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.
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.
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.
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.