As a kid, I struggled to go to sleep. First it was being separated from my parents, then it was monsters, and then it was the Cold War and the Bomb (other kinds of monsters). I gave up trying to sleep well in high school, staying up late to watch “120 Minutes” and draw into the wee hours.
In college I could finally sleep — it was called exhaustion, fueled with alcohol. And that was my sleep strategy for years, until I became a responsible adult running a nonprofit, and I went to bed on time, sober, and worried. I came up with a strict regimen of reading books until my eyes almost shut. And it worked, some of the time.
Pregnancy was amazing: for the first time in my life I slept readily, easily, confident I was doing the right thing. True, I woke up most nights once or twice, but then it was back to dreaming soon enough. I woke up thinking, “Only 9 hours before I can do this again.”
And then I had my son. No one, NO ONE tells you how bad the sleeping is going to be. Or they do, but it’s all thin jokes you are quick to ignore, like the rest of the advice pressed onto you. The worst thing was the 3am feeding — I would sit holding my little ball of happiness, and all the bad thoughts would seep into the room. Fears for his health, the impact of global warming, his chances of military service, my health and ability to care for him, my husband’s work, our family happiness — it all snuck into my half-asleep brain and sucker-punched me alert and alarmed.
Again, I found some strategies to help: stretching; watching lighthearted TV (no “Breaking Bad” in this house; taking Rescue Sleep (herbal hoo-hah that seems to do something); and reading books that fit a narrow set of guidelines that avoid anything that resembles my reality.
Still, there are nights I stay up worrying. Lots of nights. And while I wish it could be different, I know I’m not alone. So I wrote this for you, and took this picture of me awake in my bed, to make the real visible. To hopefully lessen the anxiety by acknowledging it. And maybe to lessen yours, too.