The young mum grabbed my arm in the coffee shop line and with steely grey eyes desperately asked “when is it going to get better?”
I smiled nervously and wanted to answer honestly, but I saw she couldn’t handle the truth right now.
She was on the edge.
I was going to have to let her down gently.
“Oh look probably around 7 months. He will start to sleep for longer stretches and you will too.”
“Ok thanks,” she said, looking like she was about to cry. “I can do three more months.”
“Let me buy your coffee,” I said. “It really helps.”
Her eyes darted around at my three small children charging through my legs and she smiled at the fourth one strapped to my chest. I could see she thought I must have some authority of this issue.
I physically ached for her. A woman I didn’t know for more than five minutes, yet our alliance felt stronger than stone.
I felt like I had to look after her and protect her, because you see… I am very tired too.
There I said it.
Fiona with her oldest child. And very tired.
Tired is not the right word to describe it. Tired gives the impression you’ve worked late a few nights in a row, or been travelling through different time zones.
Completely and utterly, bone-achingly ‘exhaustamipated’ is more apt.
I have been telling myself for six years it would get easier. There would be more sleep. One night soon.
I was always looking for new ways to take control of it – so it did not control me.
“I just need to master that new self settling technique”, or “get rid of the toddler’s bottle” or “try to get the baby to take a dummy”....
Those things do work for a while. But then they don’t.
Sleep deprivation goes in cycles, as you probably know.
In the first stage of the cycle you cope. Your eyes burn, you feel physically sick, you cannot think straight, but you cope. You bat away thoughts of feeling tired with ‘just harden up sister’.
In the second stage everything starts to become very hard. Each small task seems like a marathon and you admit to yourself you are starting to struggle. The cloud of fatigue gets darker around you. This phase can last a long time depending on your stamina.
Then you hit the final stage of complete crash and burn. All you can think about is going to sleep. You have multiple very bad moments, like leaving your car door wide open with your handbag inside when you go to the shops or having entire conversations with colleagues and calling them the wrong name, or driving through red lights … or worse. I won’t go there.