Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lessons from a Sleepless Night

It’s Blog Hop time! This month’s theme is “Love Your Struggles,” and today the Hearts at Home bloggers are putting some of our own challenges into perspective. I love this topic because in this stage of life I do a lot of struggling. I definitely don’t love the time spent in the midst of it, but it is through my struggles that I learn the most about myself and my faith. Here is the story of one such lesson…

I lie in bed staring at the wall. Seething with anger. Allie’s voice hollers over the monitor. Three short, angry blasts between sobs, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” and then a pause to catch her breath. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Next to me, Matt snores softly. I resent him for being able to sleep through this.

I look at the clock. 2:15am. It’s been 50 minutes, and I’ve been in there three times to offer her comfort. I’m afraid to go in again because I’ve hit the point of frustration where I understand how babies get shaken. Tears begin to fall on my pillow – a mixture of guilt and exhaustion in liquid form. 

I should go get her. 

No I shouldn’t.
 
Either way, I know I will berate myself for it. 

What kind of mother am I?
 
I take a few deep breaths and pray, reflecting on her cuteness and how much I really do love her. Finally I get up and cross the house to her room. She sees me and reaches out. She lets out one more, “Mommy!” but this time it carries a tone of relief.  

I take her to the living room and rock her. She falls asleep on my chest almost instantly. After a few minutes I carry her to her bed and then trudge back to my own. Within minutes I hear it again, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I’m too tired to put up a fight. I go get her again and bring her to bed with me, but I can’t sleep because I’m afraid she will fall off the edge or be crushed under Matt’s weight. She rolls around next to me. Her foot kicks my chest. That’s it! I grab her from the bed and walk her back to the crib and leave, closing the door. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

The tears start again as I continue to criticize myself for my confusion and inconsistency. 

What kind of mother am I? 

I never do get back to sleep. The back and forth continues until morning. Eventually we go out to the living room and I collapse in the recliner, unable to imagine how I will get through the day with L’s million questions and Reese’s role play games.

I reach in the cabinet for my coffee and push the decaf aside. I reach all the way to the back. Even half-caf won’t cut it today. 

I pray again, seeking reasons to be grateful and asking for strength and patience. Smiles come easier than I expected but still my outward positivity fits my inner condition about as well as my high school jeans would fit my post-children body. Hope carries me through the day as I count the hours until bedtime.
 
Most nights are not this bad. Tonight she might sleep through.

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m not struggling. Or maybe I actually convince myself that I’m fine because it’s not exactly acceptable to walk around complaining, especially about something that might seem so trivial. But I’m writing this today in the midst of it and today it’s difficult to downplay the challenge. Today it’s hard to pretend. Today I can’t hide it. 

Ladies, I’m exhausted. 

I’ve mentioned in passing that Allie is not a great sleeper. That is an understatement. She is a terrible sleeper. She’s nearly eighteen months old, and I’m STILL waiting for a predictable sleep pattern. I feel guilty and defeated and I’m seriously ashamed of the above account because it makes me look so erratic and inconsistent and I can’t help wondering if it makes people think what I’m already thinking.

What kind of mother am I?
 
There was a time when I was methodical about this whole thing. I tried everything. Absolutely everything. My theories have ranged from over-stimulation to dietary issues to teething (which is an intermittent issue that no remedy has ever helped). There is no evidence that she is in physical pain or has a medical problem, although I have called her doctor in several moments of desperation, which always end with me feeling embarrassed for calling and wondering if the nurse is thinking, what kind of mother are you?

So here I am today – crazy, inconsistent, and tired – and trying to make sense of this struggle that seems so insignificant in the grand scheme of life’s problems. I approach every evening with hope for a good night and dread for a bad one, and I relish the mornings that come with anything less than one or two minor interruptions. Mostly, I just try to take it in stride – one night at a time – without entertaining too many thoughts about when or if she will outgrow this habit.

All I know is that until she outgrows it or I discover a miracle solution, I turn to prayer and gratitude to get me through the worst days. After nearly eighteen months of inadequate sleep (plus the last three months of my pregnancy), I’ve learned a few things that help me remember that no struggle is for naught. 

1. Your thoughts are not always your thoughts. In my darkest moments of guilt-ridden self-criticism, my thoughts often reflect my fears of what the League of Perfect Mothers might think about me and not what I really believe in my heart about the kind of mother I am. The same goes for the other voices that say, “You’re too fat to wear that,” and “You don’t do [fill in the blank] well enough.”

2. There is give and take in everything. Allie is at my very favorite age (sleep habits aside), and the thought that she will not always exist in this precious form makes me want to cry. Maybe when she’s older and I find myself wishing I could return to these days, I will also remember the struggles and take comfort in the reminder that there are beautiful roses and painful thorns in every stage of life.
 
3. Challenges give rise to gratitude. Nothing clears the wreckage of negative emotions faster than a heart seeking thankfulness. On my worst mornings, I sit in the recliner and pray a silent list of thank yous for everything from my coffee pot to a job that allows me to stay in my pajamas on these difficult days. And on the days when Allie goes down easy and sleeps until morning, I experience a level of gratitude that cannot be known when life is too easy.
 
4. You have the right to struggle. Sometimes I berate myself in these moments. A toddler with poor sleep habits is hardly a life-threatening problem. There are people in the world who are dying and starving. What right do you have to complain? Something inside me just loves to kick me when I’m down. Why do we do that to ourselves? We don’t tell ourselves, “I don’t have the right to be happy because some people have it better than I do.” It’s all relative. Just because your struggle isn’t the end of the world, doesn’t make it easy to bear at the time.

5. Vulnerability breeds connection. There’s no greater relief in the midst of a struggle than validation from a friend who’s been there. But it’s hard to make those connections when we walk around pretending that we’ve got it all figured out and don’t need any help. Some of my deepest connections with my closest friends were born out of shared “hot mess” moments and “me too” conversations. 

6. Faith grows in times of need. No experience in my life has been more challenging, humbling, or tiring than motherhood. When I struggled to recover from Reese’s abnormally difficult delivery; when I had to quit nursing Allie at three months; when she cried all night with colic; when I hit a near-suicidal level of post-partum depression; I called on the Lord to walk with me through all of it and each time my relationship with Him deepened and strengthened. The storms passed but the Lord stayed present and now I invite Him to walk with me daily, not just in times of need but also in praise, thanksgiving, and joy so that everything I do may be to the glory of He who saves me in my darkest hours.

What’s your struggle? Maybe you’re physically exhausted from your child’s poor sleep habits. Maybe it’s mental or emotional exhaustion over something else. Battles with picky eating, behavioral issues, medical problems. Maybe it’s something much bigger. The list of things over which moms carry unnecessary guilt is endless. In the toughest moments, it’s easy to lose sight of our perspective, especially when we come up against the League of Perfect Mothers. 

If you have a struggle (or series of struggles as most of us do), love might seem like a bit of a stretch in terms of how you feel about them, especially in the middle of the worst of it. Of course the struggles themselves aren’t quite so lovable, but they do shed light on what’s really important in life. They help us connect with others, urge us to keep our eyes to God, and remind us to give thanks for all that is right in an unpredictable world.   

Allie’s sleep habits are certainly not the end of the world. I know that. I also know that greater struggles surely lie ahead. I can’t predict what those might be or how big of an effect they might have on the life I know today. But I do know that I have a God and a husband and a few special friends who will walk with me to the other side. And I know that I can always rest in them and in Him and in hope for the joy, the peace, and the calm that comes with the passing of the storm and the dawn of each new day.

                     “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
                     – Newsboys, Your Love Never Fails (adapted from Psalm 30:5) 

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