Even Urban Homesteaders Get The Blues

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.


  1. says

    Oh – so glad surgery went well – how stressful! AND I totally know how sleep deprivation can be used as torture in some places. This is actually my greatest fear as we are headed toward baby number three in July – that I will never sleep again. In fact when I got pregnant I immediately got hysterical telling my husband that I wouldn't be able to go through another two (more?) years without sleep. And hysterics aren't my thing either. Glad you got some rest. It makes ALL the difference. :)

  2. sharon Miro says

    Wonderful–just wonderful that you can be so bluntly honest about the things most women will go to great lengths to hide…good post

  3. Saskia says

    Oh, I'm sorry you all had to go through surgery, but glad it went well. Our son had surgery twice before he was a year old; reading your post brought back memories of handing him off to the anesthesiologist and then settling in for the tense wait. That process alone is enough to cause some minor PTSD!

  4. says

    I'm glad to hear that the surgery went well, but sorry to hear about the sleep-deprivation and its resulting effects. I don't have kids, but every so often when I don't get enough sleep I do the same thing. Not much fun, but it's good that you've found a solution that works for you.

  5. says

    I;m with Sharon…needed to be said and action needed to be done…Good girl, well done. Sounds like you have the makings of a good team.

  6. says

    It's not just the surgery (which I am glad went well enough) but for me, it's the expectations and the pressures and the underlying stuff that has probably been going on for weeks, maybe months, and you get so focused on the major thing, you forget to think about how you'll handle the other stuff, or that you've been 'handling' stuff for a while now, which all builds up. Meltdown time. Add no sleep, and you've got major meltdown time. I can feel your distress… I've been at the sobbing, bawling, incoherent stage before, and thankfully, I have a strong man to get me through too… and Rescue Remedy, I highly recommend a small bottle of this homeopathic remedy to have on hand, even if it's just the placebo effect!

    So in a long winded fashion I wanted to say you are not alone…

  7. says

    I'm so glad the surgery went well.

    Thank you for talking about the challenges and benefits you have in urban homesteading with little ones. It is really encouraging to know that, while adjustments will obviously have to be made, it is still totally doable. We don't have kids yet, but it is really great to be able to learn now from others in preparation for that time.

  8. says

    So glad that the surgery went well. It was the most nerve wrecking thing to hand your baby to the doctors. Especially the part where they ask if they have any allergies to medications… I'm like WTF? How would we know?

    Sleep is wonderful, Sleep is precious. My hat is off to the co-sleepers of the world but I thank goodness everyday McClain can have his own room to go to.

  9. says

    I am reading this a year later after you referred to it in a later blog. I had no idea you had to go through that! You are only going up in my esteem for living through that, and for sharing it so honestly.

    • says

      Thanks Ien. :) But to be frank, I have pretty nice problems as these things go. :) All things considered, we are all healthy and (relatively) together. ;)

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