"Big cuddles", sleep deprivation and slowing things down

Big cuddles are all the rage in our house at the moment.  Elijah invented them.  Well not the big cuddle per se (obviously!), but his big cuddle. He likes to throw him arms around us and nestle in for a big one, “big cuddle Mummy”, is a regular request during my days and nights now.

Putting him to bed at night can often result in a good 5-10 big cuddles, in between all the tossing and turning and time wasting that is involved in the ‘going to sleep and not mucking around’ process, where he resists sleep and mucks around and the whole process can sometimes take a very long time!

It was for this reason that I invented the squidgy cuddle, which is exactly that, a big old squidgy cuddle, nice and cosy so that he feels fully safe and protected.  I channel some Reiki through my hands onto his back and the combination of the two seems to result in him finally nodding off to sleep.

Not that Elijah falling asleep means that we are done with the big cuddles for the night.  No, no, no. Last night, for example, he called out for me at 2.30am because a big cuddle with Mummy was absolutely essential in that moment.  This was followed by a further call at about 4.30am although this time the big cuddle with Mummy had to take place in Mummy and Daddy’s bed.

So into our bed he came and proceeded to ‘big cuddle’ me on and off for the next few hours. Every time I tried to turn away from him and retreated for space, he would awaken and demand yet another big cuddle so that to be honest by 6.30am, well I was all big cuddled out and it was time to get up in any event.

We’ve always had a problem with Elijah’s inability to sleep the whole night through in or out of his own bed.  He’s 27 months and still hasn’t managed it yet.  I wasn’t aware before having Elijah that this degree of sleep deprivation was possible without you dying or collapsing or being totally incapable of functioning as a sane human being.

The initial three months were ok, the seemingly endless night time feeding was followed by seemingly endless day time feeding where not a lot else was demanded or expected apart from teaching a few yoga classes, making some food and staying on top of the washing. But going back to the office job at three months, albeit part-time was a challenge to say the least.

I felt permanently jet lagged and existed on black tea and dark chocolate in quantities I had never before consumed or indeed since.  The job was demanding as I had to catch up from three months absence and we were buying and selling companies and it was all rather busy and I now had to factor in time away from my desk to express milk and a baby brain and sleep deprivation which created an inability to retain information for longer than 5 minutes.

At times it was embarrassing as I simply could not recall decisions which had been made only a day earlier. Sometimes I would just sit there staring at my screen completely lost, no idea what I was meant to be doing, or what I had just done and incapable of remembering words to form sentences let alone writing detailed emails with paragraphs. I began to think I was going mad.

And I guess I did go mad.  Well not mad in the sense that I lost my mind, just mad in the sense that as the months went on and the night feeding continued at regular  2-3 hourly intervals, I found myself a little on edge and a little impatient and a teensy weeny bit angry at life generally.  Essentially I was angry that having gone through IVF, Placenta Previa and a horrible C-section, I still hadn’t been given a break, I may well have my baby, but he didn’t like to sleep! I had forgotten that every cloud has a silver lining.

There was always hope that the sleep would improve, or so people kept telling me, there were supposed milestones when everything would shift in a positive sleepy direction: when he ate solids, when he finished teething, when he started crawling, when he started walking and when he started talking. But his second birthday arrived and we were still on the 3 hourly wake-ups and I was still breastfeeding and I was constantly exhausted and drained and longing for sleep and a full night’s sleep.

It was at this point that I realised that something had to shift and that I needed a few nights away on my own.  It’s funny really because pre-Elijah I was a bit of a free spirit who regularly attended yoga training courses on my own in the UK and would travel regularly overseas, be that to Nepal or Canada or wherever it may be to see my friends and immerse myself in the local yoga scene. But for 2 whole years I only ever had one single night away from Elijah and that was with my Dad to watch a Mark Knopler concert in London, how things change!

So to say I was excited about 2 nights on my own in a hotel to undertake a 3 day Ayurvedic Pancha Karma with my Ayurvedic Doctor was an understatement, the fact it was in East Croydon of all places did nothing to dampen my spirits.  I have such fond memories of my time there that I think East Croydon is a fabulous place to visit; I loved the silence of not really talking to anyone for 2 whole days, I loved the Ayurvedic treatments and I loved having a bed to myself with all that space for 2 whole nights.

Only that I couldn’t sleep, not properly, it was like my body had forgotten! I automatically awoke every few hours wondering why Elijah hadn’t woken me, so that I almost awoke in a state of panic.  Now how crazy is that?!  Still the trip was restful, healing and necessary and helped me to come to terms with the fact that it was time to wean Elijah, as resistant as I was to this I reluctantly agreed with my Ayurvedic doctor that it was sapping my vital energy.

Fortunately and whether I smelt differently from all the Ayurvedic oils and pastes I’ll never know but Elijah decided that he no longer wanted any breastmilk and self-weaned, which was always my wish. I can’t tell you how many times over that 2 year period people told me it was the breastfeeding that was causing him to keep waking up at night, so I figured that now surely, he would sleep through the night right?

But no, he didn’t.  He still kept waking so that I was in and out of his room as much as I had been previously, only now I didn’t have to spend so much time feeding and settling him, and now Ewan could help too.  So there was some improvement and not breastfeeding certainly helped to improve my energy levels and gave me a little more freedom again. But I was still keen to get a full night’s sleep.

I took Elijah for some Osteopathy and Bowen, I massaged his legs and channelled Reiki on his feet and shoulders, we made sure to get some fresh air each afternoon and lots of walking, I put salts in the bath and burned lavender and pine essential oils, we kept with the bed time routine and we even resorted to “In the Night Garden” to try and encourage that sleepy state.  But he was still waking a couple of times a night, regardless of what we did.

E had been the same apparently, and I finally came to accept that this was just Elijah’s temperament. He has a huge amount of energy and doesn’t like to miss out - a bit like his Mummy in that respect really! Plus he likes to sleep with his Mummy and Daddy, like all my Nepali friends, who think us most strange in the West for sleeping in separate beds let alone separate rooms. And before anyone mentions it, the "crying it out" method...nope, that's never going to resonate with us, you just have to read the latest research on this, let alone notice how it makes your heart feel...

It was at this time, at the beginning of this year, that I realised I had turned into one of those rather tiresome friends who constantly talked about how tired I was, in fact one of those tiresome girlfriends because E was also getting tired of hearing how tired I was.  And actually I was getting tired of hearing me say how tired I was, so that I noticed how ingrained it was in me, to be tired.

And when I reflected I struggled to remember a time in my life when I wasn’t tired. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it had become a behaviour pattern, a result of my upbringing and the belief system I had adopted into my way of thinking, my conditioning then.  It was no one’s fault, that’s just what happens, and it is often only year’s later that you realise that there is another way of being from the one you have grown up believing.

I came to recognise that in my life, being lazy was actively discouraged, it was a bad thing. Busy being, therefore, was a good thing; it meant you were being productive and useful. Success (whatever that actually means) was measured by monetary gain and study/career advancement and that meant working hard.  So working hard was what I did.  It was all I knew to do. It came naturally to me. But that didn’t necessarily mean it was healthy (I have suffered with bouts of glandular fever and adrenal fatigue) and it certainly didn’t always make me happy.

Furthermore I was well aware that like attracts like and the more I talked about being tired, the more tiredness I would undoubtedly attract into my life. Not only that but I am also very well aware that our reality is a reflection of our thinking, so the more I thought about being tired and kept saying the word “tired”, the more I would live life in a way that created tiredness and the more I would continue to feel tired, a self-fulfilling prophecy then!

There is this fabulous Chinese proverb about this: “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

Well I was at the point where I was sick of my character being defined by tiredness and busyness. I began to notice that people would say to me, “I know you are busy and tired but…” I was done with being both! I was tired of being tired and I was tired of being stressed and I was tired of chasing my tail. So it was time to shift the thinking, change what was becoming a habitual way of seeing things and bring some humour and lightness back into life again. 

Plus, if Elijah was going to continue waking then I just had to suck it up and look for the silver lining, he wasn't going to change, so I had rot change my approach to dealing with the sleep deprivation instead.  It was then that it properly dawned on me that I had tried to do as much and a little bit more as I was doing before Elijah, but with Elijah now in my life to manage too.  No wonder I was always so tired! I’d positioned the busyness and productivity Police well and truly in my life, I didn’t want them to catch me being unproductive or lazy so I kept going just in case!  Ha, ha, ha!  How we create our own suffering.  Ha, Ha, ha!  

Well things had to change.  I was done with it. There had to be another way.

Fortunately, it was at this point the Universe intervened, as it always does when we are ready to change things.  Into my life flowed a whole heap of beautiful books written by inspiring ladies who had also pushed themselves that little bit too much in a masculine and linear way before they discovered, embraced and embodied the Divine Feminine into their lives and have never looked back since.

And just for good measure, just to make sure I too embodied all that I was reading (I believe this is essential for a true shift to take place), I managed to crack a few ribs, just like that, right at the end of a skiing trip in France. Now I don’t know if you have ever broken a rib but if you have you will know that it is impossible to do very much so that physically things had to slow down and with that an opportunity to transition into a new way of being.

In came the restorative yoga, extended relaxation and Yoga Nidra (guided relaxation) and out went the dynamic yoga practices and never finding time to rest at the end of them. In came the Reiki and Shen and Bowen and out went giving so much of my energy away to others.  In came more time spent sitting and meditating and out went unnecessary pottering about and filling every spare minute with some form of activity!

In came making time for my passions and the things that make me happy such as writing, reading, walking in nature with my boys, watching the birds in the garden and swimming in the sea, and out went Facebook and the Ipad (which for me was time wasting and stressful), running (which was exhausting me), working on the laptop late into the evenings and overcommitting myself to others.  In came early nights and out went socialising.

It’s been like a breath of fresh air into my life.  I almost laugh now when I think back to how things were, of how I have made life so difficult for myself since having Elijah, of the trying to be all things at once, Mummy, girlfriend, friend, daughter, Reiki teacher and practitioner, yoga teacher, company secretary, writer, so that there’s been too much doing and not enough being, too much masculine energy and not enough Divine feminine.

I know that I am not alone, not least in the trying to be all things at once (that’s what happens when you try to be an empowered woman in this frenetic world we live in), but also with the sleep deprivation.  And it’s a constant work in progress for old habits die hard but I am learning to recognise the triggers and to trust in the process and to embrace the vulnerability and yet the strength of the feminine and appreciate that She works in creative ways beyond our often restricted linear thinking.

As for the sleep deprivation, well E and I know that we are not alone and that many, many other couples have gone through this themselves. And I am well aware that one day Elijah will sleep through the night and one day he will stop wanting big cuddles and stop wanting to come into our bed and then we will have trouble getting him out of his bed and we will be up half the night waiting for him to come in.

E and I have been blessed with an utterly beautiful little boy who doesn’t sleep so well but comforts and warms us with his gentle heart and “big cuddles” throughout the night, and has taught us that life does not always have to be so tiring. And I have come to recognise the silver lining in all this sleep deprivation, of the manner in which it has encouraged me to slow down and to re-prioritise. But heck please don’t expect me to remember what I did yesterday because my memory may well never be the same again!

My tips for slowing your life down a bit:

  • If you have a garden and you don’t already have one, then invest in a bird table.  I just love watching the birds coming in to feed from the bird table, I can’t help but stop and watch them;

  • Get yourself a bolster and practice some restorative yoga;

  • Enjoy a Yoga Nidra (guided relaxation) where you can also establish a Sankalpa (resolution or intention);

  • Get out walking, notice the change in season, the different flowers and the change in light, and splash in the puddles;

  • Take a bath with some relaxing and healing bath salts or some lavender oil;

  • Limit your screen time and make sure to switch off a few hours before bed;

  • Get off Facebook and start living your own life instead;

  • Go and sit on the beach and watch the waves.  Get in the sea if you are brave!

  • Prioritise your time and learn to say no;

  • Cook. Its grounding and meditative in its own way;

  • Sit for 5 minutes a day and watch your breath as it comes in and out and witness your thoughts, let them be there, just try not to become engaged in them;

  • Enjoy a big cuddle and a squidy cuddle!