Baby. Cot. Back.

2.38am
Her little blue eyes had turned black.
In the dark, I could see them wide open and staring at me.
Her legs had finally stopped jerking, her tiny fists rested loosely up next to her ears, and her breathing had slowed.
Even the hiccup hangover from crying had stopped.
I stared back at her, sending imploring messages to her eyelids.
‘Close, close, close,’ I thought.
Behind me, Learner Dad was face down on a mattress he’d desperately dragged into the nursery.
I heard snoring.
It seemed my message had gone to the wrong eyelids.
She watched me as I stood up, my creaking knees excruciatingly loud in the silence.
I backed out of the room, breaking the rules by maintaining eye contact.
She moved her hand slightly.
But she had nothing left.
I slipped out the door and back in to bed.

1.14am
“It’s not working, what’s your plan B?” Learner Dad asked, turning his head but keeping his hands firmly pressed on his wriggling daughter.
“I don’t have one, this is it,” I spat back.
“She’s not going to sleep. What if she’s up all night?”
“I’m not pulling the pin now!” I said. “What a waste this all will have been.”
“Why is she still bloody awake? I don’t get it.”
“She’s waiting to be picked up, that’s why!” I was as exasperated as him.
Fairy Floss watched with amusement as her father and I exchanged heated words above her.
“You go to bed,” I hissed, knowing every angry word we uttered was undoing all our good work.
He left the room.
I couldn’t believe it.
Now I’d have to see this through all by myse…
Oh wait, he was back.
With a mattress.
He sighed loudly as he tried to clear space for it, bumping furniture, knocking things over, before it landed with a huge ‘thwack’ on the floor.
We both looked at Floss.
She threw back her head and began to cry.

12.22am
“It says on Google it could take an hour and a half,” I sang to Learner Dad, to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.
“That could take us to 1am,” was his ‘how I wonder what you are’.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have decided-to-do-this so late at night,” I sang back. “I’m just over it, she’s a li-ttle shi-it.”
We both smiled.
It’d be ok, she couldn’t stay awake much longer.

11.46pm
“Right, change of tactic, don’t pick her up,” I instructed Learner Dad as I entered the nursery.
At eight months old, Fairy Floss was sending me grey.
She’d spent her whole little life either feeding to sleep, or being rocked.
She was our last baby.
We wanted to enjoy her, to do what came instinctively, what felt right.
I loved watching her little eyes roll back in her head as she suckled to sleep.
And Learner Dad took pride in the fact that all he had to do was pick her up and she’d nod off.
But evenings had become a nightmare of hourly wakes.
Which meant hourly cuddles, or feeds, or both.
It wasn’t improving.
“Just let her cry it out,” my mum had said.
“Mum, we’re told not to do it that way these days,” I’d answered.
“Didn’t do you kids any harm.”
Another reason we’d rushed to her every time she cried was because her big brother, Lil Fatty, was slumbering next door.
And he was a light sleeper.
We had actually hatched a plan prior to this – to let her cry it out, but with one of us sitting beside her, so she’d not be alone or scared.
We’d made a couple of half-hearted attempts but tiredness – and TV shows – had been our excuse to jump ship.
We’d never seen it through.
After the usual three or four wakes on this particular night, I’d finally gone to bed at 11pm.
I was drifting beautifully down into deep sleep when her little cry drifted down after me, circling me round the neck and hoisting me back up.
I’d had enough.
And so, at a quarter to midnight, I told Learner Dad to start patting her padded bum while I pulled out my phone for advice – and assurance.

9.13pm
“You’re such a little ratbag, yes you are,” I said, tickling Fairy Floss’ ribs. “Why won’t you stay in bed?”
Her four tiny teeth grinned back at me, before she turned to munch down on my boob.
“Up again?” Learner Dad groaned, coming in to the lounge room.
“Yep. Why are you surprised?”
She’d dramatically turned her head at the sound of her father’s voice, dragging her teeth along my nipple as she did.
“Here, you take her, she likes being rocked by daddy,” I said, passing her over.
Within seconds, our dear little baby was lightly snoring.
“Something feels different about her,” Learner Dad said, gazing down at his little girl. “I’ve got a really good feeling about tonight.”

Let sleeping dads lie

I threw back the bed covers.
I’d been up to Li’l Fatty three times in an hour and I was getting cranky.
I looked at Learner Dad, sound asleep and blissfully unaware half his family was awake.
I got up and gave Li’l Fatty his dummy before returning to bed.
Twenty minutes later I heard him again.
This time I threw back the covers AND turned on the lamp.
I looked at Learner Dad.
Nothing.
Again I went in and plugged the baby.
Ten minutes after that he grizzled again.
This time I threw back the covers, turned the lamp on AND said ‘f&%k’ quite loudly.
I got a faint snore in return.
“Nice for some, wish I could sleep through everything,” I muttered.
Funnily, that was all it took.
Learner Dad was suddenly very much awake and on his way to tend to his son.
Now to be fair, I must say two things: although Learner Dad could sleep on the back of a moving tractor, he is always more than willing to help out if I wake him; and secondly, we’re both pretty happy with our system of me working the night shift and him handling the early morning.
But, in the first couple of months, it wasn’t always that simple and occasionally Learner Dad was called on duty.
“Wake up honey, I’ve tried everything, it’s your turn,” I whispered, shaking him awake one night, when Li’l Fatty was still sleeping in our room.
“I think all you can do is rock him now.”
Bleary-eyed, Learner Dad walked around the bed, sat down by the cradle, and rocked it.
Five times.
He wasn’t being lazy, he wasn’t being smart.
He sincerely thought that was all he had to do.
“I could’ve done that!” I said. “You have to do it until he’s asleep.”
“He is asleep?” he queried.
“Not in a deep sleep,” I said. “He’ll just stir again unless you keep rocking him.”
And so he did but, of course, I stayed awake the whole time and probably should have just done it myself.
The next night I didn’t wake him gently.
I simply carried a screaming Li’l Fatty around to his father’s side of the bed and stood there until Learner Dad stirred.
Then I quickly moved away and said innocently: “Oh sorry, I was hoping he wouldn’t wake you.”
Weeks later, Li’l Fatty, who had then moved into the nursery, was again keeping me busy at night.
I eventually woke Learner Dad and sent him in to help.
Snap. I heard the nursery light go on.
“What up li’l fella?” I heard Learner Dad yell playfully at his son.
I rushed in to see he’d plucked him out of the cot and was blowing raspberries on his belly.
“Shhhhh, put him down,” I hissed, turning the light off.
“That’s just going to wake him more.”
Poor Learner Dad went back to bed wondering where he’d gone wrong.
Li’l Fatty went back to bed wondering what the heck had just happened.
And I went back to bed… and tried not to wake Learner Dad again.