Thursday, 16 September 2010

The worst night of my life

Let me share the worst night of my life. It was, I think, in February 2009. It played out very similarly to other nights of that month, and the previous, but this particular night I cracked.

My son, you see, was born the previous August. My first child, fruit of my loins, apple of my eye, love of my life. So, indeed, he continues to be. Those first months were hard, but wonderful - adrenalin is a wonderful thing! By December we were struggling. The adrenalin was used up and his sleeping - patchy at best - was deterioriating dramatically.

Around New Year a pattern was established where we put him to bed around 8pm, with us hitting the sack as soon as possible after that - 8:05, 8:10... Sometimes he'd start crying before we got to sleep, other times it would be a couple of hours. In any event we lay down in a state of tension, knowing that the best we could hope for was sleeping until 11pm. For the rest of the night we were woken at about two hourly intervals.

Our initial approach was to work together to get through the night - trying to give each other support. We took it in turns to get up and soothe him. Some nights I'd take him out for walks in the buggy to try and rock him to sleep. But we were in a cold snap and this wasn't so effective (I walked one night from 2am to 3am in below freezing temperatures and returned home with a bright eyed little boy with no thought of sleep).

We realised that we couldn't sustain this so we decided to split the nights in two. I slept with the little fellow on a mattress downstairs in the lounge. We'd stopped feeding him at night, so I didn't have to wake Mum up if he started crying, I could deal with it myself and let her sleep through. Then, the first time he cried after 4am, I'd take him upstairs and she'd take over for the rest of the night.

Some nights were better than others, but none of them were good. One night he refused to sleep in any position other than strapped to me in a sling so I gave up and watched movies perched on the edge of the settee (he wouldn't let me lean back!) until it was time to hand him over.

On the awful night, though, I was too tired to face that and I was determined to get him to sleep. He'd woken me around midnight I think, I guess for the second time that night. I'd soothed him and he'd quitened on my shoulder and started to drift off. Then I gently put him down on the bed.... and he'd started to scream. I repeated this, I think, about seven times over the course of the next hour. Waiting longer and longer before I lay him down, until I was CERTAIN that he would stay asleep... except, of course, that he didn't.

I was starting to feel desperate; I was exhausted and I was acutely aware of a strong feeling of hatred towards this screaming baby. The last time I lay him down, and he started to cry, I had a sudden very clear and distinct vision of picking him up and flinging him with all my might at the wall of the lounge room. Sitting here, writing this, I can still see that image in my eyes. It was a tipping point and it could have gone either way. That vision scared me so much that it jolted me out of my exhaustion and I picked the child up and took him up to his mother. It was two hours early, and I knew that these months had taken a much worse toll on her than on me, but I was scared of what I might do.

I woke her, and told her that I couldn't go on, and she understood immediately. It was OK and I went downstairs and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning though I woke with a new knowledge of myself. I knew that I was capable of terrible things if pushed far enough. True I'd stopped before I did anything awful, but only just, and perhaps only because I had someone to turn to.

* * *

I share this because, after talking to others, I've realised that such an experience is not uncommon for new parents. People don't want to talk about it because it's scary and horrible, but I think it's important to know that others have been through it.

Such an experience also demonstrates how vital is is for us to have support, and to try and arrange our lives so that others can take the strain for us before we reach that point of no return.

Such an experience renews my admiration and respect for single mothers.

Such an experience gives me a great feeling of sympathy, empathy even, for the parents who in their desperation have tipped the other way and done something awful. I think of news footage of mothers being led into a court. Such horror.

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