5 Ways to Survive Without Sleep (AKA Being a New Parent)

Oh cruel, elusive sleep. I miss you so. In all my non-parenting years you had so rarely failed me. Sure, the occasional illness or stressful time kept me awake but generally we were faithful friends. I was kind to you, you were kind to me.

I didn’t understand how good I had it. A friend once called pregnancy the empathy gauntlet. You get a little taste at how difficult it can be when you don’t fit in spaces, when your body doesn’t feel like yours, when you suffer from low blood sugar, when you have dietary restrictions and so forth. And then there’s the insomnia. You’re incredibly tired but you can’t get comfortable, can’t stop feeling anxious, can’t sleep.

And then the baby is born. Now you could totally sleep if you were only given the opportunity. Nope!

Haines was sleeping 8 hours at 10 weeks (sometimes) so we thought we were golden. We thought we were rockstar parents. It turns out we were just naive. Since I returned to work he’s slept through the night only a handful of times. Sometimes I think he knows that I’m about to break down and he gives me an extra hour. Sometimes he seems a little less aware. When I was on maternity leave, not sleeping sucked but it was manageable. Tyler always made an effort to give me a break and often got up with Haines when he inevitably woke up at 4 or 5 so I could sleep an extra couple of hours. Now that we both work those days are few and far between.

I realize that babies often don’t sleep through the night. I knew that going into this whole “having a baby” thing but I just didn’t get it. Like childbirth, breastfeeding or pregnancy in general I knew what it meant in theory but not in practice. With Haines’ arrival all of the sudden I realized that new parents (or not so new parents) all over the world were in this situation. They were raising children, going to work, taking care of their home and not sleeping through the night. It blew my mind. That might sound crazy to you but it’s a whole new world when you’re suffering through a day of work after a night in new baby hell and you realize this is just the norm.

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Mornings are hard.

Truly it was a revelation. And then the people on the news are saying all these crazy things like don’t drive if you’re tired. Like they said if you miss an hour you could be in danger. Miss an hour?? What if you have a baby? Then you’re always tired.  You always miss an hour! How am I supposed to go to work? (Side note: obviously there’s a difference between being baby tired and being truly sleepy while driving which is really unsafe.)

The Sunrise Series

Now we’re in the beginning stages of testing “cry it out”. Everyone told me you’ll know when you’re ready to sleep train. The moment I felt less responsive to Haines’ crying at night, I knew I was ready. I was tired enough to listen to him tough it out. We’re on day 2 and we’ve seen some minor improvement. In the meantime I’m trying these survival techniques:

  1. Consume absurd amounts of caffeine: I now prefer to drink black tea several times ado. I’m also being a little more forgiving with my soda consumption. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
  2. Limit my alcohol intake: I don’t drink as regularly or as much as I did pre-baby life due to breastfeeding and the lack of sleep but I’m trying to take it down a notch again. It makes me too sleepy and takes away from the quality sleep I am able to get from time to time. It’s not my first choice but I surely it’s only temporary. (PLEASE!)
  3. Make time for exercise: This is significantly easier said than done. I normally work out on my lunch break but lately my lunch break has been spent working. This negatively affects how much energy I have in the afternoon but also my attitude. Being able to be somewhat positive is directly tied into exercise for me.
  4. Lowering the expectations: Sometimes I go to bed at eight. Sometimes I don’t do any dishes. Sometimes I barely remember to brush my hair before work. We all do what we can.
  5. Ask for help: Tap your spouse for a shift. Call a relative. Get a babysitter. At some point it’s about survival. Take a nap. I got to take a couple naps in Florida and my mom and sister took Haines for each night in Oklahoma. It was magical. I was like a whole new person for a couple days.

I’m sure you all have golden children who starting sleeping through the night at 2 weeks and have never stopped but I’ll be over here lying on the floor trying to convince my baby to take a nap. You’re supposed to model appropriate behaviors right? I’m all over it.

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This is a rare sighting of a baby napping in the wild. Capture the moment- it may never happen again!

 

 

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Reflection: Growing Pains

2016 might be the most hated year ever. (It’s hard to say though since I’ve only been around for the last 30. Surely the years of the black plague top this.) Despite that I’ve heard many writers online say that while as a whole 2016 was the worst, personally it was a great year. For me, I would describe it as a positive year but overall it was a year of growth.

First off, I literally grew a person. It’s not often you get to use “literally” correctly but I really did. I have the traumatic childbirth memories to prove it (plus a baby).  Growing baby Haines was challenging in unexpected and totally predictable ways. The physical parts are trying- the fatigue, feeling physically weak, being sore in the third trimester, the discomfort of your organs moving to new places in the first. I hated having to slow down my lifestyle and feeling like I couldn’t do the things I enjoyed. Having those few months of discomfort and living in a body in which I felt little control taught me to be more aware and have empathy for those who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

I was surprised to find the social aspect challenging. While I loved discussing pregnancy and parenting with friends, answering overly personal questions to total strangers was frustrating and monotonous. And it didn’t help that many of my friendships have always included a shared love of beer. When one of your favorite social activities is visiting breweries and you’re pregnant, you’ve just damaged your social life.

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My last drinks before we knew about Haines.

Emotionally I struggled with bridging from a pre-pregnancy lifestyle to parenthood. As brain mushed from hormones so did my desire to be creative or try new things. My interest in the world narrowed severely as our little household began to feel like more than I could handle. Even now I have a hard wrapping my brain around all that is going on. Then again, I don’t think I’m the only one.

Second, I became a parent here in the last few weeks of the year. Childbirth followed by a taking a 2 week old to the ER were growing pains that I don’t need to repeat for quite some time. (Of course now baby Haines is teaching me how to handle his first cough/cold which I’m also not pleased to learn about.)  As an unexpected consequence of becoming a parent I’ve also learned that this little guy gives me strength I wouldn’t expect. No, I don’t sleep through the night now but surprisingly, it’s okay. Our trip to the hospital was terrifying, but also, it was okay. As long as Haines is here with us, everything seems doable. Even when it’s terrible.

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Professionally, I also evolved. For the first time I was in a position where I was speaking with high-level executives professionally on a regular basis. After years of experiencing anxiety with public speaking, I became my company’s Toastmasters club president, an organization dedicated to my top fear. It is with that same new confidence that I forged relationships and created programs that I’m proud of. It is also what allows me to feel comfortable taking 12 weeks leave to be with Haines. Thank goodness for that.

I expect 2017 to also be a year of growing pains… and perhaps every year going forward. We are still learning to get through the day and before I know it I will have to learn how to go back to work. I don’t have any resolutions for 2017 but I hope to learn about balance, who I am as a mother and a partner and my son.

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Photo credit: Zachary Sprague