Sleep is one of those thing you take for granted and even maybe resent having to do until you can’t get it. I remember hating to take naps as a kid and trying to take a book with me or other activity to keep sleep at bay. When you become a new parent, you are at the whim and mercy of a little person who has needs 24/7. Allowing you the appropriate time to catch the recommend 8-9 hours at a stretch is not within their consideration set. Kids on the other hand find their sleep as they need it as demonstrated here by my daughter asleep in her stroller as we were visiting my work.
I recently saw a great description of a typical day from a work colleague who is the father of a number young children on a parents group email. It went like this:
“Sleep is overrated.
8 p.m.: Put kids to bed, talk with wife.
11 p.m.: Finish my review feedback – turn off 7 year old’s reading light and take book off her face.
12 a.m.: Finish fixing the drain under the sink clogged by 5 year old’s toy.
2 a.m.: 2 year old wakes up, comes into my bed, squishing me up next to the new baby who just finished nursing. Get up, bring 2 year old back to bed, put his pajama shirt back on because he thinks he’s a super hero and should be bare chested.
3:30 a.m.: Wake to put 4 year old back in bed who just “rolled out.” Get wife glass of water cause she woke up. Check fatals for website & email an on call (have empathy with the SDE who gets the occasional midnight page).
6 a.m.: 2 yr old wakes up for good. Start coffee, put on Blue’s Clues, stumble into shower. Come to work – find problems, work problems, call home – hear about more problems, get feedback.
5:30 p.m.: Look up & gasp – run to bus, barely catch the next bus – run to catch transfer bus – miss it #$@%#%$@ walk the mile home, uphill, in the rain.
6:15 p.m.: Open house door – hear feet running. Tackled by children with a hero’s welcome. Priceless.”
When we just had one child, I could coordinate with his schedule and make it work. I am not saying it was easy because that certainly wasn’t the case especially because being new at the parenthood thing brought on more anxiety about whether we were doing it right, was he developing as he should, etc. When we had our second son, it got more interesting. I didn’t know how good I had it with the first (isn’t that always how it goes?). My first slept through the night at 10 weeks and within a few months, regularly slept 11-12 hours a night.
When my second arrived, I prepared myself for the same pattern. Survive the first few tough months and then settle into a more sane sleep schedule. My second had different ideas; he was hungry, a lot. The nurses at the hospital commented on it when he was born and that should have been my first clue. But I missed it. Many other clues were there and missed for what was to come. My second never lost weight as babies often do shortly after they are born. Nope – he put on a pound a week for the first 8 weeks of his life. His pediatrician joked that I should start bringing him in a wheel barrow when he hit 16 pounds at 8 weeks. What has eating to do with sleeping you might ask. Well apparently it is difficult to sleep when you are hungry. My second son did not sleep through the night until his second birthday (no I am not kidding). He got up to eat most nights (and trust me we tried everything!). I came to appreciate sleep in a whole new way after that stretch.
I had not thought much about these periods of my life until we adopted our daughter at 6 months old about a year and half ago. And we returned to night time feedings. I was older this go around and did not think I could survive another 2 year interrupted sleep marathon. With my daughter, I was reminded of the new parent anxiety I had with my first. There were many unknowns about the time before she joined our family. I was again faced with the questions: Am I doing this right for her? What does she need from me? I felt ill prepared although I was what adoption folks term “an experienced mother”. Over time as with my first, I found the natural connections and patterns. I trusted my maternal instincts about what was right for my child. I found that process one of the most breathtaking aspects of motherhood. Your baby teaches you as you teach them. Through the mutual learning you develop an amazingly strong and unique bond with each child - whether yours through biology or adoption.
It sounds obvious - balancing children and work (or other priorities) is that much more challenging if you are sleep deprived. Looking back I don’t think I realized how much more difficult the challenge is when you are not fully rested especially when this continues for extended periods. I just tried to power through it and sometimes that was really tough. I try to do a better job getting sleep now(or adjusting expectations if I can't).
My colleague’s description highlights how sleep issues becomes complex as you have more young children, close in age. We spaced ours out so we only had one baby at a time. I found that helped me balance. One baby (plus other older kids) and work was my kind of doable. The bottom line is the same – what you get in return for that sleep deprivation is totally worth it. Here are some photos from the period when our precious daughter was still calling the shots on whether we slept much during the night. Couldn’t say it better – PRICELESS!