*Just posting this again on my blog, so that I have it here as well as on Tanya’s Rattle & Mum 🙂
Sleep deprivation, as defined by Wikipedia, is “the condition of not having enough sleep; it can be either chronic or acute. A chronic sleep-restricted state can cause fatigue, daytime sleepiness, clumsiness and weight loss or weight gain. It adversely affects the brain and cognitive function. Few studies have compared the effects of acute total sleep deprivation and chronic partial sleep restriction. Complete absence of sleep over long periods is impossible for humans to achieve (unless they suffer from fatal familial insomnia); brief microsleeps cannot be avoided. Long-term total sleep deprivation has caused death in lab animals”.
Wikipedia or not, I know that not sleeping is just. Not. Cool. It makes me impossible to be around, mainly due to my complete lack of a sense of humour, total over-reaction to every situation and the tendency to burst into a fit of tears and emo-esque ranting at the slightest hint of a tricky situation/conversation/poo nappy/toilet paper commercial. At the best of times I am a very emotional person. Let’s just say that the last 3 months have not been “the best of times” and, subsequently I have been a mess for the majority of this time.
Now, while I [now] know that my postpartum “issues” reach further than just sleep-deprivation, the fact that I hadn’t slept for longer than 3 hours at a time for 13 straight weeks was not working in my favour. I had sworn to myself, as well as my friends and family, that I would not fall into the same bad habits as I had when Luca was born. That is, refusing help. Insisting on doing everything by myself. And to begin with, it was going well. I was confident enough to leave Mika with the nanny at just two weeks old, popping back home as soon as I knew it was time for his next [breast]feed. I was happy to pop him in the pram to stroll down 4th Avenue for coffee with a friend. At 7 weeks I agreed to leave him at home so that Dave and I could pop out to Hyde Park to watch a movie. This was a HUGE improvement on how I behaved after Luca was born. Yes, I know that Luca was my first born and that I was entitled to behave the way I did. But it wasn’t fair on anyone else, other than Luca and I. So, I put extra effort into being “better” with Mika.
I don’t know when/where it went wrong. All I know is that Mika was [is] not a great [day] sleeper. Well, he sleeps solidly between his feeds AT NIGHT, waking after his 7pm bottle at 11/12pm, 3/4am and then the recurring “niggly hour” from 4:30-ish till 6. So yes, my sleep had been broken and, honestly, insufficient for the previous 13 weeks. A couple of weeks before the December holidays, Dave had asked if I would consider a night nurse. I was horrified at the thought. How could I sleep, knowing that a stranger was in the next room, caring for my child? The GUILT! I could NEVER do that. Never ever. I did it ALL BY MYSELF with Luca and I would do the same with Mika. Deluded mommy, right here. How could I do it all by myself when I already had a demanding toddler, calling out to me from his cot in the early hours of the morning?
The three weeks we spent in idyllic Port Alfred flew by in a haze of bottle cleaning, sterilizing, nappy changes, night feeds and 4am crying. I enjoyed myself where and when I could, but by 8pm every night I simply HAD to go to bed. I was exhausted, which meant constant bickering due to my irritability levels and no “real” holiday to speak of. Whilst still on holiday, Dave brought up the topic of a night nurse again and this time I didn’t immediately dismiss the idea. I felt guilty for even thinking about it (as you do), but I started to see the wood for the trees. I was tired. Kaput. Finished. Exhausted. Spent. And no amount of couch-potato behaviour would remedy that. I needed a full night’s sleep. More than once. I needed it often.
So, we returned home and, through a friend, found a night nurse. Patricia. I was told that she was VERY capable, caring and available on the nights that we wanted help. I saved her number in my phone and proceeded to put off calling her to set up the first … session(?). I cited one good night as reason enough not to need help. The next night was horrendous. Mika cried, we tried to calm him and it all resulted in about 3 broken hours of sleep that night.
The next day, Dave told me he would call her. And I caved. [THE GUILT!] He called her on a Sunday evening and she said that she was free the very next day. I was literally sick with anxiety that night, worried to the point of nausea about leaving my child with someone who could potentially be cold and unloving. I didn’t sleep at all that night and wandered around the house aimlessly [and full of GUILT] the next day. At 6:30pm, Dave announced that he had received an SMS from Patricia to say that she had arrived at the nearby Shell garage and that he was heading out, with Luca, to fetch her. I quickly made Mika’s bottle and fed him, with the intention of having him sound asleep before she arrived. I managed to get it right and then waited, anxiously biting at my chewed off nails, for them to arrive.
Well, the sound of angels singing in a perfect harmony may well have been heard when Patricia, Patron Saint of Night Nursing, walked through my front door. I haven’t seen a face as open, honest and instantly caring and full of concern as hers in a long, long time. I melted into the floor with utter relief as she made herself comfortable, in the most appropriate way. She sat down with my at our dining room table, pushed aside her supper and subtly asked all about me, Mika and even Luca, without allowing my guilt-ridden mommy-brain to conjure up the ridiculous idea that she didn’t know what she was doing. By the time I left her in the room with Mika, sound asleep, I had all the faith in the world in her ability. Needless to say, I still concluded that the only way to ensure a full night’s sleep, would be to medicate myself, so I popped two painkillers and a mild tranquilizer and hopped happily into bed. My head landed on my pillow and I was almost instantly delved into the deepest drug-induced sleep I have ever experienced.
I woke. I stretched my arms out and yawned a satisfied yawn. And then I panicked. HOLY SHIT! MY BABY! I hadn’t heard a thing all night! I leapt out of bed, flew out of the door and slid across the parquet flooring and into the guest bedroom. There sat Saint Patricia on the Lazy Boy, Mika in arms, sound asleep and sucking contentedly on his dummy. I sat down on the bed and cried. I cried quiet tears of relief and utter joy. Mika looked comfortable and warm with her. I felt comfortable and warm with her. I think that my sister said it best when she said that Patricia looks like the kind of person who you’d want to look after you when you’re sick. “She’d make really nice soup”, said Lol. I agree. She is round (in the best possible way), welcoming, worried about the health of my baby boy. She’s also constantly asking how I am, which I appreciate more than I am able to express in words. She is happy when I tell her that I got out, did something for myself and left Mika in Anna’s capable hands during the day. She is an angel … sent to ensure that my sanity, marriage and family stays in tact, and her arrival in our lives will never go unremembered.
I can’t tell you why it took me so long to agree that I needed help. I wish it hadn’t. Everyone should ask for help and maternal guilt should be officially banished to the Bermuda Triangle. But, I firmly believe that things happen for a reason, so she’s here now and that’s all that counts. Help, its there when you need it. You just need to accept it.
PS: Patricia is available and looking for work on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in welcoming her into your home. It’s worth every hour of sleep, glorious sleep.