Sleep thief survivor Al Ferguson explains how becoming a dad and experiencing the pain of a miscarriage led to the creation of The Dad Network. The 26-year-old launched the website after finding there were very few places for men to share their feelings on the challenges of parenthood.
What was early fatherhood like for you?
Very, very exciting! You’re still fresh in the early days so excitement comes a little easier! Having a brand new baby in the household totally turns your world upside down. The learning curve is steep and you need to be prepared to get things wrong. Turns out, it does matter which way round you put a nappy on!
What did you find most difficult about becoming a parent?
Being deprived of the normal and reasonable expectations of life! You know, things like eating a sensible meal once a day, sleeping, having a conversation about anything other than babies or work, (in fact, having a conversation that lasts longer than 30 seconds would be good), wearing clothes that don’t have dribble, sick or any other bodily fluid stains on them. I guess, what I’m saying is the hardest part of becoming a parent, is the fact that you are now at the bottom of the pecking order.
What is your day job – did you get ample paternity leave?
Being a teacher I was entitled to the usual two weeks paternity leave. However, our baby was pretty well-timed and was born at the start of the summer holidays! This gave me a good five weeks off, without actually having to claim paternity leave. This time was incredibly precious and I was very fortunate. The downside was that I think the more time I spent with Teddy, the harder it was when I did eventually have to go back to work.
Was fatherhood different to what you expected?
Tricky question! Erm… yes, but I think that’s because if I was honest, I had no idea what to expect. People tell you stories from their experience but until you experience it for yourself, it is exactly that – someone else’s story.
I expected to be tired, but not this tired. I expected it to be relentless but not this relentless! I expected to love it but not this much. In answer to the question, yes it was different to what I expected.
So, tell me a bit about your baby’s attitude to sleep and its effect on your family!?
Teddy is very contented baby. He is happy playing on his own and rarely cries. Really, during the day, he hardly cries at all! The closest we get is when he whines and goes red in the face if he’s hungry, tired or uncomfortable. Lucky us! Well, hang on… most of the time at night, he goes down wide awake on his own and gently drifts off without a peep. We’ve been told that this is rare. It’s once he’s asleep that the problems start. Firstly he’s a noisy sleeper. The wife tunes in to every single little squeak he makes, which means she sleeps incredibly lightly and never really gets a nice long stretch. Secondly, for most of the 5 months, he’s woken up (loudly) at least 4 times during the night, pretty much at these times: 00:00, 03:00, 04:00 & 05:30. Sometimes he can be resettled, sometimes he can’t. Either way, he has been a terrible sleeper. There’s so much more detail I could go into here, but the long and short of it is that he sleeps badly. The wife is up most of the night, I’m up a lot of the night (despite being a heavy sleeper) and we are both bloody knackered!
How do (did) you and your wife cope with the lack of sleep?
Nothing in the world can prepare you for sleep-deprivation which is why it’s one of the most affective forms of torture used in many countries! I must pause momentarily and say just how wonderful my wife has been. Most days, she’s looking after Teddy on little more than two hours sleep. Five months of two hours sleep and she is still standing strong and remarkably tolerant with me. I still leave my pants on the bathroom floor and the cereal bowls out and I’m still alive to tell you! She is amazing.
It is hard though. We’ve tried so many things to help; changing his routine, temperature of the room, more food, less food, times, controlled crying, demand feeding and nothing has made a difference. That can be hard to handle, especially when you’re so exhausted. I’ve surprised myself a little at how well I do on much less sleep. The way I get through is to simply put it in perspective of my wife. She’s up more and still has to look after him all day long.
Alternatively, some other of my personal coping methods consists of the following:
- Sleeping for a few seconds at a red light.
- Cat napping at work.
- Resting your eyes when you’re on the toilet.
- Faking fainting – I haven’t done this yet, but I reckon I’d a good few hours in the hospital!
- Offer to pop to the shops and use the reclining seats in the car for forty winks!
What first inspired you to set up The Dad Network?
The Dad Network originated shortly after my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. The story of our miscarriage is quite unique and it was a really difficult experience for the both of us as it stretched over our wedding. Following this I found that men/dads had very little space to share or communicate their feelings. The pub hardly seemed an appropriate place to talk about such an experience.
So, I decided to find my own personal corner of the web to share my thoughts and feelings. My wife falling pregnant again gave me even more things to write about and gradually people started to read it. It just built from there.
The inspiration though, was to simply be a space for dads to give time to their feelings and thoughts; starting with my own!
What one piece of advice would you give to new dads?
Join The Dad Network! (Shameful plug…) But the point is that the best piece of advice I could give is to speak to other dads. Ask them how they do it, what they do, when they do it? Share your ideas and ask for theirs.
One thing we have found through the blog is that there are so many other dads out there in the same position. We’re all fumbling through the darkness of fatherhood, none of us know the answers, so we might as well work together!
If you would like to read more about Al and his network of dads visit www.thedadnetwork.co.uk.
Has parenthood inspired you to achieve something great? Whether you have overcome an illness, set up a business or survived a sleep thief against the odds, then I would love to hear your story! Please get in touch on [email protected] or contact me on Facebook.