Before my due date, I lost count of the number of times people warned me to get as much sleep as I could now because it would all go out of the window once my little bundle arrived.
I’d return their comments with a tight smile. I wasn’t quite sure what the point was of telling me that I’d be sleep deprived as a new mum. Looking back, I think everyone tells you about the lack of sleep because it’s their overriding memory of life as a new mum.
Telling you is their way of saying, “Welcome to the club; it’s one hell of a ride,” and “If it gets tough, you’re not alone.” But I only realize that now.
My baby girl was beautiful, and as soon as I held her in my arms, I felt a rush of love that I’d never experienced before. But she was also really really bad at sleeping.
In the daytime, she only napped if I bobbed her in my arms for an eternity, then fell asleep on my chest so I didn’t dare move a muscle in case I woke her.
At night she woke every couple of hours to feed fussily and fitfully. Afterwards, she required more pacing and rocking to drift back off, meaning that by the time I closed my eyes, it was only ever one snatch of sleep until the next awakening.
Weary, burnt-out, exhausted. There’s not really a word to describe the level of tiredness new mums feel or the impact it has. Because it’s not just being so tired, it’s the fact that there are no pockets of time to just sit for a while to catch your breath.
There wasn’t even a nanosecond to gather my thoughts as I was wrenched from sleep before I needed to feed or soothe my baby. Every moment of the day when I could have been resting was spent doing the endless countless tasks to care for her and to keep some semblance of order in the house around me.
I’d trudge with heavy feet up and down the streets with my baby in the stroller, willing her to fall asleep so I could grab a coffee and steal a moment just for me. She always stirred as I took the first sip.
The more sleep deprived I became, the more I felt myself unravel. I felt almost hyperactive, giddy from so little sleep. I’d talk too fast and too much, I’d laugh too loud. Always on the verge of hysteria tipping over into tears. But I didn’t cry. I knew that if I started to cry, I might never stop.
What made it worse was that it felt like mine was the only baby who didn’t sleep. Other mums talked about how “good” their baby was and how lucky they were that he was a “really great sleeper.” Ashamed to tell the truth, I’d mumble something about how my baby was “a bit restless, but it was all fine,” smiling as brightly as I could and feeling even more alone.
But it’s hard to pretend. And trying to carry on as if I was coping “just fine” was also really exhausting. Something had to give.
One day my husband came home and found me sobbing on the floor in the kitchen because I’d dropped and smashed my favorite mug. He sat down on the floor with me, with our baby in his arms and held us both. Then he swept away the broken crockery and scooped the baby into her buggy, ordering me to climb into bed and sleep.
Crying over broken crockery was my turning point. From that day, it’s not as if my baby suddenly sat up and decided to give Mama a bit more of a break. But I did.
I phoned my mum and my sister and my lovely friend. They all listened as the floodgates opened and I described how hellish it had been coping on so little sleep. And I let them help.
I let them come over and take my baby out for long walks in the buggy, armed with a bottle of expressed milk. I let them bring food and biscuits—lots of biscuits—and jiggle the baby so I could, for once, drink a cup of tea while it was still hot.
I joined a new-mum yoga class and took that little slice of time just for me.
It was months before my baby started to sleep a little better. But in those months I built in enough time to take a bit more care of me and recharge my batteries just enough to get through.
If you’re a mum-to-be, I don’t need to tell you to get as much sleep as you can now because it will all go out of the window once your little bundle arrives. You probably already know that.
What I will tell you is, “Welcome to the club. It’s one hell of a ride and if it gets tough, you’re not alone.” Take care, mamas.
QUESTION: What helped you the most when you had a newborn baby?
CHALLENGE: Look at your daily routine. Find one thing you can change to make your life easier—one adjustment that you can make to simplify your life—and try it this week. Ask for help, if needed!
Edited by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws.