Once upon a time I was in control of my sleep. I went to bed when I was tired, slept as long as I needed, and awoke without an alarm. Even when I did not get my optimal eight hours I knew I could catch up later, either with a nap or the next night. Well, I still do not set my alarm clock. But I no longer get to wake up on my own and I can only dream about taking a nap. Good sleep is rare, and I am definitely no longer in control of it.
These days instead of savoring the last moments of my dreams I barely get to finish them let alone record them in the dream journal that has been gathering dust along with my ongoing baby scrapbooks.
It’s been over seven years since I slept through the night in my own bed.
How can I explain how this has taken its toll? It is more than just lack of sleep. It is a lack of my sleep. I used to lay my head on the pillow and after eight to ten glorious dream filled hours I would awake refreshed, happy and eager to face my day and whatever challenges lay ahead. But as soon as I got pregnant, that sleep eluded me. I could only get comfortable by surrounding myself with pillows; this was fine, we had plenty of pillows. But it got harder to stay comfortable. After shifting along with my weight those pillows needed constant rearranging. Since I took over the entire bed my husband Bill would grab that last pillow and head to the spare bedroom.
I was hopeful things would improve once my son Paul was born but I could not have been more mistaken. The pillows were redistributed and Bill was back in our room but where was that baby going to sleep? We had borrowed a bassinet but could not convince him to sleep in it. I was basically nursing non-stop so it was easier to just keep him in bed with me. I wanted him there but mostly I just wanted to sleep.
Sleep had always been my method of dealing with life. How would I escape now?
Before Paul was born if I had trouble falling back to sleep to the tune of Bill’s snoring I could escape to the spare bedroom myself. Unfortunately it was tough to guarantee a vacancy. This room is also where my stepdaughter, Alexandra stays; she has always lived with us part-time, leaving us wanting more. And as much as I love when she is with us—I prefer the option of sleeping in her Queen size bed. After Paul was born Alexandra was at our house a lot and while I missed her as soon as she left for her mom’s I missed her bed more when she was here.
So there the three of us we were all cozy in our bed. Just so daddy did not feel left out I helpfully nudged him awake at every feeding. It seemed only fair that he get to share in this experience. Truthfully I wanted to make him suffer. Why should only my sleep be ruined? Sadly, the satisfaction I got from waking Bill was short lived since he just fell right back to sleep and I was the one then forced to flee the newly formed father son snoring team. With Alexandra visiting I often had to sleep on the couch.
One day I came in to find Paul awake in the bassinette smiling broadly at me with his foot dangling over the side. It was time to move him to a crib in his own room just a baby monitor away. By then I was so programmed to wake up when he cried it didn’t matter where I was sleeping. I stomped back and forth so many times there is a well-worn groove in the hard wood floor and Bill just got better at pretending to sleep.
After two years of this Paul upgraded to a “big boy” bed as we awaited his baby brother Eric. It was then and there that Paul finally began sleeping through the night. I was determined to learn from my past mistakes and had Eric sleeping in the crib sharing a room with Paul across the house within a month. With earplugs firmly in place, a bottle for Eric in the fridge, and that baby monitor buried in a drawer we finally all slept where we belonged.
The end … just kidding!
Paul suddenly began waking up with nightmares, which in turn became my nightmare. I was afraid he would wake up Eric so I let him come back to bed with me. It was like trying to cuddle a baby deer. His flailing limbs were impossible to contain as he fell in and out of a fitful sleep. I never even noticed when Bill slipped off to sleep elsewhere. Even when I did manage to relocate that only worked until Paul realized I had moved and tracked me down.
My sons are seven and five and our sleeping situation remains a work in progress. Putting them to bed at the same time in their shared room brings to mind a three-ring circus so we have sort of a rotation. First I lay down with Eric in his bed while my husband or Alexandra reads a chapter book with Paul in another bed. Once Eric falls asleep Paul moves to his own bed. This may involve a few more rotations before every one is in place for their first round of sleep.
All is well till around 3 a.m. when Eric tries to climb into bed beside me. Now that he almost potty trained at night this is a regular occurrence. If I can feel his ice-cold bare bottom I can tell he has already peed, and if it is damp I know that he has peed in his bed. If he has his pajama bottoms on there is still hope so I lead him straight to the potty. I am so thrilled not to have to magically produce clean dinosaur sheets that I consent to a quick cuddle. As I tuck him in, he grips me in a tight embrace and pins me against the wall for the longest and least comfortable five minutes of my night. Soon his breathing slows down and he releases me from his vice grip spooning. I leave and head straight for the closest empty bed and spread out like a starfish to sleep for as long as I can.
If it is past five when he appears I let him climb in beside me till it is time to get up. I relish the way his head tucks neatly beneath my chin and how his body fits the curve of my own. His bare butt pushes against my bare thighs. One inch at a time he snuggles me across the bed. The next time I am woken up Bill has vanished and I am hanging off the edge of the mattress.
Eric pulls back the curtains and proudly announces: “it’s morning!” I open my eyes and am happy if I need to adjust them to sunlight. Now I am able to get up, do my sit ups and get right to my emails. But I don’t. I will always choose more sleep.
My sleep has been permanently altered and so have I. I am not in control of my sleep any more than I am in control of anything. The most I can hope for is controlling myself, especially when I have not had enough sleep. Most mornings all I can do is put on PBS and crawl back to bed. Any bed.
And then there are great mornings like today. I woke up somehow sandwiched between Paul and Eric. I knew it was time for me to get up, but for a change I did not want to move. I have always believed that no matter where I was, there was somewhere better. But this morning I knew there was no place else I wanted to be.
I still love to sleep alone. I just need to accept that may only happen when I hide in my car to take a nap.