I first understood the value of sleep when I gave birth to son number one, who took a whole 36 hours from waters breaking to entering the world, during which I think I caught about 15 minutes of sleep. By the time he was actually born I felt as if I had run a marathon and then been hit by a bus as I passed the finish line, but instead of being able to burrow under the duvet to recover I was expected to look after a newborn baby I had no idea how to care for.
We were wheeled back to my hospital room and in the darkness I wondered how on earth I was supposed to look after this delicate, precious thing in my crazed, exhausted state. It seemed to me downright dangerous. As I sat red lidded desperately trying to stay awake so as to maintain my vigil over my newborn son, a nurse suggested I tuck him up in bed with me. I was horrified. I had never felt as tired and I was sure I would slump, leaden on his tiny frame snuffing out this new life almost as soon as it had begun.
I sat rigid with terror and tiredness that whole night, craving the moment that daddy would return and could take over watching our offspring like a hawk, but what I hadn't reckoned on was the army of visitors who would arrive in his wake. Every time my heavy eyes closed another over excited uncle, auntie or grandpa would arrive to drink in the joy of our brand new baby. As he was the first new child to join the family I could understand the excitement, but as each helium balloon bearing wellwisher turned up all I really wanted was to be left alone in a darkened room to sleep and adjust to my new role as mummy.
Things didn't improve much once we got home and discovered that for our son, night and day were pretty interchangeable. While we gratefully welcomed the nighttime, he knew not that this black sky signalled time to sleep. So rather than curling cosy under the covers, I was rudely awakened at two-hour intervals by his croaky cries of 'Error, error', or at least that's what it sounded like to me, as he demanded milk, cuddles and an explanation of this alien new world he found himself deposited in.
As his mother and the one constant in his brave new world, it fell to me to care for him in these lonely night time hours. I was attempting to breastfeed so only I could soothe his hungry little tummy, and as I didn't seem to be doing a very good job of it he slept hardly at all in those first few weeks.
I became a sleep deprived zombie, propelling myself from chore to chore. Robotically feeding, holding and comforting my child as I fantasised about something that had once seemed so mundane - a good night's sleep.
When the twins were born and my husband and I were juggling night feeds with two hungry mouths to feed, I found myself weeping with black depression at the turn my life had taken. I could take no pleasure in my tiny twin boys, in fact I would gladly have put them up on eBay if my husband had agreed. What was wrong? It was that dreaded lack of sleep again. As soon as my own mummy took over the helm of night feeds for a day or two life returned to normal and I could contemplate my boys with the joy they deserved, and feel grateful for the new additions to the family, rather than resenting their arrival and the disruption is heralded.
Now I am four children down, I understand that these broken nights do pass, but never again will I take sleep for granted, or underestimate its importance.