That time I didn’t sleep for a year (…twice!)
Lately Elliot and Amelia haven’t been sleeping well; it’s been one thing after another for weeks now and it surprises me how I am not coping well at all. I have trouble getting out of bed when they call for me at night and am grumpy during the day. This may sound normal but you have to know that for a year with Elliot I barely slept. When I was pregnant with Amelia, I was so nervous because Elliot hadn’t slept through a single night yet. Luckily when he turned one he magically turned into an amazing sleeper: 8pm – 8am. We hoped that our second baby wouldn’t keep us awake as much, …alas! After a year of being a real superhuman (I know I’m saying this about myself but it true!), I had a mental breakdown, … at work.
Some babies sleep, some don’t
So what is it with our kids (or about us?) that makes us lose so much sleep? Well, although we didn’t sleep much the first year with both of them, the underlying causes were very different – we think. With Elliot we seemed to be surrounded by people who found him not sleeping through the night the first few months very disconcerting already. When I look back on it, we started worrying about his sleeping pattern much too soon. Yes he didn’t sleep any longer than three hours straight for at least the first six months, but I was breastfeeding and not all babies are alike.
Sensitive babies and their gut
Elliot didn’t just not sleep well, he didn’t want to go to bed at all. It took months before we had our evenings back – we were walking around with earplugs from 7pm until we would finally be able to console him and get him to bed at 10, 11 pm. He was a colicky baby but during the day a very happy, alert kid so it made finding a cause and a solution difficult. Eventually we had him tested for allergies but there was no problem there. After pretty stressful months of making graphs of what worked and what didn’t – we were sat down by a great paediatrician who told us to stop looking for something we were doing wrong. He explained to us that human babies are born “unfinished” and just as they don’t have teeth yet or don’t walk yet, their digestive system has to ripen. Some babies experience more discomfort than others. Also some babies, especially the alert kind (aha!) are extra sensitive to stimuli they get during the day and they process them at night. A wave of relief washed over me, I felt like I was on top of my game again. (I also talked about this in my post https://mommoiselle.com/home/2018/7/26/my-baby-immediately-slept-through-the-night-and-other-shit-youll-want-to-keep-to-yourself-when-talking-to-a-new-mom)
Different baby, different story?
However, besides worrying before I headed into a night I did a really good job at staying positive. I stayed home from work and delighted in being a stay at home mom for my little prince. After eight months I went back to work and was able to recuperate a bit (at work, I know!) A month after that I felt pregnant – and I was! Reading this story having a second baby so soon might seem like a crazy idea so let me explain. We had tried a long time to have Elliot, were pregnant after eight months with what would have been twins and had a miscarriage. (early but it took its physical and mental toll nonetheless). Then finally we had Elliot but I had some complications during my pregnancy with my liver. Because of this I wasn’t able to take just any contraception inbetween pregnancies. Long story short: I wasn’t on the pill, we were excited about having another baby but wanted to wait a few months longer, and were surprised but ever so happy to find out that I was pregnant.
Amelia was different
By the time Amelia was born, Elliot was an amazing sleeper and we counted our blessings! Amelia was a very different baby than Elliot had been: Elliot had also been a happy baby (during the day), but she was so much more at ease. She was happy to look around from her bassinet or play pen (Elliot had to be held constantly), was relaxed when we were around many people (Elliot had terrible evenings after family gatherings), and was happy to go to bed (Elliot was aversive to his whole bedroom). While I was breastfeeding she sometimes surprised us with a five hour stretch at night, and I went to bed relaxed, knowing I’d have three hours at least to sleep. Everything looked promising, especially because we had prepared ourselves for a sleepless first year.
Enter: the mombie
At 7, 8 months however, she started crying endlessly at night. I was up for hours on end with her. This coincided with me going back to work (part-time) and I thought that was the cause at first. I was up with her for hours on end and would leave for work on two, three hours of sleep (“sleep” with a hairpulling baby at my side). I stayed calm, happy and positive though. I had prepared myself for a sleepless first year anyways. Our motto “this is just a phase, all things shall pass” seemed applicable and I figured I would just sit it out.
I’ve never been as creative
I don’t think I’ve ever been as active as I was that first year with Amelia at any other point in my life. I would be up most of the night planning things I would do the next day. We had just moved houses, so I ordered tons of things online and after work I took Elliot and Amelia on outings to indoor decoration stores, finished countless DIY projects I had pinned during those nights and had boundless creativity at work.
Allergies are all the rage
One year, just one year and this would be in the past. Easy. Until that one year milestone started showing on the horizon… and Amelia got even worse during the night. After having been too anxious with Elliot, I didn’t want to be too uptight about Amelia – but now I was starting to worry. What was keeping her up? First I had thought it was me going back to work, then I figured it was the transition to bottles in combination with solid foods that was upsetting her tummy, then I suspected teething. With Elliot I had been on a dairy free diet for months and had been told afterward by the pediatrician that it had been a little silly because only a small percentage of babies is so allergic to dairy that they react to the particles in breast milk. That had left a bit of an aversion to allergy talk (which seems to be such a fashionable thing lately) but it blinded me for what was really the matter: Amelia wascowsmilk-/lactose intolerant… And it took a mental breakdown for me to realize it.
A week before Amelia’s first birthday, I felt like my body had started degenerating. The limitless energy I had had until then started to diminish and I felt like I was constantly on the verge of getting a bad flu. My skin started to break out and my incessant apetite had changed into eating unhealthy foods during the day and eating nothing of the dinner I had prepared for the family. I turned to B. and said – for one of the first times that year: “I don’t know how much longer I can do this”.
Where’s B. in all this?
For all of you who have been thinking where he is in this story: he is MY ROCK. At night, our kids when they were still younger – because this has changed – only wanted me. Bart was simply unable to console them. So he wasn’t doing nightshifts most of the time – because we’d just both be up with a crying baby – but he was doing everything he could around the house, and with Elliot to support me.
Ugly cry at work
So I turned to him that one day and started crying about how I couldn’t see how much longer I could take it. The next day at work someone asked me how I was doing and I started to cry. You know when, when you start to cry in public, you are so embarassed/sad/annoyed with crying you start to cry even harder,… well that’s what happened: Full on ugly cry.
I am so thankful for the colleagues who were there that morning to comfort me. Both of them mothers who had had their fair share of sleepless nights, they shoved a phone in my hand with a good doctor ready on dial. They urged me to make an appointment for that day, and to be completely honest about the urgency of the matter. (note: since our move we had been looking for a new pediatrician, I had been to our GP a few times though but until then I had been either feeling well or in difficult moments not being completely honest.)
Finally we knew what was wrong
I left work early that afternoon, picked Amelia up from daycare and was completely honest to the doctor. She took me very seriously and confirmed that Amelia seemed like such a healthy and happy baby that a diagnose (if any) might not be so easy but that elimination could also bring peace of mind. So she made an appointment for me later that week to have pictures taken of Amelia’s bowel (non-invasive) and asked me some questions to get a better take on the situation. Finally she said that if the tests didn’t show anything extraordinary, we’d have to check her diet. That is a path of trial and error though because testing for allergies at her age doesn’t give conlusive, accurate results. When I was telling Bart about the appointment, I suddenly realized: I hadn’t been sleeping for a year but the way Amelia was acting at night had changed drastically since I had stopped breastfeeding at 7 months. Was her evening bottle the culprit? We decided to skip her bottle that night and gave her some of my coconut dairy-free milk (I just like the taste and try to reduce my ecologic footprint). She slept through the night… that whole week. When her tests came back the hypothesis of intolerance was confirmed, in the sense that she was completely healthy but severely constipated which is often a symptom. After that it was a bit of a hunt for dairy-free baby products she liked the taste of but we had two kids that were sleeping and I could start to heal.
As I said in the beginning of the article, the past few weeks we’ve been having bad nights again and it almost feels as if my body and mind have been traumatized by those two years of not sleeping. I can’t handle it very well anymore. Last week on instagram, I talked about my wish of having a third baby – and I can’t really imagine not having another – but I want to get in shape mentally again first!
How were/are your nights as a parent? Let me know on instagram mommoiselle_com!