Rachael, a mum of three from the Haakaa team, shares an experience from her motherhood journey.
Having a brand-new baby is exhausting – that much I think everyone knows. It was one of the things I knew, but I didn’t realise that sometimes no matter how tired those babies are, no matter how tired you are, sleep just doesn’t come. Not for any real length of time.
My first child was one of those sleepless babies, waking every 45 minutes, day or night, no matter what we did. The old adage of ‘if baby’s asleep, you sleep’? That was a dream that seemed more unattainable than virtually anything else I could think of. He’d be fed, changed, cuddled, kept the right temperature – whatever we could think of – but he just did not want to sleep. Countless hours were spent rocking, playing white noise, trying another feed, burping him, giving him cuddles, rocking him again … nothing seemed to work. He seemed to dislike lying down more than just about anything, which, given he was a newborn, was something he had to do a lot. We thought maybe my milk supply issues were at fault (and to a degree, I’m sure they did play a part – more on that another time, though), but even with formula top-ups, nothing seemed to work. Was he over-tired? Absolutely, as were we. But even taking that into account didn’t help to explain the totality of what we were all experiencing.
There were a lot of tears at that time, and most of them weren’t his. It’s hard to describe the bone-aching weariness of that level of sleep deprivation to someone else, but there’s probably a reason large chunks of that time no longer exist in my memory. I do remember wondering if it would ever end, or if I was going to be feeling that way forever. It seems like a strange, hazy sort of dream time when I look back now. Flashes of memory interspersed with these odd, almost cloud-like patches of grey, patches that I really couldn’t tell you what happened or what I felt. Thinking back on it now is just…odd. It’s not at all like when you struggle to remember things that were a long time ago, or that day last month that didn’t have anything particularly important to remember, so you didn’t bother storing the memory. Concentration back then was completely out the window - anyone reading who has had similar experiences with extreme sleep deprivation might know what I’m talking about. Still, it’s hard to explain in mere words.
For anyone who may be experiencing something similar, though, it did get better. In some ways, the lack of memory is something of a silver lining; thinking back on the exhaustion and tears is more like recalling an old movie than remembering a real-life experience that I had – which is probably the reason he now has two younger brothers!
Coming out of that haze of sleeplessness can, for some people, be a gradual, step-by-step process. For others, like it was for us, it can be an almost overnight change. In our son’s case, when he started to walk at the grand old age of nine months, he began sleeping like the proverbial baby he had previously refused to be associated with. It was as though he simply would not allow himself (or us!) to rest until he achieved his goal, and his goal was very much to reach independent mobility in as short a time frame as possible.
Believe it or not, despite his refusal to sleep, he was often a very happy baby, outside his howls of outrage that he was trapped in such a small body. Admittedly, his preferred activity was to have a tall person carry him around so he could see things (sitting still – or even standing – and having cuddles was not an indulgence he allowed us very often in those early days). He’d let us know all about his displeasure, but he had the biggest, most beaming smile when he was somewhere he liked.
And yes, he did reserve that smile for quite literally everyone but me at first, but I’ll always remember the first time he smiled at me – because he saved it up for Mother’s Day morning. Was it just a coincidence? Most assuredly, but the timing could not have been better. It’s funny how such tiny little things like that can completely wipe away the weeks and months of struggle, isn’t it?
A second silver lining, one that I didn’t fully recognise until much later, is the resilience it gave me. I know now that I can make it through things, no matter how exhausted I am. I know that sleep will eventually come, and I know I can deal with it if it eludes me for longer than I would like.
To this day, we don’t know exactly what it was that caused his sleep issues. Was it silent reflux? Was it colic? Was he just not on board with being a baby who couldn’t do anything for himself, leading him to grow ever more frustrated? The last option is usually the one we (semi-jokingly) go with. In truth, it could have been any – or none – of those options. It’s been some years now, and he’s developing that tendency older children seem to all fall into and now cocoons himself up in his blankets when it’s time to get up for school. I must admit, it’s tempting sometimes to just sit on the end of his bed and faux wail until he gets up, but of course, we don’t. When he’s asleep now, he’s that same sweet baby he was back then – only this time, those long eyelashes remain still against his cheeks.