I heard the words over and over again, just like every new mom: “Sleep when the baby sleeps, and you’ll be fine.”
Well, that’s a nice theory. But the thing is, babies (or at least mine) seem to be born nocturnal. For me, there was no sleeping at night for the first few weeks. None.
Sure, babies spend plenty of time snoozing during the day. But sadly, I’m incapable of suddenly morphing into a creature of the night in a few short days, or even a few short weeks.
And so, sleeping when the baby slept did not work out very well for me. Or for most moms I know.
Of course, I wish it had — after all, it may have saved me from walking around in a zombie-like state all the time and weeping every day around noon. (And then again at 4 in the afternoon, and again at dinnertime.) I felt utterly exhausted at every waking moment, but the daytime was when people liked to come over to visit and hold my baby (you know, because they were awake). That’s also what made it possible for me to take a shower and get in some adult conversation and feel like a human again.
Coincidentally, the daytime is also when I like to eat and watch my favorite television shows. And call me crazy, but I also like to see the light of day when I look out my windows — it keeps me from falling into a depression.
Despite the many (many) people who suggested otherwise, I was simply unable to crash the second I laid my child down, and plunge into a deep REM cycle. I’m just not wired that way.
Once those crazy first weeks are over — and you both fall into a routine and get the hang of nap time — it sure is nice to sit down and maybe even shut your eyes for a bit. But that’s also when moms like to spend a little time on themselves, start meal prepping, pay some bills, or suck up pesky dust bunnies with the vacuum cleaner. It makes us feel better when things are done around the house and the duties don’t start growing into Mt. Everest over there in the corner. It gives us a sense of order (and hey, it’s always nice to have clean underwear).
Getting enough sleep is crucial and all, but so is having some time alone to do some online shopping, get in some exercise, or honestly, just pluck your eyebrows, because damn they are getting insane.
Magical things started happening to me when I would put the kids down to nap. It suddenly became fun to eat a bag of chocolate chips with both hands free. So much so that I became an expert at it. I was also able to hold full conversations with my best friend on the phone, uninterrupted. I didn’t even care if I had to hide in the bathroom or the nearest closet to do it, just so the baby wouldn’t wake up — having some girl talk makes you feel shiny and new when you’re a new mom in the trenches.
There were days I would count down the minutes until bedtime or nap time, with big plans to fall into a drool-inducing slumber — only to be overcome with the sudden urge to clean out the fridge and scrub every shelf.
And you know what? I gave in, every single time. After all, these rare moments of freedom are sporadic; you have to pounce on them.
Sure, I knew nobody else cared about my clean refrigerator, or freshly dusted base boards. But I did (and still do). Not all the time, but often enough. Sometimes I just needed to simply do these things because I wanted to do them. Same with reading a few chapters in a book or trying out a new recipe I’d been meaning to get to. I still needed to feel like me, and to do things I used to do whenever I wanted, just like I had before kids.
And the best time to do that? When the baby was sleeping.
I didn’t care if I had to squeeze it all in during a short nap time; it somehow helped me. And I know I’m not alone.
All of us moms need to feel connected to other things, whether that’s catching up on Instagram, working on their laptop, taking an online class, or simply staring at the ceiling and meditating. When we stop doing all the things we used to do before the baby came, it’s all too easy to lose ourselves; and with that comes feelings of resentment and irritability.
It doesn’t take much to keep us in touch with ourselves, and it certainly doesn’t mean we don’t love being a mother if we crave these little moments of sanity, away from our kids.
It just means we love ourselves, too. And that’s more important now than probably ever before.