Oh Don’t Mind Me, Just Chilling at 3am Eating a Sandwich

For the past week or two (my husband insists “it’s only been five days!” I insist it’s been for as long as I can remember), I have not slept much. A lot of people have joked at me that after the baby comes I’ll never sleep again — but these people are invariably individuals who themselves have never been pregnant, because pregnant people stop sleeping from about the fourth month on.

I guess it will be good to have had so much practice by the time the baby does emerge and start fucking things up from the outside. Anyway, usually it’s just the standard pregnancy bullshit: bad dreams, being unable to get comfortable due to both the logistics of having a big fat belly and being forced to sleep on one’s side, and thus endure excruciating hip pain all the live long day and night — the usual.

But for the past week (or two) I’ve been really ramping it up a notch, waking up at 1, 3 and then 5 (or just 3 and then staying awake) with full-blown panic attacks, like deep, body-shaking terror that can not and will not go away no matter what I do. This is not my first panic-attack rodeo — far from it; I’ve experienced anxiety for my whole adult life — so I have plenty of tricks in the arsenal, from progressive muscular relaxation to walking around to reading an unrelated book to just crying it out. None of this shit worked. Yesterday I hit the “something’s got to give” moment where I just didn’t feel like I could function anymore, knowing that the one thing I needed most was the one thing that would elude me at night, to be replaced with the world’s greatest feeling of believing very sincerely that you are about to die for two to four hours.

This felt physiological, as panic attacks sometimes are (well, they’re always physiological, but sometimes they have psychological triggers; these didn’t). There was nothing to trigger them. Yes, I have mild anxieties about healthy pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenthood, but I work very hard to talk them through and get to a good place about them on as many levels as possible, and I’ve made some excellent changes, such as not reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth before bed (turns out all the “empowering” natural birth stories cause nightmares), and not reading the Natural Pregnancy Handbook at all anymore, which basically amounts to “If you have any complications it’s because you fucked up as a person and ate too much sugar and the shrine to your baby you created wasn’t sincere enough, and the inner women’s wisdom of your body could tell.” All right, so, I’ve minimized the influence of both the woo-woo pregnancy books and the medical pregnancy books before bed, and although I do have some fears about this next stage of life, these anxiety attacks were different, because no matter what I did or said to myself I could not make them stop. (Also complicating matters is the fact that my debilitating hip joint pain — thanks ligaments! Kinda needed you for the next three months but go ahead and go AWOL now, it’s no problem, really! — prevents me from working out as much as I should be.)

Yesterday out of desperation I finally Googled “sleep aids safe for pregnancy,” and although doctors aren’t thrilled by it, pregnant women can take Benadryl off label for the drowsiness. It felt sort of better to know I had a worst-case scenario survival plan, but I also don’t want to hop this poor babby up on Benadryl if I don’t have to (that might change if we ever take an international flight before she turns five, JUST KIDDING, sort of), so with plenty of hours in the day I consulted both my Mayo Clinic book and my woo-woo spiritual midwifery texts, and both of them had the same advice: If you have sleep disturbances, eat.

Whu? It turns out that some sleep disturbances in pregnancy are the result of low blood sugar, something that my dad can tell you all about (all tween and teen angst moments, and quite a few adult angst moments, have been punctuated by him saying: “EAT SOMETHING and then we’ll talk about it”), and I can usually spot the signs in myself (not always soon enough to stop me from going into a Sugar Meltdown, which sounds like an excellent dessert but is really what my brother calls how I act if I haven’t eaten recently enough), so that is why it was odd to me that when I would wake up in the middle of the night, I wasn’t like “EVERYONE HATES ME I HATE EVERYTHING,” which is the usual sign that I need to eat.

In my pre-pregnancy waking life I have never had the onset of a blood sugar attack be me sitting bolt upright and going I AM GONNA DIE. So I was pretty skeptical, but at this point I would have tried anything. So last night/this morning, when I did my first bolt-upright wake at 0:42, I tottered to the kitchen and grabbed a handful of cashews. And I conked right the fuck back out. Then at 3:30 when it happened again (like, as they say, clockwork), this time with a worse pounding heart, I shuffled back in there and ate a honeycrisp apple. This time I didn’t conk right back out, but I also didn’t sit there in bed afraid in crippling terror; I was just kind of bored, and eventually, once again, I did drift back off. I woke up this morning with more or less whatever a third-trimester pregnant behemoth of an individual can call a “good night’s rest” and I cannot emphasize how amazing this feels.

Plus, even better, I got nothing on the agenda today save for pitching some new articles (and thus thinking of them, which I can do whilst sitting on ass watching Nashville, which is the current plan), so my big day’s agenda involves doing my various hip exercises, maxing, relaxing and chilling. [UPDATE: Never mind, I just got a radio request for this article. So, Seattleites, I’m going to be on KIRO this morning to talk about the 13th grade, hooray.]

So, any pregnant people out there with debilitating middle-of-the-night panic attacks: It might just be your body angrily demanding to eat, but for some reason expressing that in sheer, unadulterated terror. Go figure.

7 thoughts on “Oh Don’t Mind Me, Just Chilling at 3am Eating a Sandwich

  1. Would it be useful to you to get a blood sugar meter like those of us with diabetes use? Also, there’s a great book by an English professor who teaches at West Point that might make you want to apply there.


  2. When you are having insomnia, don’t you just want to kill people who say, “ha, ha, enjoy getting a good night’s sleep while you can”? Because I DO. In month nine exhaustion has replaced insomnia, though, so poor baby is getting hopped up on coffee on the two to three days a week that I just can’t deal with work without a stimulant. Sorry, baby. I tried.

    Pregnancy hunger is really confusing, in terms of not feeling like actual hunger! Panic attacks sound awful, glad the trial-and-error is working.


  3. Just make sure it really is low blood sugar and not high blood sugar. I’m diabetic and have mistaken that in the middle of the night. I probably had gestational diabetes, but they didn’t check for that in the early 70s. That child weighed over 9 lbs! Also, someone should splurge for a mattress that doesn’t hurt your hip.

    In better news, some babies sleep really well right from the start.


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