My three-year old didn’t sleep last night.
This in itself is no big deal – after all, it’s a rare occurrence and the poor thing has a nasty head cold. But for me, that place in the dead of the night – when there is no light, no sound, only your brain whispering you can’t do this – is when all the fear comes rushing back.
Today, my sleep deprived self wants to pay tribute to single parents everywhere. I have glimpsed your world. I think you are truly remarkable – each and every one of you.
My first baby slept. He was one of those textbook kids; he slept through from eight weeks and was a healthy, thriving baby. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few rough nights – but all in all, I had this parenting thing in the bag.
Thirteen months later my world turned on its head. I gave birth to baby number two, a beautiful little girl. The first six weeks were lovely, and then suddenly she developed a respiratory problem associated with severe reflux.
The next twelve months of my life are a black hole. I can’t tell you specific events from this period, because they are gone. Maybe this is a survival mechanism, or maybe my brain wasn’t functioning at full capacity.
My baby girl slept in roughly half hour cycles (once you could get her to sleep). She would become distressed in the horizontal position, so I slept much of this period upright in an armchair with her cradled into my shoulder.
I did everything you are not supposed to do.
Sometimes, after I had checked everything I could think of (was she warm, hungry, comfortable, tired, over-tired, wet?) I would hold her to my chest, put my head phones on and turn the music up loud enough to block out the crying.
We had a mechanical baby rocker that had a sticker on the side which read: Do not leave child in rocker for in excess of 10 minutes. Sometimes, at about 3am, she would settle in the rocker – I think the upright position and gentle swaying brought her some comfort. There were nights I would strap her in and curl my body around the rocker, so that if for some crazy reason she fell out, she would land on me. And I would tell myself, I will just rest my eyes…just for ten minutes.
Some nights she would settle as the first rays of sun would reach over the horizon. This was also the same time my one-year-old would wake up ready to take on the world. If the baby was finally asleep, I would set up his toys beside my bed and pray he might play for half an hour whilst I lay on the bed.
To the outside world all seemed rosey – but I was barely functioning.
I have always been a dreamer, a person to shoot for the stars, but during that time – all I wanted to do was lie down.
I now know why they use sleep deprivation as a torture mechanism.
Because I felt tortured.
Somewhere during the black hole I booked myself an appointment with my GP. I turned up looking like hell. I had put on 15 kilos (this is a very large number for someone with my tiny frame), my hair was unwashed and my eyes were bloodshot. In his gentle concerned voice he asked me what was wrong.
“I think I have post-natal depression,” I said.
He did his due diligence and checked me over. After a thorough assessment he said to me, “Leese, you don’t have post-natal depression, you have exhaustion.”
Oh. I could have told him that.
He proceeded to tell me, “If you can’t get someone to have the kids for two nights, I will put you in hospital and you will have no choice but to sleep.”
Right there was my problem.
Because for the first time in my whole life – I was alone.
By now my marriage had broken down and my rock solid support network, my family, was MIA.
I grew up with the sort of family you can depend on, no matter what. They are forever my safety net. But at this particular point in time we had almost lost my Dad to Pancreatitis and he was in intensive care in the city. Mum needed to be with him. My brothers, usually my next port of call, were both traveling.
Dad meets my baby girl for the first time
So it was up to me.
For the first time I had to stand on my own two feet, with no crutch in sight.
I was angry.
I was sad.
But mostly, I was so freakin’ tired.
I have an Auto Immune Disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). Some people carry the gene their whole lives and the disease never kicks in. I have learned it is often a period of high stress that activates the disease. It is no surprise then that the symptoms of my AS started to show up at this time (although it was another eight years before I received an official diagnosis).
This disease makes your joints swell, inhibits your mobility and in general, makes you feel like you went five rounds with Mike Tyson the night before. This disease was breaking me down.
So what got me through?
It was the small things that saved me.
There were some beautiful girls that lived in my small town that would walk with me. They would take turns pushing a pram and I would push the other, so as not to put too much stress on my sore joints.
These walks were my therapy.
During this time I would go to my Auntie’s to put on a load of washing because I couldn’t afford a new washing machine yet. It wasn’t uncommon for her to turn up at my house a few hours later with it all washed, dried and folded.
And I would almost cry with gratitude.
My life had become about surviving each day.
Some days I would focus on a time of a day that I knew was better – like early afternoon – and I would count the hours.
Some days I would cope by staying in my pyjamas all day and eating nothing but toast (um – that probably explains the 15 kilos).
Ten years ago – just getting through the day (I think that is mashed banana on my knee!)
But it was the nights – it was the nights that nearly did me in.
So last night, at 3am, when my three-year-old (the fourth and last child!) woke me up for the tenth time, I had to remind myself I am no longer that person. Because on the other side of the bed was a man who got up as many times as I did – even though he had to go to work at 4am.
For the rest of my life I know that he will be home at the end of the day to help out. I know, even though I am tired and sore today, it is short term. I know, it will not go on for weeks, months or even years.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do this over. To know what it is like to to raise a child as part of a team. Partly because of the joy, but partly because when I look back now and compare this experience to my single parent years, I can safely say – there is no comparison.
I had every reason to feel like I was drowning during those years – because I was.
So I want to say to the people out there doing small things (or big things!) to support a single parent. Keep doing them. Please. Because you have no idea how much difference you make.
But more importantly, to all you single parents out there – forget football stars and pop princesses – you are the true champions.
Blend it your way,
As always I would love you to comment or come join the conversation over on the Facebook page. If you enjoyed this post, you might like How Kid Number Four Changed Everything or How I Went From Contentedly Divorced to Happily Married 🙂