It’s been a month and some change since sleep training and everything is back to normal now, and I feel like the young and spirited girl I once was because motherhood only changes things in life a little bit, for a little while, until everyone adjusts, and then it’s back to normal. Ha ha, just kidding.
Yes, baby bubba is sleeping better than he ever has. He is snug as a bug in his swaddle and taking to independent sleeping like a champ. Yes, husband is over there snoring his head off. He doesn’t have any postpartum emotions to sort out and is taking to independent sleeping like a champ. Both of these things are excellent news in any new mom’s world. I’m elated. Yay for sleep! Except, I can’t sleep. I’m exhausted, my eyes feel like they’re going to bleed out of my head, and my brain continues to routinely forget common words and phrases as I am mid-sentence – a defect I am positive would be completely reversed with some good, quality sleep – but I can’t sleep. Some primal instinct, some pattern of thought that was probably incredibly helpful (survival-wise) for ancient moms, who had to be ready to run or fight for life at a second’s notice, who found it was safest to sleep in community, who had other moms around to share the burden, is alerting my brain that it’s best to return to full, terrified waking every time I get close to sweet, sweet slumber.
Or I have late-onset postpartum anxiety.
I don’t know if this is an actual thing, but in my vast psychological understanding (I almost got my B.A. in psychology, you know) and my anecdotal experience, a self-diagnosis of late-onset postpartum anxiety makes sense to me.
When I was a brand new mom I was anxious AF. No doubt about that. However, I was also running on instinct, internet, and adrenaline to keep everyone alive. I had to pump! I had to cook! I had to wash stuff! I had to bounce my baby for 45 minutes until he finally fell asleep for his (hopefully) 46 minute nap in my lap! I had to get by guys, so I didn’t have time for my anxiety to register. Now the baby is sleeping quite independently in his own crib, and I don’t feel the need to clean anything ever, so I have time to take a breath and calm my adrenaline, and – apparently – to sit and think about all the ways that bubs could die, and all the ways I could potentially react.
This exercise is especially fun for me at night. As everyone settles into bed and all the world gets quiet, my brain takes the opportunity to purge itself of every scary thought that has ever occurred to it to think. (Yes, I’m referring to my brain as a separate entity. At times like these I feel like it is separate from me – a stranger with nefarious intentions.)
My brain thinks anxious-ass thoughts like: “Oh dear God in heaven, do not go to sleep, go online and buy a home security system in case of burglars!! Or worse!! Worse than burglars?? Like what? Well, rapists and torturers and kidnappers, of course! Think about scenarios that could happen – bad things have happened to people before you know – what would you do? How would you defend yourself and your tiny, helpless, innocent child?? Do you think you’d muster super-human strength and throw the 8-12 large men coming to wreak havoc on your home down the stairs, maiming them all, or at least knocking every one of them out long enough for police to arrive? Wait, can you call police from a cell phone? There was a thing a few years ago where 911 didn’t work from a cell phone; it would reroute you to some other local police line. Does 911 work from a cell phone now?? Or do I have to call that pound-eight-seven number? What was it? I hit pound-something and that was supposed to be the emergency contact number. What if I call 911 because 20 burglars are lying at the bottom of my stairs, angry at having been thrown down them, and 911 from my cellphone reroutes me to local city police who have to then connect me to 911, wasting precious minutes?? I need to google this.”
It sounds ridiculous in waking hours, but the fear these thought patterns produce is crippling. My heart races; my breath catches at the back of my throat; sometimes tears well up in my eyes. This dance goes on for several minutes before I remember that this is evidence of that late-onset postpartum anxiety stuff I diagnosed myself with: I am experiencing a settling down of all of the millions of hormones and emotions that were stirred up in me the moment I got pregnant, and none of these thoughts are reality. In reality, I am tucked in to my soft bed. In reality, my home is secure and my family is safe. In reality, in this moment, everything is absolutely fine. And, I am the one who controls thought, not my primitive, scaredy-cat brain. And then I remember that that last one is the key to sleep.
So, I take a few deep, calming breaths and silently sing myself a lullaby. I intentionally focus my attention on the sweet, happy words of the song, soothing my weary mind and body with self love and care, just like I soothe my baby when he is upset. I thank my brain for trying to keep me and my family safe by thinking those thoughts, and then I reiterate to it that we are not an ancient mom, I reassure it that everything is OK, and I remind myself that I’ve got this mom thing. After a few moments of this, I feel my body relax. I let go even more, thanking God and the universe and humanity at large for its existence so that I can experience my many blessings, and I ease into sleep.