Rest Assured: Facts and Feelings
Sleep, sleep, sleep. I find that talking about sleep is like talking about birth; every mother needs to share her story but it is hard to find a sympathetic ear. Perhaps because both are such universal experiences, my story is not unique and therefore uninteresting to anyone but me. But isn’t that EVERY story? I want to be heard. And I have a blog.
My midwife suggested I track Farrah’s sleep to make sure exhaustion wasn’t exaggerating fact with feeling. Last week* with the help of Siri I did just that:
- Average hour of waking: 4:56am
- Longest period awake: 7hrs10mins
- Longest period nighttime sleep: 3hrs10mins
- Longest period daytime sleep: 1hr35mins
- Average daytime sleep: 54mins
In the vein of universal experiences, I never met a parent who said they were well-rested. I know that I don’t need much sleep, but I also know how important it is for my child. Even if I don’t sleep with her, I feel better, my attitude is better and I’m happier knowing she is rested. These good feelings buoy my spirit and all but eliminate the physical effects of my own sleep deprivation. As you can see from Farrah’s calendar however, lately my spirits have been very low.
I mistook the brake pedal for the gas pedal the other day but it didn’t feel like a mistake – my foot didn’t just slip – it felt like I never learned how to drive. I only hit the curb but it sent a chill up my spine so sharp that tears stung my eyes. My car now runs on gas and fear.
When Farrah is awake I wear her. My carrier doesn’t secure without another person’s help so it is work to keep her safe, in addition to the work I do wearing her. Farrah is a baby, she drops things. Without sleep I am clumsy. I drop things. Every time I have to bend over with my baby loosely attached to my chest, I die a little. (I want to thank the UPS carrier, the neighbor’s many contractors and everyone at preschool for clipping my shoulder straps when I can find you.)
In addition to my child, I also carry a low-level nausea. This is because I always move but barely eat. I live on almond butter packs, dried orange wedges and slices of ham, all of which I eat almost exclusively in the car. All my calories come at night, washed down with the anxiety of knowing she’ll soon wake again.
The first thing I do every morning is pop three tylenol. I’m shaky and cold and dizzy. I felt like I was going to pass out at neighbor’s house last weekend. Ten minutes later I was wearing Farrah and pacing their living room. Ten minutes after that I walked home and tried and failed to help her sleep. Two hours later I was wearing Farrah while running with Arlo on a soccer field.
I’m constantly on edge and yet simultaneously bored. I look around at all the things I want to do and curse because I can’t do them. I look at all the things I am able to do and curse because I’ve done them.
This is a snapshot of my current motherhood. Better than some, worse than others. My midwife would tell me that phases come and go. She would also remind me that raising an exclusively breastfed and attached child means everything to me but it doesn’t come easy.
In the midst of all this sleep that Farrah is not sleeping, I changed my Facebook profile picture to this headless, infested bunny carcass. It was not well received but oh, did I mean it. I had gone from merely invisible to dead. As I was writing this very post my friend Kara sent me this mother’s viral missive: I Became A Mother and Died to Live. An excerpt:
“I’ve been the same woman my whole life. What about her? Where is she? Is she just dead?
Yes, she is just dead.
And yet, I’m still here. This is still me. I am untouched, unscathed. So maybe I have not died?
If I died, how am I here, nursing and changing and mothering this baby? Who’s doing this work now?
And who is she?”
I am prone to repeating, “Just because I’m getting it done, just because you see me, doesn’t mean I’m actually here.” I mean that too.
Because people are kind, they want to fix my problem: “Can’t you hire someone?” “Let Kris give her a bottle.” or “Just shut the door and let her cry.” The worst is when I’m asked about Farrah’s sleep (YAY!) but when I reply “just awful”, the person turns to Farrah and says, “Well isn’t that just what you’re supposed to do! Drive your Mommy crazy! Tee hee! Silly baby!” complete with cheek pinches and laughter. Invisible Mom. I know this exhaustion is common and somewhat fleeting, but it is not cute. It is very real to me.
Another well-intentioned offer is “Oh! Give her to me. I’ll take her for an hour!” but dear god, I don’t want to be away from my baby; I want help with my baby. It’s a lot to ask I know because I am a haggard mess and she is a juicy peach, but she doesn’t want to be away from me either. Is there a way to make this work?
When the fog clears, I know there is nothing wrong with my daughter or with my mothering. There is no problem to fix. I chose to mother in this way, yes, but I need a boost. Help me get through this phase by lifting me up, by acknowledging the exhaustion and by reassuring me that I can do it. That I am doing it. Because I am but I’m too goddamned tired to pat my own back. If I could do that, I’d be snapping that carrier myself.
Are you going through this? Struggling to keep it together day after day? I promise you it will change. I also promise to listen. Tell me your story. We’ll kvetch.
*Of the nearly 350 posts on BPS, this post as been revised more than any other and is now a couple of weeks old. It has been that difficult to articulate my experience and ask for what I need. And then there were all those calculations. Ugh. Math.