Surviving Sleep

I met a friend for a lunch meeting years ago. She had just had her second baby – a girl – and was working part-time during her maternity leave. The baby would doze in the infant car seat carrier at one side of the table while we would spread papers and talk business at the other end.

I got to the small Italian restaurant a few minutes late, and my friend and the baby were already seated at an outdoor table that was a little tucked away. We discussed what we were going to order, both of us thinking that we would have pasta. Curiously and maybe predictably, both of us changed our minds at the last second and ended up with something a little lighter.

While we waited for our food to arrive, we talked about the recent changes in her family. It was all standard stuff, no one was getting a lot of sleep, and they working to adjust schedules to align with their other daughter’s, who was just a couple of years older than her new sister.

“We just sleep wherever right now. The goal is just to get sleep,” she told me.

She gave the example of how, that night before, her husband and older daughter had fallen asleep in one room while she slept on the couch and the baby slept somewhere close by for a few hours between feedings.

I didn’t have kids at this point. I don’t even think I was in a serious relationship. Since that day, though, this conversation stuck in my mind and even haunted me, because as a naïve single woman, I could not imagine the horror of not getting my comfortable, uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep each night. It seemed like such an incredible feat to me for her to even be dressed, in public, after not getting a full night’s sleep.

Fast-forward to today.

I moved to the couch at 3:30 this morning. I did something that one might construe as sleep for a while before the automatic feature on the coffee machine kicked on at 5:05 a.m. (5:05 a.m. is a time that I chose to program because it keeps me feeling a little unpredictable and go-with-the-flow. A solid hour like 5 a.m. just seems too structured and grown-up. Cause I’m a cool mom. Not like other moms.)

This morning’s events weren’t novel, though. I have slept on the couch for a few hours at least one night a week for months, and that probably adds up to account for a year. One kid or another has a bad dream, wets the bed or can’t stop coughing and I get booted out of my favorite place in the house. Sometimes a child joins me on the couch, sometimes the child stays in bed with their dad.

When I think about friends who are having babies right now, it makes my stomach ache to think about the sleepless nights that are ahead of them.

I go right back to that place at lunch years ago where I found it impossible to imagine how anyone could function with less than enough sleep, time alone to think (or shower) and quiet weekends to re-charge, full of reality trash tv and irreverent documentaries.

Now, I find myself right in the middle of it. Crazily, I look back at the amount of time that I have given to someone else by cleaning up waste, sitting in hospitals or watching Cars and Cocomelon, and think that maybe the exploitation wasn’t so bad.

Early this morning, while I tried my best to contort my 6’1 body to find comfort on the couch underneath one, very thin, crib-sized unicorn blanket, I was thinking about my friend, whose girls are old enough now that she probably has gained some of her time and sleep back.

I wondered if she missed these days that I am living in now and these nights on the couch. My guess is that she doesn’t miss it. But I bet when she finds her family’s familiar unicorn blankie in the linen closet, she does smile.

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