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An Open Letter to the Sandman

Writing by Freya Bennett // illustration by Nea Valdivia

Six years after my first daughter was born, I birthed another tiny human. She’s a Rainbow by the Rolling Stones played as she entered the world, and we all had a bit of a cry.

Unlike my first, daughter number two is a great sleeper. I’ve traded aggressive bouncing with gently depositing my child ‘awake but drowsy’ into her bassinet and I couldn’t be more smug about it. But despite this amazing turn of luck, I have a bone to pick with the sandman.

Our start wasn’t without its hiccups, and while I longed to breastfeed my second kid, a very necessary breast reduction and a dodgy latch meant my supply was woefully low and her hungry wails needed satiating.

Not breastfeeding means 3am stares into the blinding abyss of the fridge as I prepare her milk (donated by local lactating mamas who are my milky heros). My middle of the night milk preparations means a big old injection of adrenaline as I try to get the milk to my baby’s desired temperature (lest she gag and demand a do-over) before her whinging becomes full on crying.

I’ve never been one of those lucky folks who are asleep the minute their heads hit the pillow (do they not have problems to solve?), so, by the time I have warmed the milk, fed the baby, and deposited her (awake but drowsy) back in her cot, my brain is wide awake (and far from drowsy), ready to solve the world’s problems.

For me to get to sleep whether it’s 9pm or 3am, my brain insists on a little pondering session, perhaps a reminisce on my most cringeworthy moments or an attempt to write a bestselling novel before gracing me with enough melatonin to drift off. And typically, just as I reach the brink of slumber, my baby starts her adorable hour-long symphony of grunts and farts signalling her readiness for the next feed.

As the clock strikes ungodly hours, I find myself in a familiar dance with the Sandman, who seems to be sleeping on the job (see what I did there?). With each bleary-eyed stumble to the fridge, I dread the next hour or so of lying awake, my brain deciding to randomly serenade me with its rendition of Old Man River on repeat until I’m curious enough to Google the song’s history (I’m humbled to find out the poignant meaning of the song, contrasting the struggles and hardships of African Americans with the endless, uncaring flow of the Mississippi River).

Not being able to sleep when exhausted feels like a massive flaw in our human design that needs rectifying. What evolutionary advantage does it serve for our brains to suddenly decide we’re going to craft our very own Netflix special, complete with jokes that seem absolutely hilarious in the dead of night but make little sense when the sun rises? There’s also the time pressure of knowing I must sleep before the next feed. Akin to the stage fright of using a busy public toilet when you really have to wee—sleep refuses to come on demand.

And yet, despite the perplexing nature of our human design, there’s a certain comradery in the sleeplessness. As I settle back into bed, my mind still buzzing with unanswered questions and half-formed punchlines, I find solace in the knowledge that, somewhere, out there, my fellow insomniacs are crafting terrible novels or cringing at the “you too!” they shouted five years ago at the barista in response to the “Enjoy your coffee!”. Sandman or not, we’ll soldier on through the night, bonded by our shared weariness and armed with a treasure trove of intriguing tidbits we’ve acquired in the darkness (and who knows, maybe one day, we’ll craft a genuinely funny stand-up set).

Freya Bennett

Freya Bennett is the Co-Founder and Director of Ramona Magazine. She is a writer and editor from Dja Dja Wurrung Country who loves grey days, libraries and dandelion tea. You can follow her on Instagram @freya___bennett

Andrea (Nea) Valdivia

Andrea (Nea) Valdivia is an illustrator from Lima, Peru based in Melbourne, Australia with a passion for the arts, specialising in traditional and digital illustration, as well as graphic design. Andrea is passionate about using her art to make different statements and she especially loves creating colourful characters that tell a story in an aesthetically pleasing way. She is inspired by nature, animals and people.

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