Colic and the Cost of Prolonged Sleep Deprivation

This is what infants do when…well, nobody’s really sure.  Maybe it’s gas, maybe it’s flickers of electricity across their neurons that give them the willies, but something sets off a maelstrom of crying that cannot be soothed.  Hearing this sound multiple times per night is not just disruptive to your sleep, it’s anathema to your soul.

When you get periodic sleep interrupted by high-stress activities, your mind can find no solace in sleep.  For the first few weeks after our son was born, I was in survival mode.  I could remember what times I got up during the night, what happened.  After several months, my mind and body are succumbing to the detrimental effects of sleep, interrupted.  I cannot spell, I cannot remember names or figures, I can’t summon the enthusiasm for…anything.  Long-term sleep deprivation is very much like depression and, having experienced both, I’m amazed by the similarities.  Both are like greasy sunglasses you cannot remove.  You can still see everything but it’s distorted and dim.  Sunlight doesn’t seem as bright and darkness is a dense mud you want to swallow you up and bear you to oblivion.  You agree with Ron Weasley that you feel as if you’d never be cheerful again.

How do other people react to your sleep deprivation?  To those who haven’t had children, or whose link to infants is decades old, they ask with the slavering grin of wolves That Question, the one that haunts new parents.  It’s asked with savory schadenfreude, dripping like honey from the mouth:  “Ya gettin’ any sleep?”

I’ve long given up giving people a truthful answer, though sometimes I want to cram the question back up their smug snouts.  I want to tell them that, although I’ve never run a marathon, I now understand the wells of spirit that you plumb hoping for the energy to take one more step, just one more.  I want to tell them that, after several months, the lack of a single spell of continuous rest has begun to wear down my soul.  I want to tell them that nature plays a cruel trick on new parents, giving them the most difficult task of their lives while taking away their ability to cope with it, a trial by fire to weed out the weak and unworthy like Marine Corps boot camp.  But I smile and reply, “Oh, we’re getting by.”

I also like the advice I get from well-wishers:  it’ll get better, you should hear how bad MY kid was, oh he’s just got a little stomach problem.  These are the catcalls from the people on the sideline of the marathon telling you that running is hard.  Well, no sh*t!  Hearing that it’s going to get better doesn’t help at the time, even if it’s the truth.  I know that, barring any catastrophe, I’ll eventually get old and my body will deteriorate (hopefully before my mind) until I can’t go to the bathroom without help.  It’s the truth but I don’t necessarily need to hear it right now.

Parents with young children can often be more sympathetic, telling you that colic is a real kick in the teeth for everyone involved.  These are the people you want to hear from, the people who, to stretch the marathon metaphor, have finished and come back to tell you there really is a finish line and tables with food and drink.  Good to know, I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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2 comments
  1. Beth said:

    Oh, those cries. I want to reach through the computer and hold your baby (not that holding always helps with the crying). Even taking turns with night time duty doesn’t help with the lack of sleep. I remember laying in bed while my husband took his turn, trying miserably to be asleep while my baby was screaming. I hope you are nearing the end of this stage.

  2. It was hard to take the time to video this but tonight was particularly bad. Finally though, he fell asleep against my chest, reminding me that even with big cries, he’s still such a little guy.

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