Last night my one-year-old son slept 5.5 hours hours in a row. A mundane fact to most, but for me, it is a ‘Hallelujah!! Explode with pride and momentous amounts of relief moment.
The best part is that I slept too. Five hours, a record since his birth a year ago.
At four-months-old Jack went from waking 1-2 times a night to waking almost every two hours. This has continued until now. Nine months of broken, interrupted sleep. Sleep that is not refreshing nor do I look forward to bed. I never remember my dreams like I used to and wake feeling like the day will be impossible. It has been incomprehensible, unacceptable and combined with four months of travel through South America, a recipe for self-destruction.
Being a Mum is the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. I thought my natural, water birth had pushed me to my limits. I was wrong. Give me eight hours of agony over a year of haphazard sleep any day of the week.
Sleep depravation has broken me. Broken me to a point I had never experienced before. I knew something was seriously wrong, the grey haze never lifted and I kept wondering if I was ever going to feel excited or happy again. My vulnerability became needy, desperate. I was/am argumentative, moody and emotional. I have been exhausted. I have seen how easy it is to become a martyr, a nag, a whiner. Like anyone in the throes of extreme sleeplessness I became irrational and manic. Jack’s sleep and naps were an obsession, the boredom of this obsession hurt my brain.
The constant hit of adrenaline and cortisol as you’re jolted from sleep every few hours plays havoc with your nervous system. I gave up coffee as after a cup I felt like I was going to have heart attack.
The strain on a relationship is heavy. I’d heard the first year after after having a baby tests even the strongest of partnerships. But if there are already cracks, then they widen until there is so much distance it’s a crevasse. Throughout this there are always choices, but tiredness makes the best choice hard. Tiredness and stress gives the subconscious power, autopilot is easy. You can choose to go deeper together, or belay the ‘f’ out.
Like depression, you can’t see any way out of it. For a few weeks I seriously considered anti-depressants, something I never thought would ever ‘need’. But the thought of some kind of reprieve from the greyness, the anxiety, the cortisol was like a soothing balm. I needed I short break, a rest from my mind.
I read this statistic. “Over 50% of post-natal depression can be resolved in a few days when the baby learns to sleep through the night, i.e the link between maternal sleep depravation and depression is very strong.”
It made me feel better. Like I wasn’t going nuts. Like I would make it.
Meanwhile you continue to love your child deeply and unconditionally. You give and give and give. The well of love is endless. Mother Nature made this bond possibly the strongest of all. The survival of the human race depends on it. The will to look after your baby usurps the will to look after yourself. Each morning their smile makes it all worthwhile.
And the crazy thing is that I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change him. If I could afford a full-time nanny to take over I wouldn’t want that. What I have learned and seen about my Self cannot be unlearned and Jack knows that no matter what I will always be there for him, even at night.
When I arrived back to New Zealand those closest to me saw it before I did, my brother remarked I had become very ‘serious’ and my Mother, well she was just worried. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize myself, I felt extinguished.
A sleep deprived new Mum needs as much help as she can get. She needs compassion, understanding and support. She needs home and family and friends. She needs her Mother while she is being a Mother. She needs people who will allow her to prioritize herself again. She needs sleep. She also needs exercise, vitamin C and Magnesium.
This lowest point for me exposed so much of myself I didn’t even know was there. Sleep deprivation didn’t cause the anger, the sadness, the emptiness, it exposed what was and is there. It’s not the situation that’s to blame, the situation just triggers what’s deep inside. And with no will to muster the energy to call on a ‘personality’ to cover this the darkness up, it’s right there exposed and it’s ok.
Motherhood keeps me learning and relearning all that I thought I knew about myself.
He is still sleeping like poop. He just can’t switch off for long. I’m hoping it means he’s a genius. Anyway, that one night of 5.5 hours was a cruel tease as the next day he got a cold and conjunctivitis. Murphy and his f*cking law.
I do know that it won’t last forever. And finding grace and dignity in this situation is something I’m working on. What doesn’t kill you, will either make you stronger, or bat-shit crazy.