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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Night Terrors?

Night Terrors

Night terrors?

MELISSA MCDONNELL
 
Last updated 10:46 07/03/2011
 
 
It's been almost two weeks since an earthquake changed the face of Christchurch. Personally, it feels like the longest fortnight of my life. And it's only been in the last few days that I've started to feel that time is the healer. Only time can lessen the fear, settle the shocks and help life begin again.

We remain cautious and on edge. We know how lucky we are not to have lost a loved one, that a roof remains over our heads and that we're warm and dry.

But oh to be a baby, where apparent ignorance of the entire situation seems so bliss! It appeared my 16-month-old toddler had known nothing of the changes to our environment, perhaps because we were in the car when the big shake happened. I also presumed that the aftershocks had no effect on her. As the smaller rumbles continue, I try to make up a dance or jump around the room to distract her from the shaky floor. I thought this was working well, but as the week wore on, I started to wonder.

She has never been a great day sleeper, but we've been lucky with her night sleeps - usually straight through from 7.30pm until 7am. But on about day five after the earthquake, she awoke about 2am howling for no apparent reason.

When I rushed in, she was standing, arms outstretched, reaching up. When I held her, she clung tight, tucked her knees up, and buried her head into my shoulders. It took a few minutes before her crying ebbed to a whimper.

I sat on the bedroom sofa - the most comfortable option given I had only a couple of weeks before Number Two was due. We sat in silence for a few minutes as I rubbed her back and gently rocked. She then started whispering in my ear - a disjointed smattering of her ever expanding vocabulary.

"Mama. Dada. Elbow. Knee. Bok-bok [chicken]. Muzzy [our cat]. Cheese. Milkies?"

Milkies? Was she hungry? I decided to wait for a few minutes before I made any decisions. She slowly released her grip so that we were face to face, our noses almost touching.

"Nose," she exclaimed, before pulling out a chubby finger and reaching towards my face. "Eyes. Ears. Cheeks."

Hmmm. After a few more minutes of her quiet baby-talk jabber, I whispered it was time for bed. She threw herself back into the cling-on position and held on tight. I stroked her hair, rubbed her back and hummed her favourite lullaby. After another 10 minutes, she seemed content enough to be put down. I told her we were going to the cot for night-nights, laid her down, gave her Ted and Dolly, kissed her forehead and said goodnight.

She stared up at me but didn't buy it. As I reached the door, she bolted upright: "Mama, mama...MAAAA-MAAAAAAAAA!"

I picked her up and repeated the same steps, only to have the same result. My belly and back were starting to ache. I needed backup, but her dad wasn't home - he's a firefighter and was working night shift.

I toyed with taking her into my bed, but we've tried it before. She thinks of our room as a wakeful play area, where we bring her every morning to read her books and have family time. If I took her in there, she'd simply want to sit up and play. Not good at 3am.

I decided to make her a bottle of milk. She drank about half of it, I changed her nappy and we settled on the sofa for another round of cuddles and comforting. I had to be patient. After two hours of the same routine (put down, cry, pick up, and cuddle) she finally fell asleep on my shoulder and I managed to lay her down in her cot. Result.

This has been happening almost every night for over a week now. Luckily, my other half has been home some of the nights to support me, but we're now both exhausted. We've sometimes been so desperate for a solution, we've resorted to putting her down in her pram and taking her for a walk which, for some reason, seems to get her to sleep.

So what's going on? Is our Little Miss having "night terrors"? Has the earthquake and resulting household instability had more of an impact than we originally thought?

Or is it a coming of age? Some have said that it's about this time when toddlers start entering the "terrible twos" phase and embrace the cause-and-effect concept of "I-will-scream-and-you-will-come".

But I'm not so sure. There has to be something to jolt her awake in the first place.

It could be her reflux. We had been slowly reducing her medication in the two weeks before the earthquake - perhaps the current low dose has caused the symptoms to kick back in? We really don't want to increase the dose, but if this continues we might have to.

Regardless of the cause, the result is taking its toll. Her night sleeping patterns are so out of sync that she wakes up later, meaning later daytime naps, leading to a later bedtime. This leaves virtually no time for us to relax and revive during the day, leaving us worn out by the evening.

As a result, we are now a tired, grumpy, and frazzled unit. And with only one week to go before our family of three becomes four, we were hoping to have a solid routine in place. At the rate we are going, it's highly unlikely.

We're desperate to help our Little Miss settle back into a deep, long night of sleep and break out of whatever it is that is causing her to jolt wake.

What experience have you had with night terrors? At what age do they start? How do you soothe your child? How long does it take before they restore normal sleep patterns? Or could it be the reflux?

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