Published on June 24th, 2015 | by Frances Badalamenti1
Sleep Nazi by FRANCES BADALAMENTI
The sound of the baby in the other room wakes me from a mostly restless sleep. It is dark and bitter cold outside of the down comforter that is piled on top of my misshapen body, a physical shape that is no longer my own. All I want to do is to sleep. The need and the desire for rest exists somewhere deep in my bones, far away into my soul. My husband lies warm and motionless beside me, his steady breathing indicating that he is far away, unaffected, peaced out.
In this moment, I despise him, as if he is hoarding all of the good stuff for himself, purposeful, vindictive, selfish.
I consider taking his skull and smashing it against the hard windowsill so it can crack into tiny pieces, so I can crack him open, so he can feel the gutted hell that I am feeling. He turns onto his side, away from me, like prey protecting itself.
I am wearing nothing but underpants and a nursing bra stuffed with round cotton pads to catch leaking breast milk. I put on the worn out flannel pajamas that I had thrown on the floor earlier, after waking drenched in a cold hormonal sweat. I walk across the hall and scoop up my child from his crib. He is fully awake and his body is soft and as I pull him to my chest, he smiles at me with his toothless grin, reminding me so much of my mother, big toothless gentle smile, that familiar long chin. He had only been asleep for a few hours. We have been sleep training in an attempt to save my life. Out of utter exhaustion and desperation, I hired a woman, a complete stranger off of the internet, someone that I will never meet in person, someone that I will never speak to on the telephone. Solely via email correspondence she promises to teach me how to make my child sleep.
Something so seemingly natural and organic and human has become so technical, so academic. A baby sleep coach. We hired this long-time nanny who worked in Hollywood for years and wrote a book about it. A blond woman with a bright white smile. I initially asked her to come to my house, but then cancelled because I didn’t feel like I deserved this more expensive service. I only deserve her emails and most of me doesn’t feel like I even deserve that.
Her website says, Are you EXHAUSTED and SLEEP DEPRIVED?
It says, You have come to the right place.
Per the coach’s regime, I have been keeping a baby sleep log for the past week, like dieters keep food journals. The coach has requested that we remove the child from our bed, the bed where he has slept for the past couple months since his birth, and to transition him spend the night in separate quarters. As much as it feels like we are shoving this tiny bird out of our nest, I know that I need space to breathe and I know that I need him to sleep so I can sleep so I can piece myself back together. Right now I am shards of broken glass.
I wrap my son in a knit blanket. We settle ourselves into to the glider chair that my husband and I had found in a thrift store and upholstered ourselves, in preparation for comfortable nursing sessions. This was back when my mother was still alive, back when we did fun things to prepare for the baby. This chair is not comfortable and my mother is gone. There is an ache in my neck that radiates down my back from figuring out the best way to carry the baby, the most ergonomic way to nurse, how to sit, how to lay down. There is just so much pain in all of this mothering.
I place another knit blanket over my legs and feet. There are so many knit blankets around, an army of knit blankets. I do what I can to relish in the joys of being a new mother. This is what I am supposed to do, a rule from a rulebook, a norm from a list of social norms.
Even through the overwhelming grief that came with the recent loss of my mother, there are these pangs of pure joy and beauty in this time, in this moment, in being nowhere else but here. In the love that I have for my son.
But, most of the time, I feel as if I no longer exist, as if my soul has drifted away with my mother, gone, far away into the wide-open skies. Every night, I continue to look for my mother’s reflections in the French doors and she is always there staring back at me. I am afraid of her and yet I need her.
And then because I haven’t slept properly in months and because I am supposed to be grieving a giant loss and because I am so in love with my child and because I have no sense of who I am anymore, an anger festers inside me. I don’t know what to do to stop it because I know it’s not mine. I know it belongs to my mother, something she left on the earth after she died, a chore for me to deal with, for me to clean up like the messes she always left in our apartment, the filth and the garbage is here for me to pick through. To sort.
I sit and I glide as my son nurses away, the blue light just beginning to show, another new day, a cold and rainy Pacific Northwest winter day. We had followed the sleep coach’s regiment: Put the baby in his crib at a specific time. When he begins to fuss and cry, which is immediate, one of us goes in to soothe him, to rub his back, but to not pick him up. The designated soother is not to remain in the room, only a quick check-in so he knows we have not abandoned him fully, left for a pint at the pub. We keep a log out on the dining room table and we are writing down goings-on in fifteen-minute increments.
This provides us with a sense of purpose, control.
When the sleep training sessions are in progress, I come apart, unhinged, unearthed and manic. I pace the house, opening and closing doors, going onto the front porch, standing in the backyard. I get in my black Volvo wagon and I drive up and down the same street, weeping, yelling, lost but so close to home.
The child is at home crying for his mother and I am ignoring him, letting his father console him haphazardly, a quick rub to his tiny back, his vertebrate so small and so delicate. But I have committed myself to this process and I have read stories on the sleep coach website, how lives were changed, how the baby began sleeping through the night after only a few night’s worth of training. There is hope. There is an end to this because there are narratives.
It takes about three days for the training to set in, The Sleep Nazi, as I begin calling her, tells me. I cannot get through the three days. I read conflicting stories from the far left side of this argument, that the best thing to do for the baby is to keep him close to mother’s body at all times day and night, to nurse on demand, to keep him where he feels safe. One must keep the baby in a sling throughout the day, during grocery shopping and cooking and laundry and at sleep nuzzled up to mother’s bosom.
I just want to get some sleep. I can understand this anger, these rogue emotions. We continue the sleep training for three nights, some of the worst three nights of my life, three nights like a continuous hallucinatory disaster. I am rattled and yet I manage to be diligent about the sleep log, penciling in all of the statistics, when the baby begins to cry out, how long we wait until we go in to console him, how long until he passes out from sheer exhaustion and no more will to fight.
My husband takes notes but is never shaken.
I write an email to The Sleep Nazi, saying, He is sleeping through the night now, thank you so much for helping us through this!
And then our son is back in our bed, only sometimes napping during the day in his simple Ikea crib when I manage to get him in there, when I can oh-so-gently plop him in there from the sling while he is still sound asleep. So rare is that attempt successful, but when it is, everything that is sad and wrong about my life is good again, because I can sit with a copy of The New Yorker and I can drink milky tea and I can feel somewhat whole until he wakes again. But mostly, mostly, this child is strapped to my body or to his father’s body or he is belted safely into his stroller, or he is nuzzled cozily in between us in our bed.
Mostly we let him have what he wants when he wants it because he hasn’t been on the earth very long. We are just so in love the glorious fat rolls that are beginning to form on his thighs.
And we want to give him everything in the world that neither of us ever had.
Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say.
I don’t listen.
This too shall pass, I constantly hear.
I can’t imagine that it ever will.
* * *
This essay is an excerpt from Frances Badalamenti’s in-progress memoir, I Don’t Blame You. Subscribe to MUTHA and we’ll let you know when you should head on over to a bookstore to buy it.
Photos in essay by GOo (c)
Feature photo by Stanley Forthright, flickr creative commons