One day, a few months ago, John came home from work with a story about a relative of his co-worker. It went like this:
A woman (the relative of the co-worker), who had two small children, freaked out and thought that she was going to kill the whole family. She was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that she was suffering from “extreme sleep deprivation.”
When he finished this story, he looked at me with an expression of great knowing, and I said, “that doesn’t surprise me in the least.” John said, “no kidding.”
Sleep is to new parents what a Christ sighting is to most religious fanatics. Elusive, desired deeply, almost impossible to attain, and yet, for the people that do actually see Mr. Potato-Chip Christ—or the new parents that get, say, 4 straight hours of sleep—it is almost an orgasmic attainment.
Also, the reason I am medicated. The attainment, not the orgasm.
I remember, when Rowan was a baby, standing in the dining room of my old house braless, leaking, un-showered, still in my pajamas (in other words, totally disgusting), with Rowan in my arms, swaying him side to side at top speed, with the phone in the crook of my neck, saying (well, let’s face it, I was shouting) “I THOUGHT BABIES WERE SUPPOSED TO SLEEP!” Of course, of course, everyone knows that when you have a new baby, you are supposed to be sleep-deprived. The single most annoying question that I was asked (sorry, people that asked me, but you annoyed the fuck out of me, collectively) during the first year of being a new mother was “are you getting any sleep?” I was getting sleep, but I wasn’t getting rest, and there is a distinct difference. Not to mention that most of them said it with slight smiles on their faces, as if they were secretly pleased at my obvious suffering. And because unless you go back to work immediately, having one child shouldn’t preclude you from sleep! Right? RIGHT? Sleep when the baby sleeps. Right? Well, what if the baby never sleeps?
When Luca came into our world, I observed almost immediately that he was a different kind of sleeper. He napped, which was earth-shattering to us. Besides the intense screaming every single night from 6 to 9 pm—only ever calmed by John swaddling him to a near-abusive tightness, taking him into a room and playing the sound of a drier at a volume high enough to kill a flock of geese, swinging him wildly from side to side, and saying “shhhhhhhhhhh” in his ear until his jaw ached—besides all that, he slept fairly well. And at first I thought, well, this should be a snap! I know it sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not! The fact that he napped sort of cancelled out the drama of his colic. I sound like some sort of prisoner, happy with one slice of bread and dirty water because HEY, at least it’s food!
I’m not really sure when it happened, but eventually we found ourselves doing things for Luca that most people wouldn’t do for a million dollars. We walked him, in the middle of the night, for up to an hour. Multiple times. And we had to walk fast—, so fast that it created a wind in the bedroom. I kid you not that it was so loud, the walking, that I couldn’t sleep when John was doing it. We walked him until our arms were numb and tingling, and our nerves were completely fried. I nursed him over and over again, falling asleep sitting up, for hours at a time, waking up to a shooting pain in my neck because, of course, I had fallen asleep with my head on my shoulder. We rocked him, we shushed him, we held him, we did everything but let him cry.
A segue here. The cry-it-out method was not for us. If you think that we should have tried it, you can just keep thinking it. To yourself. And please, if you value out relationship at all, you will keep you’re my-way-is-better comments to yourself. Love ya!
You do what’s best for your family, no matter how insane it seems to others—and to you, months later. When Luca was 2, I was nursing him 5 times a night. I was sleeping maybe 4 hours a night, and had been for years. Years. The sleep we were getting was the type of sleep I imagine that soldiers get in combat, which is to say shitty. I resented Luca, I wanted to kill my husband, I envisioned killing myself, I put my pants on and grabbed my keys at 3 am, ready to leave my family more times than I can count, and really, I thought that there was no possible way that I (not to mention my marriage) would survive being a mother. John and I said things to each other in the middle of the night that made us cringe and blush the next morning, quietly apologizing to one another and shrugging our shoulders as if to say, “Well? I suck, but what do you expect?”
I have never before, not even when I was taking bong hits, been so utterly disconnected from reality. I remember a woman who has since become a dear friend to me coming up to me at school after dropping Rowan off and saying “Are you okay? You seem to be really struggling.” And I couldn’t have been more grateful, because clearly, I wasn’t okay. But as I have said before, no one really wants to hear that. The night before I had been up 6 or 7 times with the kids, and up early for school. I was miserable and at the point where, really, I could have ended up being the woman that has delusions that I may kill my family.
Motherhood is such a tumultuous time. You want to do it well, you want to be the best at it, but no one is! Yet everyone is either pretending that they are or just faking it until they make it. Who knows, maybe every single mother is being authentic and I am just on the defense. I’m open to that being true. When I’m drunk, I may be more open to that. But, it does me absolutely no favors pretending to be okay when I’m not, because frankly, I suck at pretending to be anything. Sleep deprivation? Not cool.
Last night, at 2 am, Luca padded into our room from the room he now shares with his brother. When I hear him coming, I sit up, excited to cuddle with him because so much has changed. John eventually took control of the situation some months ago, and basically locked me out of the other bedroom, told me to put ear plugs in, take my anxiety medication that I needed because I wasn’t sleeping and thought I might die, and to not come in the room. Ever. No matter what. And I listened to him, which, really, is astounding, considering that I rarely listen to him. I must have been so tired that I just gave in. After three nights, John turned Luca into a sleeper, not a great sleeper, but a good sleeper. A sometimes cosleeper, which is fine with me. Someone once said to me, “it doesn’t matter if you are sleeping in a cold, hard bathtub, all that matters is that you’re sleeping.”
Neither John nor I can believe we made it. That’s the thing about parenting. You spend so much time in the moment, dealing with practical and permeating issues with the children that it takes an enormous change in lifestyle for you to gain any perspective. Honestly, I can’t imagine that we would do anything differently, if we had it to do again, which we don’t because I took care of that mess with a tubal. Straight up. We aren’t wired to sit in another room and let our kids cry, just like someone else isn’t wired to sit up for hours at night, tending to their child. We do the best we can with what we have in the moment—we all do the best we can. And when my kids come to me at night now, I know it is because I am needed and not taken advantage of. It isn’t perfect, but I get sleep, we stay married, the kids are none the wiser and, really, we are one big happy family.