Once a mother - always a mother


Recently, sleep physiologist Rachel Markwald set out to study fatigue on a Navy warship. She, along with her team, spent two weeks aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex and they found that getting good rest while at sea, is not easy. Well, I’m here to tell Rachel that getting good rest as a mother isn’t easy either. In fact, for a comparison study, I’d put a mother with a newborn and a two-year-old toddler, up against all the crew the Navy could locate. Mothers of toddlers if you’re still awake, wouldn’t you agree?

The researchers said that they did the study because they hoped to help commanders spot when crew members were reaching fatigue levels that might interfere with their duties. You know what happens to mothers when their fatigue levels get to the Navy’s levels? They burn the pot roast, forget where they left the car keys and can’t remember, “Was it this week or next week, or wait, maybe it was last week that the recycling got hauled away.”

The Navy put a ring or a bracelet on their subjects they wanted to study. These devices tracked sleep patterns, heart and breathing rates and body temperature. Rachel made the statement, “Sleep can be challenging in an environment that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” And every mother said, “Amen sister.” Rachel felt that understanding if a person is approaching dangerous levels of fatigue, might provide an opportunity to mitigate risk. I’m not sure what risk she’s referring to but I know of no mother who’s misplaced her children or forgotten her infant due to fatigue. Forget a teenager? Oh, yes. And was it due to fatigue? Oh, no. Whichever teenager we had in middle school sports, often called, and in a really sarcastic voice, would ask if I remembered I had children? I always answered, “Who is this?” They’d sigh and tell me I wasn’t funny. Sometimes the coach was still waiting and he never found me funny either. I’m sorry Mr. Bell, for the thousandth time.

The study found that in 2017, when a pair of Navy ships collided in the Pacific Ocean, crew fatigue was a factor. Mothers should rejoice. Now when you rear-end that car in front of you at the supermarket, you can claim the Navy says it’s because you’re tired.

Studies on sleep and the military have found that troops are likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, causing insomnia and sleep apnea, which may give rise to health problems. If they’re able to identify those changes, they can somehow do something before they become problematic. Like what? They didn’t say. For mothers of newborns, we know their lack of sleep is temporary, lasting only about 18 years. Then mom can enjoy her slumber until age 45, and then it evades her again, and never really returns except…during a movie.

Rachel said being on the Essex gave her a new appreciation for the fatigue challenges people face when at sea, where “noise and temperature fluctuations can constantly interrupt their sleep.” Noise and temperature fluctuations? The Navy won’t know noise until they’ve been in the same house with a colicky newborn. Even without colic, what mother hasn’t had a crying baby, wailing at all hours, every night? I’ll say it again, “Every night!” And while this doesn’t last for a hundred years, while you’re sleep deprived up to your ears, it seems like a hundred years.

Temperature fluctuations are also a personal problem for moms who’ve recently birthed a little hippo. It’s all about hormones, the very same ones that cause the new mother to say she’s going to smother her husband if he doesn’t get the fish tank cleaned, the tools off the garage floor and the chin whiskers out of the bathroom sink. Mom’s maniacal behavior will subside...sort of. However, she’ll always feel like murder is on the table for those peevish things listed.

While we’re on the subject of mom’s not getting enough rest, let’s just inject here that not the Navy, Rachael, nor a random columnist, has a clue why dads can hear a deer step on a dry leaf at a hundred yards but never, no not ever, can any dad hear a wailing infant at 2 a.m. Also, no father ever in recorded history had a toddler show up at dad’s bedside at midnight announcing, “I ‘frowed’ up.” Those are words for the sleep-deprived mother. Are dads sleep deprived? Maybe. But we don’t know why, and neither does the Navy.

Trena Eiden     trenaid@hotmail.com