Endymion’s Sleep

September 23, 2008

I have lost count of the numbers of days and nights it’s been since I last had more than one hour of sleep at a stretch. Day and night have lost the crisp edges of their distinction: day blurs into night which blurs into day which blurs into night again and so on and so on and so on, without sleep. Day is brighter, night quieter, but it is otherwise difficult to tell them apart. Because at all hours of both day and night, there is this child, ravenous and growing, clinging to me, squirming against me or alongside me, always hungry, always growing, nursing longer than he sleeps.

I am long past delerium. I’m caught somewhere between wakefulness and sleepiness, in some strange purgatory that holds me with my eyes open, my heart open, my mind closed and dark. I can see and feel but I cannot think; my head feels covered in thick gauze, a shroud.

My heart remains open, awake. His gurgles and coos still make me smile. Even in a state of utter exhaustion, I feel love. I feel love. But I feel anxiety, too, when I try to leave the room, the better to attempt a longer, uninterrupted stretch of sleep. I feel anxiety when I hear him begin to stir and grumble and fuss. Anxiety for him, anxiety for me. I pad back into the bedroom and curl up next to him, pulling him to my breast and resigning myself to wear this heavy cloak of exhaustion, resigning myself to its pull and drag and yet still managing to smile, weakly, in the dark, when my boy sighs contentedly and grips my finger with his tiny fist.

I love him so, I love caring for him so, but still. I am so, so tired.

Sometime this morning, in the very early morning, when the light had yet to break over the horizon but its promise was there in the chattering of birds and the faint sounds of an occasional car pulling out into the quiet streets, the cloak engulfed me while I sat nursing. It covered me in its flat, heavy darkness and everything disappeared for a while, I don’t know how long, until I startled awake to find the boy next to me, wrapped in his blankets, sleeping soundly, away from my breast and I shook, afraid, having no memory of having pulled him away from my breast, of having swaddled him and laid him down, of having drifted off. I was afraid, because the distinctions between day and night and light and dark and asleep and awake were no longer just blurry, but entirely obscured. When had I stopped nursing, when had he fallen back asleep, when had I laid him down? What if I had fallen, dropped him?

Is it a miracle that I can mother in my sleep, or is it a terrible thing that I sleep while mothering? Endymion slept an eternity with his eyes open, ever-watchful, never losing sight of his beloved; I am not Endymion.

It is daytime now, and the boy sleeps – for half of an hour, maybe, or three-quarters, if I’m lucky – and I fight sleep, knowing that I must be awake when he wakes, knowing that I can’t bear the feeling of being dragged back from the point of unconsciousness just when it has begun to overtake me. Knowing that I can’t bear the idea of not being dragged back from that point when he wakes. Knowing that I can’t be, I mustn’t be asleep on the job.

So I sit here, awake, praying for sleep, praying against sleep, knowing that this cannot last.

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    { 79 comments }

    lavandula September 24, 2008 at 11:49 am

    oh catherine i remember those days and nights blurring together like it was yesterday…do you have someone who could maybe come and watch the children so you could get a well deserved nap?…not getting enough sleep sucks so bad….i was and still am an extremely light sleeper and remember trying to get to sleep with baby in my bed and afraid my husband would roll onto them…the slightest movement or change in their breathing used to awaken me…hope you can get some extra sleep my friend…

    r3 September 24, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    1. You sound too sensitive (I was) to co-sleep. Put him in his own room.
    2. Get a white noise machine (a fan, at the least) for you. Yes, you.
    3. Get a white noise machine for him. Will bring up his sleep time a significant amount.
    4. Use your white noise machine. No Matter. What. If he is in distress, trust me, you’ll hear through it.
    5. Consider a half dose of benadryl for you once he is used to his machine.
    6. Turn on your machine.
    7. night night.

    Signed,
    have so, so, so been exactly there and promise you will get through this.

    sweetdreams September 24, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    What’s funny, is that with time (lots and lots of time) you’ll remember this fondly and may actually want to -gasp!- return to those days. At least I do. My husband thinks I’m insane, and he may be on to something, but when I read your thoughts of caring for Jasper, with all its sleep deprived horror, I think, oh, how I would love to go back and breathe in that sweet baby smell.

    You are teaching that lovely baby how to love and feel love. It’s a phenomenal gift and tremendous job.

    But, and there’s always a but, if you need more than support (and you’ve got it because, mama, you’re doing a fantastic job!) then do what you need to do to survive. Try the most gentlest techniques first and be kind to yourself and your children.

    Hang in there.

    mek September 24, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I remember a similar point in my daughter’s infancy, that merging of day into night and night into day and rally the only thing that existed was that hungry little mouth! I remember being ABSOLUTELY convinced she could in fact speak and at any moment she would open her mouth and tell me something amazing. I was that tired.

    Good luck with the nursery solution this weekend!

    Gidge September 24, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    At least you have already been there done that once, and know that there is another side…..and that every day you take another step to crossing over to it…….
    :)

    Anonymous September 24, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I have lost track of how old Jasper is. If he is at least 4 months (although some recommend 6 now, I’m not sure you can make it another 2 months) I say YES!!! Give him cereal. Or you are going to have to let him cry so that he learns he CAN go longer without nursing. It sucks, but it sounds like you really need it.

    Her Bad Mother September 24, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    anon – he’s four months. but he’s MASSIVE.

    carrie September 24, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Wow, I remember that exhaustion so well. I used to fall asleep nursing while sitting up – but I don’t think it was *real* sleep, rather some weird mutation of sleep, mamasleep, tired, tired, mamasleep.

    I would say bring him to your bed, if only so you can rest.

    Or leave him for a few (possible 8?) hours with someone and take a good, long nap. You need it, and you deserve it. It’s not a luxury at this point but a necessity.

    Mrs. Flinger September 24, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I remember, with utter horror and chills, the sleeplessness. It’s the evil thing that is infancy. I know you try everything and I know you have suggestions and I also know you know this doesn’t last forever. I know you did it before and was brave enough to do it again.

    But still. It’s hard. That no sleep thing. So, utterly, hard.

    XO

    Lara September 24, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I fell asleep countless times while nursing with my son lying on the nursing pillow on my lap while I sat in the glider. We spent hours like that because I could not stay awake anymore. A few times I woke up nursing in the chair having no recollection of getting out of bed and picking him up and sitting down. It was scary and yet, I never dropped him, he never seemed to have close to falling or having anything bad happen. And at least I got a bit of sleep…

    carrie September 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I just saw your comment about the rice cereal and YES! Try it!

    My middle one was a big baby (9.8) and he needed to fill up his tummy a lot. As for those who say it’s bad to give cereal before 6 months, ALL of my kids had cereal at or before 4 months and none of them have allergies or other issues, that’s 3 for 3 if you’re counting!

    Best of luck Catherine!

    Anonymous September 24, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    I did the rice cereal at 4 mos to all 3 sons because they were huge too and were feeding every hour. I believe that big babies need more than the breast milk can provide at a certain weight. None of the kids had any problems. GO FOR IT! Oh, also, do the crib thing too.

    Her Bad Mother September 24, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    carrie, anon – gonna do the rice tonight. fingers crossed!

    pkzcass September 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    I agree with the person who suggested formula before bed. For me, even though I didn’t necessarily have to get up to nurse (if husband got up and gave bottle), I still woke up because the boobs were explosive torpedoes and I would be SOAKED. If I were you, I’d:

    1. Switch to formula for nighttime feedings and make husband do some. Baby will survive and will be just fine with a bottle or two a day. Or you could pump and use that. But try to dry up at night if engorgement is a problem for you.

    2. Tell husband to leave you sleep for many, many hours this weekend. Like all day on Saturday and all day on Sunday.

    3. Put baby in crib. If he seems restless, put him in his carseat in his crib. Helps baby feel encased but it’s not your arms encasing him. Win win. I did it for my boys till they were about 8 months old.

    4. Fans are good. I can’t sleep without one now.

    Good luck!

    Anonymous September 24, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    hi, I’ve never commented but love your writing. this post so resonated with me – the exhaustion is a killer. especially when you have another child. my second baby was 9 1/2 pounds at birth and also nursed all the time. at 4 months, on ped’s recommendation, I gave her rice cereal twice a day and it helped a lot. that, a formula supplement bottle at night and the white noise machine really seemed to work. Good luck!!!
    joanna

    lizneust September 24, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Delurking to join the flash-back crew. Dear lord I had forgotten how awful this was. I mean I made all the right noises, but I never let myself truly remember. This took me right back to 4 and 2 years ago respectively. Please do whatever you can to get some rest – pump, formula, rice cereal – heck, even if the crib isn’t set up, borrow a pack n play. As long as he’s safe, he’ll sleep. And I echo whoever said a white noise machine. For the baby, but ESPECIALLY for you. I couldn’t sleep through jack, even on the monitor until my husband brought one home, plugged it in, and voila. I slept. I still heard my girls when they needed me, but otherwise, I slept. Take care.

    Michelle September 24, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Oh my. I have been right in that exact place, in your exact thoughts and feelings.
    I think that is both a miracle that we are able to mother in our sleep, and a terrible thing that we sleep while mothering. But the former we do because we are made to do so- made to be unconditionally mothers- whether asleep or awake or somewhere between. The latter we do out of neccessity. We have to take what we can for ourselves, even if it seems like the tiniest crumb, it somehow sustains us until this too shall pass.

    springtreeroad September 24, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    been there. done that. still doing it to some extent. at 5-mo old my daughter took three 30-minute naps a day. that was when i realized that if she nursed as she slept on my lap or in bed, she would sleep almost as long as she was supposed to. i have rocked her for hours upon hours. i have woken 7, 10 times a night.

    she’s now going to be 3 next month. she still sleeps with us, she still nurses at night (though not during the day, but she needs it to stay asleep past 3am), and i am still tired. tired. tired. i feel like crap most of the time. i think she’s slept past 7:30am twice in her life (and that includes the times she’s been sick). she has given up her one nap and she’s not even 3. she has boundless energy. she wakes up happy, refreshed. but she’s better than she was. a lot better. now she might wake up once before 3am. she occasionally gets up at 5am, but usually it’s more like 7. i get a little more sleep than i used to. that’s all i can say.

    one day you will get more sleep (and it’s hard to see it from here, i know. oh how i know). and one day my daughter will be a teenager and i will drag her ass out of bed early in the mornings, just for fun.

    Anonymous September 25, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Catherine,
    I didn’t read all the posts, so sorry if this is a repeat. My son (age 1) is still a terrible sleeper, but one thing that helped me at least relax and sleep deeply in between the never-ending nursing was to put a queen-sized mattress on the floor in the bedroom beside our room. I start off sleeping in my bed, when he wakes up, I go nurse him and sleep with him for the night. The beauty of the mattress on the floor was that I stopped worrying that he would somehow roll off of my bed – that anxiety was keeping me from sleeping deeply between feeds. Also, by starting off in my room, I get a bit of sleep that is not interrupted by his little grunts. He actually has to cry (just a wee tiny bit!) to wake me up from next door, and then I pad in and feed him. It’s still not perfect, but it’s better than co-sleeping with him in my bedroom. Sleep Jasper!!

    überburber September 25, 2008 at 1:12 am

    oh, you phrase it so well. I remember those days with a combination of horror and nostalgia.

    my trick: I got in cahoots w/ hubby. I forced myself to go to bed at 8:00 while hubby stayed up w/ or w/out baby ’til midnight. If there was a feeding during that time, baby got a bottle. Then the midnight to 6 am shift was mine and my boobs’. 6-7, it was daddy-time again, since he’d have to be waking up for work anyway. At least I’d know I was getting a good 4 hour chunk of sleep as I rounded the corner into the long, dark night. Hang in, bad(good)mother.!

    Shelly September 25, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    HBM,
    I am so sorry you are in this place.
    I have been reading your blog for 2 years, have never commented, but today I must.
    Please let me be your cheerleader! YOU CAN DO IT! and JASPER CAN DO IT!
    I was in the exact same situation with my now 10 month old. We are CELEBRATING 1 month of boy in crib – tomorrow!
    In retrospect, I wish I had had the energy to do something about the situation sooner. But sleep depriviation makes it hard to change the status quo, even when you know things are broken.
    I think to some extent we were disturbing each other and the nursing became a reflex to soothe us both to sleep. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by the transition to crib and nursery.
    If you would like more details on how we handled the transition I’d be happy to share. You can email me srossiter at ctcweb dot net.
    Good luck.
    I’m rooting for you.

    P.S. Here’s one way I look at it: Could YOU sleep with a plate of brownies on the pillow next to your head?!?

    nomotherearth September 25, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    But it seems to last forever, doesn’t it? I remember calling the early days “The Dark Days” for that very reason. Everything else would just be so much more manageable if I just got some sleep.

    I know. I hear you. Hang in there.

    P.S. It sucks. Bigtime.

    Just Call Me Sleep Deprived September 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I couldn’t believe it when I read this post, you described exactly how I feel, I had no idea that other mothers had this same thing happen to them. I remember the first time I woke up to find my newborn daughter in bed with me sleeping peacefully with NO recollection whatsoever of getting up and putting her there, I was so upset and scared of what could have happened. She is now 7 months old and it still happens, she has even fallen out of bed (luckily it was a short fall onto a carpet) Sleep deprivation is a powerful thing, and apparently the instinct to mother is even more powerful! Hopefully you get some sleep soon good luck!

    Vicki September 26, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Ok, sweetie. According to my baby books, just the ones that worked for me…once your child reaches 11 lbs. they are big enough to sleep 8 hour stretches with no loss of weight or terrible consequences. Second, at 4 months you can start using the cereal. I actually had to use it with my twins way earlier in their bottles (1 medicine cup full to 8 oz of bottle, use Y or cross-cut bottle nipple) because of their severe reflux. I had to feed both my boys with a mop bucket around to catch the puke. Couldn’t go anywhere without it for months. Try the cereal because I promise it will help. Email me if you have any questions Catherine. I’m here and I’m ready to offer my help if its needed. fetchthis@hotmail.com

    Gray Matter September 28, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Sometimes I forget what a brilliant writer you are. I know that doesn’t help you with your sleep deprivation, but maybe while you’re lying awake you can think of how much I, and so many readers, love you–and you’ll smile.

    Anonymous September 30, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    My son’s 5 weeks old and I get flack for letting him sleep on my chest but when he startles himself awake every time I put him in a bassinet and has a meltdown, I have to do it if there’s any chance of sleep. Last night out of desperation after I fed him we put him in his swing and he slept for nearly 3 hours, unheard of in this house. We aren’t making a habit of it, but if I’ve learned anything in the last 5 weeks, it’s that parenting is a bag of tricks, you’ve gotta do what works.

    Try just one earplug in while you’re sleeping – I’ve found it makes things way easier. The best sleep, though is when you can send them with someone and it’s their job to occupy them (ie go for a walk) so that you get some rest.

    Lotta October 1, 2008 at 2:08 am

    When my son was that age he couldn’t be layed down for more than 15 minutes before he would wake up. Unless he was attached to my breast.

    It turned out he had acid reflux. Sucking on the breast milk helped to keep the acid down. Once we got him on some kind of magical dropper medicine he slept.

    I was weeping on phone with my Dr. thanking her for helping me to sleep again.

    Maybe see if your son’s having some kind of medical reaction that’s keeping him up?

    Tara@From Dawn Till Rusk October 2, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Isn’t is shocking what us mums go through and isn’t it fantastic that people have blogs to discover that they are so not alone and most definitely not a bad mother.

    Just know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
    It may take a while to get there, but get there you will.

    And, make up the rice already!

    McCrazy's October 3, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    What you said is so much what I am going through that I cried for you and me. Good luck… I hope the Ativan helps. (I’m pretty sure it will and probably should get some for myself.) They should hand out a years worth of free Ativan samples to Moms leaving the hospital with newborns. Sorry this doesn’t make sense… too tired.

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