I Feel the Earth Move (sleep, no sleep)

Getting out of the shower this morning (while my child screamed in my husband’s milk-less chest), I felt the earth shift beneath me.

I live in Los Angeles, so I’m pretty much always on high alert for an earthquake, even more so since the quakes last week in Japan and Ecuador. Throw in the Mexican volcano and something big and seismic seems definitely afoot. LA is more than overdue for the big one according to just about any geological resource around, and to make the timing of right now even more perfect we’ve just (finally) scheduled our foundation retrofit, which means according to the law of bad timing (and the fact that the whole natural world of course revolves around me) we should get hit any day now before the work to keep our house upright is complete.

But despite the plausibility of this explanation, I was the only one to feel the rolling motion on my marble floors this morning, the only one to feel the rocking motion continue after getting out of the rocking chair this afternoon, and the only one to feel a hard jolt last night when the baby roused me from bed.

Other signs it may just be me: I have trouble staying within the lane lines while driving. I forget what I came into the room for nine times out of ten when I enter a new room. I routinely use the wrong word when speaking to my husband, substituting diaper for laptop and shoe for hat. I forget my children’s names. And nursing is more likely to put me to sleep than it is to put my infant to sleep.

I remember these days differently when I think about my experience with my daughter. I seem to recall describing to anyone who would listen the amazing physiological shift that had occurred at childbirth that somehow gave me immunity to the effects of sleep deprivation. No matter how often my daughter nursed at night, no matter how bad she was at napping during the day, somehow I retained my ability to function successfully in the world.

Somehow this has not been the case with child number two.

I’ve read in too many sources to cite that newborns sleep sixteen hours a day. I would like to scrub the internet of all references to this number. While I understand that much of this estimate is made up of kitten naps and nursing snoozes, even my most generous calculations place my son’s total sleep at only twelve hours a day – on a very good, exceptionally wonderful day. His nights begin well with a nice long stretch, usually three to three and a half hours, which means I get two and a half to three hours of beautiful, delicious, glorious unbroken sleep. Once this ends, though, all bets are off. On a good night, I may get him to sleep another two-hour stretch. On an average night, I’m lucky to get him to close his eyes for another hour. As was the case with my daughter, co-sleeping and side-lying nursing have been my saving grace, but I’m so tired now that I may need to forego even these final threads of rest in the name of safety (I was never so tired with my daughter that I worried I might sleep too deeply to keep tabs on her).

So you might ask why, with so little time for sleep, why oh why am I spending this itty bitty stretch of free time writing a post instead of sleeping? I ask myself the same thing. I ask myself this question every time the baby goes to sleep and I do anything other than sleep along with him – folding laundry, paying bills, sending emails, eating, showering… I know I should sleep when he sleeps, and for the first couple of weeks this is what I did, but at a certain point the deprivation hit a new level. At a certain point I came to understand that this deprivation is not a temporary state but a new, oppressive, permanent normal. There will be no time for bills, emails, meals ever again, and there will be no such thing as a good day or night of sleep.

Napping, in the face of this new reality, became nothing more than a painful waste of time – painful in the physical sense, because waking from a nap cut short is actually, literally physically painful these days; painful in the emotional sense because as sleep overtakes me I feel along with it an overwhelming sense of my world falling apart, my life passing me by.

So I choose instead a world full of tremors, of forgetfulness, of freeway avoidance. I choose to write, to read, to walk. To have a clean house. Not exactly living my dreams, but better than just another hour of dreaming.


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2 thoughts on “I Feel the Earth Move (sleep, no sleep)

  1. Oh, how we forget those oh-so-tired days on the other side of being an infant Mama! You will sleep again… Someday. (Beautifully written post, by the way. Don’t know how you do it while so tired. And I know you didn’t ask so please feel free to ignore: On Becoming Babywise was the book that taught me to teach them to sleep. But I know it either makes sense or not depending who you are. I’m just so sad to see a tired Mama who I admire that I had to throw out a tiny bit of possible help. Wishing you sleep!)


    1. I’ve honestly been thinking about you and your four kids these sleepless mornings, wondering how on earth you survived, so will definitely check out that book! Thanks for the encouragement – I’m more than a little worried that my language skills are slowly disappearing along with the rest of my sanity…


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