When I was pregnant, it seemed as if veteran parents’ favorite piece of advice involved sleeping as much as I could before the baby arrived. So, yes, I was sufficiently warned about being sleep deprived. I did not, however, realize what ridiculous things I would do as a sleep deprived mom. It's safe to say that 12 weeks of maternity leave was not enough time to get used to the whole "surviving on minimal sleep" thing. So I just accepted my sleep deprivation as the new normal, promising myself that one day in the distant future, I would sleep again. It’s been 10 years since I’ve given birth and that day has not yet come.
I love my job as a TV writer and producer, and I had focused on moving ahead in my career before having kids. I always knew I’d want to continue working after becoming a mom, but even after a decade of this lifestyle, I haven’t mastered the “balance” yet (probably because there is no such thing as work-life balance). Sometimes my job takes priority, like when I need to travel for a few days, and sometimes my family does, like when I refuse to work once I get home and until my kids go to bed so I can give my attention solely to my children for a couple of hours before they are asleep. In between trying to give enough of myself to all the demands of my life, there were tiny windows of opportunity to sleep.
But it’s never been enough, so I’ve ended up doing some of these hilarious, and occasionally embarrassing, things at work due to sleep deprivation, and I'm going to go ahead and assume I'm not alone:
I had already accomplished a full day's worth of work by the time I was commuting into the office in the morning. My husband and I were up at 6:00 a.m. and we leapt into the choreographed chaos of getting two kids, and ourselves, out the door for daycare and work. Breakfast was prepared and sort of eaten (and thrown), and lunches, snacks and bottles of breast milk were packed and labeled. My pump parts were washed and tossed into the clumsy tote I had lug in addition to the baby strapped to my chest and the laptop in my backpack. My husband steered our toddler daughter in her stroller and we navigated through the other parents at drop-off, ducking out before the separation waterworks (my kids’, and mine) started.
So yes, when I was finally at the subway turnstile and attempted to swipe my keys instead of my Metrocard, it’s because I was so damn tired.
Being this sleep-deprived meant I couldn’t hold on to a thought for very long. I coped by making lists, but they grew so long because I had to write down all the things, lest they escape me. Often I would call a co-worker and immediately forget why. I got pretty good at stalling until I remembered, though. Let’s say I asked a lot of questions about how their days were going so far.
As a brand new mom back from maternity leave, I wanted to prove that I was still a valuable member of my team. I wanted everyone to know that even though I’d been out of the office for 12 weeks, I was truly irreplaceable. So I dove into my work with gusto, despite my supervisor’s encouragement to take it slow and that he fully wasn’t going to load my plate with projects right away. But as one of only two working parents in my department, I felt like I had to do more than just pull my weight: I had to make up for being away for three months. This is a very unhealthy point of view, and one I no longer have. Since becoming a mom, I have actually become a more efficient and empathetic employee. My time is precious, since I have little ones waiting for me to get home every day, so I have learned to work smarter, without working longer.
But before I gained this insight, through the experience of two maternity leaves, I took on a lot at work to prove myself an asset, and that meant trying to work fast to get a lot done. But when you work fast, which isn’t always smart, you end up making mistakes. Or, you totally forget to send the emails that contained the mistakes (which, in hindsight, was probably a good thing).
I wasn’t trying to be hyper-conscientious, I swear. I just thought it was an hour later in the day than it actually was. Never mind that I had a computer, and a phone, and a second phone (trying futilely to separate work from life) all announcing the time. I truly thought I was on time for something that wasn’t even happening yet. That is how evil the sleep deprived mind is.
On the days I would remember to pack my own lunch in addition to my kids’ meals and snacks and changes of clothes for daycare, I would be so proud of myself. I would store my lunch in the communal fridge (away from the expired milk), and then leave it there… for days… because I would forget I actually brought it. Not only was I tired from having a toddler and an infant, but I also wasn’t used to me being so on the ball as to actually provide a meal for my own damn self.
The forgetfulness that plagued me following sleepless nights as a new mom manifested in so many fun ways. Sometimes, I would forget where I lived… at work. In my defense, the offices in my bland corporate environment did sort of all look alike. And with my vision blurry from exhaustion, I could barely read my name on the placard. I did, however, get my steps in whenever I’d have to backtrack to my desk after over-shooting it.
I was making coffee and also refilling my water bottle. Things got weird.
Until very recently, I thought multitasking was something I had to do as a human with a job, and a crucial part of the working mom life. It turns out, I can’t actually do two, or more, things at the same time. I can’t even toggle back and forth between two tasks productively, because I have to reset my brain to get back to where I left off after the interruption. I think this is the case for most people who got a decent night’s rest, but throw in the sleep deprivation factor of new motherhood and multitasking felt like I was actually going backwards. I did have so many windows open on my computer that I couldn’t find the document I was editing and I kept trying to restart and the machine kept beeping and putting up error messages and I might have cried until I laughed and then I called I.T. and they were very patient with me.
Now I try as hard as I can to not get distracted by incoming emails or chats, and to focus on making significant headway on one task before switching gears. Multitasking is for amateurs.
This did not happen to me, but it did happen to the president of our network on a day the whole staff was gathered for an off-site meeting. A mother of two young girls, she stood onstage to address us, pointing to her feet, and totally owned the fact that she had two different shoes on. I had never loved a boss more. She was showing us her human side, as a parent and an executive, sufficiently setting an example for anyone who was trying to juggle all the aspects of her life.
No one is immune from making mistakes, and when it happens — at the office or at home — you summon as much grace as you can, admit the wrongdoing, and move on.
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