I’ve never been to Guantanamo, but I imagine it’s similar to what our house was like for the first few months after the babies came home. Pure torture. No escape.
For the first day or so, we felt like we were on top of it. Sure, feedings were chaotic and exhausting. But after eating, the triplets would all doze off and Matt and I were back to being footloose and fancy-free for a couple hours. I remember standing in our living room on Day 2 with my neighbor, peering into the pack-n-play where all three babies were swaddled and snoozing, and boasting, “This is pretty much all they do.”
Then the universe was like “Aw hell, no,” aimed its dark stars in my direction, let out an evil laugh and hissed, “You’re gonna work, bitch.”*
Almost immediately the boys’ sleep cycles fell out of sync. After a feeding that took an hour, we would lay them down and 2/3 would pass out while the third turned purple with rage. By the time we quieted that guy, one of the others would be stirring. Then the next one. Then the two lactating parts of my torso would need to be dealt with. Then it was time to feed them again. I spent most of the day in the chaise lounge, hooked to the breast pump, with a small angry man tucked into my cleavage, trying to steal a few minutes of sleep or scarf down a muffin while Matt and a rotating cast of family juggled the other two babies.
I am not exaggerating when I say that there was no break. I had to eat a Caesar salad over a baby’s sleeping head once. Only when you are truly desperate do you not care about dropping hard croutons on your infant’s fontanel.
During the day it was difficult but doable. At night, it was awful. Every fiber of my being was screaming for sleep. Just as we would drift off, a thin, reedy wail followed by a series of farts would puncture our slumber and force us out of bed and into the nursery where we would try to comfort the whoopee cushions that were our children. We were each netting about two hours of non-consecutive sleep a night. Our life was a Mobius strip, an infinite loop with no beginning and no end. Kind of like Groundhog’s Day, but not funny. Not funny at all.
When sleep deprivation gets to a certain point, hallucination sets in. You become, quite literally, insane. And to make matters worse, your crazy ass is still responsible for keeping a bunch of infants alive. I remember lying in the chaise in the living room in the middle of the night, not really awake, but not really asleep. I was trying to see what time it was on my cell phone, but the screen wouldn’t light up. I held it one way and peered at it, then rotated it the other way and tried again. Then, to my amazement, I realized I wasn’t holding a cell phone. I was holding a baby. A human baby.
Matt was hallucinating, too. One night he became convinced he was feeding Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad.” And though it was hard for him, it was (a little) worse for me. After a feeding he would get to go back to bed while I had to attach myself to the breast pump. I would lie there in the dark, listening to its wheezy rhythms and begin to imagine it was talking to me. “More bananas,” it would say. “More bananas. More bananas. More bananas.” Sometimes it would speak Spanish. “No puedo. No puedo. No puedo.” Often I would doze off and wake up covered in breast milk. Other times I would quit after five minutes because I was too tired to care. I’d plunge into blissful oblivion, my tired brain falling like a rock into a deep, dark well.
Then, from the bottom of the well, I’d hear it.
It was that bastard, Bryan Cranston.
If I think back through the murky sludge into months one through three, I can put myself in that moment, experiencing the despair all over again. At the time, I felt like our lives had been shattered into a million pieces and there was no way out of this nightmare. We had screwed up. How had I not realized that having triplets was freaking impossible and inhumane? I remember telling myself to stay in the moment, because thinking about the future, the infinite loop of nonstop caretaking, made me frantic. Luckily, a friend had told me that when things got bad to repeat the mantra, “This too shall pass.” So I did.
And it did. We hit the three-month mark and suddenly the boys were sleeping from 9 PM till 1 AM, which may not seem like much, but at least we could get three hours of solid sleep. Then it stretched to 2 AM, then 3 AM. Then it stretched from the other side. They would be tired at 8 PM, then 7 PM. The more I slept, the more positive I felt. I could tap into real emotions. I could finally feel like a mother, not a pile of sweats covered in a pile of babies.
Now, at eight months, Jem, Bran and Finn are sleeping for approximately 11 hours a night. They still fuss and cry, and we still have to drag our asses out of bed and tend to them from time to time. But we’re staying sane while doing it. We no longer mistake them for a 58 year-old actor or an iPhone. And isn’t that what being a parent is all about?
* No joke, after posting this tale of conquering sleeplessness, Jem decided to keep us up ALL NIGHT LONG. And, as I was fumbling to play “White Noise” on the iPad for him, I accidentally hit Britney Spears “Work, Bitch.” Message received loud and clear, universe. Loud and clear.