It wasn't until my son was a few weeks old that I was able to emerge from the fog of new motherhood long enough to log onto Facebook. Among all of the congratulatory wall posts, the same question was being asked repeatedly, “How is he doing with sleep?” I wanted to comment back that he seemed to be doing exactly what a newborn should be doing—waking every couple of hours. I, on the other hand, was most certainly not doing fine. I had always needed more sleep than the average person. And now, with a ravenous newborn waking me every two hours, I finally understood why sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture under the Geneva Convention!
And then a message popped up from a woman I barely knew. We were mere acquaintances, though Facebook “friends.” She had given birth around the same time as me. She asked if I was experiencing the same phenomenon she was. She called it feeling like she had gone “through the rabbit hole.” It was a great way to describe it! The difficulty wasn't merely in the lack of sleep. It was about losing my orientation to time. When one is sleeping in two-hour bouts for weeks on end, the days run into each other. With no separation of night and rest, it was like my concept of today and tomorrow had changed. I was living one long, exhausting day!
After a while, he began sleeping for six hours stretches at night. I'd nurse him back to sleep when he woke up and then he might sleep another hour or two. I remember praying that he would sleep until 6:00am each morning. When he woke for the morning, I'd bring him into my bed and lay on my side to nurse him, hoping that I might be able to nod off for another few minutes. Anything to prolong my time to rest! He'd sometimes wake up at 4:45am. When it was clear that no amount of nursing would get him to go back to sleep, I'd trudge over to the changing table, sometimes in tears. I was angry with myself for not being able to handle it. I was even angry with my son sometimes, as if his early waking was a personal affront to me. And then I got really angry with myself for being angry with a helpless baby!
He's three-years-old now and things are much easier, at least as far as sleeping goes. A couple of weeks ago, my family went to visit some friends who had a new baby. I asked the new mom if her son was a good sleeper. Even as the question was coming out of my mouth, I regretted it. It's a pointless and infuriating thing to ask a new mother. She guardedly told me how it was difficult when her baby woke up so early. When I told her how I used to bring my son into bed to nurse, just hoping for more sleep, she looked incredibly relieved. “Other people do that too?” she asked. As if she felt guilty for feeding her son just to get some more rest. When I told her how terrible I felt about getting angry with my baby for waking me up, her eyes filled up with tears. “Thank you so much for saying that. I was beginning to feel like a monster!”
New moms need to hear that it's normal to be sad, desperate, and sometimes even angry when you are deprived of sleep. For most of us, motherhood is the first time that we have to truly put someone else's primal needs before our own. From now on, I'm not going to ask a new mom how her newborn is sleeping. I'm just going to offer to take the baby so she can take a nap!
Watch this hilarious video from MomCave!