There are so many magical moments you get to experience when you have a newborn. Then nighttime rolls around, and suddenly things aren't so magical. Personally, my partner and I have engaged in way too many arguments over whose turn it was to get the baby when baby woke up screaming in the middle of the night. We were both worn out as new parents, but as the mother I felt like I deserved a break. So, yes, there are things a mom really means when she tells her partner, "It's your turn," and as the partner of an over-worked, sleep-deprived, potentially-still-healing-from-the-trauma-of-childbirth new mom, it's your job to learn how to read between the lines.
My partner has a very demanding job, for which he had to wake up early and commute to when he had our firstborn. We had agreed ahead of time that I would be the primary caregiver of the baby at night, when the baby arrived. I figured that I could handle two to three wake-ups a night to nurse for 20 minutes or so, and then sing the baby a little song back to sleep. But that was before the actual, living, breathing, never-sleeping baby came into our lives. Our baby wasn't the baby that I had expected him to be from my limited exposure to sleeping, cooing, agreeable babies that I had visited at other people's houses or had passed along on the sidewalk. My baby wailed for most of his waking hours, and even looked unhappy in his sleep. Sleep, for the most part, was touch and go.
My partner adjusted to this new paradigm when the baby arrived, and shared the caregiving responsibilities at night because, well, obviously. But since I had been dealing with a horror show of newborn life during the day while my partner was at work, I was even more depleted come night time. When it was my turn to get the baby, I just plain couldn't. I wanted to pass the buck. So when I told my partner it was his turn,I was lying most of the time, but that's because I was actually trying to communicate some other things, including the following:
"When Was The Last Time You Breastfed?"
There's a real inequality of labor when one parent is nursing and the other isn't. When I was nursing and pulling nighttime duty, that meant "getting the baby" was a full hour and a half ordeal. My son nursed on and off, as we both drifted in and out of sleep, for up to an hour. After the nursing session it would take another 30 minutes or more to change his diaper and swish, swoosh, and sway him back to sleep. When it was my partner's turn to get the baby, it meant I was asking him to physically get the baby, change him, bring him to me to nurse, and then get the baby back to sleep when I was finished. Yes, I knew that meant interrupting my partner's sleep on two separate intervals, but he still didn't have to give up a whole hour of his life to nursing.
My partner, however, thought it unfair. "Why can't you just get the baby since you're going to be up nursing him anyway?" Because, I explained, sometimes getting the baby could take up to 20 minutes if there was a diaper explosion waiting for you in that swaddle, and that's 20 minutes of sleep that I could use. Duh.
"I Just Don't Wanna"
Sometimes when I said it was my partner's turn to get the baby, it was because I simply didn't want to. Isn't that reason enough? Being a mom is hard. I'm not whining, mind you, I am stating a fact. Don't get me wrong, I loved being a mom, just like, more in the day time hours and when my baby was occasionally cute and not screaming hysterically or refusing to sleep no matter how long I bounced him.
"I've Been Doing This Crap All Day Long"
When you're a full-time stay-at-home mom, like I was after my first baby was born, it can be especially hard to burn the candle at both ends. Working a day and night shift is physically exhausting.
The one positive from all the activity and labor was that I gained some major leg definition after the first six months of being a first-time mom. My son required a 30 minute combination of leg pulses and squats, performed by me with him in my arms, in order to fall asleep, day or night. By the middle of any given evening I was exhausted. My legs needed a rest and I knew for a fact that my partner had been sitting at a desk all day long. Yes, he'd been working hard, but he'd been using his brain muscles and not his leg muscles. Like all athletes, I needed time to recuperate.
"One Of Us Had A Different Kind Of Day"
I had been peed on, pooped on, spit-up on, and sucked on. I realize that my partner had had a hard day, too, but in my mind it was very different. He had agency over his body. I wanted to sprawl out over my bed and be left there, completely undisturbed, for as long as physically possible.
"I Carried The Baby For Nine Months, So..."
Another hard-to-argue inequality in the parenting balance is the fact that I carried our baby and my partner didn't. While there are many things that I'm sure my partner would have enjoyed had he been able to carry a child (the warm feeling of a life growing inside of you, the power of it all, and the connection to your baby) he was still pretty stoked that Mother Nature works the way she does. I kind of feel like I did a lot of work up front, and that from there on out my partner owed me. So even if he did get the baby the last time, why couldn't it be his turn to get the baby again?
"I'm Going To Be Doing This All Over Again Tomorrow"
When you have a newborn it can feel like every day is a scene in the movie Groundhog Day. At least that's how it felt to me. Throw in a hefty dose of the postpartum depression I felt and every day just felt like one yawning abyss. Sleep was my one respite from it all. To be fair, my partner and I weren't aware that I had postpartum depression at first, so it isn't his fault that he didn't volunteer to let me sleep as much as I needed.
"My Head Feels Like A Dead Weight Right Now"
All I wanted to do was stay with my head on my comfy pillow and pretend that the baby was not crying. Baby? What baby? Isn't that the sound of a police siren? The cumulative lack of sleep a new parent amasses makes one's head feel like a ton of bricks every time they try to lift it from a resting position.
"Clearly The Baby Is Asking For You"
This may have been the delirium talking, but at times I was sure the baby (although he was only a couple weeks old) sounded like he was saying, "da da". And why not, right? The baby and I spent every waking hour together, and he very rarely got to see his dad (because his dad had to work so much). Why wouldn't my son call out to his dad in the middle of the night? At the time, this all seemed perfectly logical. Then again, I had slept, oh, probably a total of five hours in five weeks.
"Can't You See I'm One Eye Twitch Away From Truly Losing It?"
As the new mom of a colicky baby (a mom who hadn't even heard the words "reflux" or "colic" in her life), and who was completely floored by the concept of a baby waking up every 40 minutes throughout the night, I was on the brink of insanity. When I told my partner it was his turn to get the baby, it was a cry for help. I couldn't get that baby. I really couldn't.
"If I Lose A Minute More Of Sleep I'm Not Sure I Can Be Trusted To Take Care Of This Baby Tomorrow"
If I had gotten the baby, I didn't know what I would have done with myself. I probably would have just sat on our couch and cried onto his swaddle blanket as he nursed and until the sun came up. Luckily, my partner is not an idiot, and he could tell when I needed help and he went and got that baby. Bless him.