Sleepless in the second year: when sleep deprivation goes beyond early infancy

“It’s not a matter of if, just when.” My mother-in-law says reassuringly. This isn’t our first tete-a-tete about my toddler’s ongoing sleep issues and my subsequent stress.

She’s one of the rare few who accurately remembers her time in the trenches; the acknowledgement over dismissal feels like a warm hug.

“A rod for your own back” or a “crutch” – whatever the metaphor, the sentiment remains the same. I’ve done this to myself. The push to sleep train lurks in the fringe; the desperation at an all-time high.

We’ve been through two years of night time wakings, split nights, regressions, progressions, under-tired and over-tired. This month is particularly momentous with a spectacular run of Oliver regularly waking in the night from one o’clock in the morning, until at last succumbing to exhaustion at dawn. Once more the blame lies solely at my feet, like a very much unwanted dead rodent gifted by a cat. Perhaps if he were in his own bed, if I didn’t still breastfeed. Perhaps if I did more in the day with him; perhaps less.

I feel like a ghost. My social life has dwindled, garden unruly. My husband and I scramble for solutions and the flow diagram of what might gain us a full night of rest grows convoluted. (Vis-a-vis a particular pair of pyjamas, a specific room temperature, a bowl of quick oats before bed.)

Our bed time routine hasn’t changed since Oliver was six months old. He has a shower or bath, pyjamas, brushes his teeth, we read a book, then lights out. Whether or not he’ll actually go to sleep changes nightly. Whether or not he stays asleep remains a mystery.

Prior to becoming one, my thoughts about sleep as a parent were twofold. First, I was a paediatric nurse and a shift worker and these two things ought to work in my favour. Second, my child would sleep peacefully in his bassinet, then cot, for a glorious 12 hours a night.

The issue is ubiquitous and no one talks about it. If you’re brave and offer up the truth of how bad your kid sleeps, other parents will often fess up. Parents side eye and skirt around the issue until we know for sure the receiving ear will be sympathetic.

The sleep industry is very quick to tell you to dig into your pockets for whatever they’re shilling. Should’ve followed the wake windows, you gronk. Suffer. You haven’t heard of the 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 15, 21 month regression?

Sleep deprivation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Yes, even though I’m exhausted, I still have bills to pay, mouths to feed. We’re all battling the mounting cost of living. I want to be present for my child and an active participant in his development. I’m not undeserving of joy or self care for the mere act of procreating.

Being the default parent. Grief after tragedy. The desire to be a good friend, wife and mother. The fear that those whispered arguments in the small hours of the morning and little resentments might be stress fractures that eventually break my marriage. I’m the stay at home parent and my husband works long hours, in an industry where mistakes are dangerous, thus the graveyard shift almost invariably falls on me.

If it’s a matter of when, I am currently acopic and emotionally weary of riding out this particular wave of sleeplessness. I can’t face another sleepless night, although I probably will. And the next one, and the next one. Even if I gain a few grey hairs and a cement grinder for a jaw in the process. In the meantime, I’ll be up with fellow mothers and fathers in the middle of the night, wondering if perhaps they zipped their child’s pyjamas an inch too high.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: