For the last five nights Frida has been waking every half hour or so again throughout the night. To say that I am tired would be an understatement. Yet I am fine. I am happy. I still have energy to walk, to run, to lift my baby for the hundredth time, to sing and to jump.
We have chosen to parent Frida gently and respectfully. We will not change our parenting just because it is dark outside. For us this means no to sleep training of any kind, and yes to responding empathetically and immediately to her needs, trusting that these needs are valid and important.
I can’t control how Frida sleeps, nor would I want to really. But I can control how I respond to the sleep deprivation, and how I choose to feel about it.
Don’t get me wrong – I have definitely done my fair share of lying around eating cake straight from the packet, rubbing my eyes and hopefully googling “do gifted children need less sleep” whilst my daughter tries to get my attention, or failing that, my iphone. But I make a big effort to not be negative about the amount of sleep I am getting, and I do think it makes a difference to how I feel. Rather than seeing it as a great injustice, or a torment, I try to view it in a matter of fact way. My sleep is very, very broken. But I am not.
For me, it’s about taking positive action to make my day better, and Frida’s day better. Tired or not, I still need to parent – there are no sick days allocated when you’re raising a child. Going outside, playing games, throwing Frida up into the air to make her laugh, wearing her on me all day. All of these things take up physical energy, sure, but they also give some back, and emotional energy too. It’s actually far more draining to sit on the sofa eating biscuits and feeling guilty about not giving your baby the energy they deserve than to get up and throw yourself into feeling alive. What is exhausting is using the energy I have to worry or stress; if I let go of some of that and try and live more mindfully, I feel much lighter.
It is also about not fighting, about taking the path of least resistance. I know that Frida wakes more if I am not lying next to her, so when she goes to sleep in the evening I have two choices. I can turn on the baby monitor, go downstairs in search of precious, desperately needed adult time, knowing I will be up and down those stairs, settling and resettling, feeling guilty and frustrated and thwarted. Or I can lie my body down next to hers, call my husband up to join us, and surrender to another night in bed by 8pm, listening to an audiobook, reading, or simply breathing in the sounds made by the tiny girl who one day will no longer want to curl up next to me.
It’s not just about sleep, or lack of, either. As I lay in the bath yesterday, looking down at my wobbly stomach criss-crossed with silver stretch marks, I thought about how my body has changed these past 18 months, reflecting changes less visible to the eye. Daily as a mother you are flooded with tips on how to regain your pre-pregnancy body, but the truth is, I wouldn’t swap back. I have more grey hairs, some charming wrinkles have made an appearance, and my belly is bigger. But my arms are stronger from constantly carrying my daughter, my legs are stronger from walking for hours with her, my whole body is stronger for having built and birthed and fed a baby. This body that lets me do so much with so little sleep.
It is easy to sound dreadfully cheesy when talking about gratitude and positivity. I don’t know why. It is seen as very uncool, too eager and earnest perhaps – better to be self-depracating. But it makes a huge difference to how my day unfolds. Motherhood, for me anyway, has brought with it endless chores – the wiping down of the table, of the floor, of Frida’s chair three times a day. Cooking meals so we can eat early as a family. Picking up toys from where Frida has discarded them around the house and tidying them with a smile to model order. Endless laundering of nappies, bibs, clothes. It would be easy to find this boring. But I try to remind myself with each chore that, in doing it, I help to ensure smooth running of our family. That we are lucky to have plentiful food for our child, safe water, a warm home with toys and clothes. That we have a modern washing machine and a dishwasher (unlike my mother when she was raising me). Obvious perhaps, but worth reminding myself, and when I do, I continue with a smile rather than a frown.
Focusing on the positive is important, not just for me, but for my family. I cannot be a good mother or a good wife if I don’t take the time to refill my cup from time to time. Sometimes it’s just not possible to do that physically, so I owe it to myself and to them to take a moment to refill emotionally.
So tonight, when Frida goes to sleep, I will tell myself that tonight will be better. And tomorrow morning I will start the day with a smile on my face, just like I did this morning, and the day before, and the day before.