I recently shared with a new parent this memory from the early
days nights with my first child:
I was sitting in bed, nursing my baby in the middle of the night. I didn’t understand why he was still crying if he was nursing…then I looked down and realized my arms were empty and my baby was actually still laying in the bassinet beside me, rather frustrated that I was feeding the imaginary him and not the real him.
I tell this story to a lot of new parents, because I want them to know: anything you say or do during the depths of sleep deprivation can and probably will seem pretty insane. On top of dream-nursing my baby, I once put a bag of baby carrots in the utensils drawer and wondered how I ran out of carrots so fast. I forgot my husband’s birthday, which is a few weeks after my son’s. I stared at people with a blank look more times than I can possibly count when they asked my name or birthday. (Let’s be honest, I still do that last one 3.5 years and another baby later.)
But those are just the amusing things. It’s easy to tell other people that you did something ridiculous while in that beyond-tired state. It’s easy to make light of it and chalk it up to mom-brain.
It’s harder to tell people that you whisper-screamed at your husband most nights for six months because you were just. so. tired. and he wasn’t magically making the baby stop crying like you desperately wanted him to. It’s harder to share the countless experiences of sobbing from pure exhaustion when the baby woke up for the sixth or seventh time in one night. And it is very, very hard to tell someone that at times you just wanted to find some extra-strength ear-plugs and shut your baby in another room for a while so you could get some sleep.
Sometimes none of those things happen. With my second baby, I have gone through some more-tired-than-normal days, but nothing like with my first. While some of it may have something to do with emotional wellness, I know that a lot of the reason I’m having an easier time with baby number two is that she’s just a better sleeper. As in, 2-4 hour stretches of sleep at night instead of 30-60 minute stretches.
There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a torture tactic sometimes. It’s intense. It has drastic effects on your body, brain, mood, and emotions after only a short period of time. When it lasts for months on end, you can find yourself doing, saying, and thinking things that you didn’t ever think you would.
While I don’t have the magic answer to make your baby sleep (there are some amazing resources out there for baby sleep though, so try some things out for sure), I do have some advice for you.
First of all, talk about it. Be honest with another parent or friend with how exhausted you are. It’s okay to be frustrated at your baby’s lack of sleep. It doesn’t mean you love them any less, I promise. And who knows? Maybe someone else who has been there, done that, will have the idea that works for your baby.
Second, ask for help. Sometimes I think we can belittle our own exhaustion as new parents because we are “just tired.” But being sleep deprived is a legitimate reason to ask for help from family and friends. Even if you are six months in and everyone has stopped offering help and assumes you have a handle on things. Even if you “don’t have it as bad” as someone else. Ask your mom to take the baby on a walk so you can nap. Ask a night-owl friend to come hang out with the baby for the first few hours of the night so you and your partner can sleep at the same time for just a couple hours. Ask for a ride if you are too tired to drive. Yes, that’s a real thing. And it’s okay to acknowledge that.
Third, take care of yourself in the ways you do have control over. Eat well. Drink lots of water. Take breaks to breath deeply. Talk to a friend. Journal. Play your favorite music. Take a long shower. Get outside and go on a walk.
Fourth, give yourself grace. Give your partner grace. Agree to forgive and move past hurtful things that are said or done at three in the morning. Put heavy conversations on pause until you are a little better rested. Know that you might not be able to do all the things as well as your more rested self used to do.
Lastly, recognize that this is a season, and that you will sleep again once day. If I could go back to that tired Mama breastfeeding an armful of air while her baby cried next to her, I’d tell her that within a couple years, she would be well-rested enough to actually consider doing this all over again…then that tired Mama would probably have punched me in the face.
And you know, that’s okay. I would forgive her. Then I would hold the baby so she could sleep.
What funny/sad/frustrating/ridiculous things has sleep deprivation made you do?