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The Early Bird

Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 11:46 PM EDT

I’m up early again today, because I just can’t seem to sleep past 7:00 anymore. This is horrifying to me, an avowed sleeper and night owl who has spent the past ten years very carefully constructing weekends so that Willem and I trade off who gets up with the kids. There are some weeks when I would bribe myself out of bed all week long with the promise of a really long, solid, uninterrupted sleep on Saturday night, because Sunday was his day to arise early. (And, in the interests of fair disclosure, we really are spoiled, regardless; for the past two years or so, our kids have obediently – perhaps even happily – stayed in their own beds until 8:00 on weekends, unless Jacob has already come in and fallen asleep in our bed, and so “getting up with the kids” is not exactly a break-of-dawn sort of chore.)

But ever since getting pregnant this time around – and this includes the week or two before I got a positive pregnancy test – my sleep habits have gone a little bit insane, at least by my own standards. Suddenly I was barely able, and then only with caffeine and constant stimulation, to stay awake past 11:00, and by 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, I was wide awake with no hope of rolling over and going back to sleep, or even just dozing. It’s not an anxiety thing or a need to accomplish anything in particular; it’s just as though every cell in my body has switched itself to an Awake setting, and I can’t convince them to switch themselves back to Asleep.

I know it’s partly because I have cut way back on pain medication since learning about the pregnancy. With my doctor’s blessing, I have continued on the same thing I’ve been taking for the past two months – it’s called Opana, and is new on the market, to the point that no generic is available. I take a long-acting form such that I’m to take 10mg every 12 hours regardless of pain level, with a second, 5mg prescription for breakthrough pain. I would love to be able to go chemical-free, or at least drop down to the short list of medications that is proven safe for pregnancy, but the back pain is chronic and intense, and the days that I have skipped have been very, very difficult. So I’m cutting down, taking half a pill at a time and waiting until it’s really bad before taking an extra dose – as opposed to taking that dose when it started to feel like it was going to get bad – and have accepted this compromise for myself. As I explained to the doctor, I would much rather just not have the pain in the first place, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. And I can choose to expose the baby to a known chemical with reasonably good studies establishing its safety in the first two trimesters (I’ll need to switch to something else for the third, not sure what yet) or to bathe the kid in cortisol and other unpleasant body chemicals because I’m in pain every day. Two evils, hoping I’ve chosen the lesser.

But that can’t account for the complete weird-sleep thing, because my sleep schedule had started to shift before I tested. The night of the Dave Matthews Band show – two nights before those two pink lines – I fell asleep on the shuttle bus that brought us back to my mother’s car, and slept through the hourlong drive back to her house. In normal circumstances, I’d have woken up at some point in there – at the very least, upon arrival – and then would have had a hard time falling back to sleep for several hours, because a nap of any type, of any length, at any time of day would entirely dislodge my nighttime sleep habits. Instead, I was barely able to stay awake long enough to brush my teeth, and collapsed on her couch with a couch pillow and a throw blanket. Woke up at 6:00, paced around the house with this odd, unbearably-awake feeling, laid back down for an hour, and then gave in and started the day.

So, who knows? It’s a weird thing, but it’s not entirely a bad thing; I do enjoy having some quiet time to myself in the mornings, and it’s a good time to deal with email and whatever small tasks I can do before the kids get up. And in Martha’s Vineyard, Gretchen benefited from my early risings, because by the time she woke up – and we’re talking, 8:00 or so, she wasn’t sleeping till noon – there were iced coffee and fresh baked muffins from the Black Dog Bakery magically waiting in the room.

And someday, I will again crave the ability to sleep late on a Sunday.