Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘sleep’

Contentment

In the dark I hear your breathing; calm, soft and deep. I hear your quiet murmurs as you dream. Your small body, heavy with sleep, is nestled against mine and I curl protectively around you as you stir. I lay a soothing hand on your chest; your small hand clutches at mine, gripping tightly then loosening as you trustingly relax back into sleep.

You are warm. You are safe. You are loved.

What they don’t tell you before you have kids

Parenthood… Sweet chubby little babies looking angelic as they sleep; giggles and squeals of delight as they play; cuddles and kisses and “I love you” as they get older. Meanwhile you waft about looking calm and collected, serene and confident. Right? No, me neither.

Firstly, the sleep thing is a lie. My eldest child didn’t sleep through the night until she was 2. That’s years, not months. Her younger brother hasn’t figured it out yet either and he’s 18 months. They do look angelic when they’re asleep, but I’ve never been sure how much of that is due to you finally getting a break and feeling more fond of them as a result.

The giggles are cute, sure. As long as you know that they’re caused by a safe, parent-sanctioned toy rather than a fun game of ‘Hide Mummy’s keys’ or ‘What can I smear on the wall today’. Sometimes having children can be rather like starring in a horror film; too many body fluids, torturous practices like sleep deprivation, a sense that any moment now something is going to go horribly wrong. Oh, and hearing a child’s giggles coming from a previously quiet room? Even more chilling when you’re a parent; it’s likely they’re doing something that will take a lot of time, money or both to clean up.

Feeding? Well, feeding a baby is pretty simple for the first few months – you stick a nipple or a bottle in their mouth and bingo! It’s when you start weaning onto solid food that things begin to get complicated. You know those adverts you see for baby foods, with the sparkling kitchen and a smiling parent feeding a clean, happy baby? Yeah, that doesn’t happen. Regardless of whether you’re spoon-feeding purée, handing the child finger foods (that’s food they can eat with their fingers, not food made from fingers – it’s not that much of a horror film) you can pretty much guarantee that the baby’s digestive system will see precious little of it. On the other hand you, the table, walls, floor and cat will have a liberal coating.

(Top tip: never ever feed your child weetabix mixed with breast milk. They may enjoy it and you may congratulate yourself for a job well done but when that stuff dries it sets harder than concrete).

Nappy changes are another key area where new parents rapidly become disillusioned. Advertising would lead you to believe that kissing your child’s peachy little bottom is what every parent does when changing nappies. Not in this house, pal. Before DD was a week old she had mastered both the high-powered liquid poo (her record was about 4 feet) and the dreaded poonami – a tidal wave of poo that can leave you and your child looking as though you’ve been gunged by Noel Edmunds. DS, on the other hand, concentrated his early efforts on learning to wee in his own eye.

There are many other things I wish I’d known before having children (like their unerring ability to wake just as you doze off, and the fact that you won’t go to the toilet on your own for years) but I’ll stop now before I singlehandedly cause the UK conception rate to plummet. Do feel free to add your own suggestions though!

Night terrors

Sleep, to me, is both a friend and a foe. A friend because at the end of each day I am exhausted and desperate for rest; a foe because it is rare that my sleep is actually restful.

The last time I had an unbroken night’s sleep was April 2009. Neither of my children slept through the night early: DD didn’t until after her second birthday and DS still wakes multiple times a night at 18 months. I don’t mind this. DH and I don’t believe in ‘sleep training’ and I know that he will sleep through when he’s ready and able to, just as DD did.

Add to this the fact that I have recurrent insomnia. It seems to make little difference how tired I am when I go to bed, I often lie awake for hours with my mind racing. I’ve tried many different techniques to calm my brain and relax my body but nothing seems to work reliably.

I can cope with the broken sleep, I’m used to it. And the insomnia is irritating but bearable. The real reason that sleep and I are not friends is the nightmares.

I have always had vivid dreams. I always remember my dreams and, unfortunately, my nightmares. There have been occasions when these have bled into reality – one of the most memorable occasions was when I awoke from a nightmare hysterical and absolutely convinced, certain beyond all doubt, that red demons were hiding under the bed. It took DH almost an hour to calm me down.

It’s unusual for that to happen and I can only remember a handful of times that it has. What I have to deal with on a regular basis is extremely vivid nightmares which affect me to the extent that I have flashbacks to them all day. Sometimes these nightmares are linked to my anxiety and involve the death or serious injury of DH or the children or someone close to me. Sometimes they’re quite like science fiction, sometimes action films, sometimes thrillers or horror.

I have nightmares like this several times a week, on average. I wake from them with my heart pounding, often in tears. I struggle to fall asleep again and even if I do, when I eventually wake I have flashbacks to the nightmare all day. I might be playing with the children and suddenly ‘remember’ fighting for my life. Or I may be cooking when I ‘remember’ cradling the lifeless body of my child. And so it goes on, and on, and on…

I’m tired. But what will I dream of tonight?

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