We've just had a visit from friends and their small seven-month-old baby. Little H used to be a great sleeper, but since starting solids his good habits have gone downhill. His parents are extremely polite, civilised and charming people but H's sleep reluctance is leaving them often a little absent (they both tend to gaze into the middle distance and say 'hmmmm') and occasionally slightly snappy (with each other).
Frankly, I think they are showing extreme self-control. All three of our little darlings were crap sleepers for their first year, and each time I handled it worse. Last year, when he was four months old, Ollie decided sleeping for consecutive hours at night was no fun at all. He worked at this, until, at six months, he was able to wake every 45 minutes throughout the night. Let me repeat this: he woke every 45 minutes throughout the night. My sleep deprivation was extreme. Those who know me, know that I am peaceful, slow to anger and relaxed. Last year I screamed and I threw things. I swore at my children (Lily: 'Mummy please don't say Jesus Crust again to my sister') and I had tantrums and mood swings. I am not proud of all this, but I think I had some kind of temporary personality change.
I have no memories of late summer and autumn last year, except I remember sitting at a playground watching Lily and Daisy on the swings and sobbing audibly. For the mere fact that I got to a playground I probably deserve a medal. A very dear friend came to stay round about this time. One evening, when we got to the nightly performance of 'Sleep Deprived Mummy Baths and Beds Three Fractious Children', she took herself off to her room for a nap. I remember thinking I Haven't Had a Nap in Five Years. But I swallowed the scream and got on with the show. As you do.
So, desperate and deranged, I stepped even further out of character and joined a message board for parents of sleepless babies. I've never considered controlled crying as an option for me, so I joined a board for parents using Elizabeth Pantley's 'No-Cry Sleep Solution', which is a happy medium between Ferberizing and the Sears' family's Attachment Parenting (a concept I firmly support, but which gets harder to implement the more kids you have).
The board saved me. I enjoyed reading about people's success with the Pantley system and I also enjoyed reading about people who were worse off than me. My first breakthrough came when I taught Ollie that he didn't need to feed to sleep. Like both sisters, he firmly believed that hot milk infusions were the only way. Once this changed, I started to see incremental improvements, like an extra five minutes here and there, in his sleep. The big miracle occured when he weaned himself at ten months and began to sleep longer and longer. Within a week, he was sleeping through the night.
Since then my life has changed and my personality has improved. I scream less and I don't throw things. I only say Jesus Crust when severely provoked. I can now get a babysitter and go out on a date with my husband. I can spend an evening working uninterrupted. I can go to bookclub, see a movie, cook and enjoy a leisurely meal. I just can't take a nap at bathtime.