For me, night intensifies even the most mundane of concerns. Sunday’s NY Times Style section had an article with a title that made me blanch: \”Sleep Medication: Mother\’s New Little Helper\”. I hesitated to read it wondering if I would find the article as condescending as the title. But, read it I did and was actually comforted to know that there are many women and it seems mothers in particular who battle insomnia. Apparently that golden time when as new parents we’re able to boast about our babies sleeping through the night coincides for many women with the last time they can remember being able to tout such an accomplishment.
I’ve never slept well and have always been one of those people that awaken repeatedly during the night. The night wakening didn’t bother me too much until it was accompanied by anxiety about going to sleep. The cycle of fatigue had me so worried about getting a good night’s sleep that I couldn’t fall asleep. I resisted sleep aids other than the occasional Benadryl; justifying it by telling myself I needed it for my allergies anyway. But there came a time after my daughters were born 12 years ago that nothing I tried was helping. Sticking to a bedtime routine, taking Melatonin, warm showers before bed, not working in my bedroom, darkening the room, etc. left me still wide awake repeatedly during the night.
The worrier part of me came out in full force at night. Should I have gone over Merrick’s math homework with him, why didn’t I quiz Jordan for his history test. I complimented Kendall but not Lindsay, did they notice? Nighttime started to feel like dread time and I felt powerless to change it.
When I finally went to my family physician and told her of my battle with sleep, after a long talk and many tears on my part she suggested I try Ambien. “But I don’t want to get addicted to sleeping pills.”
“You’ve got a real problem that other methods haven’t been able to address. Look at you, you’re exhausted and depressed and right now my major concern is that you get sleep.”
“I agree. But you know me, I hate taking medicine.” (Said I, the woman with the chronic illness already on numerous medications)
“That’s why I’m here. Don’t worry about addiction, let’s get you some sleep.”
So, I trusted my doctor who knew me and had never thrown medication at me. Ambien worked, for a little while. I slept and woke up feeling rested for the first week or so and then things changed. It didn’t work anymore. I’d take it on an empty stomach as prescribed and wake up at 2 0r 3 am ruminating on my old woes. Would I ever get a good night’s sleep?
In the midst of the ordinary was the phone call on October 12th, 2008 in the middle of the night, followed by the police officers at the door telling us about the car accident. Jordan was dead and sleep has never been the same. In the days and weeks after Jordan died Mark and I wondered if falling asleep let alone staying asleep would ever come naturally? We began a new ritual of helping each other prepare for bed, both knowing that even though we’d been prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the face of our trauma, sleep would elude us. As I showered, he would sit in the bathroom talking to me when I was able, and listening to me weep when I wasn’t but he would stay and at the sound of the water being turned off, I would open the shower curtain knowing he’d be standing there to envelop me in my towel, wiping the soap from behind my left ear, a spot I always seemed to miss. He’d stand holding me for a moment and then the pattern would reverse. I’d sit waiting for him, sometimes talking, sometimes not but waiting with an outstretched towel to cover him and bring him in close as he’d done with me.
Three years later, Mark and my ritual is not daily but still occurs. I continue taking a small dose of a sleeping aid that allows me better sleep. That, coupled with the meditation exercises suggested by my counselor have made sleep much less frightening. I still have many nights where I awaken. Now the mundane mixes with the surreal. Things like- “Do the girls have food for their lunches tomorrow? Did I remind Merrick to reserve the shuttle to the airport for Thanksgiving? Share space with, “Jordan’s really gone. I have a dead son.” All of these thoughts running through my mind make me grateful for any amount of sleep. It is the elusive respite I craved during the baby phases of all 4 of my children. I keep going; reminding myself that time has brought progress. At least now I’m learning how to be less afraid to go to sleep.