Well Meaning Advice
When I became pregnant I was given a lot of very well meaning advice for impending motherhood. But when it came to the recommendations about sleep, I disregarded them all.
I am one of those lucky people who happily thrived on five or six hours a night so I didn’t think that having a newborn baby would impact on my sleep that much. I really wondered what everyone was complaining about.
How wrong can one woman be?
I ignored some of the advice because it didn’t make sense. When I was pregnant, I kept getting told things like ‘sleep as much as you can now’ or ‘get lots of early nights’.
But what is the point? There is no such thing as a “sleep bank”. You cannot get in extra shut-eye before baby so as to save it up for after the baby comes. Sleep doesn’t work like that. It would be lovely if it did.
I also disregarded the warnings because there was nothing I could do. “When the baby comes there will be many sleepless nights”. This phrase or was said to me so often when I was pregnant that it was almost a cliché.
But how does that help? There is simply no way to prepare yourself for how little sleep you may get in those first few weeks with a newborn.
Sleep When The Baby Sleeps
And I stopped listening to the tips because they were not all that helpful. You get told to forget about housework and the hundred other things that you want to do and “sleep when the baby sleeps”.
But this implies that as soon as I put the baby to bed I can go to bed and instantly fall asleep myself. It totally disregards the common situations where either baby doesn’t fall asleep or only sleeps for a short nap or (this is the worst) where baby is happily snoozing away but I cannot fall into a slumber myself.
So I developed what I coined “sleep stress” (try saying that ten times fast). What the books and other parents didn’t say was how difficult it was to know whether Dylan would have a 15-minute catnap or sleep for three hours. In those first few weeks, I got to the stage where if I had two hours of sleep in a row it was an amazing miracle. Sometimes I would be happy if I managed to lie down and close my eyes in a dark room for ten minutes.
Having a baby is like an alarm clock with absolute no set pattern. You cannot just swat the snooze button – you have to promptly get up and work out what baby needs and be in some semblance of wakefulness to do it.
In those first few weeks with the baby, I developed “sleep jealousy”. I would get a visit from friends who had told me they had a sleep-in or an afternoon nap and I would literally see green.
I didn’t care about fast cars, sparkly jewellery or fine cuisine, but if someone told me that they had had eight hours of sleep in a row the previous night I would almost break down in tears at the thought of such an unheard of luxury.
I now understand why sleep deprivation is used as method of torture during wars. You simply cannot function without sleep. During the nastiest times in those first few months I actually found myself hallucinating. I thought I had a conversation with my husband sitting on the couch, but he wasn’t even home. I made stupid mistakes like trying to towel dry myself off in the shower before I turned the water off.
I worked out that I could handle anything, anything at all with enough sleep. The baby can cry for three hours and I will usually be fine, but five minutes of woe will destroy me if I have not had enough sleep.
The icing on the cake was one book I read on getting your child to sleep that pointed out that if you are tired you probably couldn’t fathom how tired your child must be. Yes, nice – throw a heap of guilt on top of the torture of sleep deprivation.
One final thing I disregarded was the old cliché that “it does get better”. But it really is true. Now I have a happy little boy who does have at least one long stretch of sleep during the night and on a good day he will bless us with two or three naps. I have a newfound appreciation of sleep. So much so that I am now terrified of reverting back to that newborn sleep deprivation state ever again.