Saturday, October 25, 2008

For the Record

When I was pregnant, I often wondered what I would have made of the bizarre sensations I was experiencing if I hadn't had never-ending input from Culture and Science to reassure me that they were all Perfectly Normal. It was nice to be able to know what oddity to expect next, and even how I might expect to feel about it. It didn't keep me from worrying, but it helped make the process less mysterious.

But now that I'm well into the postpartum phase, I have a new set of physical experiences, with a lot less input from culture and science to help me navigate them. One hears, "You'll be very tired." But that goes exactly nowhere in describing the sensation of chronic sleep deprivation. "Very tired" is when you stay up late finishing a term paper (okay, or a novel). You feel a bit raw; in some ways kind of... peeled. Your defenses are lower, lights seem brighter, sounds are more grating. It's a feeling I'm reasonably familiar with.

But chronic sleep deprivation is different. Three months of it has given me the feeling that there is a cat that lives in my ribcage, and it's a scrawny, half-blind, dirt-matted scrap that's making that low, rumbly cat noise that tends to precede an all-out teeth-and-claws attack. I can suppress the temptation to act on these feelings, but the beaten-down stray is still a tangible presence in my chest.

Sounds nice, huh? Well, it's almost worth it just for the contrasting feeling I get with enough sleep. Last week, with two whole naps some days (thanks to Supergrandma) and a baby who was going through a "Let's sleep when it's dark out!" phase, I felt fine. Superfine, even: like the sugar. The cat in my chest was a fat, purring pet, with big calm eyes and a thick coat. Enough sleep makes me feel like I could climb a mountain, cook a five-course meal, and give a riveting speech to three hundred strangers, all at the same time.

It's like having motherhood-induced bipolar disorder, and, according to a couple of new-mom friends who have leveled with me, Perfectly Normal. So, Culture? Science? Make a note of it.

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