There are things you ponder in parenting. You know, things that you just can’t possibly understand how they work, no matter how hard you think about it and how many people you ask.
It starts early: how does something that big come out of a hole that small? (Apologies if you are eating your lunch at this juncture). One of my most pondered questions when I fell pregnant, after I had dismissed the previous question with a resigned shrug and an ‘oh well, it just has to come out somehow, so let’s just move on as my eyes are starting to water’ dismissal, was: How will I cope with so little sleep?
I just could not comprehend not having eight hours of sleep a night.
I treasured my sleep. I coveted it. I luxuriated in it.
I was, as you may be able to tell, quite keen on it. So what the bloody hell happens when you throw a baby into the equation? (Please note: I do not condone baby throwing. Not without a hard hat, anyway). Well, I didn’t have a clue what would happen. And now I do. And it’s not pleasant.
In the early days of babydom – oops, I nearly typed babydoom then, which would have been a Freudian slip of the finger if ever I’ve seen one – I think you enter a stage of sleep-deprived shock. You are getting so little sleep, that your brain ensures pretty much everything, from your common sense to your synapses, goes slightly numb in order to cope. It is important to take naps in the day when your baby sleeps, chirruped all the advice. Which, like most advice when you are a new mum, seemingly pertains to everyone else but you. Sleeping in the day was not an option for me. My option was to hastily feed my son, plonk him in the Moses basket, rock him slightly too vigorously until he fell asleep – or at least kept his eyes closed to minimise the effect of the sea sickness I had induced through all that rocking – and rush to the office to answer emails or finish a piece of work, or update the website, or to do any other number of tasks that had been on my to-do list so long they had taken up squatters rights on the page.
And of course, given that I was in the brain-addled state of someone who keeps being woken up every three hours with loud screams and demands of food, my productivity was somewhere between none and minus thirty-three. I would hit reply to an email, and then my brain would momentarily freeze. I would stare at the computer screen, my brain trying to work out which bit of it was responsible for making my fingers move and why it had suddenly gone on strike. I tell you why. Bloody terrible pay and conditions.
“Oh,” another new mum said to me during this period. “I don’t feel too bad at the moment. Freddie sleeps for a couple of hours each morning, so I do too.” I smiled at her, wondering if it was going to be possible to not poke her repeatedly in the eye.
Every day I was at home with my new baby, I could hear the siren call of the office. ‘There is a pile of paperwork to do here…. you do know your VAT return is due soon, don’t you… your client must think you have been kidnapped as you haven’t replied to his email…’ Just contemplating what I should have been doing made me more weary.
But eventually, my son slept better at night, and I got a bit more sleep. A bit more. A tad. But not enough that I actually felt refreshed. God no. What a ridiculous notion. But at the point at which I was not so tired that I could not remember my own name, I had another baby. You see. That’s what long term fatigue makes you do. Stupid things like that, designed to only make you more tired than you ever thought possible.
With a barely stifled sob, I realised the other day that I probably have not had a good night’s sleep for over five years.
Which goes a long way to explaining why even my eye bags have eye bags.
Tiredness of such magnitude makes you do ridiculous things. I can say a whole sentence out loud that I realise, once I have said it, it makes no sense whatsoever. And forgetting words is like breathing for me these days, as is forgetting what I am about to…
I was in a meeting this week, and I opened my mouth to reply to a client question. I knew what I was going to say. The words had formulated in my head, in a nice neat, obedient line, and they made perfect sense. At the point at which I was two words into the sentence though, the rest of the words scarpered like naughty school boys when the Head turns up. They’ll come back to me, I thought, so I carried on speaking. I did not want to look like a twit in front of my client by just falling silent mid sentence, or admitting that I had no idea what I was actually talking about, so I just kept my mouth moving, waiting for my answer to come back to me. Seconds went by, and I was still talking rubbish. I could feel a prickle of anxiety on my neck.
Damn you, fatigue, and your thought-stealing ways. Give me back my words NOW.
And finally, they came, and I answered the client, and I silently cursed my slightly rubbish brain.
And not only does the evil fatigue rob me of my vocabulary, it has made off with some of my memory. People tell me things, and I nod, or agree, or think to myself ooh, I must remember that. At which precise point the bit of my brain that was diligently holding onto that critical piece of information suddenly gets distracted by a shiny thing and drops it. Or maybe it just gets too tired to hold onto it any longer, and slumps down, dribbling, as the information falls to the floor and rolls under the sofa, never to be seen again. I have to write everything down. Sometimes twice. But not even that is a foolproof strategy against my slumber-deprived brain cells. I agreed a meeting date with a client, wrote it in my diary and diligently turned up at their offices on that date. Except it wasn’t that date. I had written it in the wrong day in the diary, as I am seemingly incapable of turning over the right number of pages and reading the correct date. Thank you, evil fatigue. After all that, and I look like a twit in front of a client after all.
At my desk, I often find myself daydreaming about sleeping. About hunkering down in the warm duvet safe in the knowledge that I can sleep until I want to wake up, not when one of my sons decides it is time to sit on my head and poke a finger up my left nostril. But until then, I shall face work with bleary eyes, a soggy brain, a diminished vocabulary and an alarming tendency to rest my forehead on my keyboard just while I close my eyes to think of the right word to put nexsecujgbgbfnfgxn mdgsnjsfhnjfhn fhmn nfbx …
oops, sorry, just drifted off there for a second.