4 months: breastfeed Rosa to sleep. Try and put her down; she starts crying and ramps up and up. Pick her up and hold her. Lie down and try and sleep while she sleeps. Rock and jiggle her, try and put her down; she starts crying and ramps up and up. Pick her up, feed or jiggle her. 


7 months: stop feeding her to sleep and hold her in the dark. She screams for a long time but eventually goes to sleep. Try leaving her for 5 min intervals to go to sleep by herself; she cries forever, though not as much as we do. Eventually she cries herself to sleep, but it isn’t like the books say (‘3 nights and you’re done!’). Eventually I say: I cannot do this anymore. She wins. 

12 months: cuddle her to sleep. She wakes once or twice in the night but is easy to resettle and sometimes sleeps through. Then she starts to wake a lot and takes forever to settle: I am leaning over the cot for an hour at 12, at 3, at 5. I sit in the chair with her then try to sneak her back down in the cot. She often wakes soon after I think she’s finally asleep, just after I’m back in my warm bed. 


15 months: I realise months have gone by, the tiredness has seeped deeply into all the parts of me. We get rid of the cot, Rosa sleeps on her cot mattress on the floor and when she wakes and won’t settle, we sleep next to her on a mattress of our own. At first the loss of the stupid cot and its back-breaking necessities is glorious, the warmth of the mattress a luxury. I feel one million times better. She starts to sleep better, only waking once or so per night. 

17 months: she starts to wake and wake and wake – 4, 5, 6 times a night. I start to co-sleep with her for most of the night, which can’t really be counted as rest at all. I get so tired and so cross with being grabbed and tweaked that one night I sit and weep loudly, and she does too. Enough, says her dad. This is an intervention. He starts to settle her in the night and I stay in bed, even though she screams for me at first. 

What a shit-shower, we say. Unable to countenance any “sleep training” with a toddler who can scream MUMMY and crawl out of her bed and bang on the door, I work hard to resign myself to what is, for now, for however long now turns out to be. I practice deep-breathing exercises while she prods and crawls and tweaks. I know she will start sleeping better at some point. We just don’t know when. 

I had written in a notebook: “What is difficult and exhausting about parenting? Most of the things you have to do and the things you have to feel.”

Making difficult decisions sometimes just means waiting for time to pass while you agonise and weigh up options that feel unappealing or even horrendous. Carrying on as we are is unthinkable. Really committing to making a change is not realistic, based on how hard she has found it when we try and change her behaviour.


Perhaps the worst thing about parenting manuals: the way they don’t acknowledge the particularities of her or you. Or the way they make “being consistent” sound like a switch you can turn on, as if you are not are a weak human responding to phenomena in varying ways, as if you are also not dealing with another human with all their nuances. Also, I’d like to meet the baby who “settles with a t-shirt of comforter that smells of you” instead of the actual you. Is this baby some kind of moron?

We are mugs. We are soft as shit. We have done everything they said we shouldn’t do. We are dealing with a vocal, determined spirit. Would she be better off if we had firmer boundaries? Would we? Maybe. There would be more sleep and less resentment, though more crying and more guilt. It is irrelevant anyway. Would we do things differently next time? Probably not. We are here, the essence of us, parenting the essence of her. 

Tired as when I had a newborn, I think violent thoughts about people whose children sleep through the night. I seethe for days about the mum who reassured me that there is “light at the end of the tunnel” because her three month old baby was sleeping for 11 hours a night and so my 19 month old toddler eventually would too. Some tunnels are so long. I think that having a baby who sleeps well must give people an utterly different early parenting experience than a having baby like mine. But what do I know. I am fucking knackered. 

I think I am doing pretty well at work considering. I think we are doing pretty well at being a couple considering. At being human beings. Maybe the worst thing about parenting: no one says, well done. Well done for all the times you dragged yourself up from the bottom of the deepest sleep to be patient and kind for an hour 3-4 times a night, every night. Well done for not killing anyone. I used to hate those “all mums are heroes/should get a medal” chat. I don’t think that any more. I think parents should get Nobel prizes, and a three figure salary, and an annual holiday on a silent retreat with obligatory massages. 

It is important for me to write this, to look back and remember this hellish element of it, to accompany my Instagram feed of dreamy baby time, to accompany my experience of her being almost 100% delicious, while she charges around chanting PAT (postman) or GAN GAN (granny) or HOT (radiator, tea, all foodstuffs) with her short little legs and round tummy and floppy hair. And while she crawls into my lap while I read her stories or says “Mummy. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy.” when I get home from work. If she would only just sleep! Or if she would eat food that wasn’t hummus, toast or a cocktail sausage. But that’s another story. 



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