My little boy had surgery last Wednesday. He’s fine, it was an expected and “routine” procedure. I put routine in quotes, because turning my not-yet-eight month old over to surgeons is, blessedly, pretty out-of-the-ordinary for me.
Because he was going under general anesthesia at 7:30 am, he could not eat or drink, including nursing, after 2 a.m. As my regular readers may know, Oliver is not what you’d call a good sleeper. In fact, the only thing that keeps him asleep at night is my boob. This doesn’t give me a lot of quality sleep time, but I manage.
Most of the time I hang in there. I walk around in a bit of a sleep deprivation haze, but I do okay. I get my oldest to school, I get the veggie starts watered, I collect the eggs, I make the food, I fail to have a giant mental breakdown.
Most of the time.
The night before the surgery we got to bed late. There were accommodations that had to be made for our daughter, who would need to be on the bus to school about the time our son was coming out of surgery. We had things to prepare for the hospital, paperwork and check-in documents and such. There was dinner and laundry and dishes and lunches to pack: the minutia that didn’t get the memo that I had other things on my mind.
At 2 a.m. everyone stopped sleeping, more-or-less. When he wasn’t allowed to nurse, Oliver wouldn’t stay asleep. Nick took him to make it easier on both of us. While he paced and patted the baby, I tossed and turned, hearing the crying downstairs.
At 5:15 we drove to the hospital. There was a waiting room, and another, and another, each staffed with caring and attentive nurses. We confirmed Oliver’s date of birth about a hundred times. At 7:00 we handed our boy over to the surgical team and waited. It was a fast procedure. For me it was 90 minutes of tense silence and compulsive eating at a Starbucks.
We were there when Oliver woke up. He did great, textbook operation, no complications. He came out of anesthesia slowly, the only time in his life he’s been slow to wake up. He was a bit drowsy for the first few hours, but very quickly just wanted to get back to his important work of crawling around and getting into stuff we’d rather he didn’t.
Our doctor had prescribed tylenol with codeine for pain relief. We were advised that the codeine might cause drowsiness. Now, I don’t want to suggest that we were pleased with the prospect of drugging our child into sleepiness, but we did time his first dose of codeine for 8 p.m., his nominal bedtime.
He was awake, standing in his crib and screaming, by 10 p.m.
The surgery was not, as I naively hoped, some threshold that would allow us to adjust our son’s sleep behavior. Thursday and Friday were hard. Oliver was clearly in some discomfort. During the day he was too busy to notice but at night he was more cranky and less sootheable than usual. Nick did what he could to allow me sleep, but I was way behind the sleep-curve from Wednesday’s all-nighter.
Saturday I just lost it. There’s no other way to put it. Over the course of the day I uncontrollably sobbed on the floor in four different rooms. Not for any particular reason, mind you, but just because I had reached my limit. I am, as my friends will attest, a pretty even-keeled person. If anything, I’m a down-player. Hysterics are really, really not my thing.
I honestly, seriously thought I had sudden-onset clinical depression. In between big, heaving panic attack-style breaths I was very rationally thinking about how chronic sleep deprivation could lead to a neuro-chemical imbalance that could trigger depression. I was calculating my strategy: who did I know who saw a therapist, how quickly could I get a prescription for antidepressants, how soon would they take effect….
This is not, I hasten to say, because I am eager to medicate myself. But it was very clear to me that I could not function like this. I could not care for my children and be a partner to my spouse while racked by sobbing jags every hour.
I tried to explain this to Nick. I don’t think I was particularly coherent. In fact, I think I may have scared him a little. My mood was clearly quite aberrant. Nick sent me up to have a hot bath and a hot cup of tea and took the kids for the afternoon to give me some mental quiet space. Good man, that one.
Over dinner, we discussed options. We came to the decision that our son needed his own room. Like, immediately. Fifteen minutes after the kids were supposed to be in bed, we told Bella not to let her brother put anything in his mouth and started rearranged paint cans, toys, clothes, tools, building materials, shelves, office equipment and assorted detritus to make room for Oliver’s crib in the room down the hall. That room had been meant to be our son’s, but the project to convert it from Nick’s office into a fun-filled kid place has been sidelined for a few months as myriad garden projects have taken precedence.
Saturday night, I put Oliver down at 9 and soon fell asleep in my own bed. I slept until midnight (almost 3 hours – very good by my standards!) before his wimpers woke me and I padded down the hall for a night nursing. He had his little snack and then – in what I can only describe as a miracle – went back to sleep in his crib until 5 a.m.
Five! Five a.m.! That’s four-and-a-half hours of sleep. In a row. The difference between two hours of drowsing sleep and over four hours of actual sleep…well, those of you who have been through special forces training, med school or motherhood know how profound a difference that is.
Sunday, I no longer thought I needed drugs. I had energy and patience to help my daughter with a school project. I happily welcomed the neighborhood kids in for an impromptu playdate. I cleaned the kitchen, tackled some fun garden projects, laughed with my husband. It was like I had my life back. All from a decent night’s sleep.
Looking back, we should have moved his crib months ago. Sometimes it takes feeling crazy to force you to do the sensible thing.2