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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Where is the Me in Motherhood?

 

These past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. Work has picked up quite a bit which has left me working late and skipping my lunch time workouts. A year or so ago I would have found this mildly annoying but this is a new era. This is the era of baby. Working late means I can’t spend much time with HEB in the evening who goes to bed at 8. Skipping workouts at lunch almost entirely eliminates exercise from my life since putting HEB in the stroller equals sleep. No evening runs/walks for me.

It’s more than that though. There’s the sleep deprivation for sure as the wee babe has taken to sleeping mostly through the night only once or twice a week (yes, sleep training is soon to come), but that’s not it either. It’s me time. I feel selfish just saying it but that’s what it comes down to. That’s where my daily struggle lies. I miss my time. I came into parenting with the misconception that all babies nap. I knew I’d feel tied down at times but then I thought that there would be naps and I would blog or sit on the porch alone and feel like a human. Well…. bullshit. There are no naps.

I miss riding my bike to work.

I miss writing this blog.

I miss working in the yard.

I miss staying up late just hanging out by myself.

I miss doing crafts and knitting.

I miss my house being passably clean.

My mother continues to tell me, “This, too, shall pass,” and I know she’s right but I should clarify.  It’s not that I want my old life back. I’m just searching for some balance. Where is that minimum I can use to get by? What parts of me can still be present as I learn to be a mother? What parts are still mine?

After a couple weeks of struggle, today I went for a run walk (where there was a moment of running). I went up a path I’ve never gone before. I was in the sunshine. I listened to music. I didn’t worry about anyone else. It was only 30 minutes but it was glorious. Now I’m off work early and sipping a beer. I’m almost a person again.

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Still there is so much guilt in writing this. I pull up my photos to look for one for this post and I see a pictures of HEB on my recently passed birthday and mother’s day. He is the best baby! Those were wonderful days! And yet here I am still feeling the way I do. There are many circumstances that make motherhood way more difficult and I have none of those. My point is though that this is all hard even when everything goes your way. My hope is that if someone else is feeling terrible about feeling terrible, if someone else is not sure who they are now that they’re responsible for another, that you know I’m right there with you.

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Okay, he sometimes sleeps, but only for about 10 minutes at a time. 

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Pretty much my favorite photo ever. 

 

Heartstrings

Being a mother is exactly as I thought it would be and totally different all at once. I know I’ve just gotten started on this path but it’s already a whirlwind. I expected to love my baby in ways I couldn’t understand. I expected to feel overwhelmed and sleep deprived. I even expected that I would alternative between hate and love for parenting.

All those things are true and yet I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t understand the physical connection I would have to Haines. A friend asked me to describe what it was like to love him and it was so difficult to articulate. I know everything a person can know about him but he’s still a total mystery. I’m tuned in to his babbles and kicks but I don’t always know what he wants or why he’s upset. I don’t have a clue who he is going to be. He could grow up to be a serial killer and yet I just love him. It truly feels like a string has been tied from my heart to his and whenever I think of him I feel the tug. Whenever he cries it tugs. Whenever he laughs it fills up and explodes with happiness.

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Explosion.

The physical connection is more than that. Do you remember making fun of your parent when the car stopped suddenly and they put their arm out in front of you? You laughed because in a real accident their arm wasn’t going to stop you from being thrown forward. You thought it was a silly gesture, but it wasn’t a gesture at all. It was instinct. It’s my hands jumping to protect Haines from his own wobbly head even when he’s secure in his seat. It’s my body being thrown into motion at the sound of his cry. It’s never turned off. If I can hear him my body is alert, ready to go.

This feeling of being ready to spring into action is something I’ve repeatedly described as feeling “on”. It may be the thing I didn’t understand the most before he was born. I knew my hearing would become attuned to all his little noises and I’d heard of leaking breastmilk when the baby was in distress but I didn’t understand… the absence of an off switch.

Have you ever been to a networking event or a conference where you’re expected to mingle with people you don’t know? I don’t excel at this. I plaster a smile on my face, introduce myself and shake some hands but the anxiety of having to talk to strangers never leaves me. I hate it. When the event is finally over, my shoulders gradually draw down away from my ears and I can relax. The exhausting act of being on your best behavior and speaking to others whether you want to or not gives me the same sort of feeling “on”.

Except with a baby relaxing is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen at bedtime. When Haines was first born and my mother or Tyler would tell me to go take a nap I would lay in the bed and cry. I would cry and cry and imagine they weren’t taking good care of him. My mother and my husband may be the last people on earth that wouldn’t take good care of him. It was insane but I couldn’t turn my off switch. No matter the circumstances, I couldn’t relax.

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Thank goodness this has gotten better or daycare would be a disaster.

 

Love for the One I Love

I feel bad for fathers. Well, not usually. At this particular point in parenting when we are figuring everything out I often feel I am taking on the heavier load in childcare. I’ve told Tyler before that sometimes I resent him between 10pm and 7am when he’s snoozing away and I wake at every little baby noise. (I don’t know if it’s connected but he’s begun to be more aware at night. Ha! )Perhaps dad radar must be developed while mom radar turns on the moment the child enters the world and instead must be fine-tuned. Dear ears, please stop waking me up for his every little noise!

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I’ve heard recently men say they found the first months of fatherhood easier than expected. It hurt me to hear that. My hormones are all over the place which has put my emotions on a constant rollercoaster (because pregnancy hormones weren’t enough??). Although we just recently crossed into six-hour stretches of sleep with our baby, previously I hadn’t slept through the nights in months just due to how incredibly hard it is to get rest at a certain point in pregnancy. Also, six hours never feels like enough. During the day I am breastfeeding or pumping every two hours. If I naively think I can skip a pump I am engorged, leaking, and wildly uncomfortable. Plus there’s the stress of finding daycare and preparing to go back to work after my 12 weeks of leave. So, this is all easy for dads*? I recognize that some burdens are difficult to share, but in any context in which your partner is struggling you should find a way to support them. That’s what partners do. For example, I am typing this while I sip a chai latte at a coffee shop. I am all by my lonesome and plan to be here as long as I want. Thank you, baby daddy, for recognizing the importance of this and many other things.

*In the context of this blog I am referring to fathers involved with heterosexual relationships involving childbirth as that’s the family dynamic I’m involved in. 

Fathers do seem to miss out on one of the best parts of becoming a parent I’ve experienced thus far- community. I don’t see men reaching out the way women do to lend a hand or check in on their friends who are new parents (perhaps because life with newborns is so damn easy?!) The women in my life, childless or mothers, have reached out time and time again to bring me what I’ve needed most: company and an extra set of hands. Over the last month we’ve benefited from multiple meals a week from my coworkers easing our days and giving us extra time to enjoy with our newly expanded family. Every week I’ve gotten texts just touching base and saying hi, helping connect me back to the world. In the last few weeks I’ve had visitors from across the state, the country and even Canada.

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Wilmington friends loving on this little one. 

The fact that they would take time off work, rearrange their plans, and pay for plane tickets all to see us and our little one is so incredibly wonderful in itself. I hadn’t expected how incredibly special it would feel to watch my friends interact with Haines, but every cuddle and smile goes straight to my heart. Watching them show love for the one I love takes all my words away.

There have been times over the past  year that I have felt far away from my core support group but these are just a few of the friends who have worked to make the distance smaller. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

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Hiding under this blanket is a baby who hates the sun.

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So much love all the way from Texas. 

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College roomies out for a boat ride with a baby who is not sure what to think of us. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling in Love the Hard Way

I didn’t understand that I loved my son until we got to the hospital. I’m not entirely sure I understood that he was my son. I felt love. At home listening to Christmas music, holding him next to Tyler, I cried for how full my heart was. All the same it hadn’t hit me, I didn’t know the depth, until he was in pain.

It was the pediatric hospitalist, a doctor for the Pediatric ICU who showed me how to use the breast pump. I hadn’t nursed in over 12 hours and my breasts were enormous. I thought I knew what engorged meant  when my milk first came in but it could not compare to my breasts expressing the physical pain of my child not eating. When he cried my breasts cried draining milk through my shirt, aching with helplessness.

At lunch time that same day we had taken him to his two-week check up at the pediatrician. They had given him a clean bill of health and sent us on our way. Almost immediately upon arriving at home Haines become inconsolable. He refused to nurse. This wasn’t alarming, he’s a baby. He’s fussy. At 9 pm though he still hadn’t nursed and couldn’t be calmed for more than a minute or two. His piercing cry had weakened and his breathing was congested and labored. The pediatric after hours line sent us to the hospital to get him checked out.

We thought we’d be sent home with a tall hospital bill and being told that we had a bad case of new nervous parenting, nothing more. It quickly became apparent this wasn’t the case. Our ER room filled with nurses, technicians and doctors. They stuck a tube down his nose and then his throat to suction the thick mucous that was choking him. An X-ray machine was brought in, an IV set up. When the team for pediatrics came down to move him, one nurse kept a bag valve mask in her hand to be ready to manually breath for Haines if he needed it.

We were ushered out of his room when they announced that Haines would need an airway and a spinal tap. They were testing the spinal fluid, blood and urine for infection. Now it was me who was inconsolable. Although we were shown the family waiting room we stood in the hallway directly outside of his room waiting for someone to speak to us, waiting to see him. They had decided against intubating him but he did have a breathing machine, a CPAP, on for the first 12 hours or so. The sight of him twisted our insides. It wasn’t until the afternoon of the next day that I got to hold him. It was after 22 hours that I gave him a bottle, his first food.

After a few days we found out that Haines has Group B Strep, a blood infection. Anyone who has recently received prenatal treatment knows that pregnant women are tested for this. Individuals who test positive get antibiotics during labor to prevent babies from picking it up in the birth canal. I had tested negative. Little did I know that women could test negative one day and test positive the next. What would I have done if I had known? Nothing, of course. We did as we were told by medical professionals. We didn’t know, didn’t understand.

Once we got the news of the type of infection we also found out the treatment, 10 days of IV antibiotics. This was another heart sinking moment. We’re wanted to take this baby home and to unhook him from these machines and monitors. But all he needs to be a healthy baby boy is to finish his treatment. So we waited.

In a hospital, time takes a very different meaning. Day or night just means a different nurse is on shift. Either way I am watching bad movies and Law & Order SVU at all times. I have finally sorted the room so that the couch is more like a bed and I have reusable grocery bags filled with our items. One bag for snacks. One bag for our clothes. One bag for baby’s. One bag for books and things to do. I write this now just as much for the cathartic act as I do to fill the time.

Today we take home a bouncing baby boy who is fattening up and growing stronger every day. This wasn’t the way we wanted to learn to be parents but Haines is helping us learn fast. And he is showing us all about love.

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