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When you’re pregnant, people love to make jokes about sleepless nights, right? In fact, I think every single person I spoke to during pregnancy managed to make at least one joke about how it would be a while before I got a decent night’s sleep. How right they were! I expected sleepless nights with newborn twins. I’m not an idiot (no, really). But no one told me I’d still be having sleepless nights two years later.
In pretty much every other way, Jack and Alice are awesome. They are sweet and funny and so cute, I could eat them up. But they have never been good sleepers. That’s actually a bit unfair. At any given time, I have one good sleeper. They just seem to take it in turns. Anyway, with twins (or any two kids, I guess), if you have one bad sleeper, the good sleeper is cancelled out. No one talks about their good sleeper. Not if they have a bad sleeper, too.
At the moment, Alice is my good sleeper. That means that I get to watch her sleep, while I settle Jack for the hundredth time every night. Really, it’s like she’s mocking me. Making me watch her sleep, while Jack takes his turn to keep me awake.
For the first 6 months or so, the sleepless nights didn’t bother me. The “helpful” comments people made, about everything I was doing wrong to make the twins such poor sleepers, didn’t bother me, either. Babies wake for a reason. Night feeds are normal and necessary. Sure, Jack and Alice rarely woke at the same time, so I was being woken up twice as often, but I didn’t expect to get any sleep in the early days anyway.
Between 6 months and a year, I did my very best to not be bothered by the sleepless nights. Many babies still feed through the night up to 12 months and even later than that. It’s still normal. I promise. But the problem was that all of my “mummy” friends, who had been suffering through sleep deprivation right along with me, started to tell me how wonderful it was, now that their little darlings had started sleeping better. So why do my kids hate sleep?
By the time we got to 18 months, I was almost starting to believe that I must have been doing something wrong. People “helpfully” told me that the twins shouldn’t be feeding through the night anymore, or that I should be leaving them to cry, so that they would get used to going to sleep without me. Full disclaimer time – I know that some people swear by sleep training, but it’s not for me. Leaving my children to cry on their own, for any length of time, just doesn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t do it, even if I tried. Even if it was guaranteed that the twins would sleep for 12 hours straight every night until they were old enough to move out. I just couldn’t do it. I’d rather just carry on complaining about how I’m not getting any sleep and if that makes me too soft or too daft or too annoying (probably that last one), then I’m sorry. But not really.
Then 18 months turned into 2 years and I was starting to go a little bit insane. Anyone who has survived on 4 hours (or less) sleep every night for 2 years is fully entitled to lose their mind. If it wasn’t for Mr Becca taking over full parenting duties on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so that I could nap for a couple of hours, I would have been a total zombie. I was most of the way there, even with the naps.
It was at this point that I night weaned. Remember what I said about not being able (or willing) to leave them to cry on their own? Well, listening to them cry while I’m in the room with them isn’t much fun either. I’m glad I was there to comfort them and respond to their needs, but it really didn’t feel very “gentle”. I nearly gave in so many times, even though it only took two nights for them to adjust to not having milk during the night. But it didn’t stop Jack from waking up. All those people, who said the twins would sleep better if I night weaned, had to eat their hats (probably not literally).
Alice started sleeping through, until 4 or 5am anyway – which was still a huge improvement and one I could live with – but Jack still woke up. The only difference was that I didn’t have my foolproof, guaranteed easy way to settle him within 5 minutes anymore. Hugs, back rubs, lullabies – they all take much longer than a quick feed.
In August, we’ll officially hit 2.5years without a full night’s sleep. At least, I can’t imagine that anything will have changed in the space of a month. Looking back, I don’t think I’d change anything about how I’ve dealt with the twins’ sleep so far. I wouldn’t change my decision to breastfeed or to wait until they were almost 2 years old to night wean. I strongly believe that the decisions I’ve made were the best decisions for me and the twins at the time and I stand by them. After all, I’ve treated Jack and Alice exactly the same and Alice has figured out the whole sleeping thing all on her own. Jack’s a smart kid. Surely he can do the same?
However, while I wouldn’t change my parenting decisions, I wish I could change my reaction to all those stories about how everyone else’s toddlers are sleeping through the night. I wish that, instead of doubting myself and wondering whether I really am doing it all wrong, I could just accept that what’s right for other mums and their children is not necessarily right for me and mine. And vice versa. In general, I think all mums need to learn how to be a bit kinder to themselves and to each other.
We need to remember that everything is just a phase, even if that phase lasts a little bit longer than we thought, or hoped, that it would. Jack will figure out the sleeping thing. If you’re reading this, thinking that your kid will never sleep, I promise you – he will. Or, at the very least, he will get old enough to learn how to switch the TV/iPad/games console on and leave you to sleep until you’re ready to get up (mostly joking about leaving technology to babysit… probably).
And if you’re reading this, feeling smug because your kid is one of those who sleeps through the night, I hate to break it to you… but, there’s probably another crappy phase on the way to ruin your good mood. But don’t worry – that one won’t last forever either!