Deep Into The Darkness

September 29, 2008

I’ve stopped keeping track of the time at night, even though a clock sits, ticking relentlessly, not three feet from the bed. In the day, I mark the time obsessively – this many minutes before the girl goes to preschool, this many minutes before she comes home, this many minutes until the boy should be ready to try another nap, this many minutes before he’ll probably wake up, the minutes counted like a miser’s pennies, added and subtracted, piling up and disappearing as I settle my accounts with daily chores and this persistent exhaustion. But at night, I avoid the clock, afraid to see the minutes and hours ticking by too quickly or too slowly, afraid to settle my accounts with my body, with the night.

Last night, however, the bill came due, and I was not prepared to settle up.

It was in one of those moments where the boundary between sleep and wakefulness is so blurred that you’re not sure whether you’re awake or dreaming – are you lucid while dreaming, or are you dreaming while awake? – is that a baby that you’re holding, or a kitten, or a bundle of straw? – is that crying you hear, or the wind, or music? – and I was groggy, confused, disoriented as I held my squirming baby in my arms. He fussed, breathing heavily through a stuffy nose, truffling for the breast and then pushing it away. He squirmed and kicked and protested and snuffled and grabbed and pushed and with every kick, every push of his fierce little legs and arms I struggled toward wakefulness, needing to be awake, needing my strength and my composure but wanting oh so badly to just let the darkness overtake me and to slide back into oblivion. But he wouldn’t let me, he was too uncomfortable, poor thing, hungry and snuffly and demanding, he would not let me let me go and he would not let this be easy and in a flash, in one moment, I felt the frustration course through me like a current and there it was, for a split-second – a split-second and an eternity all at once – ANGER – sharp and hot and as I felt the tears prick my eyes and a sob burble in my throat I was overwhelmed by the brief flash of an urge to just drop the baby, just drop him to the mattress and throw myself off the bed and stomp away into the night.

It was over almost as quickly as it had begun; the violence of the emotion woke me, woke me completely, and I froze – there’s no other word for it – with fear and I’m certain that if anyone had been watching at that moment they would have seen my eyes flash open, wide, and I caught myself, mid-breakdown, and stopped. I laid him down and pulled myself into the corner of the bed and took a breath. And was afraid.

It was just one moment, the briefest flash of a moment, but there it was. I had felt anger. I had wanted to shove my baby away from me. How close was I to wanting to shake him? How close? How close was I to becoming a monster, to crossing over from Mama Jekyll to Mother/Monster Hyde? I want to say that I was fine, that I am fine, that it was a completely understandable loss of emotional control that only lasted for a second and that I never, ever, would have actually just dropped him onto the mattress (and even then, such a soft mattress, so innocuous a fall, right? right?) and I hadn’t wanted to actually shake him, I hadn’t been angry at him, I was just tired, too tired, and it could happen to anyone and nothing would have happened and I’m fine.

But the fact is that no matter how brief that flash of uncontrolled emotion, it was uncontrolled; it was sharp and hot and angry and I no more want to risk exposing my baby, my little heart, to that anger than I would want to place his bassinet on a train track. Not even for a second.

So tomorrow we go to the doctor. Tomorrow I get some help. Pills, talk, anything: whatever it takes. I need some help with this, with the sleep, with the emotions running amok. Tomorrow I get some help.

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    FishyGirl September 30, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Oh poor Catherine. I so feel you. Been there, done that, with each and every kid. Got help a couple of times, suffered through a couple of times, threw dishes once and put my foot through a wall once. It’s normal. Good for you for stepping up and getting what you need. I wish you sleep and peace.

    Elizabeth September 30, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Oh sweetie. I wish I was there, to bring the baby to you for nursing, then do the changing and rocking and handle the “hey it’s 2 AM, time for me to be wide awake!” times of the day (night?). Only you and your husband and doctor can decide what is best for you obviously, but if it has to be some kind of nanny or night nurse or whatever, I hope you are able to do it even for a short time, so that you can pay back your enormous sleep debt to your body. You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. I’ll be here in Michigan worrying about you xoxo

    Lisa N. September 30, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    I SO hear you on this post. I hear you. I remember my moment, a moment where I literally wanted to swing my baby over my head by her ankles, the way you’d throw a pillow in a pillow fight.

    It scared the hell out of me. You are not alone.

    Anonymous September 30, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Get some help, get some sleep. Hire someone to help you with the two small children. Get a person for the day shift and the night shift until you feel well.

    NotSoSage September 30, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    You know what I’m going to say: no assvice, no “this worked for me”, just Good for you. And good for you for blogging about it, so maybe someone else feeling the same way might seek help next time.

    Shannon September 30, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Just one more voice saying, me, too. Finally, in the middle of one night with #2 (and, actually, there may have been a few such episodes with #1) when she was a couple, few months old, I started cursing like a sailor – “If I don’t get some effing sleep I’m going to go out of my effing mind!” Charming. But my husband sure did snap to trying to make sure I got some sleep afterward. I was in therapy I believe shortly after that. My therapist, of course, said I needed some sleep. I’m still paying her big bucks for that.

    Michelle September 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    You amaze me every single time I come here. Every. Single. Time. This is just proof that you’re love for the boy far outweighs any moment of uncontrolled emotion that you might have had.

    I can’t say that it is not the scariest thing in the world. I know that it is.

    Sleep deprivation makes people do crazy things.

    I wish you the very best.

    mommymae October 1, 2008 at 12:47 am

    i’m not sure if a hospital near you has a sleep clinic, but if you can find one, they may be able to help in getting jasper to sleep on his own. when my son was co-sleeping and nursing all. night. long. i took the advice of a sleep clinic and he slept through the night the first night and every night since. he was 7 months old at the time and is 2 years and 6 months now. i never thought i’d do something like that, but realized i had to get some rest, so you know you need as well. i didn’t mind that he stopped nursing b/c my supply all but vanished in 2 days. i was sleeping. sweet, glorious hours of sleep. let me know if you want any information – that is, if you and your doctors don’t have another solution. i hope, darling, that you and your family can heal.

    Aly October 1, 2008 at 1:04 am

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. On top of everything you’re going through, exhaustion makes things 1,000 times worse. I hope everything went well at the doctor today. Good for you for taking the big step and realizing you want some help. That’s huge and I agree with what another poster said above — that makes you a good mommy.

    Lotta October 1, 2008 at 2:05 am

    Oh I’m so proud of you. What a wise mother you are to get what you need taken care of.

    Cinthia October 1, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Good luck, mom. I hope you get some sleep.

    Lara October 1, 2008 at 3:22 am

    So brave of you to get help – I wish you all the best.

    I nominated you for a blog award – I don’t expect it to make your day, but you should know that people care.

    Anonymous October 1, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Oh HBM, you are going to be ok!! I can recall plenty of times I thought I was going to “lose” it w/ my 2 older ones and now I have little Mia Catherine who has not yet brought me to that point yet, but I’m sure she will, she’s only 10 weeks! My thoughts are with you, and I’m glad you are going to see the dr…Proud of you..

    Mama Smurf October 1, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve been following your twits and blog for a while now but rarely (if ever – I can’t remember) comment. I just want to tell you that you speak for millions of women and are an inspiration. You are NOT a bad mother. You are an incredibly conscientious mother who gets help when you recognize a problem.

    I’m convinced that PPD = sleep deprivation. I’ve had 3 kids now and it was with the one child that wouldn’t sleep that I felt those same urges. Mamas need sleep.

    Just delurking for a moment to applaud you.

    ewe are here October 1, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Any exhausted, sleep-deprived mother of a baby and a toddler who says they never felt this way is lying.

    You’re a good mother. And your asking for some extra help only emphasizes this fact.


    Haley-O October 1, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Yes, see the psychiatrist, get on the pills (which are safe for breastfeeding), and KNOW that you are NOT a monster. The fact that you have enough personal power in you to seek help says a WHOLE lot. GOOD FOR YOU. Much love to you and prayers.

    Alex Forster October 1, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    My wife went through this, too, including the sleep issues. She DID see a psychiatrist and came out the other side better and happier than I think she was even before our son was born. No shame in getting help when you need it. Good luck!

    Mom101 October 2, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Am thinking of you Cath, and checking back in to make sure all is well. Help is good. Help is…help. And your friends, well we’re here for you but there’s only so much we can do.

    Much love.

    Kim @ October 2, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Who hasn’t had those thoughts? As a Mom of three and one a colic baby I found myself often thinking how glad I am that we’re wired to love our babies because I was pretty pissed off by not sleeping for three days and this baby just yelling because, “I hai, can I haz hold me now?” And I had to take care of other children, too. I’d feel so overwhelmed and I’d sing that lullaby through my gritted teeth. And then I’d feel terrible. But I had a friend who consistently told me, “You’re not evil. The difference is you DON’T act out on how that felt.” I’m really thankful for her. She saved my life if not my sanity. But I don’t think my lack of sanity is child related it’s just having them brought it to light, I think.

    I hope your appt today is helpful. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping for the best.

    sheila October 2, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    You are normal, although extremely stressed. I feel real bad for you. I felt that way many a time.

    My kids are all teens now, and about a year ago I almost lost it. I just felt like leaving home and not returning til they went to college. The crying and the ‘why are they putting me through this’ and just wanting out.

    (I’m not trying to discourage you, I’m pointing out that it happens often in motherhood. How you deal with it now may help you later)

    Anonymous October 2, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Reading this has me plummeting backward through 8 years of time.

    I know that darkness, that deep, drenching darkness of the soul.

    Reading your post makes me want to hyperventilate, because going back into the dark, dark place is something I have avoided at all costs. (My second child was adopted because the first one made me understand where Andrea Yates was coming from. And that’s just terrifying.)

    The only thing that worked for me was talk therapy. (And letting my father keep the baby one night a week. Which requires pumping and a willing grandparent, so that you can get those precious hours now and then.) I’m fairly certain without those two things I would not be here today, I would have given in to the voices in my head that said that if I was dead, I would be able to sleep.

    Don’t let that darkness invade too deeply into your soul.

    allisonwondrland October 3, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Just one more mother to say well done. Identify the pain, and get some help. There is nothing else with that slow, insidious, creeping, evil torture as persistent lack of sleep. Exhaustion, the real kind, not the kind we all walk around mumbling about on a daily basis, is crippling. You will get past this. You ARE a good mother. And not the only one to struggle just like you are. Peas, and love.

    Kelly October 3, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Oh man, how I remember this exhaustion. Knowing that sleep will come eventually is no solace when you’re just so damn tired. I was recommended an OTC sleep med that was okay with nursing. She still woke to nurse frequently, but I could fall back to sleep after she did, rather than lie in bed anxiously waiting for the next cry.

    Svetlana sounds like good people, too. It’s great that you’re reaching out.

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