What Sleeplessness has Taught Me

I have struggled with sleep for over eleven years now. Multiple wakings in the night, falling asleep just to jerk back awake, far too many really early mornings. I know I’m not the only one. I know a lot of people get very little sleep. I do not have insomnia or night terrors, I simply have littles who struggle with sleep.

For me, I knew before I had children that sleep was precious. I have a distinct memory of a conversation worrying over the loss of sleep I would experience when I became a mother. At the time I did not realize the severity to which I would become sleep deprived though.

From my pregnancy with my first child all those years ago I became aware that the loss of sleep was just the first of many things that no one really prepared me for in mothering. When my second baby settled into a pattern of waking every morning at three AM for over a year I found that I was not the only momma who was waking in the night with a toddler, the solidarity helped. With my third teeny I reached a new level of mothering-with-insufficient-sleep.

That teeny is recently five and still has yet to sleep through the night for a full week straight…ever. I have decided that this girl will likely always have sleep issues, it is just who she is, at least for now. She is still too small to settle back in, can not yet self-soothe into a peaceful sleep, consistently struggles to fall asleep, to stay asleep, and to return to it once she does wake. I feel like I have given her all of the tools, I let her listen to her body and sleep when she needs it. (She is actually pretty good at this, napping when she’s overtired regardless of time of day or where she is at the time.) A dear friend made her a weighted blanket, we’ve used the oils, we work on perfect tucking in and bring water bottles by the bed and the special stuffed animal gets all of the kisses. Still, interrupted sleep is her normal.

So what have I learned? Over the past seven or so years I have used the mid-night wakings to grow my faith and trust in a Savior who loves me. I have found that the rest is always enough to get through to the next time I can lay my head down. Sure, some days my expectations are pretty low, but I have also learned to rest in Him when I can’t physically rest. My prayer life has become deeper and richer. I have realized that as I lay awake after settling a child back to bed unable to find sleep myself, that talking to God and listening to His words are the perfect use of that time. I’ve heard some hard truths at two AM and I’ve been the prayer warrior that friends have needed me to be. I’ve begged forgiveness for old sins that I’d forgotten and felt the peace of that forgiveness wash over me as I lay quietly in my bed waiting for a tiny to call out for me again.

This has been the best thing to come of lack of sleep- giving in and giving that time to God. I now cherish the minutes I lay awake in the middle of the night, though I do dread them as well. Knowing that the day to follow will necessitate my morning coffee and beg for an afternoon nap, I lean into God all the more as I beg for sleep or if not sleep, then rest at the least.

I knew it somehow, before I ever had babies, that sleep would be the hardest part of mothering for me. I didn’t really understand why though. I didn’t see the depth of patience it would require of me.

I came to understand that it has never been that I didn’t have enough to give them when I was tired, but that I wasn’t enough ever. The lack of sleep has led to mornings with my Bible open in my lap well after they all wake for the day. It causes me to pray out loud, in front of my children {gasp} when I don’t have the words and I can’t figure how to get through some struggle my children find themselves in. The lack of sleep has posted scripture to my fridge where beginning readers have sounded out the words while grabbing a glass of milk. I am not enough for my children, but I can always point them to the One who is.

This ramble is typed as my baby girl is snoozing on the sofa after being awake for several hours last night. Which has caused plans to be altered and grace to be begged from people I’d rather not ask it of. Humility is something that lack of sleep has taught me as well. When you are overtired you are frequently late, often impatient, and usually a bit of a wreck. If you can be humble through those days (or months…or years) you will find more joy in this journey.

At a low point in my sleep story; a time where I really thought my girl should be sleeping and I was frustrated, exhausted, and angry, I talked about it all of the time. Everyone knew that my child didn’t sleep. Everyone had suggestions and sympathy. I was grateful for both, though the empathy from the exhausted mommas in my circle was what got me through. That “we are in this together” was something I hadn’t expected from lack of sleep and my friends. Coffee was shared over stories of zombie-like stretches of time from other mommas who were currently sleep-deprived by tiny humans. Knowing that other women were doing their personal best in consideration of their lack of sleep was, and is still, inspiring to me. It helps me to keep doing what I do all day…and many of the nights.

Not just that these friends were exhausted, but that they were willing to talk about it, to share the shitty sleep situations they found themselves in, as simple realities. This made a difference somehow. Through these conversations I learned that my kid wasn’t weird, well, wasn’t unusual in her sleep patterns at least. I mean, she’s my kid, she’s going to be weird. I saw that all manner of sleep or not is pretty common among littles. No one ever told me that pre-kid. I thought the baby would learn to sleep over the first year or so and we’d settle into a good pattern after that, maybe waking earlier than I’d like on the weekends, but otherwise enough sleep would be had by all. This is SO untrue.

I was thankful to have women in my circle who listened to me and heard that I could absolutely not do one more week of this! And then stood with me as I’ve done two more years of it. The kindness and grace of this village of mine has been astounding. I have never felt judged because I can’t get my child(ren) to sleep. I have simply felt held in the space we have created where it’s okay to not be able to do a thing.

Hear me also when I say my sweet husband has been there with me every single night. While he does not often get up to lull a sleepless little, he does hold me up on the days I can barely see through to the end. He makes meals, ensures I’m taking my vitamins, pours me water and wine, plays ball in the street in the afternoons to tucker them out…He cares well for me so that I can care for them. This is what I most need. Though, when he gets up for work at three in the morning and tucks a babe back in so that I dont have to get up with her again? That’s pretty amazing too.

Yes, the lack of quality sleep is hard. Yes, on the nights they all sleep through I do sort of brace myself for the next wave of poor sleep to hit us. Yes, I really do want my littles to be well rested.

But I live here.

Here in this space where sleep is highly valued and extremely appreciated when it does come. I have a feeling I’ve still got awhile in this place.

While I am tired this morning, and I will want a nap this afternoon, I’m thankful for all of the lessons that lack of sleep has brought me. They will serve me well this day, and maybe tonight will be the night that we will all sleep.

Snatches of Time

I put all of my people to bed early tonight. I had ambitious hopes of coming here and writing out the cries of my heart. Nearly an hour later I am still up and down the stairs with a child who feels less than wonderful. I am frustrated by this because I really needed the time. Instead of tapping away peacefully I am scribbling snatches of thought between whispered prayers and requests for essential oils. I see the selfishness in this rant. I really do.

I have been holding off on writing, feeling as though the time would come if I let life flow naturally. We aren’t so busy, the days are not over full, the time seems to skip happily away while I play Legos with a little or read endless chapters to fill their imaginations.

I know what you will say; this is a momma’s most precious work! Her most important job! Be grateful!

I am.

I agree.

I still want something more.

While this rambling will likely never support my family, how can I know that when I can’t even steal an hour at the end of the day to type out a coherent thought? When and where (and most of all how???) am I supposed to build an audience when I can’t build a proper paragraph for lack of focus?

I have my excuses it’s true.

I don’t mean to have quite so many.

I’ll admit to being distracted plenty of the time. With projects. With Facebook. With catching up on years of lost sleep. Still, it seems I should be allowed this time for me. This time to do something that makes me feel like I’m intelligent. Something that is meaningful to at least a few of you dedicated friends. Something that let’s me deal with the anxiety and fear and despair that creep in during the darkest months of the year.

What to do? I feel the call of the early mornings again. Though I despise waking before the sun or at least before six AM, I know that my house is quiet then. Children typically don’t stir early. Devices need to be charged. Tasks must be quiet so as not to wake sleeping babe’s. This frustrates me, I do not want to give in to that time of day. It seems that I must though. No other hours will relent their needs.

If you notice a few more posts in the coming weeks, you can assume that I have given in to the deepest cry of my heart -the desire to create something from myself, from who I’ve learned that I am- and that my heart has won over the logical side of me who really loves to snuggle back into the comforters every morning.

If you don’t hear from me for awhile, don’t be too disappointed, there are lots of words out there. Trust that the right ones will come to you as you need them. I’ll keep etching out moments, minutes, corners of time that will continue to build my story, and make my own spilled out thoughts that less rambling once they meet the page.