Sunday, June 11, 2023

Wanted: Sleep! An Exclusive Essay By Zoë Foster Blake

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It would be hard to accurately sum up how much we at Capsule are die-hard fans of, well, everything Zoë Foster Blake does. Her writing, her skincare, her super-cute children, her books for adults and her books for children. Here, to promote her new children’s book Back To Sleep, we have the NZ exclusive of an essay she wrote about the biggest thing she misses since becoming a parent.

It’s said that the night before you give birth is your last good sleep, but as anyone who’s been 39 weeks pregnant knows, a man probably said that. Your last good sleep was probably pre-conception as there’s a high chance even that interrupted your slumber. 

It’s also been said (by me) that the true concept of tired doesn’t sink in until you’re a parent. Of course you can be tired sans kids, but there is a special level of fatigue reserved just for parents on the Ladder of Tiredness. (It’s the one covered in stickers and texta scribbles.) 

Oh, sure, I’d tasted plenty of tired canapés before my kids arrived: all-nighters finishing books, pregnancy insomnia, cheap flights to London via Chile, LA and Denmark, night-shifts, and sleeplessness caused by early starts, but that all paled by comparison to having a baby.

I remember The Moment it hit me. I’d just given birth, and my son was off being cleaned up. I was wheeled to my room, where I desperately sought sleep. I’ve been up for 500 hours and pushed out a giant baby, I thought, boy have I earned some sleep!

Five minutes later, my sweet, new son needed feeding. But I just fed him, I said, confused and irritable. Yes, love, said the midwife, and he’ll need more again in two hours. And every two hours after that.

No one had told me this about newborns. Not one person informed me that my new baby would require sustenance from my body every few hours, every day, every night for months. I assume this is because it’s the kind of knowledge that is so deeply obvious that people don’t even bother mentioning it. But I’d like to take this opportunity to officially mention it.

Photo credit: Hamish Blake. Lead photo credit: Dave Wheeler

(I second-guessed writing that, since you’re not supposed to admit you don’t know stuff when you’re a mum, even though I don’t know stuff every day, including the correct shape to cut sausages so your child won’t choke.) (Fingers, not coins!) 

So there I was. A woman who’d spent months buying onesies and preparing for birth (19 hours) but not one moment reading up on what happens Once They’re Out (forever hours). How adorable.

When there’s a newborn in the house, sleep goes from a basic need into a mythical creature, an elusive, mystical wisp it’s impossible to grab onto for long enough to ever satisfy or restore you. You spend all your time dreaming (not literally, dummy: you wish!) of sleep, of how fantastically capable and human you would feel if you could just steal a few solid hours. But sleep doesn’t care about you and your petty needs; she’s busy! Got shit to do! Like collude with your baby to cry out just as you fall asleep. (There should be a word for that feeling parents experience when they get back into bed after settling an infant, and begin to drift off, then hear the baby cry out again. It’s such a unique and torturous blend of disbelief, fatigue and fortitude.)

And so it is, that between the presence of one (new baby) and the lack of the other (sleep), you become the exact mushy-brained, slop of a person Mr Noll from Year 8 Maths class always presumed you to be. What a pity. You used to be such a clever and competent person. But don’t worry, it all gets better once your baby is sleeping through and walking and talking!

And by better I of course mean worse. For this is the stage of Barefaced Sleep Lies, when your children learn they can wake you just for the hell of it. It usually kicks in once you’ve started sleeping 6-7 consecutive hours, and you’re feeling optimistic about the return of normality. 

Perhaps they woke you cos they had a scary dream. They have a blocked nose or stuffy head. They fell out of bed. A loaded nappy needs changing. A wet bed. You know, reasonable things. But there are also many unreasonable things. Things that are generally saved until you have a huge day of work ahead or an early start.

There is the arena-volume yell that wakes the house: I NEED A DRINK! MY PILLOW IS WRONG! I LOST BUN-BUN! And the creepy standing-next-to-your-bed-staring-at-you tactic: “My feet are too hot.” “My back is too cold.” “I heard a noise.” “I saw Santa.” (In June.) “I want brekky.” (At 4am.) “I’m too awake.” 

Throw a dawn-waker in there, and you’re all set!

It’s hard to keep your cool when your sleep is consistently punctured. Parents become scratchy and competitive towards each other, choosing to one-up rather than support, simply cos they’re too tired to be kind. “Oof, I didn’t sleep a wink: Harry came in at 3am and kicked me until 5am when he finally nodded off,” “Yeah, Rosie had me in there scratching her back for an hour at midnight, then at 3, then she woke at 5 wanting a bottle.”  (It’s an unspoken rule that Things Outside of Children are not permitted in this battle so don’t even think about mentioning your 14 hours at work, or your red-eye flight. It. Doesn’t. Count.)

Anyway. My new picture book, Back to Sleep, is out now. Is it a guide on how to get kids to sleep? Pfffft. This is a straight-up revenge fantasy, baby. You’re welcome.

Back To Sleep by Zoë Foster Blake is available in all good book stores, now

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