Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A year on the couch


Before I got pregnant with twins, I used to think about how amazing twin babies would be. Doesn't everyone, at some point? But while the fantasy sounded lovely, the daydreams were swiftly followed by a reality check: ‘Wait, so as well as feeding and changing two babies...several times a day - I’d have to get them both to sleep?'

Cue: brain explosion.

And that was always where I signed out of the fantasy. You see, I'm no good with babies and sleep. I don't mind saying it. I'm good at lots of other baby-related things. I'm patient. Attentive. Warm. But when it comes to babies and their sleep, I don't have the goods. I've got evidence to back this up. There's been months of anguish, tears and frustration from when my first two children were babies. I've got all the sleep books, done the research, and have made the desperate enquiries with over-priced baby whisperers. I've been to sleep school. Patted babies to sleep until my hand nearly fell off.  Shushed until my tongue went numb.
So when our twins arrived, I had a pretty good idea of what lay ahead of me. To begin with, all went well. The babies were sleepy newborns. Sleepy and premmie newborns, to be precise. So they slept all hours in the day. Easy peasy. In their moses baskets, they slept. Next to each other, and apart. They slept.
Then, at around three months, they ‘woke’ up. No longer sleepy babies, they wanted to be rocked and fed to sleep. I obliged for as long as I could. But eventually this took too long and became too big a task, especially with my older two children still being so dependent. Miss P was not quite 2 and Mr B was 4.5 when the babies arrived. It was clear that the best thing would be to start using hands-on settling techniques that encouraged good sleeping habits in the babies early on.
So I summoned up all the confidence I had. And took lots of deep breaths.
Firstly, I started working on their day sleeps. I tried to settle the babies in their cots, in the same room by patting and shushing them simultaneously. Using every ounce of gentle determination I had, this would occasionally work after 10-15 minutes. But the problem was, how often does someone with two other small children have 10-15 minutes to spend in a room with crying babies?

In any case, this wasn't such an issue most of the time. Because most of the time, the babies would scream in protest so loudly that I couldn’t even hear my own shushing. Within minutes, the futility of the process would create a well of panic inside me. I'd end up racing from the room in distress, frustrated tears flowing down my face. To say we all got off to a bad start very early on would be pretty accurate.
Then we discovered the rocking cradles. Cosy and comfortable, these machines lulled the babies to sleep with ease. For a tired and overwhelmed mum, they were a gift from heaven. Suddenly, it was like having two extra pairs of arms to take care of the babies. So instead of struggling with day sleeps, I’d let the swings take care of it. I knew this was a huge crutch to be leaning on but I was exhausted, and needed all the help I could get. I must have spent hundreds of dollars on batteries to keep these swings going. When the babies came down with a virus that kept them up all night, we used the swings to rock them back to sleep after a dose of panadol and a feed. To keep an eye on them, I slept on the couch. After weeks of not sleeping, the couch offered comfort and a place to lay my weary head.
Eventually one of the swings broke. The dream was over. It was time to move the babies back to their cots. The memories here are all very hazy, but somehow, I was able to get Baby J to transition to his cot without too much fuss. However, Baby A was having none of it. Try as I might, I just couldn’t settle him in the same room as his brother. There was no point keeping him in there, given the risk of disrupting the other baby’s sleep. So we moved him and his cot into our bedroom, which made things a tight squeeze.

It took weeks of patting and shushing to get Baby A used to his cot again, in the new environment. But I persevered because I had no other choice. Once he was finally sleeping, I became paranoid about the noise we made in there. The bed was squeaky. The light from the landing shined brightly into the room when the door was opened. I worried about the sounds of snoring, and tossing and turning waking him up. After weeks of working on his sleep, I couldn’t stand the thought of him being disturbed.  
So we stopped going into the bedroom, and started camping out in the living room. I didn't mind. I was used to the couch. And given that the babies were each sleeping for a decent stretch at night, I saw it as a worthwhile sacrifice.
But it's been a year now. Baby A still sleeps in our room. His brother sleeps in the original babies' room. Our big kids share the third bedroom. That’s it. There’s no more bedrooms. My husband and I sleep in the living room. Every night, once we've finished our dinner, catch-up conversation and TV-watching, my husband routinely drags in the single bed mattress and makes up his bed. I rotate the cushions on the couch so I'm not sleeping on the flat bit. We snuggle down and go to sleep, listening to the whirring  and clunking of the dishwasher. Sometimes we laugh about the situation we're in, and other times, we wonder what the hell we're doing.
Every now and then, I get a flash of determination and tell  my husband that we’re putting the babies back in their room together. But the resolve doesn’t last long. I start making a plan and stop halfway through, already seeing how pear-shaped things could go. The babies sleep ok mostly, but at least once a week, one of them will refuse to settle for his bedtime, or wake several times during the night, for no apparent reason. Just thinking about the implications for the sleeping twin in his room makes me shudder, let alone the effects this could have on the other kids, who sleep right next door. Bigger and stronger now, these babies can make one heck of a racket. I just don’t think I can go there. Not yet. I'm too tired.

Are we crazy to live like this? Some would say 'Yes'. But I would say two things: 'Have you ever had twin babies?' and 'The couch is surprisingly comfortable.' 

What have you done to get some sleep in your house? Ever been kicked out of your bed? Ever got yourself into some bad sleeping habits that took ages to undo?

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