Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Day This Blog Got Real

I used to be a good sleeper. I won the award for Best Napper in kindergarten.

In eighth grade I had mono and, as I recall, it took weeks for my parents to realize I was sick because I slept so much anyway.

I spent most of high school getting home from practice (depending on the season, x-country, track, volleyball, whatever) at around 5:30 or 6:00 pm, passing out in my room, missing dinner, getting up around 8:00 or 9:00 pm, finding something to eat, talking on the phone until 11:00 or 12:00, then finally getting around to doing my homework.

I don't even remember when I got most of my sleep in college. I was a rower, which meant getting up at 5:00 am or earlier every morning for practice. Because dorms don't quiet down to any decibel level that is remotely reasonable for someone trying desperately to induce sleep until at least 11:00 pm, I think I did most of my sleeping during my 8:00 am calculus class. I had notebooks full of pencil marks skittering off the page or becoming so minute that it required a magnifying glass to read the equations.

After college, the Husband and I lived in Philly for a while, and for part of that time my brother- and sister-in-law lived in the same apartment building. Right across the hall, in fact. I'm pretty sure my brother-in-law became convinced I was an undiagnosed narcoleptic because he woke me up from a nap every single time he came over.

That long history of a good, healthy sleep appetite ended, as it does for almost every mother I've ever heard of, during pregnancy. I had some back issues during pregnancy that were a bit more severe than average. I had to stop working early because of them and spent a lot of time at home, nesting for the baby when I could walk, taking in a lot of tv when I couldn't. And napping. And the naps at that point were some of the more reasonable and justifiable of my life because, hello, I was pregnant and exhausted anyway, but also because, like most pregnant women, I wasn't getting much sleep at night what with the bladder squished by the weight of a whole human sitting on it, the back pain, and the general discomfort of hosting said human with free room and board for ten months.

I knew sleep would be scarce with a new baby. Duh. But I didn't expect the complete and utter sleep dysfunction that life has thought fit to bestow upon me. Apparently all those early years of robust somnolence were leading up to a major drought.

The night the Papoosekin was born (or was it the next day? It's all a blur.), I had a nightmare that the Husband was holding her and dropped her. Not like she just somehow wiggled out of his arms, or he tripped, or anything remotely accidental. He just let go and watched her fall. I know that sounds like some major trust issues with my husband, but it actually had nothing to do with that. I woke up with my heart racing, but with no untoward feelings about him. Just terror about the safety of the Papoose and a desperate need to identify her whereabouts and that she was still breathing.

This never stopped

That first nightmare haunted me for weeks, awake and asleep. I can still replay it in my mind in vivid detail and actually feel my heart rate escalating as I type this.

The Papoosekin slept in our room the first couple months, and I woke up at the sound of a pin dropping, but hearing all her coos and sighs and wee coughs while sleeping actually soothed me into assurance that she was still alive and well. She moved into her own room shortly before the big move across the country. I can't remember if the major nightmares started before or after that, but they started with a vengeance. I didn't actually have proper nightmares, per se, but I would half wake, convinced that she was in the bed with us and that we'd accidentally fallen asleep with her there (we never coslept, so I don't know the origin of this exact manifestation of my clearly major neurosis), and that she was suffocating. I would start frantically ripping the sheets and blankets off the bed trying to find her. I'd wake up the Husband, grabbing his arm or shoulder or face, thinking it was her, and trying to pick her up, talk to her, make sure she was safe. I don't know how many times I must have scared him out of his skin during this mania before he got so used to it, he'd just mumble, "She's safe, she's in her crib, go back to sleep" while I had my hands on his cheeks cooing, "Hi, baby!"

Sounds almost funny, when I read it, but it's so, so not. It would often take minutes to wake up enough to realize that everything was okay, that my baby was safe. And by then I was wide awake, so it took a while to get back to sleep. And a while to get my heart out of my throat, calm the nausea in my stomach, and feel that it was safe to close my eyes again. Only for it to happen again and hour later. And again. And again. And again.


Once I was searching and searching our bed for her and couldn't find her anywhere. I saw a pile of blankets on the floor next to me and thought she'd gotten wrapped up in them and fallen off the bed. I looked at the bundle carefully for any movement and saw none. I reached a hand down to feel if there was any movement, any breathing, and there was none. I thought she was dead. For minutes. A lifetime. Until I got up the nerve to unwrap the bundle and found there was nothing but blankets. My sobbing woke up the Husband that time.


When the Papoosekin started crawling, the nightmares shifted from the suffocation theme to a falling-off-the-bed scenario, whereby she was either on the floor injured or crawling around on her own in our not-entirely-child-proofed bedroom, about to hurt herself. So now I got to leap out of bed, searching wildly around the room trying to find her. The worst part about this new variation on my own personal hell was that now the half-awakenings were proceeded by very realistic dreams of her waking up in the night, me going to get her from her crib, and bringing her back to bed with me. Which never happens in our house. But it does in lots of others', so it's a very logical and reasonable imagining. As I gradually woke up, even to the point of full awareness, I had no idea whether I had actually gone to get my baby and she might truly be in the room, or whether the whole thing was a dream and she was asleep in her crib as she always was. The bright side was that at least I wasn't waking up the Husband anymore. At this point, I was going through the whole routine about a dozen times per night.

After almost nine months of this, as you can imagine, I've been nearing a breaking point. Obviously, I haven't been getting any kind of quality sleep at all. I wake up at the sound of the cats walking across the floor. I wake up every time the air conditioning comes on. Downstairs. I wake up when the Husband rolls over. Wide awake. Every time. And I don't wake up like a normal person, opening the eyes, looking around half-awake to make sure everything's okay, and going back to sleep. Nor even like a normal insomniac, who wakes up, realizes they won't be able to get back to sleep, and stumbles downstairs for some water, or tv, or Internet. I wake up with a whiplash-inducing suddenness, ramrod straight, sitting up in bed, one thought, and one thought only, at the forefront of my mind, pulse racing, almost in full-on panic attack mode: "WHERE IS SHE?"


What's that? Where am I going with this horrifically depressing story? Why am I weighing you down with this kind of grief? Shut up with the terrifying description of motherhood that is sure to make all childless readers glue their legs together to protect themselves from this particular curse?

I do have a point. A point besides my own catharsis at getting this out in the open after months of keeping it between the Husband and I. I've been going through a lot of stuff for months and have started opening up to those closest to me only fairly recently. And it's helping. So there's that.

But more importantly, I CAN'T BE THE ONLY ONE THIS HAPPENS TO. And someone out there may need help, too. And maybe on some Google or Technorati or whatever search for anxiety and new mother and sleep disorder this post will come up, and some other woman won't feel so alone and so helpless.

Other new mothers to whom this is happening: We have an anxiety disorder. Get help.

Yeah, Scarlet, I'm finally listening to you. No, I was listening all along; I'm finally hearing you. And I'm getting proactive on this shiz.

And here's my other piece of advice and the reason why I'm writing about this now: Three nights ago, I decided, out of nowhere, that a mantra might help.

Unsurprisingly, I've developed a fear of going to sleep for the past two or three months, keeping me up later and later at night as I lie there, afraid to go to sleep, but afraid of the dark places my mind was going in my fear as well. The Husband kept urging me to find a sentence I could repeat in my head to help me fall asleep. I mostly ignored him because I always used to do that: "One, two, three, four, five; one, two, three, four, five..." Worked like a charm for me for years. His is: "I must stay awake. I must stay awake." But I couldn't get my mind to settle on anything and was just frustrated and resentful. Finally, I hit on something without even trying one night and I knew it was going to work. I just had to find the only thing my poor, stress-addled brain remotely cared about: The Papoose is safe in her crib. The Papoose is safe in her crib. Over and over. And I fell asleep.

The magical part? When I woke up for the nightly terrorized room search, the sentence popped back into my head: The Papoose is safe in her crib. It still took a few seconds to feel the meaning of that sentence and believe it. But seconds! Not minutes!! And I didn't have to fully wake up and I fell back asleep smiling, repeating my magic phrase.

The Papoosekin, safe in her crib.

I'm not fishing for a bunch of comments worrying about me and how I'm doing and whether I'm really okay. I'm not. But I'm talking to people about it now and I'm making decisions and I'm figuring out what path is going to be right for me to make this better. And I do know that it will get better.

The main points of this post are threefold (come on, every book--and I know you won't argue with me on that word choice--needs a good conclusion!):
  1. Writing it out helps.
  2. Writing it out may help someone else.
  3. This blog is obviously no longer a craft blog. And if I want it to be something more than just a place to show my friends and family the latest cute pictures of the Papoose, then I've got to get more genuine and honest and make people want to read it. And I do want it to be more than that.
So there. There's a big chunk of my soul out there. Have at it. Gently, please.


Sarah Berry said...

Wow, no comments. You scared everyone into silence :)

I'm very glad that you're both speaking out and getting help - I had no idea that the nightmares were that bad. Had I known I would have jumped in sooner to tell you that that's NOT a normal level of anxiety.

It'll be good to look back on all of this a year from now to see what you've learned and figured out. Much love.

Leslie said...

I have no doubt that this will pass; I'm happy you're finding ways to get them out, and help in.

Of course, if you ever need to talk, or complain, or ANYTHING, I am one of many people willing to listen. Even in the middle of the night.

Anonymous said...

i applaud you for opening up!! You are amazing to tell something like this that others out there can relate to & not feel alone. I will say, although a different scenario for me, i had my own share of things going on after the birth of Katherine. I had a little bit of anxiety over silly things (nothing specific really), and physical symptoms like heart racing real fast, night sweats, sudden weight loss. Turned out the hormomes played a huge role. Went to the doctor to see what my anxiety was about too, and turns out i have a thyroid disease. Not uncommon for moms after giving birth (even many months after) to have high levels of hormones being out of wack. So that can cause anxiety, and although my situation involves my thyroid and i'm sure your's is fine, i just though i'd make you feel normal bc after giving birth it takes a toll on your body, hormonally. I totally a pplaud you with this and your story. You are a wonderful mom :) xo

Anonymous said...

I have a fall asleep mantra too. Since I don't have any kids, mine is more self-centered: "I am safe and loved". You're not alone. ~Alice

die Frau said...

Oh, honey. You touched on this when I saw you but I also had no idea you had such sleep troubles. Just so you know, in college you'd come home from crew and nap, or you'd crash like a champ at about nine while I glared in jealousy at you as I blearily read my German or something.

So very, very glad you're getting help and you've found your mantra. You are such a wonderful mom and your happy baby is clear evidence of what great parents you BOTH are. I know when I have my baby anxieties one day I can turn to you, and I know other women out there will be grateful that you opened up. Ditto Greenlight--call me anytime, day or night, truly. I love you.

Lesley said...

I am a ouiser reader from her old job in lex, and I love to read your blog too b/c your daughter was born 4 days before mine. I have gone through the same thing. I would think I had rolled on top of my munchkin and she wasn't even in the room! Mine went away rather quickly, but I wanted to tell you I feel your pain. And by the way, I love her hat in the picture!

Anonymous said...

From someone who battled depression for years, I thought if my feet were on the ground, the kids were fed and dry then I had a great day. I realize now the isolation is greater because we keep it to our selves for soooo long. I have to say once I started talking about it, it helped. I know you are brave to tells, i will hold you soul in my heart. After years of battleing I started on meds, and realized how much it helped. Please call day or night,Your willingness to put yourself out there I'm sure will help other mom's to see they are not alone. I stopped nursing M at nine months, I felt so quilty I had to talk to my pedi, she put it into perspective that is not your only contact with your child and all that other time is just as impt.so that help me put that part into perspective. Know I'm here for you and you are an amazing person,mom and wife. Love you honey Marilyn