troublemakers

Torture: When Will They Sleep More Hours in a Row?

 

She groans in pain and exhaustion, but her torturer will not relent. He screams into her face as she tries desperately to comply.

But he only relents for a few minutes, then the sirens clang again, beginning quietly, then raging like a klaxon, impossible not to hear, or even tune out. Relentlessly insistent. No matter what she does, it never seems to be enough.

Sometimes she’s allowed to doze fitfully for an hour or two, but never enough to find genuine refreshment. She cannot help but be aware, even in sleep, of his demanding, uncompromising presence. She never knows how long she will be allowed to sleep, or how long she will be forced to stay awake.

Sometimes, even as tired as she is, she cannot sleep because of the anxiety of not knowing when the next round of commands will begin. She worries constantly that the one she loves most, her precious child, will suffer if she fails.

The damage he has done to her body hurts, and the bleeding continues for many weeks. Her breasts hurt, and are themselves an instrument of torture. They feel raw and hot. Her nipples are scabbed from the abuse they have endured.

If she could just get some sleep, if the bleeding would just stop, if she could just get enough to eat and drink, a chance to wash herself of the sweat and blood, maybe she could find hope. At first she asks, “How long must I endure this? When can I sleep? When will the pain stop?” but the weeks wear on and she finally accepts that she will never have these things again, at least not reliably, when she wants them.

She resigns herself to her unwitting fate.

She struggles to make sense of it all, but there is no sense. She believed the lies she was told, about the magnificent, Disney-esque adventure she would go on, filled with love and fun and beauty. Oh, they said it would be challenging, but it sounded like it would be challenging like getting a college degree was challenging, or even learning to skydive.

No one told her she would be literally tortured by one she had expected to enjoy and be loved by. She despairs, now only hoping at best to survive.

What is the story of the women being described above? Has she been lured into an abduction? Kidnapped? Discovered to be a spy? Failed to pay back a gangster’s loan? Or cheated a drug dealer? What kind of evil person would do something like this to another person?

A baby, that’s who. Pregnancy takes its toll, physically and emotionally. Labor and delivery takes its toll. Even the easiest labors and deliveries leave the mother physically spent, needing healing to her reproductive organs, and several weeks of bleeding.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have an emergency cesarean section, major surgery, or 48 hours of back labor during which the mother endures excruciating pain, far beyond that of normal contractions, without food or water. And that’s just the beginning.

Having and caring for a newborn is literally torture, even under relatively good circumstances. Newborn-care is much worse with mitigating circumstances such as in the case of a single mother, after a C-Section, or with the birth of multiples.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s look at some of the forces used for deliberate torture:

  • Loud, unpredictable or unrelenting sound
  • Long-term sleep deprivation
  • Threats to loved ones
  • Physical injury, mutilation
  • Unpredictability of another’s behavior
  • Inability to eat when one is hungry
  • Uncertainty about when the treatment will stop

Infants are famous for frequent, unpredictable crying jags of varying decibels and duration, at any time of the day or night. Oftentimes, no matter how hard a parent tries to fix the problem by feeding, burping, changing diapers, and bouncing the baby for back-breaking durations, nothing helps.

“Threats to loved ones?” Who’s threatening a loved one in the instance of a new baby? If a caretaker of a new infant gives in to their own need for sleep, a meal, or even a sit on the toilet, at just the wrong time, a baby can suffer for lack of food, comfort, or a change of diaper.

When properly bonded to their new baby, parents feel a profound need to meet the baby’s needs, and so are constantly torn between their own needs, and the needs of their baby. Fear of their child’s suffering often ensures their own.

Childbirth is a messy, painful business. First-time mothers-to-be often moan during the last month of their pregnancy, “I just think that if I could just get this baby out of me, I would feel much better!” Little do we know, the first time, that pregnancy is rarely harder than the aftermath. The physical injury does not end with the delivery of the baby.

Many mothers have their perineum subjected to an episiotomy, major surgery in the form of a cesarean section, and some of us have our tailbone broken by the emerging infant, which makes even sitting painful afterwards. And it doesn’t end there either.

Many of us are not informed of the reality of our breast milk coming in, also known as engorgement. This occurs 3-4 days after birth, and lasts for about two days if nursing is going well, longer if not. Two days or more of constant, tortuous pain, on top of the pain of birth or surgery, all compounded by lack of sleep.

The breasts become so full that it feels like they may burst. They often feel hot, and it hurts more than usual to nurse. Constantly. Oh yes, we mustn’t forget the pain of early nursing. Babies start out quite tiny, but their mouths are designed to suck hard, and nipples unused to such treatment for many hours a day will be sore at best, and many women experience cracked and bleeding nipples.

This is on top of the strain of pregnancy, the exhaustion of childbirth, and the pain of the injury to our flesh as a result of childbirth. Not a small thing.

Babies are supremely unpredictable regarding when and how long they will be awake, needing food, needing a diaper change, needing to burp, how long they will cry, how loud, and for what reasons. And these particular forms of unpredictability can go on for as long as a year in healthy children.

This makes planning any of the normal activities of adult human life, such as sleeping, eating, using the toilet, bathing, cleaning and going to work, extremely difficult, or even impossible.

All of the above contributes to anxiety, depression, and despair in one or both parents. “When will they sleep more hours in a row?” “When will the colic end?” And just when the baby starts to settle down a bit and you think you’re going to survive, they start teething.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs the most basic, necessary needs every human being has is for food, water, and sleep. Then comes the need for physical and emotional safety. Then belonging, followed by esteem, then self-actualization. When you have a baby, you are dropped hard from whatever lofty Maslowian heights you may have reached thus far, right down to the bottom rung.

Suddenly the certainty of getting enough food, water or sleep when you need them and in the quantities you need, are not certain at all.

Once you’ve gone down the parental rabbit hole, once you have a child, you cannot un-have that child. You can divorce your spouse or leave your significant other. You can quit a job if you don’t like that, you can move if you don’t like where you live. But once you have a child, you will always be that child’s parent. People who give a baby up for adoption can’t un-know that they have a child somewhere.

A parent can leave a child with the other parent and never return. A child can die. But once you have a child, they will irrevocably change who you are and your relationship to life itself. The term commitment doesn’t even begin to capture the reality of parenthood. And it’s impossible to fully comprehend until you’ve crossed that line.

Once you’ve brought a child into the world, there is no turning back and it never ends.

***

Laura Ramnarace believes that truth-telling is ultimately compassionate, although it may also prove hazardous to the teller. She lives in the high desert of southwestern New Mexico, where she teaches families how to have more loving and healthy relationships. Laura also dearly loves her children and grandchildren. Really.

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