It’s 8.45 am. I’ve managed to safely negotiate the 1 hour and 10-minute journey to work during rush hour without dropping off at the wheel. I hadn’t slept a single wink the previous night and don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep for over a year now. I’m fully prepared for the day ahead, except that I’ve forgotten my lunch…again. I’m feeling surprisingly upbeat and as I pour myself a cup of strong coffee, I mention to a colleague that I haven’t had a solitary minute of shut eye since I saw her last. She can’t comprehend how I’m still smiling with a jam-packed day ahead. She doesn’t understand because she isn’t a parent yet.
When our first child arrived, it was a shock to the system. Niamh was born in early August 2011 and that day she made us the happiest we’d ever been. We were going to do everything by the book. We were going to be the best parents ever. That was until that very first night and I found myself at the local 24hr garage at 2.00am to buy a pack of dummies! She wouldn’t sleep. In those first few weeks we tried everything but it wasn’t working. Friends and family members told us to sleep when she does but when you’re constantly greeting an overwhelming number of excited visitors as well as washing bibs, blankets and sleepsuits, giving the house a quick tidy and nipping to the shop to buy nappies, wipes and everything else you thought you had enough of, it was difficult to find the time to sleep. We often forgot to eat!
The main issue was that our poor little girl was lactose and protein intolerant. A fact we didn’t realise until six weeks in. Every time she cried we gave her a bottle and every time we did, it made things worse. She cried a lot so we gave her more bottles. Eventually, we realised that something wasn’t right and, in consultation with relevant health professionals, we changed her milk. Although the crying eased a bit, she still seemed to be constantly fighting off her sleep. We tried everything. Every single method we came across – nothing worked. The only thing that gave us any relief was ‘Baby Jake’ on Cbeebies! I went from being someone who could only sleep in a comfy bed to being someone who could sleep on a knife’s edge at a click of fingers.
After about nine months of utter exhaustion, sleeping in separate beds and splitting each night into two shifts, we gave up and just let her sleep beside us. We took turns tending to her when she woke in the night. By the time our second child came along we were performing every bad habit that we promised ourselves as expecting parents we would never succumb to. When our third child arrived less than a year later, our sleeping arrangements were totally dysfunctional.
As a young married couple, the only time we slept in the same bed was when we stayed away at the occasional wedding of a friend or extended family member. When we told people, they would look at us with screwed up faces. The most judgemental were our friends who nailed the early days of parenthood with perfect bedtime routines and babies who slept through the night after a few months. In a nutshell, they’d tell us how we did everything wrong and they did everything right. They’d ask us if we’d tried the ‘controlled crying method’ (or some other initiative) as though it was all down to our incompetence’s verses their efficiency in making their child feel secure. Many of them understood our plight with the arrival of their second child. Those without kids would tell us our sleeping arrangements were unhealthy and that we’d eventually grow apart if we didn’t make changes. Even my own mum told me we needed to take something back for ourselves or we would grow distant. The truth is we never grew apart. We are closer than ever and we share an amazing and ever-growing bond that has flourished with the absolute and unrivalled joy of parenthood. I’ve obviously always loved my wife and I’ve always felt very lucky to be in a relationship with someone so perfect for me. But since we’ve been so blessed to have three adorable kids I’m in absolute awe of her. I feel a huge amount of gratitude for what she has given me. The selflessness she displayed throughout each pregnancy and labour is something I’ll never be able to repay or replicate – no matter what I do. My three children mean my happiness is immeasurable and I have my wife to thank for that. I will be eternally indebted.
Our eldest daughter is now six-years-old and she has only just started sleeping by herself! Our two boys are in bunk beds in their own room, although almost every night I get kicked out of my own bed by my youngest and I must go, half asleep and tail between legs, to his bottom bunk as he won’t share his Mummy or his pillow with me. We have finally reached the point where we get a good night’s sleep most nights, having been used to an average of around 4-5 hours a night for over five years.
Your kids can have you up all night and, whilst you’d rather be getting a good night’s sleep, it doesn’t seem to dampen your spirits. When you’re a Daddy to three thriving kids, not much can. I’ve changed jobs to be closer to home and I’ve given up playing for a local soccer team which had previously been a big part of my life. I enjoy a lot less social outings with my close friends – although most of them are now in the same boat. I earn less so I have a lot less disposable income and we haven’t been on a foreign holiday together since before the kids were born. I’ve had to sacrifice many things that I thought would be difficult to give up. However, I’ve never been happier. The advice I’d give to any new or expecting parent would be to try whatever ‘methods’ feel right for you. Don’t feel the pressure to conform to what everyone else is telling you to do. Do whatever you need to and so long as you have the best interests of your children, your partner and yourself at heart, you’ll have a happy household and there is no sacrifice great enough for that.