“If you think you’re tired now, just wait until you have that baby.” It was a phrase I'd heard often from a number of different people — and on this particular instance, it was spoken by a customer who found me seated for a brief break when I was 38 weeks pregnant. I was working night shifts at a retail store with extra-long December holiday hours. I was six hours into an eight-hour shift after spending a full morning and afternoon shuffling my very pregnant butt across my college campus, where I was desperately trying to cross the finals finish line and graduate before I was due to give birth to my first child. You’re damn right I thought I was tired before having kids.
I hated it when people clucked about how I had "no clue" what tired was as I battled my way through my last semester and trimester simultaneously. I was burning the candle at both ends, and surviving pretty decently. Was stay-at-home motherhood — with no long work hours, term papers, or speed-waddling from class to class with feet swollen like misshapen summer sausages — really going to be that much harder than what I was already doing?
It wasn’t unusual for me to pull all-nighters or set an alarm for 3:00 a.m. to bust out a term paper or study for an upcoming exam. Was the sleep schedule of a newborn really going to ruin me? To be honest, I didn’t think so.
I didn’t think it was. Secretly, I was dying for the relief of birth. I was ready for a break from the constant toil of full-time school and full-time work. And that’s truly what I thought it would be: a break. I thought I would breeze through the sleepless nights and off-kilter routines that come with having a new baby because, really, wasn’t I living like that already?
My work schedule changed from week to week, some nights leaving me to close up shop at 11:30 p.m. It wasn’t unusual for me to pull all-nighters or set an alarm for 3:00 a.m. to bust out a term paper or study for an upcoming exam. Was the sleep schedule of a newborn really going to ruin me? To be honest, I didn’t think so.
However, after my son was born, I finally understood what people had been telling me throughout my pregnancy. Following a 22-hour labor and a weeklong stint in the hospital for newborn jaundice, exhaustion took hold of my body in a way I’d never known before. I felt completely incapable of functioning, yet I was somehow supposed to take care of this brand new, tiny person. It seemed inconceivable that anyone was able to do this, least of all, me.
As the weeks went on, I realized that no amount of college training could prepare me for the type of sleep deprivation that came with motherhood. It wasn’t the type of sleeplessness I was in control of, like waking in the middle of the night to finish some last minute homework. There were no alarms to be expected in the early morning hours, no finish line in sight when he was awake and wailing for no reason I could decipher. I was constantly losing sleep and worse yet, I wasn’t able to make up for it.
Becoming a mom and losing sleep absolutely crippled me, and in the midst of that sleep deprivation, I felt like my entire identity was crumbling. I wasn’t the happy person I was before having kids. I wasn’t calm or patient or put together. I felt like I was losing myself, and it was a horrible feeling.
I couldn’t recover in the way I had before having my baby. Yes, I would have wildly varying schedules with school and work, but I also wasn’t beholden to keep anyone but myself alive. I could come off the long nights and exam week cramming and sleep in the afternoons because, every once in awhile, I still had time off. With a baby, there was no off time. There was no respite from his constant demands and his irregular waking from day to day. It wore on me more and more with each passing day, and there was nothing I could do to catch a break. My husband was still in school and struggling equally — if not more than I was — without sleep. We couldn't help each other or ourselves.
It wasn’t long until I began to fall into postpartum depression. It wasn’t entirely from the sleep deprivation, but when I look back on those days, I know losing sleep didn’t help. It made it harder to cope with my emotional state during the day and made my ability to care for myself almost non-existent. Becoming a mom and losing sleep absolutely crippled me, and in the midst of that sleep deprivation, I felt like my entire identity was crumbling. I wasn’t the happy person I was before having kids. I wasn’t calm or patient or put together. I felt like I was losing myself, and it was a horrible feeling.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as my son started to sleep through the night more frequently (nearly a year and half after giving birth) that my postpartum depression finally began to lose its grip on me. Not having that basic need of rest fulfilled had rendered me incapable of taking care of myself throughout my son’s infancy. It had led me to the edge of myself, and made motherhood far more miserable than I ever imagined it would be.
Now, three kids in, I can’t say I ever get a full night’s sleep. My kids still wake in the night — and with three of them, I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon. But now that I am no longer struggling through the infant stage, I finally feel like there is hope on the horizon. Someday I will be able to sleep a full and glorious night, all the way through, but for now, that’s enough to get me through from one day to the next.