I haven't enjoyed a full, uninterrupted eight hours sleep in nearly six years. I know this because I have had a lot of time to think about that fact. A lot of time spent lying in bed in the dark, eyes wide open pondering how long it has been since I have slept a full night and since when.
Sleep was something I had never questioned, it was just always there. My sleeplessness began when I became pregnant, at first the excitement and apprehension disturbed my rest, then my huge host body kept from me from sleeping because I was unable to lie down or breathe (both of which you kind of need to do).
Then of course the squalling, screaming child landed in my life, a huge, adorable feeder who demanded almost hourly night feeds and cuddles. And so I existed as most new mothers do - in a permanent daze of scared, wide-awake sleeplessness. I'd sit up feeding in the dark, hallucinating, as my brain unable to cope without dreams tried to recreate them for me while awake.
Eventually his sleeping periods became longer as our routine kicked in, but mine didn't. My sleep remained fragmented and disturbed. Finally allowed to snatch a few hours here and there I was almost unable to. I'd watch him blissfully snoozing and think of plucking the dummy out of his mouth and putting it into my own, maybe I could get the same sleepy comfort from it?
Now over five years later my patterns sill haven't recovered. My son can usually sleep for about 12 hours, I am lucky if I manage half of that, and it's usually a lot less. It's been a long time since I've had to do a night feed but I'll still ping awake in the middle of the night, maybe I have become conditioned to do so. My ears are so attuned to him and his habits, I am sure sometimes I wake up to just to make sure he is asleep and still alive. When he does have a disturbed night I am awake long before he has made his way into my room to declare what the problem is in a disembodied voice from the foot of the bed:
"Mum, I've had a bad dream"
"Mum, I've fallen out of bed"
"Mum, can I have a mini-roll?"
If I wake at 4am that doesn't feel too bad because it's almost like morning, 2am isn't so great because that's still the middle of the night. I don't go back to sleep but lie in a semi-comatose state until the light comes through the window, my body exhausted and prone but my mind fizzing with anguish as I worry about all of the things that could happen to us, to him, to me and wondering why I can't sleep.
It's almost worse if I do go back to sleep because when the hour rolls around that I do have to actually get up and get the day started I am down so deep it's like being awoken from the dead. After which I stagger zombie-like to the shower, careering off walls and crashing into things. I then have to get my son up and ready who then asks me for "five more minutes" in bed, I tell him I'd like "five more hours or five more years please."
Yes I've tried all the 'things', no caffeine after a certain hour, herbal teas, lavender, warm baths. It doesn't matter what I eat, drink or do. Told the doctor. Of course I don't want to take tablets because you know, what if I'm needed in the night to get a mini-roll or something?
I'm kind of used to the feeling now. My forehead feels like it is constantly resting on my eyelids, the inside of my skull feels hot and in need of a scrub, my ears sing. My memory is shot and I call people by the wrong name sometimes. Life has an unreal tinge to it as my days all kind of drift into each other, punctuated with night-time periods of darkness, still spent drifting.
I hear new parents proclaim they've heard the first six months are the worst and that they are looking forward to getting back to normal and getting some sleep, I never like to say that's it not just the first six months, but could be the first six years too.