It’s 3.12am and I am awake. A cat is on my head, kneading away at my scalp. Her purring might as well be a pneumatic drill operating three feet away.
Further down the bed, my dog is nestled in the crook of my knee.
I am tense. Not just because I am not enjoying this head massage (though I’m not) but because I’m waiting for the moment the cat spots the dog and a territorial battle ensues.
First, I should have checked the cats (we have three – don’t judge me) were all put out before bed.
Second, I should listen to my husband. He’s right. The dog doesn’t need to sleep on the bed just because I’ve been out all day and feel ‘unconnected’ to him. Dogs aren’t that sensitive to relationship guilt.
I should have more relationship guilt about my husband, given that I have not invited him to spoon me through the night, even though we too have been apart all day.
An additional thing:
I wish I could stop thinking this stuff at twelve minutes past three in the morning. And let’s face it, if it wasn’t this stuff – the invasion of my bed by my pets – it would be other stuff.
Stuff like, ‘Which eight discs would I choose if I were invited onto ‘Desert Island Discs?’ Or ‘How would I go about living off-grid if I were to participate in Channel 4’s programme, ‘Hunted?’
I’m not sleeping well.
Perhaps it’s a legacy of a job which required me to get up at 3am every morning for three and a half years.
I would go to bed at 8pm religiously and lie in bed, exhausted but anxious. If I let myself sleep, would I actually wake up when the alarm went off at 3.05am?
I would lie there, tense, waiting for sleep but resisting it at the same time. At forty-seven minute intervals, I’d check my phone, working out how much sleep was yet possible.
Eventually I’d settle for a light doze around 1.30am.
Of course, I never once overslept. I’d leap out of bed and pull on the clothes I’d carefully laid out the evening before, brush my teeth and poke myself in my tired eyes with a mascara wand.
Blinking back tears I’d drive an hour along empty roads and motorway listening to the World Service.
It was a wonder I could function at all throughout that period.
But I had known sleeplessness before then, for I am a mother.
They say that once you have children, you never sleep the same again. I’m pretty sure this applies only to mothers, not fathers.
The father of my children has slept through a hotel fire alarm and full evacuation and a minor earthquake.
Our garden can be filled with fighting cats, mating badgers and marauding foxes and he remains happily oblivious.
I, on the other hand, am sensitive to the slightest sound.
I am alert to the dropping of an eyelash to the ground. The tread of a beetle on the skirting board. The falling of ash in the fireplace.
Oh yes, I hear them all.
When you are pregnant people tell you that you’ll ‘miss your sleep.’
You laugh. How bad can it be?
You’ve gone plenty of nights without sleep, right? You’ve worked on essays/projects/spreadsheets/accounts throughout the night, surviving on coffee, chocolate and Silk Cut.
You laugh at the concept of sleep deprivation!
And then you experience it.
The night becomes merely an extension of the day. The feeding continues on the hour, every hour, for about an hour.
And when that doesn’t keep you awake, the weight of responsibility for another human life does.
Instead of worrying about the eight discs you’d choose for your Radio 4 appearance, you list all the potential dangers to your children, starting with weaponised smallpox and ending at e coli from the petting farm.
Then you list all the things you resent about your partner, starting with the fact that he is sleeping – yes, actually sleeping – in the spare room, and ending at his chirpy smile when he walks through the door at the end of a day full of ADULT CONVERSATION.
You recall a time when you took sleep for granted. When you’d lie in for so long your father would wrench the duvet (then known as a ‘continental quilt’) off the bed and threaten to stop your allowance if you didn’t ‘bloody well look lively.’
In youth, you had a gift for sleep.
Now you have a gift for insomnia.
It is 3.14am. There is a cat on my head.