ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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The Independent Culture
LIKE most mothers of small babies, I have become completely obsessed by sleep, or rather the lack of it. Why did I waste all those nights before parenthood engulfed me, by going to parties or reading books or watching the telly, when I could have been fast asleep?

How I long for even four hours of undisturbed sleep - but no, Mr Blobby, my fat baby, needs to be fed more often than that. It's not that he doesn't sleep; he sleeps through noisy trips to the supermarket, expeditions to the playground, car journeys through rush-hour traffic. As my sister remarked: 'He seems to exist in a persistent vegetative state.' But he wakes up a lot too, especially when I'm in bed.

I know all this will change: after all, my four-year-old son sleeps peacefully for 11 hours at night (and he'll probably never get out of bed when he's a teenager). But at the moment, I'm so dispirited that I don't think I could bear to be friends with anybody whose small baby never disturbed them at night. (And yes, these people do exist - I've met them at playgroups and in the park. 'Of course,' they say with a bright smile, 'little Johnny is in bed at seven o'clock sharp, and I never hear a peep from him till eight in the morning.' Maybe they're lying, or maybe they're deaf. You never can tell.)

But I have formed deep and lasting friendships on the basis of a shared experience of sleep deprivation. We don't talk about films or politics or anything like that; we talk about exhaustion. It provides a strange comradeship - and the comfort of knowing that at 4am, when most other people are sleeping, at least someone else out there is staggering around trying to find a clean nappy.

Before I had children, I never thought it would be like this. And even when my first one was born, I remained absurdly optimistic. He actually managed to sleep for eight hours without waking when he was a couple of months old, so I thought I had it cracked. The next night he reverted to form, but I thought this was just a temporary aberration.

It was only after another five months of him waking me up three times a night that I realised things weren't going according to plan. That was when I turned nasty and went in for a drastic retraining programme, which involved leaving him to cry for 20 minutes at a time. I had borrowed a book written by a stern American doctor who promised that your baby would sleep all night within a week if you followed his instructions. Well I did, and they didn't work.

But this time, of course, it's going to be different. This baby will be sleeping peacefully for 12 hours at a stretch, oh, any day now. It's true - it just has to be. Otherwise I'll never be a normal, interesting person ever again.