We’ve all heard exhaustion associated with parenthood, and I was no exception. During my pregnancy, I laughed along with everyone at all the stereotypes and jokes about the sleepless nights ahead. Wink, wink, here’s what's coming to ya! But to me, it all felt slightly unreal and far away, like an exaggeration, or a way for parents to make their lives sound harder than they really were. (Yes, you can be mad at me, I kind of hate pre-mom me too.) I was arrogant enough to think, secretly, that it would be different for me. Setting up the bassinet beside our bed the week of my due date, I dreamily imagined feeding my sweet bundle of joy once or twice a night, lying it back down, and dropping swiftly and blissfully back into high quality slumber. I can honestly say I was not expecting motherhood to be easy. But I was completely blindsided by how hard it actually was.
Our darling baby boy was as cute as could be and a healthy 9 lb. 3 oz. He had lots of dark hair and unfairly long eyelashes. We were smitten. He was content and slept all day the first day at the hospital while I rode the high of being a brand new mom, texting everyone pictures, kissing his soft sleeping face about a gazillion times and foolishly not using the time to rest. Then night came and we could. Not. Lay him down,. Each time we tried, he woke up and cried to be picked up again. My husband and I took turns holding him, but even while Brian held him, sleep eluded me. I barely got two hours of sleep that night.
The next few nights were not much better. Blearily we staggered through the first week of parenthood and gradually he settled into a routine of waking about 3 times a night, 2 on a good night and 4 on a bad night. At least it was predictable. I waited and waited for the day he would sleep through the night. I thought that babies sleep bad at first, and the older they get the better they sleep, because they don’t need to eat as much, and soon they sleep through the night and this brief period of hellish exhaustion would be over. I set up hopeful milestones in my mind as the point when it would get better, then buried those hopes as the milestones came and went with no change. Each random night when he would sleep a little better than usual, my hopes would again rise to dangerous heights, only to once again plummet to their death when the next night was worse than ever. At the four month mark, things finally changed. For the worse. The infamous four month sleep regression, which I had learned about in one of my countless Google searches for baby sleep tips, proved every bit as terrible as the internet had declared it would be. My son began waking 6 to 8 times a night!
I’m going to skim over the next months of my life. I will tell you that it was a dark time in my life. I was like the walking dead. I tried everything known to man to get my child to sleep. (Yes, I tried sleep training. Multiple times.) Sleep: it became a word that physically triggered me. I became obsessed. I talked about it to anyone who would listen. I confided in other mothers, and at each of their sure-fire, tried and true endowments of wisdom my heart would sink like a rock. You know why? Because usually I had already tried that thing and it hadn't worked for me. People meant well, but I often left the conversation feeling stupid and horribly inadequate. I had one friend tell me that all babies can be taught to sleep well. Friends, that just about broke me. It confirmed to me my fears that it was my fault, that I must be doing something wrong. At my deepest level, what I wanted was not actually advice, it was just to be validated. For someone to understand what I was going through and say, "Its ok. Sometimes babies don't sleep. You’re doing a great job. It's going to get better."
Finally, on a night where my endurance was worn to a paper-thin ghost of what it once was, I cracked. I did what my husband and I had once smugly declared that we would never do. I brought him to our room, and I laid him down beside me in bed. And he slept. He actually slept!! He slept, and I slept, and it was wonderful. Since that point, things continued to improve steadily. He started sleeping through the night not long after, and the sleepless nights that I thought would never end have faded to a dim memory.
Let me be clear, I'm not advocating for co-sleeping. This isn’t that post. I'll defend my own decision to start that, but I won't tell anyone else what to do. The purpose of this post is just to offer a hand of friendship, a word of comfort, a voice telling you that you're not the only one who has felt like you're sinking. I'm just here to say, "I see you, mama." Not the polished mama with it all together. You, the one with the red rimmed eyes and postpartum anxiety and the mild imposter syndrome, YOU are doing so well. Please don’t give up. If your baby is fed, clothed, and LOVED then you are doing so so well. And hey. It's ok. You’re doing a great job. It's going to get better.
Author: Chelsey Weiler