When people who knew about my history of clinical insomnia found out I was pregnant, a few said, hey, at least I knew what it was like to be sleep deprived, and wasn't that funny? Ha ha. How I laughed till I peed my pants. Yes, lucky me. I had yet more sleepless nights ahead – something we all look forward to, don't we? (Don't get me wrong, I hated having sleep problems but the only thing worth baggy eyes, saggy skin and a brain that feels like a bath of mud is sleeplessness due to caring for one's child; at least that made sense).
But anyway... Not only had I had years of poor sleep, which was horrendous, but I also became ill with obstetric cholestasis (OC), which became apparent about seven months into my pregnancy. Toxins race around your body, giving you blotchy, itchy skin that feels it is home to crawling insects. Lovely. You feel utterly bereft of energy; every step you take is heavy. Your unborn baby is at risk of stillbirth and you are at risk of serious haemorrhaging (the advice is to deliver early, which I did, via an elective caesarean section. Not much is known about the curious condition OC, but they tend to pick it up now (well, my utterly fantastic midwife did), and it is monitored daily at hospital with blood tests and foetal heart monitoring (and research is underway). And trust me, it takes away any glow that pregnancy might bestow.
One of the symptoms of obstetric cholestasis is that you can't sleep. At all. All night. So, not only was I knackered from working my backside off while non self-employed women would have started maternity leave, but I was afflicted by this strange illness, which was also stressful due to the risks – and the prospect of major surgery (no, a caesarean is not the easy option, grrrrr). The 'sleep now, you'll be grateful later' made me want to shriek that it wasn't that bloody easy. When you are pregnant (and healthy), sleeping comfortably isn't especially easy. (And then, the intensely frustrating 'sleep when the baby sleeps' advice that was trotted out by some well meaning but some smug people, drove me mad. When else are you supposed to get anything done? Eh? Get a doula? For a year? Are you mad?)
Sleep has, therefore, evaded me over the years for various reasons. Things are far better now, as I was told they would be. L was a pretty good sleeper from 13 weeks, which was a boon, but night feeds and dream feeds had to be done and it took me a long time to catch up with myself, having carried such a massive deficit.
On reflection, it took me 18 months – sleep aside – to feel anything like back to 'normal' again, and it is something that other mothers admitted to experiencing, too, once I revealed this little confession. Why do so many of us keep such information hidden? Surely the solidarity of a problem shared, or at least empathised with, helps? It seems that mothers are judged so often by others – the got-it-sorted-never-stressed Stepford types, as well as clueless fools who think full-time mothers sit at home painting their toenails while salivating over Jeremy Kyle – that they cannot say it how it is. I am sure that some mothers feel great after two weeks and have hormones that disappear with the placenta, but those types usually have plenty of help (possibly a nanny), few financial worries and no health issues, or have a child that doesn't – dare I say it – get the attention it deserves because mummy's me-time is pretty much all-the-time.
I still grind my teeth – bruxism – at night and have shattered my molars so badly over years of doing this that I now need expensive (even on the NHS!) crowns put on my teeth. I also, perhaps bizarrely, like to stay up late: it's my time to relax and write and do nothing, just for a little while. Stupidly, my brain hasn't quite got its synapses around the fact that L will, whatever I do, wake too early for me to also wake feeling replete with zzzs... But matters are in my hands, which helps a lot. Though L no longer naps in the day, which used to give me time for a massively useful power nap (for me) if we'd been up in the night, I can still try to go to bed earlier... It sounds so obvious, but if the world is grouped into night birds and larks, I am a big, fat, fluffy owl.