The Night Shift
As the days grow shorter to the birth of my second child, I've noticed there is a dark cloud looming on the horizon.
A storm of emotion is brewing in anticipation of how life will once again be forever changed. I am experiencing a flood of memories around the sleepless days/nights and all the emotional upheaval that came with being a type tired I can not fully explain.
I have high hopes that perhaps I will have a "good sleeper" this time, I mean surely it can't get any worse? My dear sweet Leif took me on quite a ride in terms of troubled sleep, there has to be hope for more of a leisurely walk in the park experience, this I pray.
To me, sleep deprivation seems like the right of passage for any new parent. It is like a hazing exercise the newborn puts you through to up-level your nervous system and show you what you are really made of. Sleep is after all one of the most commonly talked about, written about, studied, and asked about subjects when it comes to parenting and motherhood. Case in point-- your baby arrives, and all your adoring visitors (adoring the baby not you) are quick to ask, "So how is the little bundle of joy sleeping?" If you are honest about the shit-storm that is your current reality, then comes the unsolicited suggestions for how to help them transition and regulate their day-night cycles. Some of these tips might be helpful but mostly confusing because your brain is mush on account of not sleeping in weeks. It becomes increasingly difficult to tune into the needs and cues of your baby when you are feeling so utterly depleted, and you are bombarded with "helpful" tips and techniques. You've likely reached the point you think you may never regain the cognitive function you once prided yourself on.
It is also pretty darn deflating when you hear of these miraculous "angel babies" who sleep through the night by their second month of life. These babies seem like unicorns to me as my first child was more of what I lovingly refer to as a "sleep terrorist."
The memories and even the current reality of sleepless nights (so lovely that you start losing sleep while pregnant) are triggering my anxiety.
Sleep deprivation with my firstborn looked like this. All was just ducky for the first 8 weeks or so, tired but manageable. However, as we progressed, I found myself feeling desperate in regards to finding a "sleep solution" as it was a mighty struggle both day and night. Most naps were taken either on my body or riding around on the "nap routes" that I mapped out. This was actually quite dangerous, considering it has been shown that driving in a sleep-deprived state is equal to driving above the legal blood alcohol limit. I can certainly attest that driving around dazed and confused put me further on edge. Why didn't I just lay down and "sleep while he slept" with him on my body? Which is all he really wanted. I mean the other part of driving around was that he had a preferred speed in which we traveled, fast and only fast, how crazy is that?
Side note-- I was contemplating starting a driving service for naps called NapQuest. You and your baby get picked up by a qualified driver and are taken on a long ride while you both nap and then are delivered safely back home in a more rejuvenated state. All rights reserved as I am not entirely sure I won't Shark Tank this idea if my second child gives me a run for my money in the sleep department as well. End tangent.
When I wasn't driving around to elicit sleep-- I was rocking, shushing, bouncing, swaying, swaddling, or any combination of those things. Praying that all my effort would result in being able to smoothly put Leif down without waking and starting the whole process over. Which almost always was not the case.
Day nap battles blended into night wakings that sometimes came just an hour and a half apart. Which led to conclusions that there must be something wrong, infusing me with more anxiety around his health and my own.
At six months, we determined that it was best to transition him to his own quiet sleeping space. Which provided a little relief though not much on my end as it resulted in me hauling myself up and down the stairs multiple times a night to nurse. Why didn't we relocate our bedroom upstairs as well to reduce my midnight commute distance and time? That seems obvious now, but I didn't see that with my blurred vision at the time.
This level of sleep deprivation resulted in many things. Exhaustion, depression, anxiety, resentment, frustration, anger, confusion, insomnia, digestive issues, and much more (but I can't remember) oh yeah and brain fog.
It makes perfect sense to me that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
Sleep is a predictor of our health, it has even become as highly regarded as nutrition and exercise when it comes to the key ingredients for optimal health. I was listening to a podcast on health recently, and the importance of sleep was talked about in-depth. A study on night shift workers was discussed. It has been shown that working a few night shifts a week for prolonged periods increases the chances of developing a chronic disease by four to five times.
What does that mean for the well-being of all of us depleted and sleep-deprived mamas? It means-- sleep loss has many very damaging health consequences. It is worth reading up on sleep, developing better "sleep hygiene" and prioritizing adequate rest above staying up late to binge-watch Netflix.
Anyway, somewhere around 13 months old or so, things settled, for a bit, till another "sleep regression" hit, and I found myself trying to figure it all out again. I was always in a state of trying to figure it all out. The toddler years were fraught with more nap resistance and desperation. At some point, I succumbed to allowing him to fall asleep on top of me. Sometimes successfully wiggling my way out of it and other times allowing myself to fall asleep or just stare lovingly at his sweet face against my chest. At some point, (earlier than I would have hoped and what's "recommended"), naps ceased to exist at all. I will say that did lead to a more effortless and earlier bedtime routine with a full night's sleep start to finish. However, even though he found a full night's sleep, my sleep patterns have been so disturbed for so long they are still a crapshoot.
Prolonged interrupted sleep can and often does lead to insomnia. Sweet...
To be completely transparent, he's 4 and a half now, and we share a family bedroom. He sleeps in his own bed in the same room as us, and he still occasionally wakes up and asks for support in the night (and we end up out of bed). I am not sure I've figured sleep out. Still, I am confident that it is the best most restful compromise at this point, considering everything we tried leading up to our current sleeping accommodations.
During all of the confusion, fatigue, big emotions, and changes, I searched for answers, often outside of myself. I tried the special swaddle sacks and magic sleep-suits, had blackout curtains and sound machines, infused essential oils, and gave homeopathic calming remedies. Sitting here writing this makes it all sound so ridiculous, but desperate times do indeed result in desperate measures. So, I sought the support of the "sleep experts" and listened to podcasts on sleep. I signed up for free consultations, read books on sleep-- convinced there had to be something I was missing, something I hadn't tried, a magical sleep solution. My first conclusion-- I don't think such a thing exists. My second conclusion-- I was working too hard, putting too much effort and pressure on myself and the matter. In reality, less probably would have been more.
One major breakthrough I think is worth pointing out is that I learned to regulate my emotions and work with my energy. At some point, amid the meltdowns and chaos, I developed awareness around how my energetic state impacted my reality, especially in regards to sleep. Part of finding our way to more restful nights was my realizing and owning that I was complicating the whole equation by living in a frantic and frazzled state. This was most certainly felt and picked up on by my ultra conscious and energetically sensitive small being.
We might cut the cord shortly after birth, but this does not pertain to the emotional/energetic umbilical cord between a mother and her babes. Some belief systems say that we share an energy field with our children most intimately during the ages of 0-7 years old. Interestingly enough, this is also the time when the subconscious mind is collecting and storing the beliefs that ultimately influence most of our adult behaviors.
I accept now that my energy was a part of his restlessness before bed and at night. My anxiety made him more anxious.
Kids are little mimicking machines. Small children sponge up almost everything they observe via neurons called "mirror neurons" that are responsible for helping them learn behaviors and how to regulate their emotions. We must remain mindful mamas in the presence of our children's ultra impressionable and rapidly developing brains.
Awakening to the truth that I played a role in the sleep dilemma was a tough pill to swallow (in other aspects of mothering, relationships, and life in general as well), but it's also freeing and liberating to understand how your state of being and perception really does create your reality.
Emotions produce thoughts, and thoughts create form because all of our actions were first thoughts.
So I am looking to the horizon with my first round perspective and I wonder what the next chapter of motherhood will bring. I feel a bit anxious, but I also feel empowered and resilient AF. I have learned so much and survived "the trenches." I am prepared to nurture and care for myself in a completely different way in the early weeks and months of the next transition within my Mamahood story. I intend to be more preventive and proactive in minimizing deprivation and depletion. I surrender control, my type-a planner is much more tuned in to "going with the flow." I will try my best to let go of expectations and live in the moments as they occur. I will slow down and get really quiet, listen, and watch my baby with more curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love. I will have fewer visitors and focus less on the to-dos and more on being. I will ask for HELP. I now have a greater depth of self-compassion and truly know the meaning of patience and will draw on these strengths when times get tough. I WILL more earnestly attempt to sleep when he sleeps.
It is with all of this understanding and a whole host of tools for working with my energy that I am looking at mothering the second time through a brand new lens.
I honor and accept that just as a baby must shift their rhythms from day to night, a mother makes shifts, many many shifts. Changes that occur to her whole being as she makes the transition from maiden to mother. Out of the numerous shifts that occur during motherhood, sleep deprivation may only be a catalyst for the big picture shifts. The shifts in our identities, relationships, priorities, and our understanding of what life is really all about.
On the precipice of birthing the next version of myself, I am sitting with the hope that in the harder moments, I remember what I have learned and will continue to release and unlearn the things that no longer serve me. It is my sincerest wish that my first-time self will guide me and comfort me through all of the trying and remarkable shifts to come.
I wish you, Mama, all the best, whatever shift you might currently find yourself navigating.
P.S. don't be afraid to subscribe, I won't relentlessly email you, I don't have time for that cus I'll be sleeping but on the occasion that I do write something you won't miss my latest ramblings.