My Baby - The Sleep Thief

I absolutely love children. Always have. I’m a newborn and baby photographer in my hometown in Dorset, and this career path was sort of inevitable for me, given the fact that I loved two things more than anything else. Babies of all ages, and taking lots of photos.

Becoming a mum was always on my ultimate ‘to-do’ list. Anyone who knew me as a teen and a twenty-something was just waiting for the inevitable pregnancy announcement. I met my now husband, Ben when I was 18, fell in love in an instant, and we’ve been together ever since. We both love kids. We knew we’d start a family one day, but it was always ‘one day’, and we never felt truly ready. Does anyone? Even at the ripe age of 29 and 31, when we finally ticked it off the ‘to-do’ list and started the parenting journey with the birth of our son, Sebastian, we both felt completely out of our depth. Especially as Ben was filming a magic TV show at the time and working 16 hour days. He went back to work on day three, and I was left holding the baby and wondering how on Earth I was supposed to go for a wee when my newborn had finally fallen asleep on my chest and I didn’t want to disturb him. Those were the days when I lived in my pyjamas, lost all communication with my hair straighteners, drank cold ‘reheated in the microwave once already but that was an hour ago’ tea and didn’t sleep much at all.

Those first few months, it was a circus of never-ending piles of laundry, skipped lunches, cabin fever, lots of tears and feeling a bit lost most of the time. And I don’t know how I got through it. But I did. The fact is, I was in love with the tiny human I’d created, and my life was dedicated to keeping him alive and well, and tending to his every need. And if that meant breastfeeding every 2-3 hours in the night for twelve long months, then so be it. Don’t get me wrong, I have deeply happy memories of that first year too, every nappy change, the first bath, the endless gummy smiles, his laugh when we pushed him on the swings, the way his face contorted as he ate his first baby purees, the feel of his soft warm skin as he curled up in my arms for a sleep, and his long eyelashes splayed out across his chubby cheeks... but the transition into motherhood was rocky, and I often wonder if I made it harder because I expected too much of myself.

Looking back, I just want to reach into my memories and give 29 year old me a massive hug and a gentle but firm shake by the shoulders. I’m six years deep into motherhood now, and I’ve been around the block a few times. It’s the craziest thing, parenthood. There’s ups and there’s downs and a lot of in-between’s and the days seem crazy long. I wish I could go back and do it all over again with the head I currently have on my shoulders.

I read all the books, but nothing I tried seemed to work, and I didn’t have the strength of mind or will to continue with a "sleep training" plan longer than a couple of nights before giving up and doing what I’d always done – breastfeeding him back to sleep so I could grab an hour or so myself.

It was when my son started school for the first time, and I had an 18 month old daughter at home, that I was invited on a breakfast playdate with some of the new mums from Seb’s reception class, when I met one of these sleep angels, Eve Squires. She had a daughter the same age as Seb, and they had just started school together. Her toddler, Ted was a little bit older than Darcey and was just scrummy. We all talked a bit about what we did, and Eve mentioned she had her own business, helping parents and their babies to get solid sleep. She told me all about her company Calm and Bright Sleep Support. “Like the Christmas Carol” she told me “Silent Night”. I wouldn’t forget it now. A couple of hours into the breakfast, Ted took his mummy’s hand and said “It’s nap time, mummy”. Eve looked ad Ted, and said “Ok Teddy! Lets’ go.” She thanked the hostess for having us, and packed up her things. How had Ted learned to tell the time by the age of two, I wondered? Most impressive. “Does he nap well?” asked another mum. “Oh he loves his sleep” Eve replied. “He goes down for an hour or so at about 11am every day." “Does he take himself off for a nap?” I half joked. “Yes!” Eve replied, in a matter of fact way. “He’ll take himself to bed and falls asleep very quickly.” Eve must have sensed or heard my jaw hitting the ground, so she quickly followed with “Oh it wasn’t like this with all four of my children by any means. It’s like I’ve finally hit the jackpot fourth time round!” Something about that comment made me sceptical that she was being one hundred percent truthful. I had a sneaky suspicion that the reason Teddy slept so well, was because his mum was a seasoned pro, and a bit of a sleep wizard. She had barely spoken about the work she did with parents, but I could tell in that moment, from things said as well as unsaid, that this woman knew sleep. And she knew how to bring it about.

Fast forward two years, and Eve is a good friend of mine. I’ve seen her work with parents, I’ve followed her stories and testimonials on Instagram. I’ve seen first hand what she does for families, many of them I know from the school playground, and it’s nothing short of a miracle, the results she inspires. A part of me feels sad when I read her client testimonies, because I’d give anything to go back in time and gift this to my former self. I ended up in an extremely dark place as a result of the lack of sleep I had for the first 3 years of my son’s life. (No, that’s not a typing error – I really mean three whole years). But another part of me feels relieved. I realise that I wasn’t alone in those horrible moments of alone-ness at 3am for the millionth time, desperately googling ‘sleep training for babies’ for the then thousandth time. There were hundreds of women awake with me, all over the country, going through this, with me, also alone. And there’s something about the togetherness of motherhood that makes me feel deeply connected and understood. I wish I had felt it at the time.

The help Eve and her team can offer is a service, like any other, and naturally it comes at a fee. If you’d told me back then that I’d need to pay someone else to do the job I was supposed to be able to do myself, I’d have defensively told you where to go. (Politely. I’m a nice person after all.) But I wouldn’t have seen the value in paying for a service when ‘if I can’t do it, how can anyone else’. But I would have been looking at it completely wrong. When we want our babies to learn to swim, to be unafraid of the water, we call in the professionals to help us show our babies how to do it. And they learn. (At a cost of about £8 a week – or £400 a year). Sleep training is no different. Can you show your baby how to be unafraid of sleep? Teach them to enjoy solid sleep and to drift off happily? Of course you can. But if you’re struggling as I was, why wouldn’t you call in some professional help? Help that, so far, hasn’t found a baby they can’t help? Help from someone who isn’t shattered like you, has more resolve than you, and has years of experience in the thing you’re only just learning how to deal with? What they're offering is in the title. Support! And often, that's all that's needed. It’s a solid no-brainer, and my heart aches for the hours, days and months I spent in limbo, half trying to sleep train my baby, half giving up on the whole idea, and living a half-life in which I was permanently exhausted, edgy and uptight, resenting my adorable baby and wishing I could find a solution.

So tired mums, if you need support, find Eve and her team on Instagram and take a look at the reviews from other previously tired mums and see for yourself. There's help available, you don't ever have to feel alone in this.

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© 2019 by Little Portraits - Photography by Kathryn Earl