by MIA FREEDMAN
At 3 am, no one can hear you scream.
That’s precisely how it feels when you’re up in the middle of the night with a baby who doesn’t sleep. I could hear my baby screaming clearly enough. Several times every night. But my own screams? My screams of exhaustion, despair, frustration and loneliness? They were confined to the inside of my head.
For the first few weeks after my daughter was born, I ran on a heady mix of hormones and adrenaline with a generous splash of gratitude that my longed-for baby had arrived safely.
Night feeds were almost a novelty. I felt womanly and invincible, filled with love for my little girl and the world. I willingly slept on a crappy mattress on the floor of her room so my beloved husband could sleep undisturbed in our giant bed. I was so grateful to him for helping create this beautiful creature, it was the least I could do. I was a happy martyr. And hey, since I was breast-feeding and he didn’t have breasts, what was the point of him getting up at 2 am? Let alone 3, 4 and 5 am.
But after more than a month of waking several times every night to feed and soothe my tiny daughter back to sleep, I began to lose my sense of humour. The adrenaline had long worn off, replaced by an overwhelming fatigue that was insidiously crushing the life out of me.
Most mornings I couldn’t recall what had transpired the previous night. I was always certain it had been a train wreck of sorts but the details were hazy. Did she wake at 1.15 am for a feed, 2.25 am for the dummy, another feed at 3.10 am and then dummy again at 3.40 am? Or was it 1.50 am for a feed, 3.20 am for the dummy and a feed again at 4.15 and dummy at 4.35 and 5:50am? Or was that the night before? Or maybe last week? What’s my name again? And who is that person in the mirror? I don’t recognise her anymore.
Despair is the evil twin of sleep deprivation. Despair that your baby will ever sleep more than a few hours in a row. Despair that you’ll ever feel human. Despair that anyone will ever understand how pitifully exhausted you are. Despair that there’s no way out.
It’s easier to just stick in the dummy or the bottle or the boob or bring your baby into your bed…whatever it takes to get them – and you – back to sleep quickly. After months of broken sleep, the quick fix will win over the hard yards of a proper solution every time. You’re just too exhausted to find a way out of your exhaustion. And I was. Again.
I’d already made this mistake once before, with my son. We attempted controlled crying half-heartedly a few times but I refused to persevere because I was worried it might damage him psychologically. So we waved the white flag and surrendered to the massive disruption of sleeplessness.