The first few months of a baby’s life are hardest on her mother. Babies don’t know day from night and every few hours they scream in abandonment and confusion. This behavior hits its peak a few weeks in when the well wishers drop off, the grandparents have gotten over the novelty of a new baby and daddy is back at work. Suddenly its mother and baby alone to face the dark night right when adrenaline burns out and the shopping list is whittled down to two things: coffee and chocolate.
My daughter Eva was born on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the night of the longest darkness. It felt like that too for about two years, night upon night of soothing a crying baby so she didn’t wake the dogs, who would wake Daddy, who would let the dogs outside to wake up the angry extended family on the Spurling acreage. “Hush little baby” does not work, you might as well listen to whatever music you want at 3am it doesn’t matter.
By the time Eva was four weeks old I was convinced I had given birth to a nocturnal monster and that I would never catch a break. Around the same time when she went for her one month weigh in, the real reason for her night wakings, or rather all night screaming was discovered, in fact it was probably apparent to anyone who had not been up all night for over thirty consecutive days. A month after she was born she was barely her birth weight and she looked like a little alien, a big head bulgy eyes and a tiny little body and Spock like ears. So all night while I was munching away on chocolate crying about not being able to sleep, Eva was staying up all night breast feeding, crying away about not being able to get enough to eat. Ahhh the vicious cycle of the Mother-Daughter relationship. The skinnier she got the fatter I got. Life’s unfair! Supplement with formula!
When she was three months old I left her in her own room to sleep, I was convinced she would be heartbroken that her mother had left her, but alas I think she was glad to be rid of me and those huge appendages that barely sustained her in her first few weeks. I left her to rejoin the boys, Daddy, and Eva’s twin brothers Piccolo and Piglet, after three months they had developed quite a boys club and they had to reluctantly accept me back into their lair. The next six months or so were amazing, Eva slept from seven pm until seven am, I was in heaven and then right when I thought I had this baby thing down, a toddler arrived and the night wakings returned.
From the age of ten months Eva was awake almost every single night for an hour or two crying. Eva was so sleep deprived she would get sick and the whole vicious circle would perpetuate. My parents were sure I had to be exaggerating about her being up every single night, but at the same time were perplexed by my erratic behavior of driving on the wrong side of the road, quoting the year as 1998, the U.S. president as Nixon, and other early onset signs of dementia easily mistaken for the woes of new motherhood or maybe just anarchy.
It was around this time last year I can remember putting Eva down to bed one Saturday night. She woke up an hour or so later crying and never went back to sleep. After an entire night walking her from room to room, pushing her under the moon in the stroller, singing her hits from the 1980s all the way back to the 1930s, Daddy and I freaked out and took her to the emergency room. At about 9am, 12 hours after she began her tormented screaming she was diagnosed with a sore throat, and mommy and daddy were diagnosed as having a toddler. The doctors gave her a powerful pain killer and she finally found slumber in her car seat as Daddy drove home and Mommy poked him in the shoulder every few minutes so he wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel. I wish I could say this only happened once but that would be a lie.
In April of last year I finally lost it and decided I needed professional help. I talked to the Doctor about Eva’s sleep issues and he like everyone else decided we had not sleep trained her efficiently and that she (or I ) was spoiled and sent me to the visiting child psychiatrist when I asked for her to be tested for sleep apnea. My child was barely a year old and she was already seeking help for her mental health. There is no wonder I feel like a Derelict mother. After filling out countless forms attesting to the fact that I do not beat my child, humiliate or neglect her I was ushered into see the doctor.
“I have come to have my daughter checked for sleep apnea.”
The good doctor pauses, I can tell he is checking my irises to make sure I am not on anything.
“Its just coffee and chocolate, I assure you.”
He ignores me, and looks over my paperwork.
“How old did you say you were? I mean how old is she?”
“I am 36, look 46, Eva is fifteen months but she looks like she is barely a year. Isn’t small stature a sign of sleep apnea?”
Eva is sitting in front of him stacking colored blocks.
“She is not behind in development, I can see.” The doctor says.
“No she is quite advanced and she knows about 20 words.” I proudly declare afraid she will come out with a new one like “asshole,” at the doctor’s office.
“You would be able to tell by now if she had any significant development delays, but it is at this age that emotional issues come into play.”
“Please don’t tell me my infant is depressed or prescribe me Prozac because if you do I might scream in frustration.” I think. “but then he might break out the Lithium.” I worry.
I roll up my sleeves in an effort to look less disheveled. I can see the doctor checking for track marks so I tie my hair back into a bun to look less like a hippie drug user. Damn those Youngblood country genes.
“Why don’t you describe a typical night to me?” he asks still weighing me up wondering if I will start nonchalantly mentioning gin bottles and wild raging domestic disputes that wake the baby.
“Okay. I aim to go to bed at 10 but life and HBO conspire to keep me up until 11pm. Right as I am dropping to sleep at about 1130pm I hear a pitiful cry on the monitor. I ignore it. A few minutes later it increases in volume and intensity, I reach for the video monitor. I flick it on and see two red eyes starring back at me like a zombie from Night of the Living Dead. I close my eyes and hope it will go away, I ignore it. Then the crib starts rattling and the scream reaches a new decibel and I climb out of bed. I run into her room before her scream cracks all the windows of the surrounding houses, and I lift her from her bed. She then hits me over and over again on the head, and does not seem to know who I am. I take her outside to calm her down which sometimes takes quite a while. It could be possession.” I say in all seriousness.
“That sounds like a night terror.”
“Yes its my recurring nightmare, it happens every night.” I say.
“No she is having night terrors not you.” He says.
“And me!” I correct him. “I thought maybe she was just having the dream where you could change in your mother for someone else’s mother like that episode of the Twilight zone.”
“ No, it is a developmental condition, some children get them, other’s don’t. unfortunately you wont be able to do much about it.”
“Really no magic pill?” I say. He looks worried. I can tell he is looking in my purse for pill bottles but all he can see is Cadburys Cream eggs, I had one for breakfast.
“What about her staying up all night when she is sick, that is not a night terror?” I ask.
“Well there is sick and then there is very sick.” He says.
“Why don’t you turn the monitor off.”
I am starting to like this doctor.
On my way out, he hands me a book. “Toddler Taming.”
I look it over and I look him in the eye and say “Thanks.”
“I think you could use the help.” He says like he understands.
“She is very spirited” he looked around his office, every toy, every plaything had been taken apart and redesigned into Eva’s order.
“What about sleep apnea?”
“She doesn’t have sleep apnea.” He said and looked at me with a don’t worry you will survive this look.
“Read the book.” He said.
I haven’t read the book yet, I hate to admit so very derelict of me. However last spring I did start Eva on an alternative health regime of probiotics and vitamins to help restore her health because Derelict Mom is still feeling guilty that all Eva’s problems are somehow related to a lack of breast milk when she was a baby. This winter of her “terrible twos” has been a lot less terrible than the winters preceding it. Although Eva has been sick she has been up a lot less at night, and just when I was thinking wow Eva seems to have grown out of those night terrors, she had another one a couple weeks ago. It was only one night but it served to remind me never to take a night’s uninterrupted sleep for granted. Around the same time I saw an article trending on the internet which gave me pause to worry even more:
“Kid’s Night Terrors Linked to Delusions later in life.”
It begins, “Children who suffer from frequent night terrors and nightmares are more likely to experience hallucinations and delusions later on in life, new research suggests…. They are more likely to report psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and hearing voices at age 12, some go on to be diagnosed with a full psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia in adulthood.”
Yikes, maybe the doctor is holding back the lithium until she’s twelve and he didn’t want to tell me in case I decided I needed it. I guess I will have to wait and see. I preferred what my previous internet searches had turned up, that children who suffer night terrors are just more creative and imaginative. Until she grows up I will have to be content to imagine that she is dreaming about trading in her monster mother for an upscale model maybe even our idol, Bette Davis.
Last Saturday I flipped on the T.V. to enjoy my new obsession, the Lifetime network’s The Haunting series with medium Kim Russo. It was followed by a new show called, The Ghost Inside My Child. It features children, like Eva and their parents who are driven around the bend by night terrors and “delusions” and what is at the bottom of it is that these children are reliving past lives in their dreams.
My husband could not bring himself to watch “The Ghost Inside my Child” during Saturday night primetime, so he elected to iron shirts instead. But I was now convinced, Eva had to be dreaming about Bette Davis and wishing she could trade me in. Hell I would trade myself in if I could. Although I had lost probably a year’s worth of sleep in the last several years of motherhood, I was not crazy yet.
Back in our reality I knew Eva was stuck with me as her Derelict Mother and that it was time I let Eva have her own dreams, and admit like Bette Davis in All About Eve, that:
“There comes a time when the piano (the Derelict Mother) realizes it has not written the concerto (Baby Eva).”
N.B. I should ask my mother if I had night terrors as a child. She can blame this blog on my unstable mental health.
Xx Derelict Mom