For the first two years of his life, my son sucked at sleep. Like REALLY sucked. Sometimes I thought he might actually be allergic to sleep.
I won’t go into the details of all the ways my husband and I tried to get him to sleep but the list is exhaustive and the efforts were exhausting. And nothing helped anyway.
This experience has been a wonderful lesson in the humility of parenthood – sometimes your kids are just born a certain way (my kid was born a bad sleeper) and despite all your best efforts and intentions, you can’t change them. So you better just start accepting your fate. In this case, my fate was not sleeping, like ever. For a really long time.
Being sleep-deprived and perpetually tired is basically a new parents’ rite of passage. However, it’s only when you start to feel like a seasoned parent but for some reason, your kid just can’t seem to get the hang of that magical thing called sleep, that you will fully appreciate this list. This is for all the moms out there who just refilled their coffee cups (again) but continue to love on their kids who seriously suck at sleep.
1. You may start to get anxious after sunset.
Even though my child could be categorized as the worst sleeper in the history of all the terrible, awful, no-good sleepers, I still managed to immensely enjoy his company during daylight hours. I mean babies, especially when they happen to belong to you, make some pretty great company. We spent our days doing what moms and sons do – giggling, tickling, taking long walks, going to Target, sipping breast milk (him) and lattes (me). Even though I was a mommy zombie, I never let myself forget the great, fleeting joy that was babyhood.
However, the closer it got to nighttime, the bigger the knot in my stomach. I even coined it The Night Dreads, as there was no other way to put it – I dreaded every single night. Mostly because I knew what to expect: many, many wake-ups followed by pacing, bouncing, rocking, and begging, begging, begging the baby to go back to sleep. Rinse. Repeat.
My anxiety skyrocketed after the sunset each day, and my nights sucked more than I can ever explain to you. But by sunrise, all my son had to do was give me a big, gummy smile and I somehow rallied myself out of bed and enjoyed the shit out of each day with him.
2. You may lose your cool at 2 am.
Although it certainly wasn’t my proudest moment, my husband will never let me forget the time I “dramatically beat up my own pillow.” My son was teething. The happy, cooing baby I had grown to know and love was replaced with a miserable, drooling demon baby who didn’t just cry all night, he screamed. After what felt like his 100th wake up, and another dose of Motrin (seriously, thank God for that stuff), I finally got my son back down in his crib. I army-crawled back to my own room across the hall, collapsed into my bed, and drifted off into the most blissful, comfortable sleep.
And exactly 12 minutes later, my son was screaming again. I. Lost. My. Damn. Mind.
In what can only be described as a moment of temporary insanity, I started screaming “I can’t! I can’t do this! I can’t! I can’t!” as I repeatedly pummeled my pillow. Sometimes you just gotta scream and punch something. My husband jolted awake, turned on the light, and watched the scene with detached amusement. Then he went and took care of the baby for the rest of the night. Fear of an unhinged wife is the best kind of motivator.
3. You may drive to work/daycare/Starbucks and have absolutely no idea how you got there.
Again, I’m not proud to admit this, but when I returned to work after a too-short maternity leave and my son was still demanding breast milk every two hours all night long, there were many, many times when I pulled into the parking lot of my office building with pretty much no recollection of my 45-minute commute.
I was literally on auto-pilot all day long. Not only did I not remember my morning commute, the whole entire work day was a blur. I know I joined conference calls and answered work emails and sometimes even wore high heels but I did it all in a dreamlike state that only new mothers can relate to.
I feel extremely fortunate to have gotten through that phase generally unscathed and without any traffic tickets.
4. You may talk about your sleep, or lack of sleep, to anyone who will listen.
Sleep is of those things that seems fairly insignificant in your life when you’re getting plenty of it. In my pre-kid life, I generally got the recommended 7-8 hours each night. I only thought about sleep if I had a particularly exhausting day or shitty night’s sleep (and both instances were rare).
Then I had a baby and that baby never slept and by default, I never slept either. And suddenly, aside from keeping said baby alive, getting sleep became the singular most important aspect of my life. I became obsessed with sleep. It’s all I thought about. It’s also all I talked about.
I’d be willing to bet that basically anyone who met me within the first two years after my son was born knew that I didn’t get very much sleep, I was really tired, and boy, would it be great if I was able to sleep some more.
I know this to be true because just the other day, the lady who does my dry cleaning asked me if my son was sleeping yet. And when I said, “Yes!”, her husband ran over and high-fived me.
5. You may be convinced that this will kill you.
More than once, I’ve Googled “Can you die from sleep deprivation?” More than a few times I’ve thought, “If I don’t get some sleep tonight, I might actually die.”
I know when you’re in the thick of it when you can’t remember the last time you slept for more than three consecutive hours and your kid thinks 5 a.m. is an acceptable time to start your day, you might think some pretty dark thoughts. You might start to think that there is something wrong with you (this must be your fault somehow) or worse, there is something wrong with your baby.
I’m here to tell you, from one mom with a kid who sucks at sleep to another, that you will survive this. This won’t kill you. It might bring you to the brink of sanity; it might make you question if you were cut out for motherhood; it might make you a moody, stressed out mess for a while.
But here’s the crazy thing.
Once your sucky sleeper turns into a kind of, sort of, okay sleeper, and once you start to catch up on all that missed sleep, this will all start to feel less painful. You might even laugh a little about it with your husband on the first morning you both wake up before your kid does (it will feel like the best morning of your entire life).
And if you’re anything like me, you might even consider doing it all over again.