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That may sound weird, as most moms-to-be in their ninth month are concerned with things like organizing the nursery, stockpiling baby supplies and washing onesies. I’m not a total slacker – I ordered baby furniture (which won’t be here for two more months…oops) – but day to day, my most pressing task is getting, or at least attempting to get, a solid night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, the past few weeks I’ve been failing miserably. We’re talking major insomnia, with nights where I lie awake from 2 to 6 a.m. becoming the rule versus the exception. I do everything possible in hopes of falling back asleep – tossing and turning, meditative breathing, making boring lists (like all 50 states and their capitals) – but nothing short of Unisom, which is my last resort because it makes me feel hung over the next day, knocks me out.
I’m not sure why I can’t sleep. I’m still pretty comfortable physically, and I’m not worried about nearly half the things I was when I was pregnant with Maya. Frankly, my greatest anxiety is the prospect of not getting enough rest pre-baby, and therefore having a so-called empty tank when he/she arrives and true exhaustion sets in. Come to think of it, that’s probably what’s keeping me up at night.
Let’s back up a bit. Why is sleep so important to me? To put it plainly, it’s an obsession of mine. I fantasize about a good night’s rest the way some people fantasize about sex. It just makes you feel so alive, you know? It’s good for your body, your brain, your mood…the list goes on. (I realize the same can be said about sex, which is obviously also great, but when you’re 35 years old and very pregnant, sleep is infinitely more appealing.)
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always hated waking up. Not in the existential sense, but in the ugh-I’m-so-tired-I-need-more-sleep sense. One of the reasons I disliked summer camp as a kid is thanks to the giant copper bell that tolled every morning before the sun even rose; it was a signal for counselors to storm through the bunks, flipping on lights and cheerfully forcing us out of bed.
In high school, when my mom poked her head in at 6:30 a.m. to ask what I wanted for breakfast (yes, my mom made me breakfast in high school), I’d be too irritable to even speak, so I’d signal with my hands: “C” meant cereal, and “W” – flashed like the West Side gang sign – meant I’ll have a frozen toaster waffle, please. I mostly managed to avoid early classes in college, and even my first real-world job, as a writer at Rolling Stone, didn’t require attendance before 10 am. And I still couldn’t function without coffee.
Lest you think I’m simply lazy and would prefer to lounge around in pajamas all day, I should point out that I exercise regularly, never take naps (unless I’m sick…or pregnant) and generally don’t sit still until Maya is in bed at night. But once 9 p.m. hits, I relish the opportunity to lie down and not move until the sun comes up.
Surprisingly, I eventually met someone even more anal about sleep than I am. So I did what any sane “niner” (that’s his nickname for people like me, for whom nine hours of sleep are optimal) would do: I married him. Never mind that his fantasy getaway is to a sleep clinic, where he could be hooked up to machines and analyzed by doctors. Or that he wears a FitBit not to track his steps during the day, but to calculate his nighttime “sleep efficiency,” measured by how many times one stirs or is restless. Or that instead of sending me cute texts after leaving for work in the morning, he emails his FitBit sleep stats with comments like “fascinating.”
Whereas I’m cranky when tired but generally get over it after downing some caffeine, Joel is downright miserable and can’t stop complaining about how exhausted he is from the previous night, even if it’s 10 p.m. the following day and he could just go to bed already. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to have a kid together, which everyone knows is a recipe for utter exhaustion.
Once Maya was born, and those first few sleepless nights stretched into weeks, then months, this dynamic played out exactly how I suspected. It got ugly. After staggering around in a zombie-like state all day – Joel at work, trying to support our family; me at home, trying to breastfeed a colicky baby – we’d greet nightfall with a mixture of dread and the tiniest dash of hope: Would this night be like all the others? Or would it be the night that we’d finally get some sleep?
It never was. And we hated each other for it. A low point came one night at 3 a.m. as Joel was struggling to zip a shrieking Maya’s swaddle: I accused him of breaking it, and he called me a “f—ing idiot.” While we weren’t in the habit of swearing at each other, the hostility didn’t really come as a surprise. When you’re running on zero sleep and patience, it’s a lot easier to be mean. Or at least it was for us.
Thankfully, Maya’s hourly wake-ups soon dwindled to a more manageable once or twice per night and disappeared altogether around six months, when she turned into a champion sleeper. To this day, she conks out for 12 solid hours and rarely wakes up earlier than 8 a.m. (and often 9 on weekends!). We’re the envy of our sleep-deprived friends. After enduring half a year of the worst sleep imaginable, that’s not an honor I take lightly.
Now, with baby #2’s imminent arrival, our restful nights are once again on the brink of extinction – and, as I said earlier, mine are pretty much dead already. But while I’m super tired and frustrated that I can’t use this time to store up sleep reserves, I think I’m handling the situation quite well. For one, I feel very lucky and genuinely excited to have a baby on the way, so there’s no legit cause for complaint. Also, I know that however poor my sleep quality is now, it’ll be far worse in a few weeks.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll try embracing my insomnia instead of fighting it. I could fold laundry, organize my closet, finish that book I started months ago. And if those activities fail, there’s always Unisom.
Nicole Frehsee Mazur is a Detroit-based freelance magazine writer and former editor at Rolling Stone. Her work has appeared in O, the Oprah Magazine, Time Out, Maxim and more.