Mr. Sandman

I haven’t slept in 16 months.

Let me quantify that. I haven’t slept longer than an hour 1/2 at a time in 16 months.

For her first year, Fern had….something….going on with her digestive system. Her weight leveled off at three months, and at 7 months she was still wearing newborn clothes. She was skinny and I chalked it up to being a breastfed baby. But when I look back at pictures of her from that time, I realize she was S.K.I.N.N.Y. It breaks my heart, especially when I grab those impossibly chunky thighs of hers and remember how stick-like they were. She has always been happy and engaged, it was never some kind of “failure to thrive”…but something was going on. We had no way to know, only holding to instinct and trust when fear crept in.

Teeny tiny joyful girl

Another aspect of all this was her disrupted sleep pattern. She would wake, arching her back, a symptom that points to gas or reflux. We could hear in her throat, as we shushed her back to sleep, the gurgling of her tummy, the unsettled party trying to escape through her esophagus. Breastmilk soothes sour tummies, as well as the boob (and the mama) being reassuring and a way for her to titrate her experience. We co-sleep, so for months our nights were, as Jeff would say “A slow drip towards morning”. I slept sitting up, pillows behind my back, nursing pillow around my waist, Fern sucking sucking sucking with that horrible painful latch of hers.

Skinny love

Without going into the details of our long journey through allergy testing (never did find a culprit), La Leche consultation (useless), the help of breastfeeding experts from far away (sanity saving…thank you Arkay), Western Medicine (oh really, Dr. Obvious?), support from other mamas of skinny babes (Faith, your contact was light in a dark hour), the generosity of friends so that we could afford alternative help (we are so blessed) and the righteous indignation coupled with shame when people on the street, strangers, would tell me how she was too thin…..somehow, someway (maybe due to copious amounts of coconut fat), her weight resolved itself. Her sleep pattern, however, has not.

Maybe the weight gain was from hanging out with the canned goods. Look at that fat leg with thoe little niblet toes! Scrumptious.

She still wakes with discomfort. Sometimes now, she just wakes up, sits up, and crawls over to me, collapsing on my chest and cooing her little boob love song. We can side nurse now, and sometimes we fall back to sleep. Most often, I nurse until I can’t stand the pain anymore, then begin whispering to her, “Do you want Dada to help you go back to sleep?”, and in less than a minute she will pop off the boob and outstretch her arms to daddy, who bounces her for a couple of minutes until she zonks out. As any breastfeeding mom knows, putting a babe to sleep without a grasping for more boob is just impossible.

I tell my friends about my sleep pattern, and most of them are horrified. And there are definitely moments in the middle of the night when it takes every last scrape of composure I have to nurse one. more. time. What gets me through is the solid knowledge that this is temporary and the practice of one day at a time. One Moment at a Time. She won’t be a baby for much longer. While I am committed to baby-led weaning, I don’t imagine I will nurse past three years. Someday we will have a bigger space (or we’ll MAKE space) and we will begin the transition to her “big girl bed”. I feel unwavering in my understanding of trusting a baby’s cries, and that the trust, attachment and security she gains by not being forced to “cry it out” will be a strong foundation for the future. Already I can sense her ability to tolerate delayed gratification, change is on the horizon.

But it demands incredible sacrifice in the Now. Yesterday I was against my edge, grumpy, in pain, exhausted and fed up. My skin crawls from too long with too little space. I have to hold a tight reign on this part of me that wants to freak out, lash out, run away, saying “Leave me the fuck alone!”. I fantasize about remote mountain wilderness, rafting trips down isolated canyons, a hermitage in the forest. There is an inner narrative that whispers, “You are burnt out. You can’t do this much longer. What will happen if you do? Something will happen. Something bad. It will be a Big Story.”

Here’s the thing…even this….the story, the exhaustion, the burn out, the frustration…it too is temporary. I have never been so exhausted, and my body has never hurt so much. Yet, I have also never been this patient. I have never been this kind. I have never had such an ability to Stay. I have never been this engaged in the moment, with almost all the anxious ramblings that used to derail my days non-existent or very short lived. When I do wake up in the morning with more than a minute to myself, I notice how my mind begins to Go. I’m going to figure it all out! There is something really compelling here! It’s so important! This was the land where I used to live. Now there is a sigh, as I drag my bones out of bed, the breath of which blows it all away. The castle in the sky and the train to future town, evaporates.

But I just want you all to know. I’M TIRED. I can’t take one more step. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a journey of a thousand miles to continue.

Practicing her storytelling so some day she can read to her mother who will have early onset alzheimers from lack of rest.

13 thoughts on “Mr. Sandman

  1. skinny loves are angels. but i’m glad she’s a fat plump love now. i’m gonna write THAT song.

    and he told you to be patient and to be balanced and to be kind. and you are. you are listening. you are doing the hardest work. i had to night wean at about 15 months for each kid. that’s when i could tell it was that or go very insane.

    i’ve felt that way so many times. that i am just about to finish my marathon, and when i finish i’m gonna get one sip of water, one minute of rest, and then i have to fucking run another. no mercy. oh my god it is insane. that is not balanced. that is why i got a cyst on my wrist i am pretty sure. i never put those babes down. i would hold one in my left arm while i did all the chores of life. well, in the sling as much as possible, but often in that arm. i say night wean. i encourage it. i will tell you how if you want.

    1. sage advice AND awesome new music all in one comment? you are the best.

      i think about night weaning, and while we’re not there yet, I can feel a shift coming. At least a type of weaning like “no boob from midnight to 5 am”. part of it is waiting until i am really sure that she understands what we are DOING, so it doesn’t just suddenly feel like withholding for no reason. and also waiting until we are up for even LESS sleep during the week or so that it takes. you will def be my go-to girl (go-to mama) for advice and a sounding board when we are ready.

      the marathon metaphor is very, very apt. we are bionic! bionic with cysts and FMS and new wrinkles. 😉

      1. what is fms? i know exactly what you mean. i had to wait to that point because i needed to know they would understand what i meant when i said , ‘boobs are sleeping now. they will wake up when the sun comes up. but we can snuggle until then lovey love.


      2. fms = fibromyalgia syndrome

        the “sleeping boobs” thing is exactly what i was thinking about telling her. i try it now and she’s like WELL THEN WAKE THEM UP. ha.

  2. i hope i didn’t give advice unsolicited just now…….but that’s what i’d say to my sister. and she would or wouldn’t listen and that is good. but i wouldn’t refrain.

  3. Perhaps this is the journey the astrologer, (I can’t remember his name), told you about when you had your chart done a few years ago, (you’ll have to go back through your SG blogs to find it). Whether this is it or not, always remember you have a partner in all of this, the universe. Much like Jeff, your life partner, you have a cosmic partner with you that guides and energizes you. Every time you get the urge to throw in the towel and quit, your cosmic partner gives you the energy to keep going. Believe it or not, the physically hard part of raising Fern is behind you. You’ve given birth to her, Some women don’t survive that, yet here you stand. You’ve made it through the first year of raising her. Some women don’t or won’t put up with it or can’t handle it, yet again here you stand. You are Mary, mother of Fern! The only person that can stop you, is you. Ever since I first met you 6 years ago, I known you’ve had a special ability. I watched as you went on stage with the other members of Lotus Belly Dance and did your performance determined not to let that sprained ankle stop you from doing what you loved. And that determination is what will help you get through this. I know you can do it! The fact you’ve made it this far is all the proof I need.

    1. the astrologer’s name was howard…and how on earth have you remembered all that walter?!? do you have a photographic memory (or the auditory equivalent)? you are amazing…it is such a gift to be able to reflect back to someone where they were in their life. it shows how much you were really listening too, which is also a blessing to others. thank you for the care and consideration you have shown. you give one heck of a pep talk too! you also obviously have a special gift, and i think you have a lot to offer in terms of healing or giving counsel to others. i had forgotten about that sprained ankle! thank you for being my friend. blessings.

  4. Hang in there Mary. You are so brave, I couldn’t last as long as you have. But believe me, the relief that comes from night weaning is incredible. Life changing even, for both of you. xoxo

  5. I think your feelings are completely natural, but often not discussed openly which is a shame because it presents a distorted view of motherhood as some kind of tranquil Valium haze where we mamas drift contentedly on the tides of maternal instinct. Some days, it’s more like clinging to the last ragged board of the ship wreck and praying we make it till dawn. And that’s ok too. I believe more women need to be honest in their reflections so we can stop upholding an idealized stereotype and get comfortable with just being real, accepting the dark side of parenting, rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s only when you bring something out into the light that you can see it for what it is and lay your fears about it to rest. Bravo!

    My family cosleeps as well and even though I don’t breast feed, I never sleep through the night anymore either because my little bean is always reaching to twine her hands through my hair or cuddle up closer. It is a sacrifice, but as you said, it’s temporary and the benefits provided in giving a child a stable, supportive environment far outweigh some of the inconveniences.

    Your little one is so, so cute too. I love the pics you have posted up in your next post. You’re really a great mama!

    1. thank you! your feedback/ perspective is so appreciated and so right on. the “happy valium haze” tends to be perpetuated in the “perfection mommy blogs” that dog a lot of us in the online world. it does set up this unrealistic standard….and besides, the best stories are often about the most trying experiences. this is the adventure of a life time…if we don’t get lost in the details.

      thank you for commenting and i look forward to hearing more about your family adventures.

  6. Obviously not there yet but that is the part that scares the crap out of me. I go literally bats when I don’t have enough sleep but I guess you just can’t and that’s all there is to it. Hold on friend! x

    1. i totally hear that charley. there are so many ways i thought i would be pushed to this edge where i would go bitchy batshit….but you’re right. you just can’t. and the edge is kind of like chasing a rainbow…you think you get to the end, and it moves, everything stretches.

      (i know when the time comes you are going to be amazing. i hope i get to be a witness. xo)

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