For the past week or so, Ebony has been waking herself up by crying out. It lasts only a few seconds and then she falls straight back to sleep. It doesn’t happen every night, but when it does it can happen a few times, usually in the first couple of hours after going to bed. She sleeps in a moses basket (which she is very almost too long for now) right next to my bed, so all I have to do is peek over the side of the mattress and I can see whether she is ok.
At first I assumed it was teething pain waking her up, but she falls asleep so easily again that I’m not sure. If her teeth were hurting so much that they were waking her up, surely she’d be awake crying or chewing on her hands for a bit rather than falling straight back to sleep?
From watching her, as I often do while she sleeps, I notice that she pulls an upset face in her sleep just before crying out. This made me wonder whether it is bad dreams keeping her awake at night. Is it possible that my four month old daughter has fears so great that they interrupt her sleep?
This is quite a disturbing thought. Is she taking in more than I thought? When I watch episodes of Six Feet Under with her cradled in my lap, are the death scenes taking a toll on her sweet innocent mind? Is Channel 4 News terrorising her innocence with scenes of war and violence, am I over exposing her to the terrible going ons in the world?
Or, is she simply having nightmares about things that concern her? Does she dream about waking up to find herself alone, with no caregiver to feed, hold or comfort her? Does she imagine her life without her parents to keep her safe? Is it thoughts of hunger, wet nappies and loneliness that cause her to wake screaming from her peaceful slumber?
Is it narcissistic to assume that her nightmares are filled with thoughts of missing me? I am her food source, so I would expect her to be at least slightly upset if I disappeared. On a very basic level, she would go hungry. On a deeper level, she has heard my voice every day since she was a foetus developing inside me, as soon as she was born she knew I was her Mum because she recognised my voice. She knows that I can soothe her upset whether it is hunger, discomfort or loneliness, because I have proved this by taking care of her over the past eighteen weeks.
I spend hours each week looking down at her in the moses basket as she sleeps. She looks so lovely in her sleeping bag, peacefully dreaming. So tranquil and calm, I sometimes have to reach out and touch her hand to make sure she is sleeping and his not slipped out of the fragile grasp of life. It is upsetting to see her face screw up in pain, and hear her cry out with desperation. I have found that by speaking, and reassuring her, my voice helps to soothe her back to sleep. A lot of the time I don’t think she really wakes up, she teeters precariously between sleep and wake, trapped in a bad dream.
I know that in a few years, I will be awoken by screams coming from the other room as she wakes from a nightmare and needs a parent’s touch to calm her down. I remember the terrible nightmares I had as a child; the downside of having a good imagination I suppose.
When I was about eight years old, I saw an episode of Round The Twist which featured a fox in a wardrobe. This terrified me, and soon became a wolf in my wardrobe. I couldn’t sleep because I was so terrified of the wolf coming out and attacking me, and I was too scared to open the wardrobe and check, so I used to ask my Dad to do it. I was scared of the dark, I was terrified of the noise of a toilet flush at night (because over such a loud noise, who would hear me scream?) and had to run back to my bedroom at lightening speed. I was scared that there were monsters on my top bunk, and evil people ready to grab my ankles from underneath the bed. I was scared of the dark at the bottom of the stairs, because I couldn’t see if anyone was down there.
I worry about Ebony getting to an age where her imagination takes over and turns coats in werewolves, darkness into the devil, and creaking floorboards into danger approaching. I worry that, not only will I fail to reassure her, but I might make things worse by getting scared myself.
I can imagine being asked to check the wardrobe for wolves and getting scared myself: “No Ebony of course there isn’t a wolf in there, how silly. No, don’t open it! Are you crazy?? Quick, get under the cover and be really quiet until Daddy gets home. And remember, wolves can smell fear.”
Did you have any irrational fears as a child? Please share so I am prepared for Ebony's nightmares of the future!