We need a break
November 15, 2010

Remember when we used to spend those long hours gazing into each other’s eyes? Remember all those times we stayed up late, sometimes chattering, sometimes just staring up at the ceiling fan, thinking? We were each other’s everything. But now… I don’t know anymore. It’s like you’ve changed. You don’t like the same books, the same food. We used to do everything together, but now it’s as if you want to do everything by yourself. Which would be fine, but then when I try to leave you, you get clingy and possessive. Your moodiness is astonishing. I don’t think I know who you are anymore. I love you, but let’s be honest: we need a break.

That is why Mommy is going out to the bar tonight with her friends. I love you very much, and hope you have a good night snuggling with Daddy.

Love, Mommy

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Family Planning and the Narcoleptic
October 20, 2010

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I made the leap from thinking we were done having children to knowing we were done having children, thanks to a urologist and my husband’s unflappable temerity.  The means was largely my husband’s decision–many of the other officers he works with have done the same thing, plus the (small) fail rate for other forms of birth control was still too much of a risk for him, given how fertile we seem to be (four pregnancies in four years.)  Plus, a police officer and a would-be writer?  Maybe not able to support a family larger than four.

We’re both young.  We know that.  Even though life seems complete with our house and Josh’s career and our college educations and our two healthy babies, we know we’re young in the scheme of things.  But we’ve always done everything young: marriage, kids, home ownership…why not sterilization?

Anyway, Josh’s opinion and finances aside, the most important reason we’ve decided to limit our family is my narcolepsy.  On the spectrum of the disorder, I’m lucky.  I don’t have cataplexy for one thing, and, as long as I follow a napping and caffeine regimen, I can go unmedicated long enough to breast-feed my daughter, but as soon as she’s weaned, I’ll be racing to get that prescription.  Another child would mean another two or so years without medicine, taking in account pregnancy and a year-ish of breast-feeding.  And I don’t think I can do it.  It’s getting worse and I think it won’t be long before my nap and a cup of joe isn’t enough.

I know this all sounds faked or whiney or petty.  How can a nap be so important?  Hardly any parent, working otherwise, gets to catch up on sleep.  But if I don’t fight off that sleepiness, I’m a hazard to my kids.  It’s not safe to drive them (I’ve been in one sleep attack-related accident before), and it’s not safe to stay alone with them now that Noah can open doors and there’s a tiny infant to stomp on.

It’s hard to think this way, of myself as a hazard to my own children.  But the price is too high not to be realistic about my limitations.

Danger aside, there’s also the quality of time I spend with my children.  More days than I’d like to admit, I find myself encouraging Noah to color or read or do anything that involves us sitting because I’m too tired to move.  I use Teagan’s feedings as an excuse to slug on the couch, even though I know what Noah needs to be doing is running around in the last of the nice fall weather.  While I’m unmedicated, there are too many days when the babies only have half a mother: an exhausted, impatient half.

So we made the choice to stop.  I’m curious about other people.  Do/did you have a reason to limit your family size?  Because of a physical limitation?  An emotional one?  A financial one?

Dear Noah
September 22, 2010

You are two now.

You are the wildest, hardest and boyiest thing to ever happen to me.  You are also the best.

This year you learned to walk, talk, jump, eat with a fork, climb your dresser, take off your diaper and love a little sister.  That’s a tall order for someone who sleeps with a thing called Crib Bear and still dabbles in eating crayons.  The rate at which you’re learning astounds me.  Just this week, we were swinging, and I asked you to count to five with me, and instead you counted to ten, and then put your binky back in, like it was no big deal.

But it is!  Because I didn’t teach you to count to ten.  Just like Daddy didn’t teach you that bad word, but you still learned it after watching him hit his finger with the hammer.  (In all fairness, you could have learned it from me while I drove in rush hour traffic.)  You’re picking up all the little nuances of life, like wiping your mouth with a napkin or locking a door.  We no longer have to relentlessly coach you to learn something.  You watch, you imitate, you move on.  It’s alive, Dr. Frankenstein might say.

You became obsessed with belly buttons, which for reasons unknown, you called “mites.”  You had to inspect everyone’s mite upon seeing them, sometimes several times a visit.  No keys are safe around you.  Phones fare slightly better, but only slightly.  We can’t get you to sit through Elmo’s World, but you’ll watch a twelve year old Bollywood clip over and over and over again.  (Chaiyya Chaiyya…)

Your favorite books were Goodnight Moon, Big Red Barn, Are You My Mother?, and your pop-up castle book.  If you are the only kid in Sunday School who knows what a portcullis is, I know I’ve done my job right.

You moved into a big boy bed–a mattress on the floor.  You cried the first night, then fell asleep on the floor, resting your head on the mattress.  Most nights after that, your daddy and I woke up at three to hear the thunk-thunk-thunk of your footie-pajama-clad feet coming down the hallway.  More than once, we wouldn’t be able to see your head because your arms would be full of stuffed animals–Crib Bear, Clifford, Myrtle Beach Turtle and maybe a penguin or two.  The entire menagerie came to snuggle with us.  Lately, whenever we put you to bed, you ask “Night night too?” wanting us to lay with you.  To me, you demand, “Glasses off,” knowing I’ll probably fall asleep next to you if I don’t have my glasses on.  To Daddy, you say, “Blankie on Daddy?” trying to lure him into cuddling with you. We can’t resist you.

You and your Grammy are best friends, just like my grandma and I were close.  You love your Pepas (all three of them!) and your uncle Jerry.  I’m guessing you love your aunt Stephanie too, but chasing her with a dead cicada shell is no way to show it.  You got to meet your uncle Jason and aunt Heather, and play with your cousin Jake.  I can’t wait until you two are old enough to get in trouble together.

Most importantly, you met your baby sister this year.  You didn’t sleep very well when we first brought her home, and you had a rough couple of weeks, but now you’re the best big brother anyone could hope for.  You want to make sure she has a blankie and a binky (even if she doesn’t want it) and when I’m holding her, you remind me that she needs “Tummy? Time?” and then lay on your tummy next to her.  When she cries, you tell her, “Don’t cry, baby.”  I know that these little moments are sowing seeds for big moments later on.  You’ll be the one to teach her all sorts of cool tricks, drive her to places we forbade her from going, beat up boyfriends you disapprove of.  In the near future, I can’t wait for the nights when we hear two pairs of padded feet on the wood floors, and I can snuggle both of you (and all your stuffed animals.)

I feel bad for you, Noah, because you’ll always be my learning baby.  You taught me how to mother an infant, and now you’re teaching me how to mother a toddler.  Sometimes I worry that you got the worst parts of my personality, but then you’ll give me such a Josh look with a quirked eyebrow and o, rly? expression that I know you’ll be alright.  At least fifty percent of you is sane, intelligent and level-minded.  Did I mention that you are as handsome as your father?  Hazel eyes, thick, thick hair and loooong lashes.  Handsome like Josh, mercurial like me–girls are going to go crazy over you someday.

Thank you for this year.  I’m sorry for the times I cried while making your waffle because I was so tired (I was pregnant with your sister) and I’m sorry that we didn’t discover Deanna Rose sooner.  Next year will be better.

Love,
Mommy

My Heart is Breaking…
September 13, 2009

I have a friend who posted a blog with the same name.  I can’t even remember what it was about now, only that as soon as I read the title, my heart broke along with hers.  Something about the present tense, maybe, or the ellipses, but it made the pain seem so much more lingering, something that was ongoing and wouldn’t heal for a long time.

I am going to give you a little scene.  My son and I are at our doctor’s, waiting for him to get his ears checked (he had an ear infection a few weeks ago.)  I sit down with him on the floor, pull out a toy from his diaper bag and begin playing with him.  I feel so tired and exhausted and I start running the nap-numbers like I always do: just one more hour until his nap, then I’ll nap with him and he’ll probably nap for a good two hours this afternoon since his morning nap was short and I wonder if I turn the AC down if he’ll sleep longer—

I jerk awake.  I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, but Noah has crawled out of the empty waiting area and is gleefully crawling toward the patient’s rooms.  I run to scoop him up as my cheeks blush in shame.  What kind of mother am I?  What if this had happened and a kidnapper was in the room?  What if this had happened outside and he’d crawled into the street?  What if–?  What if–?

I wish I could say this is the first time something like this has happened.  But it’s not.  I routinely wake from a nap to find Noah crawling back onto the bed after God knows what adventures around the bedroom.  The last month, I’ve had some trouble carrying him because I’ve felt so physically weak.  Some days, I just lay on the floor and let him climb on me like a jungle gym, because I’m too tired to sit up.

And the worst-case scenario has finally happened.  I’ve fallen asleep while driving and woken up in a wrecked car.

I believe in God, but, like most humans, I am a pretty selfish person and most of my prayers revolve around things I want.  I ask for things.  Lots of things.  Sometimes they are good things, like please help people in Africa find clean water and please stop those awful people killing dolphins in The Cove.  Sometimes they are things I know God won’t answer with anything but a headshake–could you please stop ACOG from needlessly slandering homebirth, midwives and evidence-based medical care?  Could you please tell Kings of Leon that they’ve hurt our ears enough with Anthony Followill’s voice?

But after my wreck, my prayers have constantly been

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you

Because what if Noah had been in there with me?  What if, instead of a country ditch, I hit another person, another car, a child?  I’ve transformed into a sleepy girl into a near-murderer. 

Whenever I think of Noah being in the car when I doze off behind the wheel, I already hate myself.  I can already see myself at his bedside in the hospital, trying to explain to doctors why I was driving without medicine during the morning, which I’ve known for years to be my weakest part of the day.  I can’t forgive myself for the things that I could have done.

I tell you all this story so I can tell you this story: I have decided (with the help of my doctor) to try some medicine to manage my disorder.  This medicine is an L 4 rating, which means it is risky to use while breast-feeding.  This means that I must wean Noah after a year of nursing.

What can I say, other than my heart is breaking?  The doctor handed me the precription, I carried Noah out to the car and cried in the parking lot.  I’m not ready.  He’s not ready.  Nursing was one of the biggest challenges of my life, something that I fought tooth and nail for, and now I have to stop for this thing, this mutation in my DNA.  I picture my hypocretin-producing neurons taking naps in my brain, stumbling around drunk, and I want to hit them, bruise them until they wake up and do their job.

I cried off and on for the rest of the day, and made everyone around me miserable by being a maudlin mope-head.  When Noah nurses, I cradle the back of his head and twirl the little curls at the nape of his neck, asking myself if I can give it up. 

When you’re pregnant, this little being hijacks your life utterly.  No booze, no sushi, no sex (for me with Placenta Previa.)  After a while, you get used to it.  Even though you’re sweaty and fat and swollen and exhausted, it’s okay because they’re right there with you, swirling around in your womb, sleepy and content. 

You belong to each other as much as two human beings can belong to each other.

And when they’re born—it’s this intense magic.  They still need you almost just as much.  Those early days of cradling Noah to my skin, snuggling in the glider while he nursed for hours on end—they were delirium.  For the first time, I felt the fierce animal-feeling of protecting and nourishing my little nursling.  That love is so unreal and unlike anything words can relay.  Suffice it to say, that to me, mothering and nursing were and are very tied together.  It is millions of years of evolution that shouldn’t be denied.  And it is this intensely spiritual thing that has brought my entire family closer to God.

It must end now.  In my heart of hearts, I’m terrified that it will alter mine and Noah’s relationship somehow.  That suddenly I’ll just shrink into an ordinary woman, and he won’t be as securely attatched, and I’ll just be another lady who watches him, like Grammy or Aunt Ashley.  I know that A Mother Is Not Just a Breast, and every generation since the Twenties has managed just fine with mother-baby bonding on a non-breastfeedng basis, but I still can’t banish these fears.  I’ve never been a mother without breast-feeding.  Logically, I know it will be fine, and that a year is a damn good run for breast-feeding in our culture.  I also know that it might be a rough month, but that he won’t really miss it that much.  He’s too busy crawling, rolling, giggling, chasing, babbling to notice if he misses a feeding even now.  The fact that I’ll be in this mire of emotional pain while he’ll be occupied with other things make’s me a little sad.  He’s so grown up 😦

But what is parenting but watching your child need you less and less?  And while they thrill in the newfound independence, you are left holding the slack end of the tether, wondering how it flew by so fast.  How you finally managed to rearrange your identity and your Google calendar around the little guy, but they are running, not walking, down the road to separate from you.

What can I say other than my heart is breaking?

Welcome to Spare the Nod, a blog about parenting with a sleep disorder
August 11, 2009

One night when my son was a week old, he woke crying for the fourth time in two hours.  I hobbled out of bed, hunched over my c-section incision, picked him up out of his bassinet and took him to his nursery where I tried to change his diaper.  His screams echoed in the silent house—I could hear my husband tossing in his sleep at the noise.  After a week of recovering from surgery—with five days of prodromal labor before that—and a nightmare of attempted breast-feeding, I was exhausted.  I looked out the window at the inky black night and had the fleeting wish that Noah had never been born.

And then immediately was swarmed by guilt.  How could I think that?  After two heartbreaking miscarriages and a difficult pregnancy complete with bed-rest and hospital stays, how could I not be elated that this precious boy was here and safe?

I cuddled Noah close to my chest and sat down in the glider, where we both cried until we fell asleep.  The next day, I was determined to find some answers.  Because I was not just suffering from the baby blues, and I did not have any other symptoms of post-partum depression.  No—I had narcolepsy and was suffering from extreme sleep deprivation.  I’d gone from sleeping sixteen hours in a day to maybe three or four.  And because I was determined to breast-feed, medicines were not an option.  I would have to find ways to cope non-pharmaceutically.

I browsed the internet.  Endlessly.  Searching for anyone on any forum who’d had experience parenting with narcolepsy—or any sleep disorder.  The results were disappointing.  Narcoleptics don’t have a huge showing on the internet; we’re not a large group, and any time we have free to surf, we’re probably using to nap instead.  All I could find were a few thin resources on parenting children with sleeping problems and a handful of desperate forum posts from exhausted mothers.  Luckily for me, sleeping and breast-feeding got a lot easier and continue to get easier by the day, but there will be new hurdles.  Especially if a second tot comes along!

So here’s my solution: I’m going to blog about my own experiences as a narcoleptic mother.  I’m hoping anyone who has answers, experiences, opinions, information on this somewhat esoteric lifestyle will comment with their advice.  And I want anyone with any type of sleeping disorder—not just narcolepsy—to chime in.  So all you with insomnia, hypersomnia, shift-related disorders, sleep apnea, sleep-walking or even restless legs syndrome or night bruxism—please feel free to share, even if you’re not yet a parent.

In the meantime, I’m going to explore different topics and strategies as they come up.  Hopefully, even if it’s just by reminding us that we’re not alone, we can cobble together solutions to make the impossible a little easier.