Last night, an hour away from the “blood moon” eclipse, I was reminded of the hardest part of raising triplets: sleep deprivation. For the first two years of raising our triplets, the sleep deprivation was demoralizing, physically debilitating and all-encompassing. It began right away and didn’t let up for two years.
I came home from the hospital after nearly a week, and I had to leave my babies behind. Two were still being fed through a tube through the nose, and the one that was drinking from a bottle wasn’t big enough to fit in a car seat yet. At least that was what they told me when I complained about going home without even one baby. Nurses are smart. They knew it would be my last night of sleep.
The next day we picked up baby number one. There was my husband, and me and my mother. Among the three of us, we got very little sleep that first night. The baby needed to be fed every three hours and would cry much of the time in between feedings. We split up the night feedings. I offered to take the 11 p.m. feeding, my mother took the 2 a.m. feeding, and my husband volunteered for 5 a.m. When I would hear the baby when someone else was feeding, I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was my job and I should be awake and doing something about it, so I didn’t sleep much. We all three felt like it was a difficult first night, but most of what was bothering us was the feeling that if we barely survived a night with one baby, how on earth could we handle two more?
Within a week, another baby was added to the mix, and after two weeks, we had three babies at home to take care of. We quickly developed a completely different relationship to time. It was no longer divided into night and day, and the hours meant nothing. Everything in our life—every single thing—revolved in three hour increments. Since each baby took a half hour to feed and change, the entire feeding process took an hour and a half, leaving an hour and a half to get babies back to sleep and prepare new formula and bottles. The end result: there was a half hour, or at most, 45 minutes to do other things. That’s the time that was left for sleep.
Soon after the babies came home, my mother had to head back home to her other responsibilities and my husband needed to go back to work. I understood how hard it would be for him to go to work with as little sleep as we were getting, so I offered to do the overnight feedings on my own. It was quickly apparent, that I couldn’t. Sometimes two would be screaming at once, if not all three, and I needed his help.
I made it my mission to figure out how to make these babies go longer between feedings. I tried to increase their formula, I tried to push the boundary of when I could introduce rice, hoping to fill up their stomachs. I separated them into different rooms, and I brought them all out of the nursery into our bedroom. Nothing worked. They ate every three hours, and they did that for a year.
When we should have been sleeping, my husband and I were awake during the middle of what used to be nighttime, talking about how different life would be once the babies could go four hours between feedings. We figured it would enable us to sleep in two two-hour segments during the night. That would add up to four hours, and, we reasoned, that is what many people consider a full night of sleep anyhow.
There were a few “rock bottoms”—the time I drove home and couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there, the two times I was so tired that I had to walk away from my job and sleep in the back seat of my car in the parking garage, the many times people told me all I had to do was “sleep when the babies sleep,” and the time I nearly cried in front of the pediatrician explaining to him how little sleep I was getting. He told me if I was that desperate, I should give them each a dose of Benadryl before bedtime. I had wanted to do that for so long, but since it said on the bottle not to, I had never done it. Once the doctor gave me permission, I felt a huge sense of relief. Without ever giving the babies the Benadryl, they slept through the night that night for the first time, and a couple nights each week after that. It was now enough sleep for us to safely get through a day.
The so-called blood moon eclipse was happening at 12:45 a.m. this morning, and I had a kid who was once that first baby to come home from the hospital, who wanted to see the eclipse more than anything. He had read about it, he had looked it up on the internet, and he wouldn’t stop talking about it. His father told him I would wake him up, on a school night, to come down and see the moon. I didn’t like the idea, but the plan was already in motion before I had a say.
Here was that old, familiar dilemma facing me once more. It’s 11:30 p.m. Should I try to stay awake until 12:45 a.m., or should I try to get one hour of sleep? I knew from experience that waking up after one hour is harder than staying awake. It brought back all the memories of those hard, early years. Now, I wasn’t feeding a baby. I was walking downstairs to look at the moon, just to make sure it was doing what it was supposed to be doing. I was then going to his bedroom and shaking him awake, bringing him outside in the dark and cold, and listening to him gasp—literally gasp—when he saw a pink moon high in the sky. Although we know the earth rotates, and the moon would be at a different location, it felt strange to see it in an entirely different position than when we last checked in with it together– almost as strange as the different position I, too, find myself in since last checking in.