Anxiety through the Night when Parenting After Loss

Parenting after Loss anxiety, particularly at night, is a topic that has come up a few times lately in messages or on #BabyLossHour and I realised I don’t really talk about my anxiety now, since Eli arrived. The intensity of anxiety in pregnancy has absolutely left, but it’s always there as a background beat to everything.

I think it’s probably pretty normal for parents to have anxiety about their babies wellbeing through the night, but I think it’s especially normal when parenting after loss. Anxiety – or deep fear – is just apart of life now – that new mindset to life that I discussed in my latest blog post seemed to resonate quite widely. Once you’ve lived it once, you fear living it again… and again.

So I wanted to share what I do to calm my anxiety in relation to nighttime. Now, this is me, my anxiety and my strategies. It is by no means a prescription or a “you should do this” list at all. Everyone is different, everyone’s parenting is different, and everyone’s anxiety is different. I just thought being open and sharing might just help a few people. I think most of all, for me, it’s about normalising the hangovers of loss.

It’s also important for me to recognise that the strategies I used to minimise my anxiety are mostly centred around control. It’s one of the biggest losses about yourself when your baby dies unexpectedly. Your self-esteem and trust in yourself drops through a trap door you didn’t know was there, and you lose a sense of any ability to control your life and your future. Regaining belief in this is part of the challenge of a new normal.

So what have our nighttime’s been like these past nine months?

  • Up until about four months, we’d all go to bed together, or Eli would nap in the living room with us. It became increasingly clear that he needed a proper (and much earlier) bed time, so we started ‘putting him down’ earlier from September. Up until that point we’d wake from the deepest sleep deprived states with a shock, and listen to him breathe and feel his chest rise and fall. And then once adrenaline settled, fall back to sleep.
  • The only way my anxiety would allow me to put him down in another room was to get a mat monitor (we have a Angelcare – ridiculous name when parenting after loss *insert dark humour slogan here*). Ours also has a video – which I wasn’t fussed about but is actually so helpful. We started having to have the beep on the monitor for the mat for a good month or so, so we constantly knew it was recognising movement. In time, trust built and now we just (sometimes obsessively) check the screen instead. I find the video very helpful to stop me disturbing him as often as I need to check his position, listening to him breathe etc. Why I didn’t feel the need for a mat before then, I don’t know.
  • From about six months, he moved to his own room, mostly because we were disturbing him and he grew out of his crib. The recommendations from The Lullaby Trust are that babies sleep in the same room as you up until six months.
  • I am a fond follower of the work that Lullaby Trust do and their #SaferSleep recommendations. This week is Safer Sleep week, so by all means head on over. They have a lot of guides on products (really handy, seeming as everyone advertises everything as a miracle cure) and sleep recommendations – all evidence based, clear and consistent. Following these tips really helps me know I’ve done everything I can to keep him safe – again, it’s a control issue. I can calm my anxiety by reminding myself that I have done all or nearly all of the recommendations. In pregnancy, the guidelines in maternal health and movements where so important to keep me grounded, so this is just an extension.
  • We have always put Eli down to sleep on his back, up until the point that he could roll freely. Now we put him down on his back, and he tends to choose to stay there or roll. Even though he can roll, I will still sometimes turn him over, just for that extra soothing of my mind if I need it. The Back to Sleep campaign reduced infant deaths significantly, and is such a success story in the efforts to reduce baby loss.
  • We use the temperature guide for clothing and we have a GroEgg both from the Gro Company to keep an eye on temperature. Temperature is probably the main area my anxiety focuses on, mostly because it’s so variable each night, so it really helps to remind myself I’ve made a good decision (again, it’s all about that self-esteem hitting rock bottom)
  • His cot is flat, firm and clear of anything else – it is him alone in there. No blankets, no cot bumpers, no teddies – we just use a sleeping bag. It might not be the cosiest looking place, but he knows no different and I have little to complain about when it comes to his sleep. I’ll admit that we used a nest to start with when he was little, we used one that to the best of our knowledge was safer but I appreciate no one can really say that they are safe, and The Lullaby Trust product guide does recommend against them.
  • We don’t co-sleep. Now, I feel at times co-sleeping is getting as political issues as breastfeeding, and like I said in my breastfeeding post – it shouldn’t be. For me, the thought of co-sleeping is something that increases my anxiety, yet I know others will say the exact opposite. And I think ultimately what’s important with the decision to co-sleep, is feeling happy, confident and informed about your decision. So for those reasons, we don’t and never have. Luckily I guess, Eli has never put us in a position to contemplate it either. I wasn’t too keen on idea when pregnant with Leo, so I guess it’s mostly reflective of myself, as opposed to just my post-Loss-anxiety. You can read safer sleep guidance on co-sleeping here.

Ultimately, I do the above and recognise that they help me stay calm, sleep and feel confident about my parenting. Of course, everyone is different and everyone has different things that ignite anxiety and then soothe it again. I know it helps, because when we don’t have these things in place to the same extent (if away, for example) I struggle that little bit more.

I think what’s important however is being open about it so the parent who is grappling with anxiety at 3am doesn’t feel alone. So much of a post-loss mindset is dark, but shed some light on it, and who knows – it might just help.

-Jx

Information on Safer Sleep is below:

The Lullaby Trust 

NHS

UNICEF 

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