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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    Syko September 29, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Every one of this has had this sort of thing happen. Some of us are able to walk away, others injure or kill their children. I’m glad you’re going to the doctor. Do what he/she says. Get help for you, because you are frazzled and exhausted, and you need some help. Take care of YOU.

    Anonymous September 29, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    You’re going to have to change the name of this blog — this post just proves to me that you are a GOOD MOTHER. You stopped yourself. Even in all your exhaustion and pain you — the better you — won. Remember, the sleepless nights are temporary, and ask those you love around you for some extra help so you can sleep. September 29, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Oh, it’s happened to the best of us – and dorks like me, too – and I am SO glad that you’ve made the decision to take care of yourself, too. Good luck, Momma. In the meantime, sending all happy thoughts your way!

    lattemommy September 29, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I think any parent out there, mothers of infants especially, claim that they have never felt the way you felt last night, they are LYING. I have experienced exactly what you are describing, more times than I care to admit. I admire you for seeking help. I was too afraid to do so, so I struggled through all on my own for many months. Thankfully without incident, and I’ve come out the other side largely the same person. But sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I had had the courage to stand up to my own fear.

    Good luck on your journey.

    Tuesday Girl September 29, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    It is brave and great of you to get help, in any form. We have all been there, some of us more than others.

    My six month old son has been giving me MANY problems sleeping this past week and I am home alone with 3 kids all week, so I know.
    I know you.

    bessie.viola September 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Oh honey. This happens to every mother, I think – it’s only natural to feel this way when your life has been upended. I have been there, more than once.

    What makes you a good mother is that you recognize it, that you can remove yourself from it. That you can control your emotions so that you don’t do the things you envision for that short second.

    I hope that calling your doctor gives you peace. Know that you are absolutely not alone.

    Anonymous September 29, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    I felt like this with each of my babies. I may feel it again with current baby. I learned to count to 10 before I picked them up at night. Simple thing, but it helped.

    Mind of MadMan September 29, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    This is normal.
    It is tough to know that and feel that. If you did not feel anything then their lies the issue.

    zchamu September 29, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Oh Catherine. :( It sounds to me like you also need help – not just meds, but someone to *help*. Someone to fill in the gaps, someone to be there to take the weight off. Impose on someone. They will not mind. Just ask them to come over and be there and help with the toddler and help with the baby and help with the Mom.

    Mrs. Flinger September 29, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I have been there, in that moment. I have set the baby down and walked away, angry, so very angry. Then afraid. I remember it so well.

    You, hon, are wonderful. For sharing it with us, for getting help, for loving beyond that point of exhaustion. XO

    sweetney September 29, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    as someone who just had to get back on the crazy person pills, i feel you. and i know the pain of sleep deprivation. also, oddly, i just published a big post that touches on some of what you said here. the out of control feeling is scary. we’ve all been there. but there is help, hope. love to you, lady. xoxo

    Bridge September 29, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I think every mother has had a moment like this…especially in the wake of post partum sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation alone is enough to make everyone short tempered and without good inhibition control. You’re doing the right thing…and I hope it helps quickly.

    Steph September 29, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I am with you (in spirit). I think we all are.

    verybadcat September 29, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Just hugs and kisses. And hope. And pride. That’s what I have for you today.


    Mary Helen September 29, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Delurking to say I totally know where you’re coming from and that you are not alone, even though it probably feels like it in the middle of the night. Meds will help. I promise.

    Black Hockey Jesus September 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    So other figures lurk beneath that milk giving breast?

    (I’m not being a dick, but you know that kind of thing interests me – shadow figures, Mr. Hyde, etc. Hope you feel better soon.)

    Caroline September 29, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    This post struck home with me. I was so there. So many times. With both of my “never slept through the night until 14 months old” sons. I never felt more alone, more weary, more insane, more out of control, or more desperate than those wee hours of the night after weeks and months of total and utter sleepless exhaustion. No one told me it could be like that. For those moments, I can’t say I adored being a mommy in the early months. I felt exactly this way. I felt that sudden fear of my own anger too – just like you described it. I am here besides you in this. As lonely as 3:30am with a cluster feeding baby is, there are thousands of mothers besides you too, in their own homes, struggling at that very same time of night. Please know that time does keep ticking by. (I ignored the clock too, and I used to hope there was still time for more sleep but then again feel relief when I saw the light of day coming.) Weeks slip by, our babies keep eating and growing. And then suddenly, they do lie down and stay sleep. And you will actually sleep again. I hope you find some relief somehow very soon.

    litanyofbritt September 29, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    so often when i read your blog i wonder if we have the same baby. we certainly have the same issues with our littles at the same times it seems. jack is till in our bed and although i wish he would sleep in his crib, (or even lie awake in there quietly even), i have not yet figured out how to detach my boob and hand it to him, since pacifiers have suddenly become a personal insult. and also putting him down.

    and in the beginning with him i could visualize myself shoving a ball of socks in his mouth just to shut him up for a minute. i could see myself “smothering him a little.” just to shut him up.
    so i called my doc and said i was having intrusive thoughts of hurting my kids and he gave me pretty little blue pills that took the edge off. it was such a hard call to make, and now looking back i don’t see why i was so opposed to it. i felt like i was a worse mama for asking for help when in retrospect it was the other way around, but i digress.

    just know that in the middle of the night when someone is gnawing your nipples off and crying because they are to stuffy to properly nurse and you are feeling totally resentful for your sore nips, and lack of bedspace and precious, precious sleep that you are not alone in it. (not in as creepy a way as that sounds though)

    Kyla September 29, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I think everyone, no matter how controlled, has had these moments. And if they haven’t? Don’t tell me, okay? LOL.

    Hang in there, Cath. Sometimes things are tough.

    Amy September 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Hey. I’m delurking to let you know that I have been there MANY times. It is a horrible feeling and it makes you feel like a monster. Please know that you are NOT a monster and you ARE a wonderful mom who is EXHAUSTED and just plain SPENT. Talking with someone will help. Being brave enough to admit you felt that way tells me what an amazing person you are.
    It will get better!!!!!

    Claire September 29, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I have felt this way MANY times… I was and still am a single mom… you are SO not alone! You are NOT ALONE IN THIS FEELING AT ALL!! I have been scared and let me tell you.. the best thing to do is put the baby down in it’s crib and walk away… baby crying will not hurt them…. walk away, walk outside if you need to to calm down then deal with the situation… again… YOU ARE SO NOT ALONE!

    Katrina September 29, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Every single mom I have ever known, including me, has had those moments. I really hope the doc can help, but you have got to DEMAND help at home.

    Your hubby has got to do more, even if he’s away from home, HE can arrange for a sitter so you can rest. HE can do more. HE should not let you get to this point.

    I know you don’t want to point fingers at him, but I have been there and really had to lay down the law with my dh that if i don’t get some kind of break, rest, me time, hubby’s whole life will go to hell in a hand basket. I cannot be a good mother/wife/anything if I am sleep deprived and unhealthy. His job is to make sure I am taken care of so that I can take care of everyone else.

    Please don’t be angry at me for saying this. I just know how you feel and it makes me want to shake him (hubby, not baby) for allowing you to suffer this way.

    kaila September 29, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Just like everyone else here has said. You are not alone. It is a horrible feeling – but you are doing the right thing. Well wishes to you and yours.

    Issas Crazy World September 29, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    All I can say is hugs to you Catherine. Just, hugs.

    Domestic Extraordinaire September 29, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I know what you are going through. I am happy that you have the courage to ask for help. Many hugs to you!!

    blissfullycaffeinated September 29, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Oh sweetie. The sleep deprivation with that second baby is so difficult. Awake at night with the baby, and awake during the day with the older child. Which leaves no sleep for the mommy. I was on the verge of steering my car into a tree when my little one was about 3 months old because I was SO DAMN TIRED.

    I know your husband can’t nurse the baby, but maybe once you nurse at night, he can take the baby for some bouncy, jiggle walking so that you can rest. Also, maybe you are already using one, and maybe this sounds simple, but have you tried a pacifier? So that at least after the baby eats, he’s not rooting around for the breast all night long.

    I know it doesn’t help right now, but it will get better. Please take care. -Hugs-

    Baby in the City September 29, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I’m thinking the husband needs to take a night feed (or two) off your hands, at least while he is not on set and able to do so. Could you pump? and/or if that is too much trouble or f*cks with your flow, one bottle of formula isn’t going to hurt. After all, if you’re introducing the occasional bit of rice cereal then introducing a little formula won’t break any exclusivity of breastmilk, right?
    Depending on the politics of your doc, she may not suggest this, but if it were me, I’d be on the odd supplement in a heartbeat.


    Chantal September 29, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I remember when I was in the throws of sleep deprivation and I would think, how do teen mothers do this. No wonder young fathers/boyfriends are so often charged with shaking babies. They just don’t have the maturity to turn away. Even me, a grown mature woman came to the brink. It is hard. Take care of you!

    Eva September 29, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Everyone I’ve talked to about this has had moments like these. I think it’s normal. However, your sleep-deprivation sounds really extreme, so I’m glad you are going to seek help for that.

    Best wishes!

    Her Bad Mother September 29, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Katrina – the husband does try to help, he really does – he takes Jasper in the morning if he’s able. Night time can be a hard time for helping if he has to get up and leave at 5am. But night time IS getting desperate, and in situations like last night I should have woken him and asked for help.

    zchamu September 29, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Will he take a bottle at all?

    Friends of mine used to handle it so that Mommy was on overnight duty all week, but on Friday night it was Daddy’s turn. Mommy would go to bed that night and sleep until she woke up (usually her boobs did that job), and Daddy dealt with everything between those two points. So when she was so tired her eyes were falling out of her head, she at least knew that on Friday, glorious Friday, she could get what passed for a good night’s sleep to face the next week. Could this be an option? Or barring that at least overnight help once a week so that you can at least try to get some sleep?

    worldmomma September 29, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I agree with other posters that this is normal. It happened to me once in the 9.5 months of my son’s life. Like you, it was in the middle of the night, after many wakings and I suddenly got pretty ticked off. I was out of town with baby and was on my own in the nighttime. I wonder if the fact that my husband gave at least one bottle each night while I was home helped with it occuring only once.

    I also felt guilty about being angry at a little being who can’t help being needy. But I didn’t do anything besides feeling anger and have been a pretty good mother for all the rest of the moments of his life.

    I also agree with other posters that help from the hubby would probably be in order. I think sleep would be more helpful than pills. Yes, he may be tired at work for a day or two. But you are tired for your work during the day regularly. It’s only fair to take turns.

    As you probably know from your first, this all will pass…

    April September 29, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    sorry you had such a rough night and i’m glad to hear you’re going to see someone about your turbulent emotions. post partum blows.

    Kelly September 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I’ve been there… more than once. And good for you that you’re going to talk to your doctor. Stupidly, the thought that I could do that never occurred to me and I dealt with those feelings on my own. So, again, good for you.

    Jenera September 29, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Oh have I been there. With my first boy I had some problems similar to what you describe. I have had issues with depression and what not my entire life so my doctors were already ready in case anything went screwy.

    Poppy Buxom September 29, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    OMG, I’ve been there–the anxiety, the sleep deprivation, the husband working long hours, no help.

    I was so anxiety-ridden and crazed that finally, even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. I ended up almost falling over in the shower when I was alone with the baby.

    We got a day nurse. Everyone thought the nurse was for my son, but she was there for me. To help with the baby, to make food, to give me sponge baths so I wouldn’t collapse in the bathroom.

    This is what helped:

    • getting a sleep mask so I could nap during the day.

    • getting someone–anyone–to come keep me company, or change a diaper, or do a load of wash

    • keeping the baby near, but not too near. The anxiety levels would spike if my son weren’t with me, but you do need to regain yourself as yourself and not just his mommy

    • sleeping pills so I could finally drop off.

    If you go on meds, you’ll probably have to stop nursing. And pills won’t kick in right away, anyway, so first try to lessen your anxiety by eating right (I wasn’t) going for a walk (I didn’t) and sleeping more, even if you have to hire a teenager to hold down the fort for a few hours.

    Good luck! And sorry this is so long. It’s my first comment on your blog and I usually keep it short, but I’m having post-traumatic stress over here!

    But the baby in question is a tall, gorgeous 13 year old.

    Shannon September 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    I’m so sorry, Catherine. These are tough times for you. And, yes, many of us have been there and it’s frightening and just scary. Talking to your doctor is a great approach to take – he/she will help you take the necessary steps to feeling better. Exhaustion is impossible to deal with – it makes anyone a big bundle of crazy emotions. (((HUGS)))

    Laura September 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks. I was hoping I wasn’t crazy. Can you grab some pills for me, please?

    Sadie September 29, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    After four daughters, including a four and half month old, I have been there and am nearing there once more. My other children are suffering a bit and I am struggling to balance everything.
    For me, it always comes to a bittersweet end when they start sleeping through the night. I always miss the nights alone with each one..learning their cries and filling their bellies, as desperately difficult as it is.

    mindy September 29, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Bless you for your honesty. I wish you so much luck. Mothers everywhere understand and stand behind you in support.

    To my prayers you are added.


    Vicki September 29, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    I have soooo been there. I was alone with my twin boys the first time they got sick (dad worked until 2am) and they both got sick at the same time. Both running fevers and I was so new to everything and so sleep deprived that I didn’t have a clue what to do. I put each one in his individual crib and called my mother at 1:30am to come and help me. To this day she still reminds me that if I need her she’s only a phone call and a few minutes away, not matter what time. You need someone that close who can help you. Please get some help for during the day or night. Someone to come stay with you. I would do it if I was anywhere near you but I’m not close enough to help. Email me if there is anything I can do, even from a distance. Even if its just to talk you down from your stressed ledge.

    nomotherearth September 29, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Been there myself. More than once. Get whatever help you can, and be proud that you can recognize when you need help. It’s those that don’t that are really in trouble.

    If there’s anything I can do, please please please let me know. I’m around.

    Jennifer Leite September 29, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I feel you. I really, really do. I totally understand that breaking point. SIGH. It’s amazing where such small beautiful being can push intelligent sane adults.
    Have you tried cosleeping? My son was not very good at sleeping at all. I was losing my mind. Then I started bringing him to bed, and when he woke up, I would roll over, latch him on, and we’d both drift back to sleep. Did it solve all my problems? No. Did it teach him how to sleep by himself? NO. That came later. But it did allow me to get some sleep, and really, the world is much easier place when you’ve slept.

    kgirl September 29, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    shit, you’re not supposed to drop the baby?

    kidding. hope your days/nights get a little more sorted. Just think – one day you’ll actually miss this time.
    (ok, maybe not last night, but this time in general.)

    Amy September 29, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Good girl.

    It takes courage to admit that you need help. It takes courage to ask for help. You will be ok.

    100 mg of Zoloft works for me. Hope it works for you too.


    cognosco September 29, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    You need sleep. Have you even had one uninterrupted night since he was born? Maybe you can store enough milk to get away for a night–go stay in a hotel by yourself and just sleep. That was what I did when I reached this point, and even though it seems like one night of sleep wouldn’t make much of a difference, IT REALLY DOES. The benefit of a hotel room is that you don’t do the nervous “did I just hear him” panic thing.

    You are not alone. I know that feeling. I wish I’d handled my emotions better. Instead I screamed at my child and sometimes did walk away. And still, that was better than physically hurting him. I am not proud of that now, but I was not in my right mind. Sleep made all the difference. Which is not to say that talking to someone won’t help, but don’t underestimate how much of this may really boil down to just getting some rest.

    Bella September 29, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    I also have SO BEEN THERE. Twin infants. Hit my wall between 4-6 months. After months of getting 1-3 hours of sleep every night, nursing them both throughout numerous night-wakings each, I lost it. One day, after nursing J in the middle of the night, having just nursed R and rocked and soothed and hushed him back to sleep, I was on to J, rocking, singing, soothing, hushing, bouncing… JUST GET TO SLEEP BABY, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS SACRED… SLEEP! And I realized in a half-dead sleep/wake state that I was bouncing a little too hard, with a little too much energy — and I suddenly felt the anger. I got it immediately and stopped. Of course, the bounce was as rigorous as some recommend to put them back to sleep, and he was swaddled, and he TOTALLY didn’t notice. But I noticed. And I just lay him down, awake, and cried for what seemed like forever, recognizing my monster and scared out of my mind.

    THe next day I made a plan. I’d wait until 6 months and then that’s it. I had to stop this. I couldn’t wait for the boys to become the sleepers/eaters I wanted them to be. I sleep-trained them. Gently, firmly, but consistently. And it worked for the whole family. On their 6-month birthday was the first night I slept 6 straight hours again. Sleep deprivation is like nothing else. I thought I’d need pills — but what I really needed was sleep, glorious sleep.

    I’m in Toronto. I work at SickKids, you can google me to make sure I’m not a freak. I’m not a weird stalker, just another mom who loves reading your story and really, really feels for you. PLEASE, if you can get over how weird it is, let a complete caring stranger come over one afternoon, and help you catch up with sleep. I can bring my 2.5 year old boys to play with your girl, go to a park with them, whatever. Someone else can take Jasper right after you’ve nursed him, you can nap. For hours. It will help.

    Or lets start a night nurse or doula fund for you. It can really, really help. You can pump some milk and let her take some night feedings for the next few weeks. Just 2 or so nights of relief per week can really help. It can be a miracle cure for these blues…

    I’ll shut up now. Just let me know if I can help (but PLEASE don’t feel compelled to answer or email if you don’t want the help from a complete stranger. I totally get that also and you don’t need extra pressure).

    Rusti September 29, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    this is something that I’ve wondered how I will handle, and makes me hope that I won’t somehow become one of those moms that you see in the news…

    I know it’s absolutely not even close to the same situation, but I’ve seen this type of reaction in myself just with our pets on occasion and THEN it scares me… how will I be with our new baby when it comes…

    I’m so thinking of you Catherine, thinking of you, praying for you, feeling for you, and proud of you for taking the steps needed to take care of you, so that you can take care of your family… your honesty and sharing of experiences is amazing and inspiring… thank you.

    Two Hands Full September 29, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Just remember, sleep deprivation is a torture technique. It makes us all crazy. CRAZY.

    The fact that you felt this says nothing at all about who you are, except that like the rest of us you have limits to what you can take. You’re being so responsible, and you are so going to make it.

    O'Neal (The woman in charge around here) September 29, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Oh honey, I have been right at that exact place soooo many times and you know what? It is okay, it means you are NORMAL! You are just exhausted and need sleep! Your mind and body can NOT function with so little sleep and go haywire and you can not be expected to control them 24/7.

    Even though my youngest is 2 now, and sleeps like an angel, (I won’t say how long and rub it in or take the chance of jinxing my blessing!) but I too am struggling mentally with just keeping up with life!

    Tomorrow I will ALSO be at the Dr to see what I need to do to help manage it all. Do whatever it takes, pills, therapy, WHATEVER IT TAKES, cause we need to remember if WE are not okay, then we are no good to our babies or anyone else that needs us!

    Just know you are not alone and I commend you in seeking help. It is actually a sign of strength! Just admitting I need help reaching out is the hardest thing I have ever done but I know it will help ALL of us! Good luck and I will be thinking of you hoping we all get some relief!


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