No two pregnancies are exactly the same. One thing that I think most women can agree on is that quality sleep while pregnant is hard to come by. Between getting up to pee every hour and a half, and finding some sort of comfortable position, (Ha! Let me know if you find one), we ladies are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to catching some zzz’s.
Common explanations, from well-meaning folk, are that this is just prepping your mind and body for the lack of sleep you’ll experience once the baby is born. (Cruel, really. But whatever…).
Currently three-quarters of the way through my third pregnancy, I remembered and expected these sleep disruptions. They suck, they’re annoying. But this time around, I’m plagued by another pregnancy symptom that I never experienced before, but that I’ve learned is quite common: nightmares. And more specifically, morbid nightmares. Devastatingly vivid, tragic nightmares about loved ones – most often my own children.
(Warning: some might find the descriptions below graphic or disturbing.)
In one, my daughter fell over Niagara Falls, sinking to the bottom of the river. I was standing in a viewing area barricaded with thick glass behind the Falls and could do nothing but watch as her tiny body slowly settled to the bottom and she drowned. Inches from her on the other side of the glass, I reached out but could not help her.
Horrific, right? Tell me about it.
I woke up physically crying and shaking. It scared the hell out of my poor husband. The dream was so intensely real, it took several minutes for my stomach to stop churning and mind to accept that everyone was safely sleeping in their beds.
What a terrible dream, I remember thinking the next morning. I’m not prone to nightmares, so I figured it was a fluke – maybe stemming somehow from something I had recently seen, heard, or read.
Unfortunately, it was no fluke. Since then there have been many more dreams of this nature.
Just this week, I dreamed my youngest was dying of an incurable childhood illness. My husband and I held vigil on either side of her hospital bed, holding her hands and whispering to her that it was OK to let go. We loved her and would remember her always.
When I woke, my pillowcase was soaked with tears.
The nightmares are so vivid and gut-wrenching, it’s hard to shake the images from your mind in order to fall back asleep. Once you do, it’s time to get up and pee again. Let’s just say I’ve had better sleep in the first few weeks nursing a newborn than I have in the latter stages of this pregnancy.
When I mentioned these disturbing occurrences to friends, I was surprised, and relieved, to hear that many of them had experienced nightmares during pregnancy too – and many revolved around their other children:
Watching from a window as a child is hit by a car in the road. Finding a child face down in a pool. All of them were equally unsettling, morose, and dark.
What happened to the harmless, quirky pregnancy dreams I used to have? You know, the ones where you hiccup and a baby appears in your arms. Or you give birth to a kitten instead of a baby. Or you birth a baby with a full head of hair like Ariel the Little Mermaid. The ones where you wake up chuckling, “Well THAT was weird,” not sobbing uncontrollably and shaking with fear.
A little digging revealed that pregnancy nightmares are actually common and are possibly linked to hormonal changes. Friends I’ve talked to said that their dreams largely went away after birth. I wish someone would have mentioned this symptom to me, as I never saw it on any pregnancy checklist I read.
I put this out there not to scare others, but to add it to the ever-growing list of possible unpleasant side effects of growing a human inside of you. I’m sure not all women will experience nightmares quite like this – thank goodness – because I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy.
So as I count down the weeks until D-day, here’s hoping that the bad dreams stay at bay and good sleep finds me…