When I was pregnant with Everest, one of my biggest fears about becoming a mother was the possibility of sleep deprivation. I was one of those people that treasured my eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night – I didn’t know how to function effectively or kindly on less – so the thought of anything disrupting my precious sleep sent me into anxiety. Naively, I soothed myself by believing it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared or would only last for a few months. Like so many aspects of motherhood, I was rudely awakened (so to speak) by the reality of sleep deprivation.
Everest was quite possibly the worst sleeper I’ve ever heard of. He woke up 6-10 times a night, sometimes every forty-five minutes. By his fourth month, it went from bad to worse. And by ten months, when his two front teeth started coming in, it reached an all-time low with wake-ups every fifteen minutes. Since we weren’t willing to start any of kind of “sleep training”, it was up to Daev, my husband, and I to deal with it somehow. Daev was nothing short of heroic; if Everest didn’t fall back asleep nursing, Daev would walk Everest until he fell back asleep – then go to work the next day. We were the walking dead. But somehow we made it through. Eventually, slowly, with some gentle sleep modifications, Everest did learn how to sleep.
And now we’re awake again. Asher doesn’t quite rival his brother for being the world’s worst sleeper, but he comes pretty close. But for the most part, I haven’t been exhausted. Why? For one thing, my body seems to have adjusted to less sleep and to interrupted sleep. I don’t have the energy to run a marathon, but I have enough to effectively and kindly (mostly) get through the day. This is one of the brilliant changes that occurs through the transformation of becoming a parent: you discover resources inside you that you didn’t know you had. Prior to becoming a parent, I really believed that I couldn’t be a nice and happy person if I didn’t get eight hours of sleep the night before. That belief has been radically altered.
But the main difference between my experience this time is so simple: I go to sleep earlier! I put Asher to bed, then I put Everest to bed and fall asleep with him. Most nights, I’m asleep between 8:30 and 9 pm. So even though I’m still woken up several times during the night and am usually awake for the day by 5 am, I feel relatively rested most days.
Here’s the thing: with Everest, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my evening hours in favor of sleep. I would have rather been exhausted than give up my private time or time with my husband at the end of the day. The sacrifices as a new mother were so overwhelmingly numerous that I couldn’t bear to let go of one more thing – especially something so essential as time separate from my child. More shocking than the sleep deprivation was what felt like an almost total obliteration of my separate selfhood. I grieved many things in the first months of new motherhood but at the core of the grief was the loss of self and the loss of the freedom I had before becoming a mother.
With the second child, I’ve already adjusted to having significantly less time to myself and the lack of freedom. I don’t experience it as a loss anymore because there’s an acceptance that this is what life is with young children. And over the last 5 1/2 years, I’ve learned how to find my separateness even when I’m in proximity to my kids. In this moment, for example, as I write this blog, Asher is asleep on my back and Everest is playing an imaginary helicopter game. Like sleep deprivation, I never thought I’d be able to work and write with my kids around. But these are the adjustments and areas of growth that have arisen because of this life we’ve chosen.
Do I miss having time alone? Yes, of course. I do carve out times on the weekend that are mine and I set aside two evenings a week where I don’t fall asleep early so my husband and I can have home date nights. But mostly I keep the long-term view in mind: before long, in the blink of an eye really, Asher will be “sleeping through the night” and my evenings will by mine once again. Daev and I will have real dates together. Our kids will one day spend the night at a friend’s or relative’s house. As I know now from having a first child, the older they get, the more they independent they become and the more separation they need. As they separate, so my chunks of alone time will return.
Keeping the long view in mind helps me to cherish this stage and keep gratitude forefront in my mind. How many times have you met someone when you’re out with your kids who says, “Oh, cherish this time! My kids are grown up and how I miss them!” The years fly by faster than we can imagine. For now, I inhale into gratitude as I write with my baby on my back and my five year old rescuing cats trapped in a volcano, just a hug away.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., pioneered the field of bridal counseling in 1998. She has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She’s regarded as the international expert on the wedding transition and has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally.