The story so far…
I had an interview with Joanna who needs help with her two children. Jack, aged 10 months, still won’t go to bed without a lot of attention from his mother and wakes several times a night and Millie, aged 3 years, used to sleep beautifully until Jack’s arrival and now creeps into her parents’ bed half way through the night.
Monday Night: Joanna and Simon have decided that they want me to focus on Jackb to begin with and then Millie. Sometimes it is possible to teach two children to sleep through the night at the same time, but it is exhausting. I am starting earlier than usual on this, the first night of my week with them, so that I can be part of their bedtime routine and give some guidance if I think this will be helpful. Then Joanna is going to go to bed and let me take over with Jack, whilst she will deal with Millie should she wake up.
Last week Joanna had told me that at teatime each day she was already beginning to worry about the ordeal ahead, so I present her with an outline timetable for the evening so that she knows when she is beginning to run behind schedule. I propose tea at 5pm then some “tidy-up” time in the playroom with Jack and Millie before heading upstairs at 6pm for a bath. This should be finished by 6.45pm when Jack has his bottle and Millie her story. Then Millie and Joanna can put Jack to bed together, then it is Millie’s turn and by 7pm everyone should be tucked up quietly for the night ahead. Joanna reads this and looks at me wryly. “You haven’t included the interruptions after 7pm,” she says. Like most children, Jack falls asleep fairly easily; it is from about 10pm onwards that the disturbances occur.
Everything goes according to plan, but Joanna insists this is because she has an extra pair of hands and Millie is trying to be helpful to gain my approval. Still, whatever the reason behind it, Millie does know what is expected of her so I store all my observations for next week, when it will be Millie’s turn. Jack, too, is quite happy and enjoys his bottle cuddled with his sister on his mother’s lap, while she reads a story – a blissful picture.
The bottle finished and the story over, Joanna winds Jack properly and lets Millie plant a kiss on his forehead before putting him into his sleeping bag and into the cot. As she does every night, she says, “Night night, sleep tight, see you in the morning,” and we all leave the room.
Millie settles equally well; as Simon is travelling this week Joanna and I share a light supper, although I wouldn’t normally eat with my clients, and at 9.30pm I go to my room. Just after 10.00pm my sixth sense alerts me and I hear gentle whimpering emanating from Jack’s nursery next door, just as the baby monitor leaps into life. I sit outside the door for a minute or two, listening to the quality of Jack’s cry. Some children need to create a wall of white noise to cut out other unfamiliar noises before they can fall asleep again and if you listen carefully you can hear their crying abating. But not Jack, so as his cries begin to escalate, I go into his room. His eyes are tightly closed and his face is scrunched up so it isn’t until I put my hands gently on his body that he knows it is me and not his mother. This makes him pause in his crying as he works out what is going on, but not for long. He wants his mother and I simply won’t do. He also wants cuddles and a bottle, which are Joanna’s usual ways of resolving the issue, and I am not going to comply. Instead I concentrate hard on Jack, using all my skills to remain calm myself, since babies have very sensitive antennae and will quickly pick up on your concern. I unzip the bottom of his sleeping bag so I can just hold his feet and stroke them from toe to heel. At the same time I stroke his tummy in a clockwise direction through the sleeping bag and make soothing noises to him. I am trying to engage all his senses so he forgets his distress. Gradually Jack allows himself to be comforted and finally falls asleep. I do not wear a watch as I do not want to know how quickly (or slowly!) time is passing when I am soothing a sleepless baby, but I will keep careful notes throughout the week of the times that I enter and leave his room and what happens while I am in there.
When I return to my room to check the time it is nearly 11.20pm and Joanna is sitting on my bed. “I just needed to know what was happening,” she claims. She looks very worried so we go downstairs and I make us both a hot drink. “I was fine when it was all theory and you made it sound so easy, but it’s hard to listen to your baby cry and not go to comfort him,” she says. I explain to her that if she wants to come into the room, she must do so. I tell her again what I was doing with Jack and reiterate that I am going to support him through this learning curve, not abandon him. But it is the first thing he has actively had to learn in his life and once he has learnt it, he will not forget. We make our way back upstairs and Joanna says she will definitely come in the next time she hears Jack.
I lie on my bed and read for a while, then doze with the light on. A baby’s sleep cycle is about 45 minutes, lengthening as they get older until it reaches 90 minutes in an adult; babies struggling with severe sleep disruption will wake at the end of every cycle, and sometimes even more frequently, but Jack sleeps through his first cycle so I do not expect him to waken for an hour and a half. Sure enough at 1.00am the whimpering begins again and I am at his cot before he is even properly awake. Once again I start massaging his tummy, mimicking the direction of the digestive system, and stroking his feet using reflexology techniques. Once again, his cries gradually become more intermittent until finally his eyelids flicker and he falls asleep. On checking the time I notice that this time it has taken just over half an hour … and Joanna didn’t appear, which will be very good for her.
Jack and I repeat this process once more at 3.00am when it only takes 15 minutes to soothe him and then he wakens by himself at 7am. I go into his room and pick him out of his cot; he grins at me, giggling as I change his nappy and burbling nonsense as I take him into Joanna’s room. She wakes up groggily and looks at her alarm clock. “I’ve slept for seven hours!” she exclaims in disbelief. “That’s the first time for months. Didn’t Jack wake again last night?” I relate the night Jack and I have passed. She can’t believe she slept through it but realises she must have been reassured by our midnight chat. Jack is sitting on my lap playing with my buttons. “And you can’t have done anything dreadful because he obviously still likes you!” she observes with a smile.