Voices: I have insomnia and I’m a new mum – I know, that sounds impossible

Voices: I have insomnia and I’m a new mum – I know, that sounds impossible

It’s 4am and I’ve been awake for three hours and 34 minutes. I know this exactly because I’ve been checking my phone intermittently for the last three hours and 34 minutes.

My partner lies next to me fast asleep, blissfully unaware of me, restless, beside him. In the next room, my baby son slumbers undisturbed. I open my eyes again. The light is now that murky limbo between the blackness of midnight and the hazy blue of dawn.

I’m not in limbo, though. I’m very much present. Too present, in fact. Adrenaline courses through my veins and I’m sure I can hear my own pulse. An owl hoots. I check my phone again.

No one warned me about postpartum insomnia. I was prepared for sleepless nights – I swear, parents love to watch faces, puffy with pregnancy, crumple in horror when they recount the hours and hours and hours they spent feeding, rocking, shushing and even driving their little ones to sleep.

And I knew I wouldn’t be great at daytime napping. The age-old adage to “sleep when the baby sleeps” is deranged to me because when the baby sleeps, I need to do the things I can’t do when the baby is awake: cook, laundry, write, go to the loo, scroll Instagram, and – my personal favourite – absolutely nothing.

But no one told me there would come a time when my baby would sleep through the night and I would not. That, despite being tucked up in bed, I would not sleep when the baby sleeps. Sure, sometimes it’s anxiety; sometimes my brain feels too busy to rest; and sometimes I’m on edge, listening out for my son’s cry. But, mostly, it’s as though in gently teaching my baby to self-settle, my own body has lost the knack.

It’s especially odd considering I’ve never known more about the intricacies of sleep than I do right now. I’m calculating wake windows; I understand about sleep pressure; I know, on average, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. If this was an exam, I’ve bloody well revised.

Indeed I wonder, sometimes, if I know too much; if, in getting the magician to explain the magic trick, I’ve ruined the illusion. Certainly, when I’m lying in limbo having been awake for two hours already it isn’t helpful to be a sleep geek and know the ins and outs of good sleep hygiene.

And although, as a parent, I have adapted to less sleep (I’m amazed at how much I can do on so little), I am unnerved at the hidden toll this must surely be taking on both my body and my brain.

Postpartum insomnia can be either a catalyst or a symptom of postnatal depression. But, while Instagram is cluttered with baby sleep experts, I’ve not seen one influencer talk about a mother’s shut eye.

Perhaps it’s assumed we’ll either be getting no sleep at all as we tend to our needy younglings, or that we’ll be so exhausted after tending to said younglings that we will conk out the minute our heads hit the pillow. Or perhaps, as I strongly suspect, it’s because our sleep just isn’t as important as the sleep of a baby.

Of course the eternal paradox is that, often, after a night awake, the subsequent night will be better and I will sleep the sleep of the gods before waking up and feeling invincible. And then any resolve – developed in the bleak, hazy limbo of the night before – that I should call the doctor and get some proper help will be gone, not to be found again until the next 3am wake up.

And then, last night, I watched my son fall asleep.

Initially, he squirmed around his crib, wriggling from one end of the mattress to the other before wriggling back again. Then his breathing became slow and steady, and his restless body stilled. I marvelled, for a while, at that skill; that ability to drop off so peacefully.

Watching his chest rise and fall in time with his heavy, dreamy breaths, my resolve returned. I called the doctor this morning.