It's been a while.
Boy, has it been a rough road. I love my little Liam more than I can put into words, and we have had some amazing and joyful times together, but having a baby with major sleeping issues has been a challenge, to say the very least. Since my last blog post, Liam has been very unsettled. He stopped sleeping in three hour blocks all night and instead started waking up every hour all night long and being very difficult to settle throughout the day. The first time it happened of a night I said to Rob, "Well, that was a tough night. Here's hoping it doesn't happen again." And then it did happen again. And again. And again. And then it turned into weeks, and then months.
There is a reason sleep deprivation has often been used as a form of torture. There were days when I would just cry and cry. There were nights when Rob and I would get into a silly argument at 3am, both so exhausted that we lost all patience with each other. There were times when I felt like I was going mad. I am quite certain that I became very depressed for a few weeks. Having battled depression for the past 13 years, since I was sixteen (there, I said it- it doesn't have to be a dark secret) I can recognise the signs in myself and I stopped wanting to go anywhere or do anything. Simple tasks became insurmountable.
Through it all, I just kept on going. I got up each morning and cuddled my little boy and tickled his toes and sang to him and watched him grow. I marvelled that it was possible to exist on so little sleep. I forced myself to take a walk with Liam every day in the fresh air. I started attending a mother's group and made some wonderful new friends who have been a great source of support.
I kept going. I was treading water, barely staying afloat, but making it through the days.
Through it all, we started to ask for help. I acknowledged the situation to my mother's group and received sympathy and support. I admitted how hard it was on Facebook and found friends with and without children reaching out to me to offer encouragement and advice. My parents returned from the island at long last and were an instant source of help. We asked and asked our Child Health Nurse for more assistance. She was compassionate to some degree but kept telling me that he was waking up so often because he is a big baby and needed extra feeds. I knew it was more than that. We tried to get in to see some of the support staff at Walker House. Calls were not returned, requests for referrals were not deemed necessary. "No one will help us!" I sobbed to Rob in utter despair.
Finally we went to see my GP- my lovely GP Paul, who has been my doctor since I was eight years old. He listened, he asked a few questions. He wrote a referral to Walker House and diagnosed Liam with reflux. Reflux, the cause of many babies being unsettled and waking often. I felt terrible that my little boy had been uncomfortable and in pain. We were given medicine to try and managed to work out how to get Liam to swallow it so that I didn't end up coated in it.
Slowly, so slowly, things started to improve. Liam started sleeping in his bed during the day for short sleeps- though it was a battle to get him down and involved Rob or I holding him for up to 45 minutes. He started sleeping in a few 2 hour blocks during the night. Rob and I started tending to him in shifts so that we each got enough sleep to get by. I took longer shifts as Rob is handicapped by not being able to breastfeed.
It was still difficult. I was still exhausted. I was treading water, looking at the shore which was now in sight, keeping my head above water.
Finally, Walker House got back to me and a child health nurse called Gaylene arranged to visit us at home on Wednesday of this week. I was relieved, anxious and nervous, all at once. Things had started to slide backwards again with more night wakings and I could feel myself starting to sink again.
It was a difficult day. Gaylene was lovely, kind and supportive but very no nonsense as she told us that though the reflux had led to Liam's frequent wakings, he had gotten into the habit now and we needed to help him learn to go to sleep on his own- without being held in our arms or nursed to sleep. This, she assured us, would lead to him self settling through the night and sleeping for longer. Together, we tried. I stayed strong as she taught me to stay with Liam and support him as he cried in bed by patting, shushing and soft singing. My heart broke watching and hearing my little one cry for me to pick him up. I kept telling myself that I was doing this for him, to help him, to give him the gift of good sleep habits. I reminded myself that he must be just as tired as I am and needs my help. We stayed by his side, her hand on my shoulder when she knew I needed a little extra strength, and I watched him grow calm and begin to soothe himself by sucking his fists. 'How do you feel about a thumb sucker?' she asked with a smile.
We nearly got there. We were very close, but he was due a feed and she advised it best to get him up while he was calm, feed him and try again next time. She left us with the promise to return the following week.
I had been sure that Liam would feel hurt or betrayed, but he was as cuddly and loving with me as usual. As soon as he seemed tired again I popped him in bed, kissed his cheek and told him to have a little sleep. I left the room. He grizzled for a minute or two then was silent. I peeked in to see him busily playing with and sucking his hands. Normally he would be crying by now and I would be in there picking him up. A few minutes later I peeked again- to find him fast asleep, arms stretched above his head, the picture of contentment. I could not contain my joy and amazement.
This morning I stood looking at my settled baby, again peacefully snoozing on his own. I marvelled that he had slept for a three hour stretch last night. I felt proud of him. I felt overwhelming love.
We have still had a few times today that have been difficult. I am sure there are more difficult times to come. He is still learning to settle. But he has come so far already. I can see now that if we persist we will get there and we will all enjoy more sleep.
I am starting to swim now. My head is above the water and I am making for the shore with strong, clean strokes. I was treading water, now I'm starting to swim.