, as suggested by a health visitor friend, was to refuse attention (ie not helping them to settle but leaving them to work it out for themselves) while still having them by me in a separate bed, next to me. That way they could see I was still protecting them from tigers, I was just knackered and they needed to work out that they could go back to sleep without me. It involved a lot of shouting for a while, but once we got through that bit he slept about 6 hours. Sorry that sounds remarkably like telling you what to do. It wasn’t meant to. I hope sleep comes soon.

    • Last night was much better – she woke at 1 and 5.30, so I got a good 4-hour chunk of sleep. I’m trying not to feel like I’ve cracked it based on one night, but it feels like things are getting easier.

      That was nothing like telling me what to do – there is a huge difference between saying ‘this is what I did’ and ‘this is what you should do’. I remember when Big Girl was tiny and everything was difficult and confusing, I got so tired of hearing advice from people. It was all well-meaning but I found the idea of trying anything new, of investing emotional energy in hoping it would work, exhausting. I’ve always been better at making the best of the situation I’m in rather than trying new things to change the situation, so it’s been quite a steep curve learning to try new things and experiment and make changes for myself.

      I’m sorry lack of sleep has been such a traumatic experience for you. I hope if you really want more you manage to get your head round it.

      • Jenny says:

        I found the not sleeping part so traumatic that we’ll enjoy the 2 children we have. I can’t imagine trying to function with little sleep and another 2 getting cross that I can’t satiate their demands instantly, let alone attempting the school run. It’s cool though, I like having 2, I’d rather parent 2 well than 3 badly.
        Hope sharing a room goes well tonight. I couldn’t believe it was possible for children can sleep through each other, but when I finally tried, I found they could!

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