Sleep training – the follow up

Back in February I wrote a post about how we had begun to try and ‘sleep train’ Millie, a process where we aimed to be able to put her to bed and then walk out of her room at night and leave her to fall asleep by herself, and then stay in her room all night.

At the time of writing it we had gotten twelve nights in to a routine where we were having a cuddle, putting her down, saying goodnight and leaving the room, to cries that were lessening but still pretty strong, and we were making progress.

We carried on with this and the bedtime bit was going well – we never got to a stage where there was no crying at all but she would stop crying after around 10 seconds and lay down. During the night however, something shifted and Millie began waking more and more often, eventually to five or six times a night.

Initially we were determined to stick to our plan and we would stay in her room, give her a cuddle and then leave the room again, but we quickly became very exhausted doing this again and again, at different time through the night, and Millie would not settle back to sleep even after an hour or two being with her or going in and out.

We were becoming desperate again, and were at a bit of a loss. The sleep training/controlled crying method was a last resort and was supposed to work for everyone in a relatively short space of time with some commitment, which we had done, so why was Millie still waking so much after almost a month?

One night when my husband was working I took Millie to our bed with me after she had woken up again, and she slept soundly all night, so that became our new tactic. David took to sleeping on the sofa (which is very comfy and apparently better for his back anyway), and I swapped my sleeping partner for a small starfish shaped child.


Although this was working in terms of getting more sleep, and I adore sleeping next to her, it certainly wasn’t a long term option, but we weren’t sure where to go next. Then for my birthday David booked a night away for us all and the hotel had put a child’s camp bed directly alongside the double. Millie liked it, and slept really well, and I realised how much I missed sleeping next to my husband. So we tried it at home!

We had removed the side from the cot a few months earlier in one of our many efforts to solve the sleep conundrum, so we switched our room around a little and put Millie’s bed in our room, alongside our own bed.

Things are quite different, though it’s still been a bit of a journey. Initially we saw very quick improvements, with Millie sleeping through the night, and walking without crying because she could see us next to her. One night I saw her wake up and roll over in a panic, then see us and just lie back down again. After everything we’d been through, all she wanted was to be near us – so simple!

Now of course sleeping in a room with a giant comfy adult bed to climb onto is pretty tempting. Over a couple of weeks we started with Millie getting into our bed for her story, being all cute, snuggling in with her toys, and then she would join us in the middle of the night, and because we were lazy we ended up with her never in her own bed, just always in ours. Sometimes this worked and sometimes, on the sideways sleeping nights, it really didn’t, and that brings us up to this week when I became overtired and really fed up, and after I spent a night sleeping in Millie’s (very short) bed because I’d had enough of trying to fit around her, I knew I had to sort things out.


The last three nights, I’ve gone back to basics. I’ve read before that, although one of a toddler’s purposes is to test boundaries, explore, and push whatever they can, they also need to have the rules they are testing. Not only do they like to know where the lines lie, but they need to, because without this they don’t have any guide for behaviour. We were seeing this is action because Millie, although clearly tired, was pushing and pushing herself and not going to sleep until 9.30-10pm, which was only adding to my exhaustion, and I think it’s because she had no boundaries. She could go in the bedroom, lay where she wanted and we’d accommodate it, play until late and we’d try and curb it but weren’t strong enough about it in honesty. She had no lines to operate within, and just didn’t know what to do.

So – we’re now on night three of Operation Mummy’s Sorting Her Bedtime Shit Out, and so far so good! She sleeps in her own bed, and there’s been a bit of predictable protest, but it’s steadily reduced every night. And last night Millie spent the whole night in her own bed, whoop! There’s a clear lesson here – although I get worn down to the point of strength and commitment to sort things out, I’m not consistent, and take the easy option and give in after a while, which just doesn’t cut it, and confuses Millie. She needs me, and Dave, to be clear and strong in our boundary setting.

So tonight she was asleep by 8.30pm, which feels like a luxury right now, and I’m having a glass of bubbly to celebrate, and raise a glass to the future. She turns two in a fortnight so here’s a to a less lazy mother and finally cracking this sleep shiz!

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Celebrating my boobs

During my first midwife appointment, only a few months pregnant and not really even showing yet, was when I was first asked, ‘Will you breastfeed?’. A silly question to ask at that stage to be honest, because no one can know for sure, but I certainly wanted to try.

It seemed that my boobs wanted to try too, because at around six months pregnant I started waking up to small wet patches in the bed where I’d started leaking already. This was when I first started thinking that, really, the whole thing with boobs is weird.

We are subconsciously taught from a very early age that breasts are for admiration. They are a feature of attractiveness, a sexual tool. And yet here mine were leaking through my clothes and bedsheets at night – not at all sexy! Suddenly they were not mine anymore, they were preparing for someone else’s arrival instead.

Once Millie had been born we began to negotiate the breastfeeding minefield, which for us took a while. My nipples were dripping milk onto my swollen tummy in the shower, they were suckled for hours as Millie would fall asleep during feeds so I was expressing to make sure she was drinking properly, and as it turned out they weren’t quite large enough and needed little silicone shields to ensure a good latch. They were now a constant consideration, as they became full, hard and sore, then had to be switched regularly to ensure good flow for Millie, and were also pumped like udders with a loud electric device to allow my husband to get involved in feeding too.

This is all a bit overwhelming for anyone, and I feel lucky to have stayed in hospital for six days where I had access to clinical experts and a daily breastfeeding clinic where I could go and ask questions, and sometimes just sit and feed knowing I had people around to help if I needed it. The first time I literally asked the nurse to grab my breast and do it for me because I felt so lost, and she duely obliged – that level of support was invaluable to me.

Being able to ask my mum and friends openly about feeding was also vital, because it helped me feel more normal and less isolated – I’ve said it before and will always insist that a support network of any description is they key to how you manage with a child. No one can do it alone.

Initially I had been pleased at my extra cleavage but in fact it’s a huge amount of pressure. On top of trying to manage the varying size, leaking and feeding, there’s the constant talking about it all. Asking friends if the things I was feeling were normal, did their babies do this or that too, trying to fit my breasts into different bras, checking for their fullness. I lost count of how many times I was asked how I was feeding, and then when I started topping Millie up with formula at around six weeks because I couldn’t keep up with her appetite, waited for the judgement. I wasn’t often openly judged, in honesty, but there’s so much conversation about it that I felt ready to be, which is wrong in itself really.

The breast vs bottle thing is a crazy weight to land on a woman’s shoulders after squeezing a human out of her hoo-ha. Yes, breast milk has the longest list of utterly fantastic properties, but if we’re honest formula is great too these days, and the fact is that not every one can physically breastfeed, and even if they can they may not want to – and that’s THEIR decision.

Then came  feeding in public. Because of some of the hype around breastfeeding publicly I was ready to fight anyone who dared challenge me, despite never having actually been challenged! I believed vehemently in my right to feed my daughter wherever and whenever she needed it, and never shied away from that, because I was determined to normalise it and help change perceptions, but then I came back to the old societal rules. There are loads of places that openly support breastfeeeding in public, which is fantastic, but sometimes I didn’t want to just flip my boob out for all to see, despite the very necessary purpose. It feels beautiful, but also vulnerable, and very out of the ordinary for a woman, so I used to carry a big cloth for a bit of privacy now and again if I wanted it.

On the flip side of all that, breastfeeding Millie was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had with her. My favourite times (and my husband says the same, so it’s clearly more about bonding than just boobs) were the night feeds. In the early hours when it felt like we were the only two awake, quietly snuggled together as she filled her tiny tummy and blessed me with her new smiles. It was all about her, all about us, and those moments are so very precious.

Then at only five months it was all over, we’d worked so hard to create a routine and adapt together to her needs as she quickly grew, and then one day she decided she had finished and preferred full formula. I was bereft, and not ready, but the use of my body in this way was no longer my decision, and my baby was choosing to move on.

Now my lovely lumps, humps, breasts, boobs, tits, jugs, or whatever you call them (thanks again to society for steering us towards objectification) are mine again. They’re sexual again, meant for a very different purpose than for those few months of newborn sustenance. And I think I love them a little bit more now. They’re not quite the same as they started out but they’ve worked hard and deserve to stand a little less high, though no less proud.

Breastfeeding is beautiful, important, effective and bloody hard work at times, and I’m very glad I was able to feed Millie this way for a while. Everyone does this slightly differently, and ‘trial and error’ were never more important words for me than in raising a child. We made it work for us, which I think should be celebrated and cherished. I look forward to the day she might want to know her story, and perhaps if she chooses, to experience all this for herself.

Whether you breastfed or not, give yourself and your boobs a little hug, because whever you’ve been through, you deserve it!

Depression and anxiety: with a toddler 

So far in this mini-series of blog posts about my mental health I’ve talked about how my struggles first came about, how I dealt with it then and  how I feel I’ve begun to tackle it now. But I’ve mostly avoided discussion about one pretty major component in it all; my daughter Millie.

If I boil it down my main problem was being overwhelmed with too many things to worry about on a day to day basis, and of course Millie is a huge part of that. There were days when I really struggled to just get to the end of the day, and I was so frustrated, but I knew that her demands weren’t anything out of the ordinary and the problems were mine.

As time wore on and I felt lower and lower, and I began to feel disconnected from her. If I tried to say no to something and she protested, I gave in instantly. I normally feel guilty if she watches any TV or if she eats something I think is unhealthy, but I just went with the quickest and easiest option instead. I was lacking the mental energy to cope with most things day to day, and that included Millie.

That’s actually quite painful to admit to. Obviously she was never neglected or open to harm in any way, but if I’m honest our emotional relationship suffered for a time, because I had just begun to go through the motions. I had to remind myself to get more involved with her; smile when she did something funny and looked at me for a response, sit with her and cuddle while she watched Peppa Pig for the millionth time, and just not let it go when she refused to do more important things like clean her teeth.

I had been signed off work and had decided to keep Millie in her routine of spending two days a week at nursery. She also spent a day a week with my sister in law, and my Mum and Dad would help out and take her for odd days too. If anyone was able to give me a few hours to myself, I took it.

I was drowning and constantly dreamed of ways out. I often fantasised that I could book somewhere and go away to just be completely by myself, because all I wanted was for everything in my life to stop and leave me alone. I particularly remember a day when my sister was off work after an operation and couldn’t drive, and we were going to visit her. She lives about 20 minutes from me and I packed Millie and the dog into the car, and cried the whole way there. I genuinely considered what might happen if I asked my sister to take Millie for a few weeks and just drove away.

Afterwards I felt ridiculous and incredibly guilty. I felt guilty because I knew I was letting Millie (and everyone else) down and giving her far less than she deserved from her mother. I felt guilty because other people were coping with more children and more complicated lives than me, and yet I was crumbling. I felt guilty because there are people who would give everything to be parents, and I was wishing my daughter away. I felt like a failure.

One day my Mum popped in to see us and Millie saw her at the door and immediately went to get her bag and shoes as if she was going out, and then cried when she realised her Nanny was staying in the house with us. That was a bit of a slap to be honest, because I realised just how accustomed she’d gotten to being taken by other people, and how my company was wasn’t enjoyable for her.

I slowly started trying to spend time with Millie one on one. We often do things with others, and I thought it would be good to be together, away from home (because we both go a bit stir crazy when we’re in for too long), with no expectations.

We went to a local play café, we went to the farm, we went to the forest. I tried to let go of everything else in my head and just see her. I would sit with her and talk, play, or do nothing, just watch her. Forget my worries about what she was eating, what else was going on that day, everything.

You know what I realised? I need her. Dear God, do I need her. All the time I had been pulling away from her, and yet when I began to let her back in, she was the one healing me. When I focused on her I could smile because I was happy, and laugh because I wanted to, not because I thought I should. Children are such unaffected, joyous little souls, and I was getting to share that, and see things the way she did.

She doesn’t give a shit if I didn’t shower today, or if she had spaghetti hoops for tea three times this week. Everything she does is interesting to her, or fun, and when I began to just follow her lead, I saw it that way too. I would come home from our times out feeling lighter, and a little at a time I was genuinely enjoying life more, in all aspects.

Millie and sleep have never been great pals and in the last few months she’s spent a lot of nights in bed with me, then more recently we’ve moved her bed into our room, and this has also been really wonderful. It’s meant her sleep has settled and she no longer wakes nearly as much at night, which helps with my sleep deprivation, and I love being so close to her. Laying in the dark and listening to her breathing is very relaxing, and always makes me feel comforted and warm. Then in the mornings she doesn’t wake crying, I roll over and she’s right there, all bed head and chatter.

Now I continue to make time from myself away from everything else, including Millie, because I know I need it, and I know it’s ok to have that. I also continue to make time for just the two of us, because it seems to centre me a bit, we always have a great time, and I know one day she’ll be grown and gone, and I will be fantasising about our lives now instead.

I’ve read a number of times that having time away from your kids makes you a better parent, and it’s so true. If I have time to refuel myself I can give her everything when we are together, and I’ve accepted that now. I’ve realised that I can’t learn to manage my mental health issues without her, so from here on in, it’s a team effort.

A letter to my daughter 

Dearest Millie,

Well we made it, today is your first birthday, and it feels a bit surreal to be honest. This past year has been the fastest of my life, and yet there have been many times when I thought the end of the day would never come.

Having a baby was not a decision I took lightly. I waited and agonised for years, and though I was in a place in my life where I was ready, as soon as you arrived I questioned what I had been waiting for. Until it happens, you just can’t grasp what a change it is, and I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but I quickly realised we are a little team, taking on the world, and we can work it out together.

There is not a single part of my life that has not had to change or flex to adapt to your arrival. I have become adept at showering in mere seconds, living without ever getting enough sleep, and missing meals. I’ve also been completely and utterly overwhelmed every day by your mere existence.

I have never known emotions like I do with you. It’s a life full of extremes; of happiness so great my heart wants to burst, of giddy excitement at seemingly tiny milestones (like today when I saw you sign ‘listen’ for the first time), of crying in the shower out of utter despair. It’s been such a roller coaster and it’s taught me so much about myself; I have a strength, a purpose and an identity I never knew before, because of you. I’m a mum ❤️.

I’ve been so very proud of how you’ve developed, because being a baby is tough and you take it in your stride. The first night you spent in your own room at 12 weeks old, when you’re poked and prodded by doctors and nurses and you watch with quiet curiosity, and when you flatly refuse to do anything you don’t want to do. My heart swells and I love it, I feel so privileged to watch this tiny personality taking shape in front of me.

I wonder and worry about your future sometimes. You have so much ahead of you, a lifetime of possibility, and having seen the scale of change in the world since I was a child, I can only imagine what your adulthood will look like and the opportunities you’ll have. As a woman your choices, aspirations and ideals will be so different to mine, my mum’s or grandmother’s, and it’s very exciting. On the flip side I don’t know what threats you’ll face, and the knowledge that I can’t protect you is frightening. Parenting gives you such a lot to think about!

I can’t pretend to you that it’s all been wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever faced challenges like those I have this past year, especially in the early months. The physical, mental and psychological strain is immense, doubting every decision and feeling completely inadequate. I went through a period where I was convinced I simply wasn’t good enough for you, and thankfully you won’t remember but I apologised endlessly. Throughout it all you’ve provided so many highs that I’ve learnt I can overcome the lows, and you’ve given me the perspective to see that it’s all part of the experience, we’re incredibly lucky to have our time together, and tomorrow is another day.

I know the first year is only the beginning, but it’s a big achievement for us both and I feel like we’ve come such a long way. You’re no longer so dependent and tiny, but growing into a proper little person at an alarming rate. I promise to try and make good decisions, but I’m going to have bad days too. Sometimes you’ll get a lazy dinner, or I’ll snap in frustration, but please know I’m always doing my best. I want to model patience, kindness, honesty and strength, I want to show you how to have fun, enjoy a meaningful career, see the value in the little moments and always believe in yourself. Having said this, I can be moody, argumentative and lazy (to mention just three of my less desirable traits!) so I’m never going to be this image of parental perfection all the time, but I’m trying darling, and you make me want to be better at it every day.

I love you so fiercely it overwhelms me, and whatever our future might hold, you are all I really need.

Happy birthday, little Millie xxxx