NBR: Comrades Marathon 2018

When Fletcher was born I didn’t have any major aspirations from a running perspective – I’d been a runner before, having completed a Two Oceans Marathon in 2015, but I didn’t have any particular lofty aspirations once Fletch was born. Until the first time I stood on a scale postpartum. After that, I definitely had some running-related aspirations.

When Fletch was about 6 weeks old, I joined the gym and started running on the treadmill three or four times a week, alternating with swimming and strength training. When I went back to work, when Fletch was four months old, I started running with our club again two mornings a week and once on weekends. I was slowly getting back into it. We’d roped a few unsuspecting friends into doing the Two Oceans again with us (which happened in March of this year, when Fletcher was 15 months old) and we were all training together. Becs was going to do the 21km and I was going to the 56km ultramarathon.

Our year of training passed by in the blink of an eye, mixed in with milestones, teething, learning to sit, crawl and walk, and before we knew it the big day had arrived. On 31 March 2018, we left Fletcher with his aunt and Becs and I completed our Two Oceans journeys. But it wasn’t over… About 6 months before that, I’d (somewhat sneakily, although in consultation with Becs) entered the Comrades Marathon. For those of you who (a) aren’t South African or (b) aren’t runners, the Comrades is grueling (and many will – rightly – say downright stupid) road running race that takes place every year on the ±90kms stretch of road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, each year alternating in directions. This year, was a down run, with the start in Pietermaritzburg and the finish in the Moses Mabida stadium in Durban.

So, after our Two Oceans journeys were complete, the real work started. The two months between Oceans and Comrades were a whirlwind of super early mornings, double-header weekends (which basically means running on both Saturday and Sunday morning), hills, hills and more hills. Becs was essentially a single parent in April and May, giving me the nights off when I was running the next morning (which was almost every morning). As winter got into its stride and temperatures dropped (I know some of you still consider 3ºC balmy, but for us “tropical people” that is flipping cold), running became harder to get up for, but there was a promise that it would all be over soon and our lives could return to normal.

I’m sure Becs has a different perspective on the last two and half months, but for me, it was both very difficult and very conflicting. It didn’t help that my Comrades training was coming to a head at the same time as two big projects at work, meaning I was working late and leaving home early. During May, I felt like Becs and I were ships in the night and Fletcher was a veritable stranger. I’d notice him doing something for the first time and comment on it and Becs would respond, “oh ja, he’s been doing that for a while,” and I’d feel like the worst mother. I didn’t even know my kid anymore. I didn’t know that he could blow bubbles in the bath because I always missed bath time. I didn’t know how many times he woke up during the night or whether he still had two bottles or only one now (I know he doesn’t need a bottle at night anymore, but trust me, it’s easier to give it to him than fight with him – but that is a post for another day). I felt like I was missing out on my son’s life. I felt like I was abandoning my wife, leaving her to do it all on her own. I felt like I was failing them in my pursuit of some achievement, some accolade for myself, but one I desperately wanted.

A week before Comrades, two kids in Becs’s class were booked off with Swine Flu (*face palm* right). Now, ask any Comrades runner and they’ll tell you, there are two things they dread in the final weeks leading up to the race – getting injured and getting sick. Ask any supporter of a Comrades runner and there is only one thing they dread – being the reason their runner gets sick because they’re unlikely to ever hear the end of it. With that in mind, the Tuesday before Comrades, Becs moved into the lounge. So now, not only was she a single parent, she was also sleeping on the couch – wife of the year, right? In my defense, I did offer to take the couch, her response (as always) was, “I’m not the one running 90kms on the weekend.”

On the Friday before the race, Fletch, Chet (Fletcher’s “bestie” and one of our running friends) and I set off in the car to drive down to Durbs. Becs had to work so she’d be flying that evening. When she arrived in Durban, I could see she was in a bad way. She had a fever of 39ºC – ask yourself, as an adult, when have you ever had a fever? – she looked like she was about to pass out. She was pale, pallid and really not herself. Despite how crappy she was feeling, she slept in the room with Fletcher and was on duty – insisting that I needed to get a good night’s sleep. On race night, Fletch went to stay with my folks and Becs (who was feeling moderately better and had at least managed to shake her fever) moved back into the room with me as Chet had moved into what had been Fletcher’s room the night before.

Race morning dawned – OK, no, I’m lying. We got up loooong before dawn. 01:30 actually. We had to be on a bus to the start by 02:30 and our supporters had to get ahead of the road closures to meet us in Cato Ridge – some 30kms into the race. We dressed, we liberally applied bum cream to areas that were likely to experience chaff, and many others that you wouldn’t think of, and we headed to the bus stop.

Arriving in Pietermaritzburg at 04:00, an hour an a half before the start, we began making our way through the streets, following the ±20,000 other runners heading towards the start pens. The atmosphere was electric – abuzz with nervous energy and excitement. We found our start pen and settled in for the long wait, snacking on our sandwiches and bananas while we waited.

Around 05:00, we discarded our Pick ‘n Pay packets of goodies outside the start pens (so as not to become a tripping hazard for other runners) and started shuffling forward with the crowd. Bunched together like that, the 3ºC weather didn’t feel all that cold. As the South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, boomed through the sound system, I took off my cap, closed my eyes and sang along. We continued to shuffle forward as Shosholoza pumped through the speakers, followed closely by Chariots of Fire. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we waited for the cock crow and the sound of the gun that marked the official start of the 2018 Comrades Marathon.

BOOM! The gun sounded like a cannon – I nearly peed myself, but fortunately my instinctive jump was all I needed to start my watch and we were off. Shuffling towards the start line, shoulder to shoulder with our ‘comrades’. The first 30kms passed in a haze, I remember snippets – chatting to one or two people as they passed us, seeing a few familiar faces and almost watching from outside my body as we moved from ‘Martizburg to Cato Ridge. When we saw the black and white balloons that signaled our people, our hearts swelled with happiness! Seeing Becs’s face, everything I’d been thinking and meaning to tell her up to this point went flying out my head. It was now sometime around 09:00, we’d been running for about three and a half hours and if I tell you I remember about 20 minutes of it, it’s a lot.

We set off again, not knowing exactly when we’d see our people again, but knowing that there would be a table set up by our running club close to the halfway mark in Drummond. We chatted happily as we clipped along through the sugar cane plantations, past the chicken farms and dairy farms, and past the porta-loos that smelt like dairy farms. Approaching Drummond, one runs through what is called the Valley of a Thousand Hills – it’s beautiful, with sweeping green hills as far as the eye can see, but it’s tough as nails to run through. We reached Drummond largely without incident, found the Jeppe table and gratefully accepted the goodies they had to offer us (including the advice). Somewhere between Drummond and the infamous Inchanga, we lost my brother, who dropped back to walk off a cramp and I didn’t hear him call out to me. Before I knew it, he was gone. Lost in the sea of pained faces around us. 50kms and almost six hours into the race, our party of three was now a party of two.

Not long after that, I lost Chet. I was now a party of one and I was a party of one who was nauseous and battling a running tummy. Not ideal at all. I popped a Valoid and an Immodium and had some watered-down Coke at the next water table – hoping that would settle the nausea. It didn’t. The 10kms from that point to the next Jeppe table where the longest 10kms of my life. When I reached that table, I was pale and deep in the hurt locker. Jo – one of the volunteers – told me Chet was just ahead and that she would wait for me at 67kms where we were expecting to see Becs and the rest of our supporters again.

In the seven kays that followed, I tried to keep myself moving forward, reminding myself every time I wanted to walk, that the more I walked now, the less time I could spend with Becs when I saw her. I fell into an uncomfortable rhythm. My uterus felt like it was trying to climb out through my Caesar scar. My ovaries felt like they were burrowing backwards into my kidneys. My nausea was horrific and the pain in my legs was searing. I began chanting a mantra to myself of things to get from Becs when I saw her – anti-nausea tablet, pain killer, deep heat spray for my legs, anti-nausea tab, pain killer, deep heat spray… on and on for 8kms. When I eventually spotted Becs and her balloons towards the bottom of Fields Hill, I have never been so happy to see anyone. I instinctively sped up, racing towards her before my legs remembered that it actually hurt to go faster.

I was so happy to see her, I almost forgot my mantra – anti-nausea, pain killer, spray. I’d had pain killers with me the whole time, but was too scared to take it in case I vomited again. I needed the anti-nausea pill first. While I was there, I changed my socks, which made the world of difference. While retying my shoelaces, my stomach muscle cramped – that is a feeling I won’t soon forget! I also got some reassuring news about my brother – he was ticking on nicely, not too far behind us. Grateful that he was OK and knowing he’d see our support bus soon, Chet and I set off again.

The next 34kms were very difficult, my nausea had not fully abated and I hadn’t managed to eat anything since halfway, meaning I was running dangerously low on fuel. At 75kms I had a quarter of a Marmite sarmie, which was like swallowing a clump of sand, my mouth was so dry. I was drinking watered-down Energade or watered-down Coke and vomiting every ±10kms. The last 2kms were killer and I was very grateful to Chet for keeping me going (and for stopping so many times, despite how difficult it was for her to start up again).

After 11 hours and 13 minutes on the road, we ran into the stadium, with our backs straight and our heads held high. We powered across the finish line, hand in hand with our arms raised above our heads in triumph. We had completed the “Ultimate Human Race” in a time of 11:13:37, a race run well above my pay-grade. Gareth came in at 11:40:56, having run almost half of the race on his own. He battled his demons and emerged victorious!

Next year we return to do it all again, this time in reverse (although Gareth is still, at this point, undecided).

On the way home, Fletcher spiked a 40º temperature, we had to stop on the side of the highway to give him an Emperped suppository. His temperature has normalised, but he’s still not a happy camper – coughing and generally miserable. To compound matters, he’s cutting his eye teeth. So with my 2018 Comrades journey behind me, Becs and I continue our parenting journey. Raising a boy obsessed with typical “boy” things – cars, wheels, bikes – the noisier, the better. He’s a climber and a character, strong-willed and headstrong (wonder where he gets that from) with a sense of humour and a loving personality. He’s destined for great things, for big things, bigger and better than anything I’ve achieved. Next year, through my training, I hope to miss less. I hope to be more present, to be a more supportive partner to Becs and a more patient parent to Fletcher. It’s tough when you’re tired and stressed to remember to be present, but next year, I hope to do it better. We can always do it better.

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How easy it is to lose your temper with someone so small and innocent…

This tiny human that we have been blessed to parent is one of the most trying and difficult things in the world. We cannot control it, we cannot keep it in the same place (good luck once your little ones are mobile, parents), and we cannot make it listen no matter how loud we shout. Since our little man started walking we have been on a constant marathon of madness around the house. He is SO busy! The cat food, the toilet, the glass cabinet, the T.V remotes, the underwear drawer, the detergents cupboard and all the plugs, and light switches are constantly under attack. And boy, is he on a mission to be a one-man demolition team. The speed at which he manages his destruction mission is also unbelievable! One of us is hovering around him at all times, picking up bits and pieces, stopping him from bumping his head and generally damage controlling as much as we can while the other one of us is doing all the other “mom things” that need to get done – cooking, cleaning, washing bottles, etc. When he finally goes to sleep we are absolutely knackered!

The newfound freedom his walking has bestowed on him, and his curiosity for absolutely everything is awesome! It means we have a little man who is growing and learning and becoming independent and we couldn’t be more proud! But, it also means the frustrations he has in being confined (like when we have to change a nappy or put him in his high chair) are world-shattering for him. For such a little thing, his temper tantrums are huge! The tears turn on, the lip drops, and the pitch of his cry reaches an ear-splitting crescendo. It takes just a moment for him to get to the point of no return when he doesn’t get his way (like when we won’t let him eat the toilet block straight out of the toilet) and it takes me just a moment to absolutely lose it with him. Although we’re not big on hidings, we quickly realised that smacking has absolutely no effect on him. He is already crying and now he doesn’t understand why the person he loves more than anything in the world is hurting him. To say nothing of the fact that he doesn’t understand why he can’t eat the toilet block in the first place, because he’s only 15 months old and logic and reason are far from his mind.

It’s in this moment that you have to take a step back, take a big breath and remember that you are the adult, here to teach your little human the ways of the world and, in order to do that, you will need all the patience in the world (and some wine chilling in the fridge for later). We have found distraction to be the most
effective method of dealing with his tantrums – changing his mind set and getting him engaged in a more suitable activity, away from the “danger zone”. But it takes a lot of self-control not to lose your temper, raise your voice and turn into a dragon. We explain to him why he can’t do it and we know he understands a
lot. They are like little sponges absorbing everything around them at a rapid speed so it’s critical that he absorb the right things – and hitting people is not on the list of things that are “right”. The list of words in his vocabulary increases all the time and soon we will have a little being we can effectively communicate with. But, until then, it’s one baby step at a time, one big breath at a time and one big glass of wine at a time.

The trouble is, you think you have time

The last time I wrote a blog post was sometime before Christmas, which seems hard to believe as now the Valentine’s Day cards are already all over the shops (bleegh). We hope you all had a fantastic festive season! Our festive season was an exciting one, we took our tiny human to the beach over our holidays where he devoured some sand, ate his first soft-serve ice cream, and explored the rock pools on our little beach. Bliss! He is also starting to master the art of walking (quite a lot of the ”bear walk” happening, with the occasional “drunk, old man stumble” too). He says a bunch of words which we can understand (boat, car, cat, dog, mama, go, bye, bath) and
some we can’t, but he’s trying so damn hard to talk and it’s just too cute! These milestones that our precious boy seem to be flying through are making us so happy and so proud, but at the same time SO terrified! My tiny, sleepy baby who could fit lengthways in one of my arms is long gone, and now we have a full blown little destroyer on a mission.

Father Time is cruel. I remember other parents saying, “enjoy him while he is so small, the time goes by so quickly!” How right they were. When you are pacing the passage for the 5th hour on a long and sleepless night, with a crying, new born, you can’t wish it away fast enough. Before you know it, that time will be so far gone you can’t even remember those damn awful midnight pyjama parade hours. Savour every second you have with them. The dishes in the sink can wait. Your unread emails can definitely wait. The television show that will probably be repeated a bunch of times should not be your priority either. If you have even just a moment spare, spend it with your child. Your family will never again be as young as it is right now. They grow every single day, and if you can try and catch the little moments as they happen before they pass you by, it will give you the most intense happiness. Explore with them, be curious with them and grow with them. I know it’s easier said than done and we have all jobs to do and supper to cook and traffic to battle through. But all the chores and the loads of life will feel a lot lighter if you and your child have had a little laugh, a little cuddle, read a story, picked a flower, drawn a picture or just sat together for a moment. There are only so many tomorrows.

A note from Barbs

When we went back to work in January, Becs had started a new role at work and I had taken on a big project at the office that was proving to be an absolute monster. We both had to be out of the house in the morning by 07:00 and when we got back in the afternoon, time was tight to get done everything we need to do.

I found myself looking down at the tiny hands grasping desperately at my pants leg and saying, “not now boy, I don’t have time.” Or, “just a minute Beans, mommy’s busy.” When I realised what I was saying, I wanted to cry. Here I was telling my one-year-old I was too busy for him. Who does that?? The answer, sadly, is most likely “all of us”. We’ve all said – or at least thought – I just don’t have time for that or I’d love to, but I’m just too busy.

Bull shit.

You absolutely have time. If you think you don’t, make time. There is always time for the things we prioritise. Last year someone at work was telling me they still hadn’t finished unpacking their house, 9 months after they moved in. He cited not having time as the reason and then he caught himself, saying, “Well, that’s not entirely true. I mean, I had enough time to go fishing with my son and I went to my daughter’s “Dads and Daughters” weekend away with her school, but the house just hasn’t been a priority for us.” I though to myself, this guy has his priorities straight. Your family comes first. Everything else is background noise and you choose what you turn the volume up on.

Next time you find yourself telling your little one you’re too busy or don’t have time, stop for a second and think about it, maybe you do actually have time.

It’s like Billy Joel said…

Amateur Mommies you're only human

“You’re only human after all.” Wise words from a brilliant man. We tend to forget this when we become parents. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect mom or dad, to be the biggest supporter and best advocate for our children. We read thousands of blog posts that tell us what to say, what not to say, how to hold our babies, how not to hold our babies, when to change their nappies / formula / daily routines… We try to push so much information into our heads that it often feels like they’re going to explode. But at the end of the day, we are only human and we are going to make mistakes, we’re going to have melt-downs, we’re going to want to kill our kids (probably daily), but we won’t because we do actually love them (deep, deep down).

Since our stint in the hospital, we’ve struggled to get back into our routine with Fletcher, especially our nighttime routine. I suppose he got so used to being held and rocked in the hospital that since we’ve been home, we have struggled to settle him without rocking. So much for sleep training. We were back at square one. Actually, we were somewhere about 25 squares backwards of ‘square one’ because, thrown in with Fletcher’s sudden insistence on being rocked, was a 10-month sleep regression. He also seemed to be making up for lost time (or rather missed meals) and was back to at least two feeds during the night (that’s over and above his bedtime and breakfast bottles).

This meant we’d fight with him from 6:30pm until anywhere between 7:30 and 8:30pm to get him down, then he’d wake between 11:00 and midnight for his first bottle and again between 3:00 and 4:00am for his second bottle, then he’d most likely be awake – like a-bloody-wake – from 5:00am! This meant that we were getting a grand total of about 4 hours sleep a night, if we were lucky. Although it has been steadily, if slowly, improving, this has been our status quo for almost a month and last night, I cracked.

I was up at around 2:00am to give Fletcher a bottle and when he woke up again at 4:00am, I couldn’t believe that he wanted another bottle, but sure enough giving him back his dummy did nothing to settle him – in fact, it seemed to piss him off! He flung my hand away and began screaming in, what can only be described as an aggressive tone. He was mad as hell. I raced to the kitchen (tripping over the dog in the process) to make (and warm) another bottle (because his highness no longer drinks them at room temperature). By the time I got back to his room he was virtually inconsolable. Every time I tried to get the bottle in his mouth, he’d push my hand away. I eventually got the bottle in his mouth and he immediately began to calm down. Until he exploded again and screamed blue murder.

Then I caught a whiff of something and thought, Ok, so that’s why he was so PO’d, he’s got a poo nappy. I whisked him out of his cot and over to his changing mat as only a practiced professional can, ripped open the poppers, pulled open his nappy… Nothing. And then more screaming. That’s when I lost it. I gave him my reply in the same manner he was delivering his – at full volume, “but what is your problem?” I yelled.

At that moment, Becs appeared, bleary-eyed in the doorway with a look of what on the gods’ earth is going on? on her face. I explained he didn’t want his dummy. Or his bottle. Or his nappy changed. And now I was out of answers. She took him from me and held him. Almost immediately, he began to settle. Oh, I thought, a cuddle, that’s what he wants. Why didn’t I think of that? Becs walked across the passage to our room and I searched for his discarded dummy in the carnage that was his cot.

By the time I returned, silently sobbing, to our room, Becs was sitting serenely on the edge of our bed, bouncing with our giant son in her arms. I apologised for my irrational outburst, feeling terribly guilty for having dragged Becs from bed on her night ‘off’ (because she was meant to run this morning – my bad).

The more I thought about my reaction, the angrier I got with myself. Why had I flown off the handle like that? Why had I lost control so completely? And then it struck me. Exhaustion. Did you know, a human being can live longer without food or water than they can without sleep. Ja, I’ll give that a minute to sink in. Once more, you need sleep more than you need food and, as new parents (or parents of sleep-regressing babies/toddlers/kids), we’re getting way less sleep than we’re used to (and probably less than we really need).

I don’t really have a moral for this story, other than perhaps to say: rely on each other – take turns and get a night off, if you can, so you can be a better parent and partner. Also, it’s important to remember that you are actually only human. Cut yourself some slack.

It never rains…

Amateur Mommies stint in hospital

As the age-old saying goes, “it never rains, but it pours.” That saying has never been more true than when applied to kids. If your kid has a runny nose, chances are he’s also taken a spill and bumped his head or scraped his knee. In our case, it’s the combination of cutting teeth and getting sick.

Fletcher’s first tooth was cut in the midsts of a bad bout of bronchitis, so we weren’t sure which symptoms were teeth-related and which were caused by being sick. But let me tell you, that kid had such a time of it! 40º fevers, vomiting, wouldn’t eat or drink anything, terrible lethargy… it was terrifying for us, and I’m sure even more so for him. At least we had the benefit of rationalisation. We’d strip him down to his nappy, put cold facecloths and towels on him, while he screamed blue murder – as if we were pouring boiling oil on him – give him some Calpol or Tensopain for the fever and wait, taking his temperature every 5 minutes and slowly watching the digits creep down.

About three weeks after that, Fletcher started with a nasty cough on the Wednesday evening. As we still had some Pulmicort from his bronchitis, we immediately started nebulising him. On Thursday, his cough was a little better and we thought, yay! Winning! On Thursday afternoon, I got a call from the nanny to say he felt very hot, I asked her to take his temperature and call me back. When she called back to say the temperature was 34º, we knew it had to be a faulty reading and Becs rushed home.

40º.

When I got home about an hour later, his fever had come down to about 38.5º but he’d already vomited and the lethargy had set in. We eventually broke his fever an hour or so later and things returned vaguely to normal. He wouldn’t drink his bottles, but he’d eat. We, once again, relied on rationalisation, the bottle was making him cough, so it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to drink, he’s drinking water though, so I’m sure it’s fine.

Fortunately, Becs was on half-term, so she could stay with him the following day. She kept me updated on his fevers throughout the course of the day, his continued lethargy and his refusal to eat anything, which had now escalated to include not wanting to eat food. But, on the up side, his cough had subsided so we were now fully convinced he was cutting another tooth and he just had supremely shitty teething symptoms.

Saturday gave us a bit of hope – no more fevers, drinking rooibos tea, drinking water and eating little bits of food, he was also displaying signs of having a bit more energy. He slept a lot, but that was to be expected – the kid hadn’t eaten properly in days – but at least he wasn’t in any danger of dehydrating now that he was eating and drinking a bit. We spoke with a range of other parents, who all assured us that we were doing all we could and he’d no doubt be on the mend the next day.

Wrong.

The lethargy was worse on Sunday – no more signs of energy from our normally rambunctious and busy little boy. All he did was whine and cry, never quite happy with where he was. By lunchtime on Sunday we were in the casualty at the local hospital, where we were seen by a lovely doctor who assured us that we had been doing everything right. Well, that’s a relief, at least! The last thing you want to hear is that you’ve been negligent in not bringing your kid in sooner. But at the same time, as a first time parent, you’re weary of over-reacting and rushing to the emergency room at the first sign of a sniffle. Fortunately for us, our paed was on call and already at the hospital, seeing a patient in the paediatric ward. The casualty doctor sent us straight through to see her where she immediately admitted him. With double pneumonia. Worst moms ever!

Our poor little guy was put onto a drip and given a range of antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-every-bloody-thing-you-can-imagine! (So much for the appointment we’d made with the homeopath for the following week.) That evening, the physio came past and gave him a thorough thumping and suctioned the grossness out of his chest (an action that was “rinsed and repeated” throughout our stay). But, the next day, our boy was showing signs of his normal personality. Eating again, although still not interested in bottles, he definitely had more energy, he was giggling and even flirting with the nurses.

By Tuesday morning he was off the drip (in part because he’d pulled it out by mistake). He was eating like Tom Hanks in Castaway but still not keen on his bottles, although Becs had managed to get about 70mls of formula into him during the night. During the day, we continued to try with the bottles and he had a bit more. Often we had to coax him by putting his formula in a cup, rather than a bottle. I suppose it’s the novelty of it that ultimately won out, but he was drinking a far more substantial amount and by Wednesday morning, he’d been discharged.

In the midst of all this, he absolutely did cut his second tooth – like I said, it never rains…

Fletcher is fully recovered and destroying the house once again – crawling around like a speed demon, terrorising the poor cat and running us and the nanny ragged! I think it’s time we strapped those fluffy broom / mop type things to his knees so his manic crawling can, at least, help to get things done around the house.

Sick kids are no joke, but as a parent, you’d be surprised at just how good your instincts are. Back yourself. If you think your kid needs a doctor, take him. If you think he’s OK and it’s just a bit of sinus aggravation / teething / allergies / whatever you think it is, back yourself. But, be reasonable. If it’s been five days and he’s still not showing enough signs of recovery, it’s time to call in the cavalry.

Sleep? Ja, we still don’t know what that is

Amateur Mommies on lack of sleep

About two months ago I started seeing all these posts online from friends with kids around Fletcher’s age about a “four month sleep regression”. I joked that Fletcher had never progressed to sleeping in stretches longer than 4 hours, so how much could he realistically regress? The answer was a lot. After two weeks of him waking every one to two hours, we introduced solids, hoping that would help. It didn’t.

When we felt we couldn’t take it anymore, I reached out to friends who had successfully parented their little ones into (and in some cases, beyond) toddler-hood for advice. The advice was varied. One mom suggested sleep training. Another suggested bringing him back into our room, or even our bed, until he was more settled. Yet another said she didn’t have a clue, her four year old still wasn’t sleeping through. She did however suggest shifts – one night on, one night off – so at least you’re getting a less disturbed sleep every second night, meaning (in most cases) you can continue to function and (in some cases) make a valued contribution to society.

The friend who suggested sleep training shared the book she’d used to sleep train her little boy and I immediately immersed myself in it. Having read the pertinent sections, one Sunday evening after an exhausting weekend of very little sleep we decided to bite the bullet. We’d always been pretty good with Fletcher’s bath time / bed time routine, so that was fairly well established, but the biggest thing we were doing wrong was rocking him to sleep, meaning he was reliant on being rocked to fall asleep. This was a two-fold problem: 1) it meant we had to get up and settle him every time he woke during the night and 2) he was now so big that it was uncomfortable for him (and bloody difficult for us) to rock him.

That night we gave him his bath, his massage and his nighttime bottle as normal, but this time instead of rocking him to sleep, we put him into his cot, swaddled him (yes, we were still doing that), switched off the light and left. He was not happy. He cried with varying degrees of fervor for what seem like an age. We regularly went back into his room, as the book said to do, to reassure him that everything was fine, to soothe him a bit and repeat the catch-phrase, “it’s night-night time.” Eventually he did fall asleep and we rejoiced! It was, however, short-lived. When he woke a few hours later, we made sure he was comfortable, swaddled with his dummy in and duly repeated the process of letting him “learn to settle himself”.

It’s now about a month-to-six-weeks later and things are (mostly) going better. We’ve finally managed to ditch the swaddle, and that happened entirely organically and literally over night. One night he was fine being swaddled, the next night when we tried to swaddle him, he resisted, vehemently. So we left him unswaddled and he slept. Some nights are better than others. On Monday night he slept from 6pm until 3am and only really niggled once, early in the evening. Last night he woke at 10pm, 11pm, 1am, 4am and 5am, and at 5:45 he was awake for real.

Every night is different and I suppose that’s the challenge. As soon as you think you’ve got it waxed, life throws you a curve ball and you have to reset your entire process. I can however tell you that the addition of solids did sweet FA for his sleeping, so anyone who tells you that giving them solids will help them sleep better is filling you with false hope. Fletcher eats his body weight every day in vegetables, fruits, yoghurt, Kiri Cheese and lentils and still does whatever he feels like at night. The only thing solids has done is increased our nappy requirements because he’s gone from being a one-a-day poo’er to three, and sometimes even four times a day.

Honestly, the best advice I can you is this: when you’re bouncing through parenthood’s uncertainties, rely on your support network – whether it’s your partner, your parents or siblings, your friends or a bunch of strangers on a Facebook group. Use those people for advice, tap into their knowledge, vent your frustrations to them and lean on them when you need it, because – trust me – you’ll need it.

The first four weeks

Nothing really prepares you for motherhood. No amount of books or blog posts, no-one’s advice or help can ever really prepare you for what lies ahead. There’s something to be said for the unknown – it’ll either bring out the best or the worst in you (usually in equal measures) and we have seen some of the best and worst of each other over the past four weeks.

Our first few days as parents were entirely surreal. Fletcher was in the NICU hooked up to all kinds of machines, so we weren’t able to hold him, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him and we weren’t able to establish any sort of routine or rhythm with him. By the time he was discharged, it had been two days since I had been discharged – so we’d spent the last 48 hours back and forth between home and the hospital (and over Christmas, no less).

Our first night home was an interesting one. Fletcher was bombarded with hundreds of new sounds and smells, totally overwhelming him. He fussed and cried for hours on that first night, eventually settling around midnight. But after that, he slept well (albeit in 3 hour stints).

The next day he had the first of his peeing episodes, during which he peed all over himself and me. During his first bath, he peed on the towel. A few days after that he peed all over himself, his onesie and the wall behind him (all while I was trying to change his nappy and dispose of one of the biggest, nastiest poos I’ve ever seen). Subsequently, he’s peed on the wall, himself and us a few more times, but on the whole he’s not a serial pee’er. Thank the gods.

During some of his finer nighttime antics he’s had both Becs and me in tears, thinking we’ll never get him to settle. On one particularly bad night, Becs had been trying to settle him for a good while and came back into the room sobbing, asking me to “please just take him,” which I duly did. Eventually I managed to settle him, but nearly had a panic attack when I realised we’d have to go through the whole process again in a matter of a few short hours. But, then the sun came up, and everything seemed less daunting than it had the night before.

As dusk began to fall that evening, fear settled over me like a thick fog and I turned to Becs, voice shaking, and said, “It’s nearly nighttime.” She immediately knew the source of my fear and the two of us huddled together on the couch – absolutely dreading the dark hours that lay ahead. But, then the sun came up again, and everything was fine. And so we settled into something of a pattern – night would fall and so would our spirits, but as the sun began to rise, so our fears lifted. It was like being stuck in some kind of bad horror movie loop.

Until it wasn’t anymore. After three weeks, Becs turned to me and said that she suddenly felt like he was an old hand at this parenting thing, like she’d been doing it for years. It seemed that in 21 short days, we’d formed a habit – the habit of motherhood. We still have crappy nights with Fletcher – last night was another night when he only settled after midnight, but then slept until 04:00 and again from 04:30 until 08:00 – but on the whole, we’re much better at parenting than we were four weeks ago. OK, maybe we’re not better, but we certainly feel less panicked about it and that’s the main thing.

Oh, and as I type this I have a trail of milk vomit down my back. Yup, motherhood is awesome.