I read an article recently about how we as a society are torturing new mothers. Yes, you read that right. We torture new mothers. How? By expecting them to keep tiny humans alive on negative sleep. The article went into detail about the effects of sleep deprivation and the link it has on our mental health. How our culture doesn’t encourage or support rest for the mother and instead expects them to give birth and then resume normal activities all but immediately. To top all that off, when a mother suffers from a serious case of postpartum depression or anxiety, our culture gasps in disbelief.
Overall, the article reminded me why I’m terrified to have more children. Sleep deprivation. My husband and I lack a strong support system and we had to navigate new parenthood primarily on our own. I’m happy to report we survived. We are a happy healthy family that gets a moderate level of sleep today, but sadly this is not the reality for every family. The reality is our culture doesn’t see any of this as a problem. Our culture needs to place higher value on proper maternity leave, extended postpartum support, and more importantly changing attitudes about mothers and the impossible standards we place on them before they’ve even recovered from giving birth.
I say all this not to spark some ugly debate about paid leave or health care or any other issue that tends to put peoples panties in a twist, but to hopefully create meaningful dialogue surrounding motherhood and the critical need for her emotional well being to matter. Which in my opinion can so often go back to lack of sleep. I mean sleep deprivation is a legitimate tool used to torture people. It’s used to break people. Real life. So it continues to baffle me that our culture considers it normal to parent at a breaking point.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t only apply to new mothers and the postpartum period. Parenthood in general is a lifetime of sleeping less than you should. Each phase comes with it’s own set of stressors that can limit our ability to get the rest we need. Or maybe you were just blessed with perpetually non-sleeping tiny humans that force you to form a love affair with caffeine. My daughter blessed us with almost a year of non-sleeping. That time in my life was a blur of darkness that made me feel as if death were imminent. So whether it be those early months of nurturing a newborn, a toddler negotiating bedtime, a school aged kiddo with night terrors, or a teenager who can’t remember his curfew, as a parent, sleep is no longer a constant. So in a world of negative sleep how the hell do we cope? Here are my own personal solutions (besides the obvious coffee and wine) for your reading pleasure:
A beautifully designed receptacle to hold all your caffeine goodness.
Don’t forget the t-shirt to match your mug. Mama’s gotta accessorize.
And don’t fret, you can also dress your sleep suckers in equally accurate shirts that says things.
Clearly, spending too much money on items that confirm you are bone tired doesn’t get you more sleep. It just makes a stranger laugh at you. And considering everything mentioned above about torturing mothers, really the only advice I know to give when dealing with major sleep deprivation is to create a system of support. For some that might mean leaning on family or friends. I have a friend who’s MIL took a few night shifts after her daughter was born. No joke. Her and her hubs just slept straight through the night while someone else got up every two hours to feed their kid. Now of course, this wouldn’t work for every family, ya know cause boob, but that was something that worked for her and in the end helped keep her mental health in check too.
I don’t know that my friends situation is the norm. Or maybe it is, but no grandparents were offering up overnights to us, that’s for sure. So maybe asking for help looks different than that dream scenario. Maybe grandma can cover meals or maybe a friend can come do your laundry while you “sleep when the baby sleeps”. Whatever it looks like, I think the important part is asking for specifics. People get all dumb founded when it comes to helping. They want to help (I hope), but they don’t know how exactly. So when that person comes over to “help” don’t just let them hold your baby. Be specific and say what you really need. This applies to mamas too. When someone asks how they can help don’t let guilt get the best of you and turn them away. Just say exactly what you need and more often than not, they will gladly take on the task.
If you don’t have a vast network of family or friends to lend a hand, there are still options available. Maybe you pay a sitter a couple times a week. Maybe you hire a postpartum doula. Maybe you find a mama support group. Or maybe you reach out to a sleep consultant. Did you read that part about my daughter not sleeping for her first YEAR of life? True story. It was misery. Well after suffering WAY too long without help, we finally took a leap of faith and hired a sleep consultant. She literally saved our lives and we’ve (mostly) been sleeping ever since. Mostly.
Whatever the case, my entire point here is the enormous need for parents to create an environment of support. As I said before, our cultural norms sometimes make that difficult to do, but despite those barriers, there are still possibilities. The main thing I’ve learned as a parent of non-sleepers is that I don’t have to suffer alone. Help is available. It’s just a matter of asking for it in whatever form looks right for you and your family.