"I can remember exactly when it started: the day after our friends' lovely wedding.
We had had a great weekend. Our new baby had a tiny pretty outfit and had behaved perfectly for the ceremony and the drinks and the lunch. Everyone had admired her and said how good she was. Then it began. About half past three on the Sunday she began to scream. I had never heard noise like it. She was six weeks old and up till this point had been pretty straightforward. She wasn't a good sleeper, but she was alert and cheerful, grisly sometimes, but nothing we couldn't handle. On and on she bawled, but we couldn't work out what was happening - was she in pain? No sighs of teething, was it her tummy, what? It's awful not being able to comfort your baby, but I held her tight and tried and tried to calm her. After two hours I decided something was seriously wrong; she just wouldn't stop.
So we rang NHS direct. They called back promptly and over the screaming I tried to explain what was going on. The tired-sounding doctor established she hadn't got any symptoms of illness or trauma, but I kept shouting at him hysterically: "there is something wrong with my baby!" He wearily suggested that it might be colic. "I don't think so", I replied, scornful of his trite explanation, it was clearly much more serious than that. "So take her to A&E to have her checked out". Erm, was it that bad?
I couldn't tell anymore, I was crying almost as much as the baby. We ran upstairs to speak to our landlady - a grown-up would surely know. Down she came to the flat and gently took the baby from me, speaking to her softly and kindly, "What's wrong, little girl, what's wrong?". She put her over her shoulder and patted her and the little one shuddered and gasped, hicupped a bit and went quiet. She snuggled into her neck and relaxed. "I think it is colic," our landlady said.
It was colic, as far as we could tell, either that or some existential crisis at the state of the world, and the crying didn't stop until four months. It seemed like nothing helped, so we holed up for that winter, hardly seeing anyone, never going out, listening to our baby cry. By the spring things were getting better - but by then her teeth started to come through..." (Marjorie, London)
"I recall, on my elder daughter's birth, wondering when I would start to feel like a mother. It's not that I hadn't "bonded" with her--that term seemed inadequate to describing the unprecedented closeness I felt to this beautiful, puling creature that latched on to me with such ferocity and that fit into my folds so easily. It's that "mother" seemed dependent upon a consciousness on her part that couldn't possibly have been there yet--on an ability to call me by a name that no one had ever used before.
In retrospect, the feeling came long before she used the name. I don't know exactly when, though. And it's curious to me that the explosive change that is birth--the before and after it determines in one's life--is actually far less powerful than a much more gradual development into an awareness of motherhood, or (perhaps more accurately, of what might be called 'mummyhood.'" (Maggie, Connecticut)
I was very excited to see this morning that Closer magazine gave Sleepless Nights four stars!
I'm so pleased with the cover Sphere chose for the novel - I think the purples and blues are just lovely. And I like the combination of the traditional English pram at the front and the New England village in the background.The novel is about two English girls and their experiences in America, and I think the cover really captures that transatlantic theme.
1. In a room that was about 11 degrees C, we dressed her lightly and put her in a sleeping bag, as per instructions on packet and fierce warnings about overheating/cot death. Guess what? She was freezing cold and woke through the night for 6 months of that winter (dur) 2. Decided that pramsuits and coats were ridiculous expenditures for a baby - a cardi and tights would be fine. Guess what? She was cold and wouldn't stay in her buggy for 6 months of that winter (dur) 3. Attempted to give her a bottle at 4 months - but never let her go for more than 3 hours without breastfeeding, so she was never hungry enough to take it. (Futile? I think so) 4. Attempted to put her down to sleep each night around 8ish, with the telly going, dinner cooking away, phone calls, no bath, several story books (at 3 months?!) and a complete lack of naps in the day. She didn't go. She had been tired around 6, but we had deemed that tooooooooo early, and we clearly knew best (not). 5. Had her in bed with us "just to get some sleep". She went off beautifully (probably because it was about 10 degrees warmer), but then neither of us were allowed to move/breathe in case we woke. This did not result in much sleep for the parents." (Chris, London)
"It's 3am and my lovely non-sleeping girl is not sleeping again. We have been up for an hour or two - who's counting any more? She shows no sign of tiredness or any intention of sleeping in her cot, in our bed, anywhere, anytime soon.
She is six months old and we have yet to have anything like a night of good sleep, i.e. longer than 2 hour stretches. I am beside myself and feeling insane, so we (I) decide to do controlled crying. This is it: no more Mrs Nice Mummy, she has to learn. It's for her own good. My parents did it to me and I slept through ever after. Thingy down the road did at three weeks and her baby slept through on day one.
So, without planning or discussion, I inform my exhausted and addled husband that we are going to leave her. This is the first time ever I have left my daughter to cry more than a few moments. To date, every squeak and whimper has been met with my full, total and complete attention. She has been held and comforted through colic, teething, colds, bumps, bad temper, frustration, being left alone for a minute, not being left alone, dogs barking, doors slamming, frights, strangers, getting stuck under the sofa, not getting stuck under the sofa, anything.
But now, in the early hours of a spring morning I am going to let her cry. Really. So we do do. We lie there and lie there and lie there. She cries and cries and cries. Then she howls - loud raging squawks of fury and indignation. I look at the clock; 3 minutes have passed. She keeps going on and on - basically yelling "where the hell are you, what's going on?"
I am shaking, but determined. My husband reaches for my hand and we lie still in the dark. She stops, hicupping from her efforts. Triumph briefly rises in my breast... My husband shifts his position, the duvet rustles, she gives a little questioning cry and - oh God - is off again. "Shut up" I hiss at him (and her), but I am crying too now. She sounds sad, truly sad; she's sobbing her little heart out.
Seven minutes have passed. She starts coughing and spluttering and now I can't leave her. I leap over to her cot and reach for her; she chokes and gags and is sick all over me. What have I done? I begin to wail and retch too.
The lights go on, my husband looks at me, his face wet with tears, "I'm not sure controlled crying is for us" he says. "Really. I don't know if we can do this."
But we did. There was no alternative. Of course she was fine, if a little hoarse the next day. Our relationship was not irreparably damaged and she did, eventually, sleep through the night. Eventually." (Janey, London)
"The answer to my baby is not in the books. I know, I read EVERYTHING; from the hippiest, gentlest mothering tract to the hardcore Victorian nanny schedules, but nothing worked, they could not solve my baby. We had a really hard first couple of years and looking back I can now see the daft mistakes we made and give myself a break about the stuff we did right and the stuff we did to survive. On balance, I think number one wasn't easy, but we sure as hell didn't make it any easier on her or ourselves. We parented out of panic - "why is she crying?" we would screech at each other "why won't she sleep?" I would sob to my mum. Now I know(really know and accept, rather than that abstract knowledge of having it read it in a book) that babies cry and in the main they don't sleep for periods or when you want them too and you have to give yourself a break and just go with it. Watching every breath, believing that if you do everything right (according to that week's manual of childcare) or keep exactly to some spurious routine you imagine you have established (for less than a day) and insisting to your partner that if you, and only you, pat, hold, jig, and sing to her wearing a certain jumper and walk in a particular route round the bed, she will SLEEP - doesn't make a blind bit of difference. The lack of sleep does really mess with your head and its hard to relax, when an uninterrupted night seems like it would solve everything (it doesn't you just feel worse the next night when she wakes again!), but she isn't a problem to be solved, she was a baby and pretty much she did what babies do. And pretty much, I think we did what parents do." (Anthea, London)
I think the first time I saw the word 'colic' was in a James Herriot novel, as a teenager. As far as I was concerned it had something to do with sweating colts in damp horseboxes - nothing at all to do with sweet new babies. Then my daughter developed it in in 2004, and everything turned upside down.
Colic is apparently diagnosed when a baby cries for 3 hours a day or more, on 3 days of the week or more, for 3 weeks or more. I've spoken to other mums of colicky babies and they all agree with me - oh for a mere 3 hours a day! Our kids cried a lot, lot, LOT more than that.
My daughter began crying for no apparent reason when she was about one month old. For long stretches of the day she was obviously very miserable, but nothing we did could calm or soothe her. No amount of rocking, swinging, shooshing, nursing, or swaddling helped (and when things got really bad we tried all at once, with the blinds drawn). The crying only stopped when she finally fell asleep, and this she found very (very) difficult to do. One babysitter quit after a week: most babies, she told us, half-apologetically, half-self-righteously, sit peacefully in their buggies, crying only when they need something specific - a change, a bottle, a cuddle. But this -! She'd never seen (or heard) anything like it in her life. The door banged behind her; my husband and I looked at each other. What now?
Colic is supposed to end at three months. For us that magic day came and went, and still the crying continued. I read anything I could get my hands on to try to understand what we were going through, and came increasingly to believe the 'neurologic' account of colic - i.e, that some babies have a neurologic immaturity which causes them to be hypersensitive to stimuli. This potentially explained why my daughter's crying fits typically began after fifteen minutes of wakefulness. It was as if that was all her poor tiny brain could cope with before the sights and smells of the world caused overload.
Then, at five-and-a-half months, the crying thankfully began to pass. It didn't happen overnight, but slowly we found we could open the curtains again. At last she could not only cope with life, but actually enjoy it. Colic is a terrible rite of passage for a first time mum, and Sleepless Nights is the only novel I know of to talk about it. It tries to treat this difficult experience seriously and honestly - but with plenty of humour as well.
Here's a real-life story about the first year of parenting from the author of www.super-mom.com. Thanks, Taylor!
"We’re all Super-moms, even though sometimes we don’t know it.
I now have three children, ages 11, 4, and 1, and as I look back to my experience as a first-time Super-Mom, I smile.
Let’s just say I was Intense--with a capital I—about my new role as Mommy.Every single thing in my day and life revolved around the new little person that I chose to bring into this world.
I only know this in retrospect.In the moment, I had no clue how over-the-top I was.No new Super-mom does.
Madison woke up at five am every day for the first four plus years of her life and so did I, camp counselor extraordinaire, setting up “stations” in the wee hours at which she could do different projects, play dough, painting, have snacks, etc.
Who WOULDN’T wake up at five am for that getup?
I refused to turn the TV on and in fact, gave it up personally when Madison was born to set a good example.I ate my meals by her side on the floor, reading her books or playing with her as I chewed—or didn’t chew--my food.We traveled a lot with her and I pretty much needed a separate suitcase for this pint sized traveler—to fit in all of the toys and outfits, too numerous to count.
I bought so many toys for her that it’s embarrassing to recall.I was the fourth of four in my family and didn’t have this and that—so Madison would have it all.
Now, 11 years later, I smile as I write this, reflecting on the Super-Mom I am now.Still not perfect (no one is and even just the word “perfect” moves us toward the path of suffering) but so much more balanced, calm, non-reactive, joyful, minimalist, and guilt-free.I really enjoy my children as the little people they are—with all of their different qualities and gifts.The toys, the clothes, the projects don’t matter so much as the energy—the love—with which I fill our days and adventures together.
Phoenix, our one-year-old, has as much fun playing with Tupperware as Madison did with the latest expensive toy recommended by fifteen experts.
But I now know that all of the excess was something I needed to go through—to work through—while experiencing being a Super-Mom for the first time.
Every Super-mom has to do it in some way or form the first time around, and I smile and send light to new Super-Moms as I see them out and about and as I ask them—“Is this your first?” knowing full well the answer and recalling how many times I was asked this myself.
I'm putting together real-life stories about the first year of mothering. Click on the blue link above to read the whole archive.
If you'd like to send me a story yourself, I'd love to read it: either add your story as a comment or write to me directly at Sarah DOT Bilston AT Yahoo DOT com. Don't worry about grammar, this doesn't have to be a work of art! I'm just interested in hearing other people's experiences of, for example,
- Sleep Deprivation
- Mother's (or father's, or sister's) interference
- Managing a marriage and a new baby
- Mixed feelings about going back to work
- The best thing about having a brand new baby.
Sleepless Nights - The Story Behind
The story behind the story:
Sleepless Nights is partly about my own experience adapting to being a mother. I have three children now, so I like to think I know what I'm doing... But when my first child came along I was completely, utterly clueless. I already had a job, I had a house, I was turned thirty; I was supposed to be a proper grown-up. But when my daughter came along I was thrown. I remember in the hospital praying that the nurse would keep on changing my daughter because I couldn't figure out which way round the diapers went. And it went on from there... So the novel is partly about the millions of small surprises, and partly about the 'bigger' issues most of us face - like, how on earth can I still have a life of my own and be a good mommy?