I haven’t slept more than six hours in the last 48. It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m sitting up with my laptop and a four-year-old in my lap trying to type as quietly as possible so I don’t wake the six-year-old who only fell asleep two hours ago.
Soon I will get them all up and start the morning routine to get them to school and daycare — then rush home to finish a course assignment and client work, then pick one up at school for a dental and medical appointment, then rush home again to make sure I pick the other up in time from school.
This evening I’ll stare at the mountain of dishes in my kitchen and wonder why I can never seem to get them done.
I’ll make plans to stay up late to get the housework and client work finished. But it won’t happen. Either one of the children will wake up or I’ll fall asleep cuddling the other to sleep.
I haven’t been this tired in … about three years. Or six to five years before that. Or that shocking first immersion in sleep deprivation just about eight years ago.
You think, when you’re pregnant and everyone is warning you, that the lack of sleep can’t be that bad. After all, you’re just out of your party years and pulling all-nighters getting university assignments done. Lack of sleep is no stranger.
And then the shock of those first weeks with baby hit and you realize that you resent every single previous hour when you were awake and didn’t have to be.
It is ironic — and discouraging — that at the moment in your life when you are the most sleep deprived, emotionally exhausted and mentally worn out you are also the most responsible for someone else.
And then, somehow, you forget the misery of those first months and decide to have another. It must be an evolutionary mechanism to make those first months a blur so you think to yourself “I remember being miserable, but what I remember isn’t that bad ... it can’t be that bad.”
But it was. And it is. You discover this as your second is born. And this time the sleep deprivation, emotional exhaustion and stress are even worse. For now you’ve got two little souls depending on you, two little souls on different schedules. No longer can you “nap when the baby naps” — as everyone advises. For now you have a toddler who doesn’t nap or for whom you feel miserable because he never gets your individual attention any more. And you’ve got children who wake each other with their crying — like a Newton’s cradle unendingly clanging.
There comes a point in that first year or years where you think “I just can’t do this.” You think “I’m doing something wrong.” You think “why am I the only one suffering like this?” You can. You aren’t. And you’re not alone.
And it gets better.
The last few days have been hard. But the last year, with the four-year-old finally sleeping through the night most nights, has been a huge change.
Getting them up and ready for school and daycare and out the door with lunches and book bags and sunscreen packed is stressful and at times insane. But on the weekends we can go on day-long adventures without worrying about packing diaper bags and scheduling nap times.
They can walk! Sure the younger two still ask to be carried sometimes. But that persistent neck, back, shoulder and upper arm pain that comes from lugging a multitude of kids everywhere — one on the hip, one in a wrap or baby car seat, another by the hand — is gone.
They can talk! Sure the six-year-old was up all night screaming about the fact that her nose was stuffy — which seems ridiculous and I can’t fix it — but at least I know why she was screaming.
Unlike the first two years of her life where I felt like the worst mother in the world for not knowing why my child never stopped crying and for never being able to keep her comfortable and happy for more than a half hour at a time.
It turns out that was a near impossible task. I know this now as I watch her react to every minor discomfort with tears and whining and screaming. She’s an overly sensitive child — a princess constantly irritated by that pea no matter how many mattresses you pile on top. If I had known that then, it may have saved a lot of that emotional exhaustion.
The thing is, right now I’m exhausted and not sure I can cope with today or tomorrow ... or the rest of the week. But I actually know I can, because I’ve been there before and before and before. And I made it through. With experience comes confidence and the knowledge that things really do get better — and then worse — and then better again.
I wish there were a way to bottle that and give it to every new parent. You can do it. You will do it. And it does get better.
Different in many ways, more challenging in some ways, but overall … better.
Maybe the number of hours you sleep is no greater. And maybe the challenges your children bring you are bigger. But things get different and better. Most days you actually feel like you might be a decent parent after all.
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