A mum has shared how her extreme sleep deprivation led to her falling asleep on the motorway – and why she wants better support for new parents.
Nicole Ratcliffe, 41 from Manchester, always believed she was ‘born to be’ a mum, but says she underestimated how tough the exhaustion would be.
Nicole, who now has two daughters, Sofia, seven, and Alyssia, three, with her husband, took all the NCT classes she could attend. But nothing could have prepared her for what happened with her first-born daughter.
‘I didn’t have a smooth birth and suffered birth trauma. I wanted a water birth, but I ended up having an emergency C-section,’ she tells Metro.co.uk
‘In the days that followed in the hospital, I found it really difficult to breastfeed and I got an infection. My daughters’ weight was down by 10% so they were encouraging me to formula feed, but I persevered with breastfeeding.
‘I was in pain, not sleeping, home on my own due to my husband working during the witching hours, with a baby who was crying and not napping.’
Sofia simply wouldn’t sleep. And when Nicole expressed her concerns to her health visitor, she didn’t feel she was listened to.
‘I had questions, but they simply described me as an “anxious mum”, when in reality I just wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on. I wanted to be the best mum I could be as I had never done it before’, she explains.
‘I didn’t understand their terminology and when questioning them, I was made to feel I was just being overly anxious.’
Nicole tried any method she could think of to try and get herself and Sofia some sleep.
‘I would be up at 6am walking the streets with the pram as that seemed to be a place she would sleep. As soon as we arrived at the front door she would wake up again,’ she recalls.
‘I tried a white noise machine, constantly holding her, patting her, rocking her, feeding her, we tried different slings, but nothing seemed to settle her. I walked for miles and miles a day.’
Nicole knew she would soon be going back to her field sales job and her company was stringent on not driving while tired.
‘In my contract, we had a clause that says you must not drive while tired, and that there are 20 work-related fatalities a week because of tired drivers,’ she says.
‘I was driving on the motorway and would wake up in a different lane. I used to fall asleep in the car park in between appointments and was struggling to have the energy to stand and chat to people in my job as I was physically and mentally exhausted.
‘I then dropped to one of the lowest performers and I didn’t feel my boss was supportive.’
‘I was put on PIPs [a performance improvement plan], where they were monitoring my performance, which was added stress.’
For the next few months, her daughter wouldn’t sleep through the night or the day and tensions grew between her and her husband.
‘We just didn’t recognise ourselves and every day was a battle. We tried controlled crying, marriage counselling, and then individual counselling.
‘We were desperate and it was either divorce or get help. We had nothing to lose so decided on a sleep consultant. A divorce would have cost a lot more than a sleep consultant, so this was the last throw of the dice as we knew deep down we loved each other.’
The sleep consultant explained how to reestablish a bedtime routine at the right time and taught the couple methods to help Sofia settle to sleep.
‘With no sleep and PTSD from sleep deprivation, I was desperate,’ says Nicole.
‘Consistency really helped with routine as well as understanding that baby sleep is complex. But it can really help to know there is nothing wrong with you or baby, which can make a huge difference.’
It also helped repair her relationship with her husband as they began to enjoy life again.
‘We were able to spend time together again and start to get to know each other again. The simple things like eating together or watching a film together were huge,’ she shares.
‘Having a few hours together at the beginning of the night at weekends or during the week while she napped helped us to start building a relationship again.’
She adds: ‘Getting chunks of sleep made a huge difference, sleep is vital for the immune system, and so started to heal me physically as well.’
When Nicole knew redundancy was on the cards she decided to take the opportunity and made it her mission to help other mums by retraining as a sleep consult forming Baby2Sleep.
‘My hopes are that I can change the future of the support available to new parents, so when my children are old enough, they don’t have to experience as myself and countless others have gone through,’ she says.
‘I have educated from pregnancy to children turning six years old. I want everyone to get the best start to their parenting journey possible.’
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