That simple statement had no real meaning until about two years ago when I had a baby that wouldn’t sleep. Not just wouldn’t sleep the way newborn babies aren’t supposed to sleep, but really, truly wouldn’t sleep. To say the sleep deprivation that came with the first eight months of parenthood was devastating would be an understatement. I couldn’t fathom ever having another child and having to go through it again. I knew it’d take me years to recover — not physically, necessarily — but from the scathing mental pain of pure and utter exhaustion.
For the better part of eight months, we slept in 30-minute increments. The first time my son slept for four hours in a row, I got mastitis, if that tells you anything. (It was the longest I’d ever gone without breastfeeding overnight – ouch.) It was Monday, June 4th. Yes, it was that monumental that I remember the exact date. We almost threw a legit party to celebrate the event. You know, if we hadn’t been so tired. While the sleep after that improved tremendously, it would be months before I truly caught up on sleep and could rejoin society as a functioning human being. If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t been sleep-deprived.
It’s more than being tired. My brain stopped working. I was literally dumber. I couldn’t remember anything or form a coherent thought. I could barely physically trudge through each day. My mental state was less than stellar. Every day was an act of survival. I had no intention of being an awesome do-all-the-things mom. I just wanted to make it through each day. On the rare occasion I had a little extra mental energy left over at the end of the day, I dreamed of the day when I could sleep and wake up well-rested.
Two years later, I’m still waiting.
Now, I’m not saying I’m truly sleep-deprived like I was early on. But I’m still so, so tired and I’m wondering if there will ever be a day when those words aren’t in my vocabulary. While getting up in the middle of the night with a toddler isn’t the same epic battle that it was with a newborn, it still interrupts my sleep. On the mornings he sleeps until a glorious 6 am, I still wake up with heavy eyelids and the desire to hide under the covers for just a little bit longer. Or for forever. Even the nights he doesn’t wake up, I’m not truly sure I’m sound, sound asleep. When my son was born, my mother-in-law told me I’d never sleep the same again and I had no idea just how true her words would be. I thought it wasn’t possible. But I’m here to tell you, I’ve been tired for two-and-a-half years.
You can already see those years plastered across my face. It’s not just in the dark circles under my eyes, but the age in my face. The lack of pep in my step. The time(s) I drove my car into the side of the garage. The number of sentences I haven’t been able to finish and the number of dumb grammatical mistakes I’ve made in my writing since my son’s birth.
And it’s not all in my head. According to WebMD, chronic sleep deprivation can cause an increase in accidents, cognitive impairment, poor quality of life, an increased risk for stroke and heart disease, and decreased performance. They even say a lack of sleep can age your face. See, I’m not old, I’m just tired. (OK, and old.) So what are we parents supposed to do? I go to bed early, sleep in complete darkness, wake up at the same time every day — even on the weekends (hello, parenthood), and stay away from electronics in bed. I exercise, I eat well, and I attempt to take care of myself. But it only takes one night of staying up late or one middle-of-the-night wake up call to make it all come crashing back down on top of me. It’s harder to take care of yourself when you’re tired. It’s harder to take care of a child when you’re exhausted. It’s harder to be a good, happy mom when you’re just plain worn out.
Still feeling a bit crazy from my sleep deprivation and inspired by this dad who hired a maid (instead of a divorce lawyer) in order to bring a little piece to his new-parent household, I turned to some friends to see what they would do for a good night’s sleep …
“I’d hire a full-time cook. Not having to cook breakfast or dinners would save a lot of time, give me MORE time with my kids, and let me sleep in a little bit in the mornings.”
— Madeline Glasser, mom of a two-year-old and seven-month-old
“… right now with the summer weather, I’d say [get a] landscaper. We have a pretty big yard and my poor husband has to spend almost every night out there doing something.”
— Whitney Mattocks, a mom who’s vying for some sleep for her other half.
“To get more sleep? Make a genie appear and wish for my baby to sleep through the night! But on a practical standpoint, I totally want a house cleaner — but my cleaning doesn’t interrupt sleep, it just doesn’t get done!”
— Katie Heddleston, mom of two boys, 28 months and almost 7 months
“I’d hire a maid. A dirty house stresses me out, and I find myself running about right before bed in an effort to clean something … anything … to wake up to a somewhat cleaner house. This, of course, inevitably puts me to bed later,”
— Tara Sabo, mom of a two-and-a-half year old and newborn
“My husband just booked me a hotel room for later this week. I’m equally excited and anxious about it, as I’ve never been away from my [little one] for an entire night before …”
— Meghan Marie, a new mom
So is there one solution? Not likely. I’ll just keep waiting for the day when I can sleep a full, uninterrupted eight hours for a couple of days in a row. And don’t tell me that’s never going to happen. I don’t even want to think about the teenage years when I have to stay up until midnight or 1 am waiting for him to make curfew. I’m tired all over again just thinking about it.