When I was pregnant with Sam, I had Plans.
(not these kinds of plans)
Specifically towards the end of my pregnancy, I Planned to get as much rest and sleep as possible because I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping much–if at all–when the Child arrived. Logically, I know you can’t save up sleep like you can save up Target gift cards or reward points at your favorite clothing boutique, but the thought of getting exactly zero sleep frightened me, and I thought that perhaps I could mitigate its potential damage by sleeping a lot beforehand.
But nothing doing. I had a lot going for me in my attempts to sleep before Sam arrived, but none of that lot helped me. The night before I went into the hospital to deliver, I didn’t sleep at all (not from excitement or anticipation, but simply because pregnancy insomnia is actively the worst). Our hospital offered a night nursery so that moms could recover and get some rest, and I gleefully took advantage of it–by the time Sam was born and safely in the night nursery, I hadn’t slept in nearly 48 hours and was getting desperate.
And weirdly enough, once Sam was here, I actually got more sleep. After about two weeks of insomniac misery, we devised a system of shifts, where one of us would stay up with Sam for three hours at a time while the other slept. We actually each got about six hours of sleep a night until Sam started sleeping through the night at three months, and let me tell you: it felt good.
Somehow, I’d forgotten about the pregnancy insomnia this time around. Maybe because my mind has been on the fact of twins or because I’ve just had so much to think about, but I’d forgotten.
I remember now.
On average, it takes me about an hour and a half to fall asleep, and that hour and a half follows a specific pattern. First, I lie on my back to stretch out my muscles, which are all exhausted from a day of carrying around not one but two babies inside. This feels very nice for about 20 minutes until the itching starts. The itching is a full body thing, probably related to a mild case of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (which I had last time but haven’t been diagnosed with yet this time–likely because the itching starts long before you reach bile acid levels that are required for diagnosis), and it’s hell. HELL. Everything itches, from my stretching belly to my hands to my feet to my thighs to, worst of all, my entire back. For another 10-15 minutes, I claw at my body as if trying to remove my skin because, really, that would be a huge relief about now, but eventually, I’m forced to admit defeat and roll onto my side.
Rolling onto my side is a feat of strength and coordination that always wakes Kyle up, because while I’m usually as graceful as a concussed duck on roller skates, pregnancy has upped the ante so that I’m now a walrus whose entire left side fell asleep. This walrus also has three or four pillows around her “glowing” body, including the miraculous C-shaped body pillow that enables me to sleep at all, several pillows for my head (including the necessary memory foam pillow that prevents neckaches), and a nastyass nasty ass pillow for between my knees and feet. Between all of this–my lack of coordination, my multiple pillows, and trying really hard not to punch my darling husband in the jaw–it takes me a good 5-10 minutes to roll onto my side.
And I get comfortable there because now, my back is no longer resting against sheets at all; instead, I’ve awkwardly flailed the blankets away from my body so that my back is exposed to the chill winter air of our bedroom, which isn’t actually chilly, but I made Kyle turn the fan on right after we went to bed. For about 45 minutes, I’m elated: I’ve finally found a comfortable position for sleeping.
But it’s too good to be true. Though my itching is no longer aggravated, my shoulders and hips now have the distinct pleasure and pressure of supporting the enormous pregnancy belly and my mammaries, which have expanded so much during pregnancy that they’ve graduated from “jugs” to “gazongas.” As I finally begin to drift off, the pain starts, just an ache at first, but it soon becomes unbearable. Now comes the other half of rolling onto my side: rolling back.
While rolling onto my side requires a great deal of strength and coordination, rolling from my side to my back requires only one thing: a high pain tolerance. The actions required to roll onto my back aggravate my already overtaxed groin muscles, sending jolts of burning pain radiating from said muscles back to my butt and down my thighs. The pain is brief, but it’s intense, and more than once, I’ve let out a yelp of pain as I performed the act of rolling over in bed.
What happens next depends on how well I’ve pleased the nebulous pregnancy gods on any given day. On good days, the itching has subsided enough or I’m tired enough to ignore it, and I fall asleep quickly. On bad days, the itching reaches excruciating heights again, and the cycle restarts itself. And that’s leaving off the nights when I have an RLS (restless leg syndrome) flare, in which my legs ache and burn unless I’m performing a Riverdance at all times. On those particularly bad nights, I eventually just give up and move my legs incessantly while reading articles on my phone and waiting for the itching to calm down just enough that I can force myself to sleep.
(shown: what my legs want; not at all relaxing)
On a good night, I will then sleep through the entire night and wake up at around 7 for the day, groggy and miserable but functional at least. On bad nights, however, something wakes me before I’ve gotten those precious few hours of sleep, and the cycle starts all over again.
Last night was not just a bad night; it was a HORRENDOUS night.
It started as just a bad night. I tossed and I turned, I itched and I rolled over, I yelped and I squirmed. For a brief period between midnight and 12:30, I became the actual Lord of the Dance (eat your heart out, Michael Flatley), but finally, finally I fell asleep, long after Kyle had drifted off entirely.
(eat. your. heart. out.)
Now–a tangent. About 15 years ago, a horrendous cold combined with some end-of-the-college-semester stress to morph into a bad case of bronchitis around Christmastime. The bronchitis wasn’t bad enough, though, oh no. When I came home for Christmas break and my mother saw me looking pale and weak, she insisted on taking me to the urgent care clinic on Christmas Day itself; there, I received a diagnosis of “illness-induced bronchial spasms,” which is a fancy way of saying that if I get a cold that’s bad enough, I have asthma attacks. Fun, right?
On the plus side, I don’t usually need an inhaler to control these attacks; if I catch them early enough, I can calm myself down and convince my lungs that they’re overreacting. On the minus side, I never know which cold will be bad enough to induce an attack, so it’s always a surprise, like opening a present on Christmas morning and finding out that someone wrapped an inability to breathe.
The attacks also usually happen at night, so I’ll be blissfully tucked away in dreamland when all of a sudden, I can’t breathe. It’s always a riotous time.
So cut back to me, around 3:30 a.m. last night. Kyle is sound asleep still. I was sound asleep when all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. Thankfully, my body is smart enough to know that this is a major problem and jolted me out of my blissful slumber and into a coughing fit. This has happened often enough that I immediately recognized it for what it was, thus avoiding anything but (a) some coughing and (b) an inconvenience that lasted the rest of the night.
The coughing was the bigger immediate problem; if I’m going to stop an attack from reaching its full potential, I need to focus on calming my breathing and reminding myself that I can breathe, that I’m alright, that I have control. The trouble was that my bladder was painfully full, so every time I coughed, I ran the risk of flooding the bedroom and ruining Kyle’s night as well as my own. That in mind, and still trying desperately to catch my breath, I staggered off to the toilet, pulled an Elsa with my bladder…
…and finally stopped coughing. Now, of course, I faced an entirely different problem: I was itchy again. So for an hour and a half, I once again turned into the paraplegic walrus version of an egg beater and Riverdance star, desperately seeking a comfortable position that would allow me to sleep. Finally, finally, at 4:30ish, I found one, and prayed that my struggles were at an end.
How naive of me.
I don’t know if it was the coughing or the movement or what, but something prompted Carrie into a fit of hiccups. Obstetrically, this is a great sign–it means that she’s practicing breathing by moving amniotic fluid in and out of her lungs, so yay Carrie! Good job! But at 4:30 in the morning, the sudden powerful spasms of a baby the size of a 7-11 Double Gulp were not helping me sleep. At all. I put my hand on my belly to wait for her hiccups to subside, which they eventually did…
…but woke up Isaac in the process. At first, his movements were the typical tentative, gentle taps I’d come to expect from him, as if he were saying, “Mom, can you please make her stop? I was sleeping.” And I sympathize, son. I honestly do. I, too, wish that I was still sleeping. But then, because I couldn’t do anything about the hiccuping Carrie, Isaac took matters into his own hands and squeezed down as far as he could away from his hiccuping twin.
This, of course, meant that he was crushing my bladder.
So out of nowhere, I had to pee. Again. A lot. I grumbled my way out of bed, grumbled my way to the bathroom, and grumbled through my duty. “You two are lucky that you’re cute,” I informed the twins as I shuffled my way back to bed, now itchy and restless once more.
Itch itch itch, turn turn turn, Riverdance Riverdance Riverdance. By now, it was 6 a.m., and I knew one thing for certain: Sam would soon be awake. The child has not yet discovered the joys of sleeping in to a reasonable hour, though we’ve been trying to train him on it. The training basically involves the use of an alarm clock, not as a signal to encourage him to get up but as a signal to tell him “DO NOT start yelling for us until you hear this beeping.”
At one point, he was committed to learning as much, but that process has gone out the door lately. Instead, what we get is 45 minutes of him yelling through the monitor, variants of “DADDYYYY. DADDYYYYYY. DADDY I FARTED,” and the like until Kyle hears the alarm clock go off and gets up to bring Sam downstairs while I try to sneak another ~hour of sleep (if this seems unfair, remember that I’m with Sam the rest of the day and also have twins in me).
So this morning, as the hours grew small before wake-up time, the sense of dread I felt was overwhelming. I knew that soon, Sam would wake up and start yelling. I knew that it would happen right as I fell asleep. And I knew that I couldn’t sleep through it, the way that Kyle seems to, and that staying awake through the yelling would start me on another itching, turning, Riverdancing cycle.
And I was afraid.
(listen, Pennywise. You can try and make balloons scary and have a floating fetish all you want; just let me sleep)
Sam, still allergic to sleeping in (we’ll get our revenge when he’s a teenager, and oh do I look forward to it), woke up at precisely 6:22 a.m. At first, he talked and sang quietly to himself, but it took only five minutes for the gentle, quiet talking and singing to erupt into yelling. “DAD! DEE!” he hollered into the monitor. “I WANT TO GO DOWNSTA-YERS.”
Kyle responded in a typical way. “Your alarm clock didn’t beep yet,” he grumbled into our half of the monitor, which functions as a walkie-talkie. “I’m not taking you downstairs yet.”
But Sam kept yelling, and I was now on the verge of tears. My heart and mind wanted to be more threatening, to tell Kyle, “If you don’t take him downstairs or turn off the monitor RIGHT NOW, your day will be a living hell because I will sleep through all of it.” And the pregnant, hormonal, exhausted snarl was in the back of my throat, but some part of my sleep-deprived brain remembered that you catch more flies with honey than with arsenic, so instead of snarling, I warped my gravelly, exhausted voice into something that sounded sweet-ish to me.
“Honey,” I whispered to my husband, who’d snored through the whole ordeal. “If you aren’t going to bring him downstairs now, can you just turn off the monitor? Because I’ve been awake since 3:30.”
The sweetness worked. Kyle sighed heavily and said, “Alright, I’ll just bring him down now.” About ten minutes later, they were in the living room and very quiet; and I was, at long last, asleep.
There’s no moral to this long story, no nice little bow to tie things up. I’m still exhausted, even though Kyle let me sleep until 10:30 despite that he was working today. I know that tonight will probably be just as bad in terms of falling asleep, though maybe better in terms of staying asleep (I’m not counting on it).
But I also know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The twins are coming soon, and that will bring an end to my walrus body, my itching, and my housing hiccups. Kyle and I will take shifts again, and I’ll sleep in three-hour spurts, but I will sleep, and that’s almost as great a reward as having my babies here with me.