Go the F..k to Sleep: Babies and the art of sleep maintenance

I didn’t sign up for a lifetime of sleeplessness when I signed up for motherhood. But then neither did I sign up for ‘Thou shall not read’ or ‘Thou shall not talk on the phone’ or ‘Thou shall not email/blog/tweet/facebook in my presence.’

You give up a lot of things when you have a child. I am not even getting into spontaneous sex and all that stuff we did as singletons.

In my list of things I had to give up, sleep comes right on top. Reading comes a close second. Backpacking on a whim, I am yet to miss.

I realised there are different types of sleep. There is the single-and-unattached sleep which is the best sleep in the world. Then there is the single-and-attached sleep which is fraught with late night texting, talking, BBMing and whatever it is people do these days. There is the married person’s sleep, which in my case was bad enough as he is a night person and I am a morning person. And then there is the married-with-baby kind of sleep, which is as bad as it gets. Need I say the amount of sleep is inversely proportional to the number of children?

When babies are little, they always tell you, “Sleep when the baby sleeps”. What they don’t tell you is, “Wake up when the baby wakes up.”  Because the first thing the baby wants on waking is you. You better get that into your system if you are planning a baby. It is going to be your motto for life. Well, at least the next twenty years.

I still remember my mother tossing and turning in bed whenever my brother had a late night. Or propping me up with pillows and a hot water bottle when I had an asthma attack.  I realise now tough it must have been. She was a school teacher, she had to leave for work at 6 am.

So you see, sleep and motherhood are mutually exclusive. Take your pick. Now.

Daddies don’t have much trouble. A few beers, a double whisky coke, and they are tsunami-proof.  At least most of them are. In case there are hands-on daddies raising their hands, I would so want to know you. You make me believe in the whole concept.

And it’s not about getting over with the first few months and living happily ever after. For when you stop being the chief food source, something else always takes its place. Teething. Dreams.  Colic. More teething. Colds. Coughs. A bruise. A bite. Or just the wanting of skin-to-skin contact. Or the reassurance that mommy is around.

Don’t believe anyone who says their babies sleep through the night. They perhaps don’t know, because they don’t sleep ‘with’ them. They delegate. They make it someone else’s problem. So yes, if you are a ‘babies should have their own room’ believers, you will continue sleeping, because you will never realise how many times the baby wakes up . Out of sight, out of mind.

Since I signed up to be a hands-on, organic, all-things-bright-and-beautiful kind of mother, I had to trade my sleep.

When I had Re, I was bequeathed Gina Ford‘s Sleep Guide to Contended Babies which, at that time, looked like a picture perfect guide to purring babies. A few pages into the book, I realised she was a sleep Nazi who believed in the ‘crying it out’ approach. She believed that if babies are left alone in a room to cry long enough, they will learn to fall asleep on their own. Sounds horrific? I have some news. She sells like hotcakes. Anyway, I threw the book out and welcomed my child to the family bed. It has been a roller coaster ride, sometimes frustrating, mostly lonely, but very reassuring. He knows I know what’s bothering him. Together we manage to find our sleep back.

When mothers say they tuck their babies in, they don’t tell you the gory details. Here is my current routine:

First we read the tomato book.

Then we read the zebra book.

Then we read the tiger book.

Then we read the cocodarling (crocodile) book.

Then we read the maaki (monkey) book.

Then we read the Upsy Daisy- Iggle Piggle book.

Then I am quizzed on random pictures from one of the above books or a totally different one (if he really wants to fuck me over) and asked to identify them.

If I do well, we go back to one or all of the above books.

Time passes. May be an hour. I have a few more strands of grey. The yawns are uncontrollable.

Then he says the magic words. “Baby so tired”

He is asleep in the next ten minutes if I am lucky.

Like most things about motherhood, I have learnt to see the humour in my sleep-deprivation too. It kinda helped that I found this little gem of a book, Go the F..k to Sleep courtesy my friend Priya Kapoor of Roli books who has brought this international bestseller to India. It’s a little baby book by Adam Mansbach, illustrated beautifully by Ricardo Cortes that you can NEVER read to your baby.  You can, however read it over and over to yourself. Not aloud, of course.

Here’s a verse from the book:

The windows are dark in the town, child.

The whales huddle down in the deep.

I’ll read you one very last book if you swear

You’ll go the fuck to sleep.

For someone who has reprogrammed her vocabulary to make it baby proof (Fuck you has become Rock you!), this book came as a breath of fresh air. It’s the one thing I read every night before I go to sleep (after Re has gone to sleep of course)

Go order the book on flipkart.


17 thoughts on “Go the F..k to Sleep: Babies and the art of sleep maintenance

  1. awesome line ” Wake up when the baby wakes up” Only you can come up with something witty like this . Also what books r those for toddlers. if you dont mind pl share the names as well. i am yet to introduce books to my 2 yr old.

    • Ha ha, thanks Vani. About books, any picture book with big pictures, flaps, animals, familiar things is ok. The titles don’t matter. We usually read from Eric Carle, Rod Campbell, Sandra Boynton, the Silly faces series, and also the Pepper series. But it hardly matters sometimes, as they are even happy flipping over a magazine.They have short attention spans, so books that you can quickly flap the pages over are great

  2. Ah your posts are totally timely for me. Our 6+ month old falls asleep fast enough at 7:30 but is awake in 4-5 hrs, at 11/12:30 and then wakes up every 2 hours after that, wanting to nurse(more like graze) to sleep. We tried a soft sleep training approach, but even that is not really working. Well, I guess when they want mommy/daddy they want mommy/daddy, there is nothing else that can replace the comfort of parents. In my case, the daddy wakes up as much or more than I do, so I cannot really complain about the poor man.
    I saw this book at the bookstore and it did amuse me.

  3. Lalite, this is so true. Signing up for motherhood is like signing up to be part of the army or preparing for war…They never tell you the gory stuff. Along with sleep, there are a lot of things that goes out of the window. When they say life changes….I now know the meaning. Maybe, it’s more like that for mums like us, who want to be totally hands on and know no better. I am glad you are vocalizing what we collectively feel. I hope the book is on it’s way….Love, D

    • That is so reassuring deepa. I am glad I resonate with other moms, coz sometimes i feel like a loony bin, thinking these thoughts. Will keep you posted on the book, in which a lot of gory stuff will be spilled out.

  4. Every mother and ‘EVERY WANNABE MOTHER’ must read it. Especially those ‘I am the hot mamma’ who runs to the gym right after her pregnancy and shows off the ‘Nursery’ clad with armani or whoeverheis. It’s the right way of raising a child at this tender age

  5. By the way the ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ clearly does not apply to second time moms as well! I rolled in laughter when I read the book as well- and there’s a YouTube video of it somewhere with Samuel Jackson as the narrator- he’s brilliantly calm and nurturing in a storybook voice… Look it up – I think you will enjoy that as well.

  6. am not a mommy yet but i can so imagine just HOW tough it must be to sacrifice the beloved sleep!!! would love to read that book you recommended though 😀 😀
    also loved the replacement for “f**k you”! you rock…as always. :o)

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