Tired as a Mother

The other day, my preschooler asked me, “Mama why do you have blue on your eye?” Thinking it was a marker smudge from our craft project earlier that day, (why do kids always jab pointy things at your face???), I grabbed a washcloth and went to the mirror, ready to wipe it away. But no amount of scrubbing would take that blue off. Sadly, it wasn’t Crayola. Turns out, my sweet little girl was pointing out the deep, dark shadows that now permanently reside under my eyes. I’m tired, y’all. Really tired. Like, I-haven’t-slept-throught-the-night-in-three-years tired. Because, well, I haven’t. 

I’m a mom; being tired comes with the territory. I mean, we’ve all heard the jokes—“I wish I was as tired as I thought I was before I had kids!” “Motherhood is basically a scientific experiment to prove that sleep is not a crucial part of human life!” So (I thought) I knew what I would be getting into when I saw that plus sign on my First Response—waking up a couple of times a night to breastfeed, and no more sleeping in until ten every weekend. Piece of cake. And honestly, with my first baby, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, the first few months were rough, but then things settled down. Maybe I didn’t get a solid eight every night, but by the time I returned to work three months later, I could pretty much count on her sleeping through the night. “What’s the big deal with this sleeping thing?,” my husband and I wondered, smugly. Obviously, we were great parents and ready to add another baby to the mix. But we were in for a (literal) wake-up call the next time around.

The beginning of my second pregnancy was rough. I was nauseated, working, and caring for an emotionally volatile tiny human (albeit one who mostly slept through the night). But we were all sleeping. Then things changed. Somewhere around week 26, while I was battling my own restless sleep (thanks to the little miracle in my uterus squeezing the life out of my bladder every night) my normally great sleeper suddenly started waking up. A lot. Out of desperation, my husband and I tried bringing her into our bed, but that only seemed to make it worse; she would wildly flail her appendages while laughing maniacally, knowing full-well she was slowly killing her father and me. And that was the beginning of the end (of my youth, my sanity, and my sleep). 

As you can imagine, by the time our second bundle of joy came into the world a few weeks later, we were exhausted. And then, on our very first night home with our precious little babe, an ominous sign—thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and the skies opened and poured near-historic levels of rain on our small midwestern town. We woke up to eight inches of standing sewage water in our basement. Cue the (hormonally-induced) waterworks. My breasts were leaking, my eyes were leaking, and now our house was leaking. We packed up the kids and moved to my parents during the clean-up process; as you can imagine, no one slept very well.

Finally back in our own home, our kids settled into a routine—somehow, they figured out how to alternate their wake-ups to be sure that I wasn’t getting more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time. I spent my days weeping in exhaustion and my nights desperately searching the internet for a solution (“Why won’t my baby sleep?” “How do you get your baby to sleep?” “What is wrong with my baby?” “Can you die from sleep deprivation???”). I turned to Dr. Sears, Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil, Dr. Seuss, and Dr. Dre (because if a little gangsta rap doesn’t put your baby to sleep, what will?), and my kiddos still didn’t sleep. We bought new sheets, tried different pajamas, put up room darkening shades, and added a sound machine (to this day, the sound of a lullaby gives me a little PTSD). Maybe there is a medical reason! Off to the doctor I marched, list in hand. Magnesium deficiency? Reflux? Food Allergy? We added Zantac and eliminated dairy, wheat, and gluten. 

But nothing we did seemed to make any difference. Then, one day, miraculously… they slept. Both kids went to sleep at bedtime, and stayed asleep until the morning. I awoke bleary-eyed and confused when I saw light filtering in through the curtains. Then terror shot through my body as the realization struck—no one woke up last night. “The girls!” I shrieked, frantically grabbing the video monitor on our nightstand, sure that they had both perished in the night (because clearly, there could be no other explanation). Once I assured myself that both kids had, in fact, survived the night, I leapt into action. We had found the secret! Forget everything else we had tried, whatever happened last night was the key to sleep. All I had to do was replicate those conditions, exactly. Every night. For the rest of their lives. 

And that pretty much sums up my life for the next few months. Fox pajamas, llama socks (the ones with the sunglasses, not the ones with the polka dots), fan on level two tilted at a 45 degree angle toward the window, animal bedtime book, one hug, two kisses, toss salt over your left shoulder and back away slowly. No, no it must have been three kisses, we’ll try that tonight… It was too warm last night! I think her room was a little cooler that night… The sheets! Which way are the bears supposed to face? We’ll flip them around tonight and try that… This pattern continued for weeks. Months. Years. 

As we approach my “baby’s” third birthday, she still regularly wakes multiple times each night (thankfully, my oldest now stays in bed until morning, but for the occasional middle-of-the-night-dragon-attack). Except instead of sitting in her crib screaming until I pick her up, she now climbs out of bed and screams in the hall. Middle of the night diaper changes have been replaced with middle of the night trips to the potty. And night terrors have been added to the mix (think The Exorcist, except with more thrashing and less projectile vomit). 

I’d like to end this on a positive note, with some reassurance to the bleary-eyed exhausted young mother looking for hope. But I’m too tired. So for now, all I can say is that I may never sleep through the night again; but it’s totally worth it. Besides, I think blue might be my color. 

I know you all have experience with kiddos-induced sleep deprivation. What’s one of the craziest things that’s happened to you in the middle of the night? Leave a comment and tell us all about it. Or, if you have any suggestions on how to get my night owl to leave me alone until morning (I don’t even care if she’s in her room hosting an all-night rave, as long as she lets me sleep), do tell!

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