Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Postpartum Sleep Odyssey

My husband and I on a weekend away
from our infant daughter. I distinctly
remember staying up that entire night
in the hotel on my laptop.
Sleep is the most important part of my mental health maintenance strategy. This was discovered about two years into my journey when it became apparent that antipsychotic medications had little to no impact on my brain. Sleep though. Regular, consistent, uninterrupted stretches of sleep kept me symptom-free.

My daughter was born at 12:19am after a full day of anticipating her arrival. By the time the doctors and nurses departed our room to "give us some rest" it was about 3 am.

That first night, I layed still and listened to the sounds of the hospital. The postpartum ward was filled, so we were camped in the delivery room. The next night in a tiny private room, I was awakened at regular intervals so a nurse could "check my bottom." The act of turning over and displaying my rear end was slightly disruptive. My husband and I were already leaning toward the short end of a hospital maternity stay. My inability to rest in the hospital confirmed our plan to head home at the earliest possible moment.

I would sleep better at home.

But the baby wouldn't sleep unless someone was holding her and at some point in those early days my brain and body switched into wakeful monitor mode. I'd been plagued with insomnia since childhood, but this was a different thing entirely. In addition to achieving unconsciousness for only brief periods of time, anytime I was awake I felt like I had to move. I couldn't be still even though my body was bone tired.

Seven weeks postpartum and I was in the hospital again, this time in an attempt to stabilize my mood. A variety of strong medications failed to knock me out until an outpatient psychiatrist prescribed Zyprexa.

"I guarantee you'll sleep," she said.

I took the tiny pill and curled up in my bed that night, terrified. The pill worked quickly and for the first time since my daughter's birth, I slept through the night.

The regular, drugged sleep gave way to "normal" function and eventually, I switched psychiatrists. The new doctor recommended the lowest dose of Seroquel, a tiny pill that I cut into four pieces. Relief was found in just the tiniest sliver.

By December of 2012, with a seven-year-old daughter, I figured it was time to try sleeping without the pill. It was a crutch and perhaps a bit of a psychological dependency. If I forgot my little shard of Seroquel, I'd be awake, sometimes for the entire night.

So I moved out of the marital bedroom and toughed through several nights of severe insomnia. Eventually, I began to fall asleep at a normal time without the drug. It's been good and close to what I remember as normal, except for one minor detail.

I hear everything.

Only now, after five full years off of the medication, have I begun to occasionally miss nighttime sounds. As if by some special mommy superpower, I sometimes didn't know I was asleep due to the clarity with which I heard everything around me. I still can't fall asleep in the same room with my husband. If he's not snoring (which is rare), he's breathing and that keeps me awake. Raps and taps and barking dogs, the kid bumping through the darkness to go to the bathroom, every slight little noise brought me to instant awareness.

So I'm happy now to occasionally learn of a thunderstorm when I show up at the breakfast table. It doesn't happen often, but I'm starting to sleep through some things. Perhaps one day, I'll even get back to tuning out the snoring.