My friend Colleen made me a shirt many years ago that allowed me to rearrange velcroed letters to form a slogan of my choosing across my chest. When I was working early-morning retail stocking and acting in shows at night, I had it read, "Continually Sleep Deprived." But that kind of tiredness was a cakewalk compared to the deep-in-your-bones wipeout that you feel as a new parent. Then, I could call out sick if necessary. Now, there's no such thing.
I have (blessedly) forgotten much of the crippling debility of the first few weeks of motherhood. The Munchkin and I have settled into a pretty good routine now, but at the beginning, this was our pattern: I would nurse him and rock him, singing the while; he would close his eyes, seem to drift off, then wait until my head hit the pillow in the next room to raise the no-mommy-nearby alarm. Some nights, this would happen once an hour. My husband would try to give me a respite by giving him a bottle in the middle of the night, but I had a hard time sleeping through it. I recall one early morning around the six-week mark when I burst into our bedroom at 5am, clutching my infant son, raving bug-eyed in a teary, hoarse stage whisper, "THIS F%#*ING KID WON'T GO TO SLEEP!" Turns out, he was sick. And I felt horrible for losing my cool.
But how can you keep it together when utter exhaustion is pulling you apart? The first thing to go, when I'm tired, is my sense of humor. Everything feels like an affront. I understand now why it's drilled into our heads not to shake the baby; when you're at your most frustrated, that training kicks in automatically to save you both. And no matter how much you tell yourself, "This too shall pass," in the moment, it feels like it will never get any better. But it does. If you are a new parent reading this at sunrise and nodding through your tears, trust me: it does get better.
Nowadays, if I don't get enough sleep, it's not the baby's fault at all. He's an excellent sleeper - 10-12 hours straight at night, two naps of two-to-three hours during the day. The old adage, "Sleep when the baby sleeps," is absolutely the best advice ever, and yet... I want to *do* so much on my breaks from mom-ing! There are emails/blog posts to write, and FB to read, and Doctor Who to watch (I just recently started with the first episodes, beginning in 1963, including the reconstructions, and am *obsessed*...) It's the only time I'm not "on," which is actor-slang for, "performing for an audience," and I try to savor the few moments I have to just be me. To do what I want to do, for just a little while.
But truthfully, I need to trick myself into making sleep a priority somehow. As I type this, I keep nodding off, but I'm willing myself to finish, even though my body's trying to shut me down. (Okay, body; I'll wrap it up.) I've always been a night owl, but now, it's too much. I don't want to get back to the point where I'm afraid I'll drop my son out of sheer exhausted feebleness. Perhaps I'll write myself that $1,000,000 check, and promise to give it to myself once I wake up if I just give in and sleep when the Munchkin sleeps at least once a day. It's worth a shot.