In part seven of our series, mum of three, Becky Dickinson, is having “one of those nights”. Again.
It’s just after 3am when I am rudely awoken by the smell of wee and something heavy pressing down on my cheek, like a warm hot water bottle. Except it’s not a hot water bottle, it’s my daughter sitting on my face. At 3.05am. ‘Lie down and go to sleep,’ I murmur. It’s futile, of course. I might as well have said, ‘go down and make me a cup of tea.’
Even in the dark, I can see the whites of her eyes glinting, challenging. She gives me that ‘get your boobs out’ look, which I pretend to ignore. I lie her back down to sleep, then turn over to indicate I’m doing the same.
By the side of the bed, the crib lies unoccupied, a dumping ground for laundry and rejected soft toys. Baby A has barely slept in it since birth – preferring to mark her territory in the big bed. A squirming stuffed babygro, a superfluous wedge of contraception between me and Unhusband.
‘Night night,’ I whisper, with my back to her.
Baby A replies by grabbing a handful of my hair and shouting. A wordless, primal shout which says ‘give me what I want or I’ll wake up the rest of the house and possibly the neighbours, too.’ Obviously, she doesn’t actually say that, but we know from experience that that is what she means. And that is what will happen.
‘No, it’s bedtime,’ I tell her. Bedtime? Since when did 3.05am become bedtime? Other children go to bed at 7 or 8 and stay there for at least 11 hours. They don’t sit on their parents faces in Australia time, stinking of l’eau de soggy nappy.
It wouldn’t be so bad if she was a newborn. But she isn’t. Baby A has just turned one. Which means a whole year of brain sucking sleep deprivation. Actually, make that seven years. J and D were appalling sleepers too and by the time they’d mastered it, a new arrival had come to take their place.
Baby A shouts again. This time with a hint of scream. She claws at my back. Ouch. Note to self: cut her nails.
Unhusband humphs and yanks the duvet.
‘Just feed her,’ he grumps.
It’s alright for him. An absence of mammary glands means he’s conveniently exonerated from all feeding duties. (Baby A hates bottles as much as she hates her crib).
Tonight though, I am determined not to feed her. The books say don’t feed her. So that is what I’m doing. Or not doing. I try the Pink Seahorse Toy instead, fumbling for the button which transforms it into a softly glowing night light, with its whooshy, soothing wave music. The toy that’s guaranteed to calm your baby and send it to sleep faster than Supernanny can locate the naughty step.
Except it doesn’t bloody work. I feel like suing the manufacturers for false advertising. Hey you Pink Seahorse makers, why is my baby still awake at just after 3am? Why is she eating this weird mythical marine thing, instead of being lulled to sleep by it? I want my money back!
The daft wave melodies drift away. Which is good because they are making me need a wee. And the last thing I want to do is get out of bed. At 3.15am. All I want to do is go to sleep.
Baby A is having none of it. I try singing lullabies instead. I can’t remember the words and I have a voice like a lawnmower spewing stones. But, almost miraculously, my daughter’s breathing slows, her body relaxes, her eyelids start to sink. Yes. My caterwauling has worked and I shut up. Peace at last. And it lasts… a whole seven seconds.
Waaahhh. Oh pleeeeease.
Unhusband lets out another exaggerated sigh.
‘Just feed her,’ he says again.
Sod the books, sod the battery-powered fish gimmicks, sod the lullabies. Sod the advice. There’s only one thing this baby wants. I give in, roll over, and flop out a boob. Baby A seizes it triumphantly, delightedly, like she hasn’t been fed for days (it’s actually about 2.5 hours). She gulps away while I try to work out how many hours until I have to get up for the school run. The number is depressingly minimal.
Finally satisfied, my daughter rolls onto her back, trailing milk over the sheet. She flings her arms out whacking me in the face, ready for another two and a half hour nap. Two and three quarters if I’m lucky. She’s finally asleep – and she’s taking up a ridiculous amount of space.
I prize her fist out of my armpit, manoeuvre myself into the remaining 20cms of available mattress and try to claw back a corner of duvet.
No sooner are my eyes shut than they snap open again. That sixth sense that comes from having children tells me someone else is up. I glance at the bedroom door and a shadow appears. It’s J, my six year old son.
“What’s the matter?” I whisper.
“I had a bad dream,” he replies, shuffling over to the bed. Despite the impossibly confined measurements, he climbs in, helping himself to what’s left of the duvet.
“What was your dream about?” I ask. But he’s already snoring.
Sandwiched between my oldest and youngest children, I contemplate the jumble of family life. Does everyone have such nomadic sleeping arrangements, such shambolic routine? I’m too tired to care.
In couple of hours D will be up too. The middle child – challenging, affectionate, funny, assertive – if she finds out the other two are both asleep in the big bed without her, there will be a ransom to pay.
Being a third time mum has its benefits – I can tell their temperature just by kissing their foreheads, I can identify most childhood ailments without consulting a text book or GP, I no longer stress over milestones and I can knock up a fish pie one-handed while playing “I spy”. But I still don’t know how to get my children to sleep. I blame the genes.
One day, perhaps when they’re teenagers, I’ll get a whole eight hours. One day, I’ll worry about who else’s bed they’re sleeping in and wish they were still in mine. I’m in no hurry for teenagers. For now, they are babies and their growing is a constant reminder of the need to keep them close. So while sleep is in short supply, there’s coffee, paracetamol and chocolate. And love.