I recall the early days of first-time parenthood with a vividness that my brain reserves for very few experiences … probably because it was so overwhelmingly hellish. It wasn’t a pretty picture as I had zero clue about babies, paired with raging hormones and sleep deprivation … oh the sleep deprivation! I remember with absolute clarity being awake night after night at 3:00 am, pacing the floors of a darkened nursery as I tried everything in my incredibly limited arsenal. Shushing, swaddling, swaying, nursing, diaper changes, singing, hoping, praying, crying … and then I’d repeat it all. It was rough.
I loved my baby, but I could not for the life of me comprehend why people did this more than once. The idea of having another baby one day and going through this all over again? It sounded insane to me. But sometime around my daughter’s first birthday she started sleeping through the night. For so long, I felt like I was drowning. I thought I would never sleep again. Then suddenly it happened, like everyone swore that it would. When my daughter was 20 months old, I finally felt like I could do it all over again and thus I got pregnant with baby #2. While I was excited for our new baby’s arrival, I was filled with absolute dread over those newborn days. After having a toddler who slept through the night (until 9:00 or 10:00 some mornings!), I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the return of sleep deprivation.
But, a funny thing happened the second time around. The lack of sleep wasn’t really a “thing.” Don’t get me wrong, my baby sucked at sleeping just as much as his sister (even more actually), but for some reason I didn’t feel as overwhelmed by it. I hadn’t thought about it much, until I was recently asked this question by one of my first-time mama friends who knows my little man isn’t a great sleeper: “How do you survive without sleep?! How do you not just come unglued?! I feel like I’m gonna lose it!”
I thought about it for a bit before responding. Initially I thought that maybe it was just a matter of learning to function on less sleep (I have clearly had plenty of practice), but while that is probably a small part of it, I realized the real reason I’m able to handle sleep deprivation so much better this time: I’ve learned to just let it go.
As a first-time mom, I had no idea what to expect and even though I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep, the reality was much harsher than I anticipated. I stressed myself out over getting my baby to sleep. I scoured the internet for tips and tricks, solicited friends, and tried every gimmick and method and swaddle that existed, but nothing seemed to work. I kept grinding my gears with nothing to show for it except heaps of stress and growing resentment towards my baby. Why couldn’t she just figure it out?
With my second little one, I’m not flying blind. I walked into it knowing — expecting — that we both would never sleep. I have accepted that this is my new normal for an undetermined amount of time and that it is simply par for the course. I went into second-time parenthood realizing that maybe he would start sleeping through the night at three weeks, or three months, or three years, but eventually he would learn to sleep. I have the perspective now to know that this season of life isn’t forever (though it may feel like it at times). I don’t have to ask the internet questions like, “Is it possible to die from lack of sleep?” (#GoogleSearchConfessions). I don’t have to kill myself with sleep training — I don’t even bother. I just learned to let go of the idea of sleep for awhile and it changed my whole outlook. I’m no longer angry and bitter during a middle-of-the-night nursing session, because I know that one day these times will be no more. I know that one day my boy will be big and won’t need me. I’ll sleep then and everything will be just fine.
And you know what? My 8-month-old has finally started sleeping for good chunks of time … sometimes even through the whole night. It might change next week, or even tomorrow, but I’m OK with it because I’ve let it go. I’ve gently introduced new things, like moving to his own bed, but if it didn’t work at first I just let it go until he was ready. Finally he’s getting there. Naps are still rough/short/sporadic at best, but I know we’ll get there too … eventually.
Letting it go might not work for every parent, but it definitely worked for us and has been by far the most successful way I’ve found for dealing with sleep deprivation.