One of my favourite reads as a new mom was a post from Rachel at Finding Joy, from her “Dear Mom Letters” series. Her letters have pushed me to write one of my own that I desperately needed to hear…
Take a deep breath.
It’s normal. All of it.
Every last frustrating, mind-boiling, soul-crushing moment. I’ve been there, knee deep in that sh*tstorm known as chronic sleep deprivation, that only someone who hasn’t had a solid REM cycle in almost a year can understand.
I’ve been there in those first few months, when you are just grasping on to some semblance of a daily rhythm. Feed…hold/play/walk…sleep…feed…sleep…play/play/feed/play/feed/go-the-f-to-sleep. But you were in good company, the babies who slept longer than 3 hour stints at that age were rare, so the early months seemed tolerable, reasonable & expected.
But then one story, and then another finds you. Stories of other babies beginning to sleep longer. From 3 hours to 5, 8 or even 10(!) in a row. The talk of how great it feels to be rested again. But Moms (and Dads) of the *awake* babies don’t talk as much. We sit, listen, taking in every last detail that might be THE THING that made other babies sleep. But we are quiet. And so the stories we hear are of the others. The rested. The sleeping.
Meanwhile, you continue to be awoken over, and over…and over. The tears come, and your heart starts to race at the slightest sound on the baby monitor. I could literally feel my stomach flip flop with each peep. My skin prickled with anxiety.
You get that tight feeling in the pit of your stomach, that maybe you have done something wrong, that this small little being is “acting out” and needs to be taught to do something so natural. Had the previous 3 months of simply responding when your baby cried, completely screwed you both up for life? Are you now doomed to years of nightwakings, while the rest of the world (aka husband) slumbers? You start with one book, then another, then the internet. OH GOD, the internet. I felt like such a failure, like it was all my fault. Cue more tears.
Now here comes the real mind-f*ck: the gazillion different methods, none of which you ever thought about prior to having a baby. CIO (Cry-it-Out), the “No-tears” method, Ferber, Weissbluth, Sleep Sense, Baby Whisperer, the list goes on. Who knew you could actually pay someone to be your sleep coach? Then if the assault on your exhausted brain wasn’t enough, perhaps you were extra lucky and found yourself in the midst of one of the sleep regressions. Parenting’s little way of kicking you when you’re down.
Through it all you have (albeit well-meaning) friends and family telling you to enjoy this time, to savor the quiet (ha) moonlit nights with just you and your babe. So if you didn’t already feel guilty for your child not sleeping, you now also feel guilty for not enjoying it. And if you hear one more person say the words “self-soothe”, you will take your copy of Ferber and stick it where those moonlit nights don’t shine.
I’m here to tell you, I’ve been there. It was the biggest mental & physical @ss-kicking of my life, but I lived to tell the tale. You aren’t alone.
You aren’t a bad parent.
Your child isn’t broken.
Sleep isn’t a competition. Or a skill. Or a race.
Maybe a marathon.
Are there things that can help you work towards more sleep? Sure. Do they work for everyone? HEEELLLS NO. Do you need to do any of them to be a good parent? Absolutely not.
My advice to you, tired momma, is to pick one. Just one. Even if that one is simply picking up a white noise machine, turning the baby swing down from Mach 10 to gentle waves, or allowing yourself to eat chocolate for breakfast as a pick-me-up. Pick a small goal, that can make you feel like you are working towards a better tomorrow. Because through all of the ideas that we tried (and dude, we tried them all) the most valuable tool was not feeling powerless if I was at least doing something. Hope.
Eventually it will come. Not suddenly, like you may hope. But sneakily. The hours will stretch, and the wake-ups less frequent. And thanks to teething, illness, travel, nightmares, growth spurts, noisy neighbours and who knows what else, they will (unfortunately) never completely disappear.
But one day there will be less tears (from both of you), and all of the frustration, anger, guilt and resentment will have somehow evaporated. You may not sleep a full night 100%, or even 50% of the time. But the wake-ups will become less a disruptive, if not an accepted part of parenting your growing child.
And you will have found a strength within your spirit that you never knew existed.
So this is for you, tired, exhausted, desperate, tearful momma. To help soothe your anxious mind and your worried heart. Hang in there.
Rest (if not sleep) well.