I WAS driving to Sligo recently via the M4, the main Dublin-Sligo road, on the way from one wedding to another. I was on my own so I had the luxury of peace and quiet to think whatever thoughts floated through my mind.
I got stuck in a bit of traffic around Longford and a single memory came flooding back which brought me right back to a time in my experience in motherhood that I had effectively blocked out. Now, that may sound dramatic and, relatively speaking, perhaps it is, but if you have ever experienced the extremes of sleep deprivation, this one is for you.
I would never claim to have ever experienced anxiety, but she pushed me close to the edge of it during her first two and a half years on the planet.
The memory that flooded back was a late night drive from Dublin to Sligo after Christmas when that third lady was about 14 months old. We had come back from England and my husband went back to Cork and I took the three girls to Sligo to my family. Her ladyship slept until around Mullingar and perhaps it was the mere sound of the indicator that woke her up, but wake she did, and she stayed roaring the entire way from Mullingar to Sligo.
I can’t even begin to describe the stress, I was in the front and my eldest in the middle beside the incessantly screaming baby and, try as we may, we could not calm her down. I obviously stopped on many occasions but nothing could calm her. Myself and my eldest laugh about it now, but at the time there was absolutely nothing funny about it. That was the tip of the iceberg because there were many, many car journeys with her endured in a similar fashion.
That solo drive home down the M4 got me thinking about how stressful that period of motherhood was. There are sleepless nights and then there are children who take hours to settle, who will scream if you leave the room, who will wake repeatedly throughout the night and can only be settled back to sleep in your arms.
We really should have gotten some help or advice from a sleep expert, which we did when our fourth lady tipped us over the edge with her sleeplessness, but sometimes, when you are in the thick of something, it is hard to see the wood from the trees. I did get help when I reached a point where I couldn’t trust myself driving, I was so tired.
It is incredible to think that such a tiny human can have such a hold over your emotions, but they do.
I remember being scared to turn on the tap in our en suite because it was next to her bedroom. I was always worried she would wake when I was brushing my teeth and I wouldn’t even get those blissful few minutes to settle into my own bed, knowing I’d be up within a few short hours. Looking back, I feel like I was in a constant state of stress, always dreading the next time she had to be put to bed for a nap or sleep. I was tired, irritable and stressed. I lost my patience at times, which then ushered in feelings of guilt. It was a tiresome cycle for all of us.
Turns out that baby turned into the world’s most placid young child, which is hopefully reassuring! She is quiet, calm and undemanding, at night all she needs is a book and a song, and she never wanders out after that for a drink or an ‘urgent’ reminder, never wakes again late at night nor early in the morning. She is the best sleeper we have now, who would have thought?!
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are others out there with far more challenging experiences in parenting. We are lucky really that most of the challenges we have faced are fleeting, and I won’t compare our struggles to those with real, long-lasting, life-changing struggles.
That said, sleep deprivation is hard, it’s lonely, isolating and usually endured alone, even my husband didn’t experience it the same as I did. If we ever refer to that period he thinks I’m exaggerating, but I am quick to remind him that it was not he who was wanted for cuddles in the dead of the night, nor was he the source of food, so hindsight is evidently different from various viewpoints!