The quiet and the dark

The quiet and the dark

A dark bedroom with a bedside light on

The baby had an unusual 3am wake-up last night – and I know I’m very lucky that that’s unusual for her, but it doesn’t make the shattered sleep patterns any easier to deal with – and ended up lying back in bed, around 4am (after feed and burp and change and pump) with my two favourite people on either side of me making their usual snuffly and/or snorey noises, reflecting on a mantra that got me through those earliest weeks at home when it felt like I’d never sleep again.

It’s enough to just lie here, in the quiet and the dark.

We spent the first week of baby’s life in hospital, and I was absolutely sleep deprived – she was on a three-hourly feeding-and-top-up cycle for jaundice and I was trying to learn to latch her and still knocked flat by the C-section and in a strange room with strange noises and lights and midwives appearing what felt like every five minutes to take my blood pressure. In a way, there was just so much going on that I didn’t notice how tired I was. I’d gone through “tired” and out the other side. But you can’t keep that up for long.

The second week, once we were home and lost the massive omnipresent support network the hospital offers, that was when things, specifically my and J’s brains, started to break.

There is a piece of advice that gets passed around pregnant people: sleep when the baby sleeps (and its corollary, clean the house when the baby cleans the house). It’s a lovely theory, and on the few occasions I’ve managed to do it, it’s incredibly healing. I think that’s why I’ve shared it myself – it does help, when it works.

But the fact is, some chores still need to be done, if you want to have a bottle to feed the baby with (or a mug for your own precious twilight cuppa) or cloths to wipe her butt. Sleep gets pushed down the priority list pretty easily, and when you finally get to it, on a timer that could go off any minute, it feels impossible. As though you’ll never sleep again and the only possible outcome is putting your brain in a robot body.

Like a lot of obligations, it creates a cycle of anxiety. You know you need to sleep in order to function and if you don’t sleep you’ll feel worse so you need to sleep and all the time you’re spending worrying about not sleeping is time you are not spending sleeping which you know you need in order to function … etc etc etc.

On top of that, you’ve just gone through a huge series of changes. Again, you don’t notice so much in hospital because there’s so much else going on. But back home, in your own bed, without the distractions of beeping machines and doors opening and closing in the corridor outside, you try to revert to old patterns. Except those were the patterns you had when you were pregnant. You’re not pregnant any more and you’ve barely had the opportunity to realise that. You don’t need to do those pre-sleep Kegels any more – or at least, not for the same reason. Which might mean – it did for me – having a little cry because you missed out on the birth experience you were hoping for. And then you wonder if your knees were always this hard, before those months spent wedging a pillow between them to alleviate your hip pain. And hang on, which side do you even like to sleep on when there isn’t stabby sciatic pain making that decision for you?

Finally, it’s the wee hours of the morning, it’s dark and you’re alone and all the worst thoughts your brain can conceive of start bubbling to the surface. It becomes very easy to believe that you can’t do this, and there’s no one around to contradict and affirm you. I mean, you can’t even get to sleep in your allotted sleep hour, how can you possibly raise a baby?

And that’s where the mantra comes in.

It’s enough to just lie here, in the quiet and the dark.

It’s not sleep, but it’s still rest. It’s a moment of stillness. It’s not getting any of the “real” things on your list ticked off, but it’s what you need to get them done tomorrow. And when those intrusive awful thoughts came crowding in, for me, it was something concrete and simple to focus all my attention on. Sometimes, that would be enough to get me off to sleep. And if it didn’t – if the baby had a nappy explosion or an offensively loud truck drove past the house or next door were having a party (on a TUESDAY? You MONSTERS) – it was the best thing I could do, in that moment. That was the job, even if it was “just” lying in bed staring at the ceiling.

It didn’t make everything magically perfect and easy, but I am absolutely certain it would’ve been a lot worse if I’d let the anxiety goblins feast on my delicious brains instead.

There were mantras for other times, too. Maybe I’ll write about them next time.

Photo by Di_An_h on Unsplash

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