Sleepless nights and Art

I had visions of pregnancy and motherhood. Of finishing work and beginning life as a perfect mother-to-be. Of popping my perfect textbook baby in a sling and writing the next best-seller while she slept for long stretches.

In my dreams of pregnancy, there were no stretchmarks. There was no unending fatigue and there was certainly no constant nausea and vomiting that made me feel like I was lost at sea in a violent storm.

Pregnancy was a huge lesson for me, in expectations of myself and of others. It was a lesson about life in general. Expect the unexpected.

I was going to have the most amazing pregnancy. I was going to eat the most nutritious foods, exercise and take care of myself.

I was so sick, I lived on mashed potato and air for four months straight. I cried non-stop and wore a spot in the couch where I sat, glassy-eyed, all day long.

In hindsight, the crazy, hormonal and sometimes torturous experience of pregnancy should have alerted me to the reality of life with a baby.

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My friends had perfect, textbook babies who slept through the night by 6 weeks old and never cried. I was going to have the same kind of baby.

I was going to have the most amazing natural birth. I was happy to use drugs, but I didn’t want an epidural – only because I was terrified of having a needle put into my spine. But I wasn’t going to have a caesarean. That wasn’t part of the plan.

I had an emergency caesarean after a routine check-up at 39 weeks showed the baby was in distress. I never felt labour (OK, that part was good). I struggled to align my expectations with my reality.

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The moment my little girl was placed on my chest, completely healthy and with no apparent reason for her distress just minutes earlier, I said hello to her and cried my eyes out. Because she was beautiful, because she was perfect in every way, and because I finally started to realise that in becoming a mother, nothing would ever be the same again.

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My baby was perfect in every way.

But she wasn’t a perfect textbook baby.

She cried and cried and I cried and cried and nobody got any sleep.

My novel sat there untouched, begging me to come and write it. I had a couple of half-hearted attempts when my baby was a few weeks old. I put her in a sling, made sure she was nice and full and warm, and sat down at my desk to get some words happening.

But she started to cry. She didn’t like the way my typing made her jiggle side to side, or maybe she just wanted my full attention.

It was too hard. I gave up. I resigned myself to the fact that I could never do anything for myself in a creative, artistic sense again (or at least for the next eighteen years).

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My baby never slept. She had allergies and reflux and was generally just uncomfortable and restless unless held upright.

We bought a swing, and she finally started to sleep in 3 hour stretches. Yay!

But for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to write while she napped in the swing. Instead, I started my quest to become a perfect mother and housewife.

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My daughter didn’t start sleeping through the night (8 hours) until she was ten months old. There were so many sleepless nights, I felt like I would go crazy.

Some nights, her pattern would be predictable, and she would sleep in two-hour stretches. So, instead of going to bed when she did, I decided to write instead.

It was blissful. I wrote as fast as I could, one ear always glued to the baby monitor, and I’d fly out of my seat and down the hallway to soothe her, cuddle her, rock her back to sleep.

Then I’d tiptoe back down the hallway and keep typing, pushing the keys gently so that nobody was disturbed.

I was exhausted, but since I was going to be exhausted no mater what, I figured that those late nights spending some time on myself were worth it.

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Here’s something unexpected that I discovered from those late nights – I discovered which writing projects I was really passionate about, and which ones didn’t matter. Because, for me to battle my tiredness, the story had to be exciting enough for me to choose writing it over sleep (sleeeeeeeep – love it!).

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I’ve produced some of my best work on those sleepless nights.

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