Most people try, but fail to articulate how the seemingly short and easy trip from the hospital with your newborn is actually the beginning of a never ending, volatile, emotional roller coaster ride, often without a seat belt.
Experienced mothers often forget how painful the first three months are and people without children often offer trite cliches.
What I’m going to say is going to be unpopular. But it’s the truth.
Most mothers forget what the first three months are like because it’s a bad dream. Our minds refuse to capture the sheer pain and exhaustion because, if it could, the whole world would be on a one-child-only policy.
Well-meaning people try to explain the initial fatigue to pregnant women. They suggest it is like an exhausting work week. But unless your work sucks you dry (sometimes literally), spits up on you, has explosive poops on you, cries uncontrollably, makes you cry uncontrollably and does this 24/7 for three months—then it probably makes your worst work week seem like a walk in a very nice park.
I’ve had long weeks at work. I’ve been exhausted. But nothing like the first few months of my daughter’s life. To be fair she was a good baby. Sure, she fed for 40 mins and then we spent the next 40 mins burping her multiple times, after which she would sleep for 40 mins and then we would start the cycle all over again.
People give great advice for what a mum should do during the time the baby sleeps— ranging from sleep, doing chores or even exercising! Who are these people and have they actually had a child?
In reality, in the 40 mins I had, I had to pump (to increase supply of course), eat and try to get a nap (for about 5 min!). But I digress, she was a good baby, yet there were days I felt like she was killing me softly through sleep deprivation.
Prior to her arrival, I needed a cavelike dark room, my pillow, my cuddle pillow, perfect temperature and a period just before sleeping to calm my mind into sleeping. After her, I’ve slept in a bright room, on the floor without bedding and usually in a a split second after handing her over to my husband.
Even now, at 22 months, we often have her visit our bed and by visit I mean like when an unwelcome family member visits. Don’t get me wrong! I love cuddling with her. But her idea of cuddling involves her butt in my face, her head on my neck, trying to somehow push her way back into my womb, or sleeping horizontally on our bed so that I’m clinging to the side of our very large Cal king bed. I also do not like Elmo or bunny or bear or any other member of the notorious bed invader gang sleeping on my face. I’m not a fan, but I will uncomplainingly sleep through it. Soundly. Snoring even. Because now I know sleep is precious and one doesn’t look a sleeping toddler, albeit uncomfortably, in the mouth. Confucius once said that in measuring sleep, quantity beats quality. Or I’m sure he would have if he had experienced the joys of co-sleeping.
Perhaps our situation is unique but it really can’t be. Friends tell us often that their toddler asks to come to bed with them. But these midnight cuddles, and, in particular ours, don’t look like the ones on television: rested parents looking lovingly at their angel. In reality, it is guerrilla warfare. My husband and I are like Australia and New Zealand in this war. Unwilling to declare that we are allies.
Sometimes, unknowingly, when we realize there is an SOS situation at the other end of the bed we will occasionally lift or pry the enemy off and place her in the center of the bed. But, for the most part, the unspoken rule is that each exhausted party fends for his or herself. If the other one is being targeted, we secretly thank the gods that it isn’t us and turn the other cheek. Literally
. Either way regardless of our strategy—the war is being won. By our 22 month old. She crushes us in a systematic way and on a regular basis.
Now this isn’t to say that there isn’t a rare night of good, undisturbed sleep. The count is probably close to the number of rainy days in California this year, but it does exist. And following those glorious nights, my husband and I break down the night similar to CNN’s in-depth analysis of any news event. And then as the days pass that “night last week” is talked about fondly, just like one reminisces about a distant childhood.
But these nights give me hope. Hope that I will soon be reunited with the now mythical “continuous good night’s sleep.”
I’m very aware that traditionally after a diatribe like this, one must point out that all the exhaustion and frustration is worth it and our child fulfills us and makes our life worthwhile etc, etc. Well, of course, all that is true. It is a given. Just like everyone knows exercise is necessary. It still doesn’t make that five mile run any less excruciating does it? My daughter makes me laugh and love like I never have before. She brings me the most joy that I’ve ever felt, but she also exhausts me!
So next time someone asks me, “can you imagine what you did before her?” Just know, regardless of what I say, secretly in my head I’m saying, “I had many nights of good sleep!”
Anitha Chakravarthi is a full time mum, part time tax specialist, a displaced Aussie finally getting used to the uniqueness of the Bay Area. She has proclaimed herself a foodie to justify her eating habits and a runner without choice to balance out her food passion.