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.