Chasing the sandman

If you had told me this time last year that I wasn’t going to get a full night’s sleep for 365 days and counting I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact the thought was inconceivable. Before my baptism of fire into the world of motherhood, I was that woman who might have occasionally tossed and turned on a Sunday evening after a particularly rough and unscheduled weekend and then spent the rest of the working week talking about how tired I was.

The most interesting thing that I have learned is that there are so many different kinds of tiredness that it’s quite like that widely circulated myth that the Inuits have many different words for snow. There are so many shades of tiredness that you lose count and they are each unique in their characteristics. I have also found that usually the one you’re experiencing at the moment is the absolute very worst.

There is no tiredness like that initial just pregnant first trimester fatigue, which I had for a couple of weeks before I even knew I was pregnant and I fell asleep at the drop of a hat. On the bus, on the couch, sometimes an occasional nod on the chest at my desk after lunch. I had to take a nap as soon as I came in from work. My head would be heavy and my eyelids sticky with tiredness.

I remember fondly the sleepiness of late pregnancy when I had the privilege as a first time mum of luxurious afternoon naps after spending the day padding around the house daydreaming about our new little family.

Those initial exhausting days and nights after the baby arrived all rolled into one and seemed quite manageable at the start when combined with the euphoria of new parenthood and snuggling with our little bundle. But as the hormones subsided, the tiredness stayed. Our muscles and bones ached and when I stood still in the silence for a minute I could hear my ears ringing.

Then there’s the tiredness of having a baby that refuses to be put down all night; the tiredness of the nights when they wake every sleep cycle; the tiredness of not feeling like you’ve a minute to yourself. There’s the fresh tiredness of broken sleep after a few weeks of a good run. It’s like opening the wound all over again.

Our son is not a good sleeper. He’s had some stops and starts at long stretches of sleep but more often than not he wakes frequently at night. Sometimes it’s perfectly manageable and sometimes I have stood in the dark in the dead of night with tears running down my face willing him to sleep just so that I can close my stinging eyes for five minutes.

I remember reading this quote a few months ago from Peggy O’Mara, the founder of Mothering magazine in the US on the brilliant blog Talk Birth that really touched me and brought me great comfort when we were going through a particularly bad patch:

“Why is it that to rise gladly at 4:00 am to meditate and meet one’s God is considered a religious experience, and yet to rise at 4:00 am to serve the needs of one’s helpless child is considered the ultimate in deprivation?

Mothering a child is the greatest act of service one can do. It is an act of surrender, and act of love…

One can learn sitting meditation by rocking and nursing a little one to sleep; one can learn reclining meditation by staying still to avoid disturbing a little one who has been awake for hours; and one can learn walking meditation by walking and swaying with a little one who would like to be asleep for hours. One must learn to breathe deeply in a relaxed and meditative manner in order to still the mind that doubts one’s strength to go on, that sees every speck of dust on the floor and wants to clean it, and that tempts one to be up and about the busyness of accomplishment… “

It rings so true for me. You have to breathe through it. There is nothing like the stillness of the night and holding and comforting your little baby in your arms, just the two of you. Listening to them purr, watching their little chest rise and fall and the whispyness of their hot breathe against your skin.

Broken sleep has become the new norm in our house. Everyone’s tired but everyone’s happy too so that’s okay. The hard bit I find really is the constant questioning of S’s sleeping habits by nearly everyone in our lives. I’ve started to lie because I’m not prepared to get into it and you know, sometimes I genuinely forget how he slept the night before. I know he’ll have woken up but I couldn’t let you how many times because it doesn’t really matter after the fact, does it?

Some day he’ll be a great sleeper. Like when he’s a teenager and he’ll sleep til noon on the weekends. People will probably be raising eyebrows about that too. 😉

3 thoughts on “Chasing the sandman”

  1. Oh God…been there, been there, been there. One of the first sections I added to my blog was called Sleep – I was obsessed with it, or the lack of it to be more precise.

    Baby learning to walk was a big turning point for us – sleep improved instantly, almost overnight you might say! 😉 But I think we just have a child who happens to have his sleep affected by most things – learning something new, any kind of pain (new tooth = two weeks lost sleep), growth spurt…

    I hated the questioning about sleep habits too. I remember being at a Water Babies class one day when Little Man was 8 months old and chatting to another mother whose son was a week older than him. I mentioned I was tired because we hadn’t had a great night’s sleep the night before. “Oh you need to put a stop to that carry on,” she said, “I just wouldn’t stand for it.” I have to be honest – if she hadn’t been holding a baby, I might have pushed her in the pool. 😉

  2. Hilarious Lisa! I’d have been tempted too. I have one particular relative who I’m convinced has a spreadsheet where they’re keeping track of how the baby sleeps they ask so often!

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