It sounds like an exaggeration when I say I haven’t slept well in almost nine years, but it’s not. My son is almost nine. He didn’t sleep well until he was 4 1/2. My daughter is 6 and has never slept well. There were some overlapping years when neither of them slept and I was a zombie; I would pray every time before I drove my car. And then he started sleeping like a log and one kid’s needs in the night didn’t seem so hard.
A month ago, she started sleeping bedtime til morning, uninterrupted, a whole 11 hours and it was the strangest thing. (She’d only slept more than six hours in a row less than ten times in her life before that.Really.) This happened about ten times in two weeks and then we were back to getting up once or twice every night, like always. And my well of adrenaline or whatever I use to function is dry. I don’t have anything left.
We haven’t done a sleep study on her despite the need. I’ve always been put off by her doctors, who say she’s too young or we need to get X under control before we do a sleep study. X being her headaches, her tummy aches, her sinus congestion or croupy chest cold. Or we need to wait on what the neurologist says or give her a couple more weeks of school to settle in. And I’m too tired to argue.
It’s true that I’ve hit bottom before. With a broken heart and bruised spirit over her, even. I’ve sent out distress beacons before or sat down on the floor of the grocery store or quit workouts after the warm-up out of fatigue. I’ve lost hope and been so grateful that this is my work, this raising her is my job, and been all over the map with worry and “solutions”. None of it matters. What matters is what happens tonight and how she feels tomorrow and the day after.
“I’m just here to help her bloom.” I heard myself saying that to a nurse just now over the phone.
I stood up too fast after getting stretched out at PT this morning and had to bend double for a good, long minute to un-fog my head. Of course he asked if I was okay and what was going on and I, of course, said I’m fine, it’s just a head-rush. So when he went to type up my new exercises I slipped on my boots and emergency-texted my husband and got a friend to come pick me up because the internal shakes weren’t going away.
I don’t know what your greatest fears are. I pretend not to know what mine are most of the time, but one of them is being trapped somewhere and another is being incapable of getting my body to do what I need it to. So when the PT came back and read off the new instructions, those two fears asked just how I planned to walk out of there, and I suddenly couldn’t understand what he was saying or what the letters on the page meant and started to visibly shake and cry and feel deeply embarrassed. He got me some ice water and talked me down and when I stood up to leave it happened all over again with me leaning against a table. Turns out he knows panic from the inside and his next patient cancelled, and he’s calm and concerned and can he call my doctor for me. He walked me out to the front doors and I told him that I was one hundred percent, but we both know I’m a liar.
Stef picked me a minute later and I cried and told her I was an idiot. And she laughed and said I could pin this on anything and bought me a coffee and drove me home.
The nurse from my general physician’s office called while I was napping with the kittens. My PT was worried. And so is my GP. Do I want to come in and talk? And I broke down on the phone. “I’m fine,” I repeat.
We talk through what happened this morning and I mention my daughter and sleeplessness and make an appointment for next week for lack of anything else to do, and then in parting, the nurse asks, “How old is your daughter?”
She’s six. No, I don’t have insomnia—She doesn’t sleep and therefore I don’t sleep. No, home isn’t stressful. Being away from home is stressful. She doesn’t speak easily to people she doesn’t know very well and it’s so hard to be in school when you want so badly to be there and to be in front of the class and to show off what you know but you don’t speak, you can’t speak, the words get stuck in your chest and make your tummy hurt and your head ache. She still wakes in the night and needs reassurance. Or medicine because her head feels so terrible. And I’m just here to do that, to help her feel better, to let her find her self and her voice, and to make sure she blooms. Because I’m her mom.
The nurse is one of my tribe, because she pauses and says she feels for my daughter, and for me. Because that’s what my daughter needs, and me too, I suppose. We don’t need tough love, or to be left alone in the dark night with our own fears. We need someone to place a hand on our back and remind us to breathe sometimes. Or lots of the time, I guess.
I still believe that this is the right path. That the vitality and sanity and normal interactions with near strangers that have been lost are a small price to pay for her to grow up knowing that she’s safe and loved and most certainly not alone.
She’s my daughter.