Sleep changed forever the day that I found out Nelle had died. Beginning in the hospital, I was unable to fall asleep for more than a few minutes throughout the more than 24-hours of labor.
With each of my living babies, I struggled with breastfeeding. The first three or four months would be fine, but I would eventually notice supply issues. Despite all of my best efforts, they would eat only in very short cycles, causing me to feel like I was constantly nursing. All three had nannies that would bring me the hungry baby around every two hours for another feeding.
With Theo I was wracked with guilt over supplementing with formula. At around seven months and after several different appointments for weight checks, the pediatrician said to me: “formula isn’t poison.” I had lost so much weight myself that I felt drained and hollow. I made it to about nine months and then stopped breastfeeding.
With Quentin, I added formula more readily once he passed the six month mark, still determined to last as long as I could. Somewhere around eight months, breastfeeding ended abruptly. I cannot remember exactly what happened, but either he was really sick or I was really sick and that was the end.
Both Theo and Quentin slept through the night easily (though Quentin needed some sleep training to help him get to a good place).
With Autumn, I wanted to keep nursing her for as long as I could. She didn’t sleep through the night, but I didn’t mind getting up with her once, at 3:00 am. I supplemented with formula when I thought she needed it, still regularly nursing three or four times a day.
But I became tired. I started to feel too thin again, that all of my energy was being sucked from my body. I dropped one of the nursing times, adding another bottle. Eventually we wound down to only the nighttime feeding. I felt guilty: I waited so long for this baby. Shouldn’t I work harder and want to keep nursing her as long as possible? When I asked myself this question I found the answer was “no.” Rainbow baby though she may be, I could not bring myself to do more for her than I had done for her brothers. I tried to tell myself that this was a healthy realization.
She reached eight months. At a 3am feeding, I looked at her and thought “This could be the last time. It will probably happen soon. Maybe it’s tonight.” She played with my hair, twirling it in her fingers. Gazed at my face in the darkness of the room. Not only would it be the last time for Autumn, but the last time ever.
It was one of the last times. She had a rough few nights teething and preferred the bottle. Followed by a period where she was not feeling well and I was not feeling well so it was over. Bittersweet, relief, sadness – all at the same time. I had to balance myself and my baby and I did my best.
After breastfeeding ended, I did some brief sleep training with her and she began to sleep through the night. She did, but I didn’t. I felt like my body didn’t even know how to sleep, after so many years of disturbed sleep. Pregnancy, loss, pregnancy, loss, grief, pregnancy again, anxiety, newborn. Sleep had been at best evasive and at worst a nightly battle.
A few weeks ago, I bought myself a weighted blanket, thinking maybe it would help me settle back into a deep sleep, after so many years of restlessness. I know that I have a “thing” where I cannot sleep without a blanket. Even if it is 100 degrees, I need at least a sheet and preferably something more. After Autumn was sleeping well and I was still sleeping poorly I was desperate to try anything.
The blanket arrived – 15 pounds of “extra hug” at night. Under the weight, I was pressed into the bed. Tossing and turning would have been a chore. I noticed that by being unable to flail in my sleep, I was sleeping better. Like a baby in a tight swaddle, unable to startle itself awake, I was confined and happy. Finally – after years of fighting forces in the dark, I am finally in a place where focusing on good sleep seems to be a reality.