“Sleep now, because you’re never going to sleep again.” Coupled with an elongated “Cuuuuuuuuuute,” it’s probably the phrase any mom-to-be hears most often at baby showers. At least it was the phrase I remember hearing most often. And honestly, it struck terror in my heart. Not only do I love sleep, but I get physically ill and turn into an incoherent, crying mess if I don’t sleep at least a solid six hours a night.
Even in my 20s, when I was regularly going clubbing and working multiple jobs, there was always a moment in the evening — or, let’s be honest — early morning — when it was lights off. I always enjoyed weekend naps, and even getting up to be on time for the 10 a.m. start to my job had been a challenge during my 20s.
After having a baby, I knew I was going to be missing a lot of sleep. As a single parent without family nearby, I knew all the round-the-clock feedings and 2 a.m. wake-ups would be my responsibility.
The first few weeks
I was even more nervous when I went into labor. My water broke at midnight, and staying up all night timing contractions until I went to the hospital at 7 a.m. meant I was starting parenting with a big sleep deficit. The first night, when my daughter, Lucy, was in my hospital room, I got maybe one hour of sleep. And when we got home, one of the first selfies I took was of the tears that had formed a star-shaped stain on her onesie when I just wanted her to go to sleep and all she seemed to want to do was sleep and cry.
Those first few weeks blended together, but I think I reached an epiphany around Lucy’s eighth day of life, when I realized that “going to sleep” was no longer a certainty.
For me, this realization — that I may just not have a bedtime or sleep a set period of hours — was huge. Before, I would get nervous once the clock inched past 2 a.m., a time I long considered my late-night cutoff. Now, who cared? Because in the realization there was no more set “bedtime” was the realization that sleep could, and should, happen at any point.
A tired cliché
Of course, “sleep when the baby sleeps” is also another cliché piece of advice often given to new parents, and it’s not always so easy. Sure, just pass out at 10 a.m. when there are car horns blaring, kids playing at the park across the street and delivery-people ringing the doorbell! But I also realized that, while sleeping when the baby sleeps might be impossible, it is possible to just do nothing when the baby sleeps. Lie down. Watch the baby breathe. Scroll through Instagram. Watch a movie. Whatever.
I found that time felt fluid, the passage of days and nights not as reliable as determining the passage of time by the last time I changed my shirt or ate whatever I could grab in the fridge or took a shower. I definitely couldn’t put a coherent thought together; what amazes me looking back at that time was how, not only was I taking care of a newborn solo, I was also still maintaining my freelance writing business. In fact, some of the best pieces I wrote came from that dreamy time between sleep and wakefulness with a newborn snoozing on my lap.
I know. That sounds overly romantic, and if you’re in the trenches crying on your infant’s onesie, trust me. I know how you feel. But think of this: You’ll never not sleep this much again.
I know this sounds crazy, but now that my daughter is 3 and I’m pretty sure our cozy family of two is complete, I’m nostalgic about those wide-awake nights on the couch. I miss my guilt-free Netflix binges and wonder if I’ll ever have the time and patience to pick up from where I left off on Game of Thrones. I miss reading novels on my Kindle in the half-light. I miss the back-and-forth zinging, alive text exchanges I was having with the similarly sleepless group of new moms I had met at prenatal yoga. I miss the only thing on my to-do list being watching a newborn baby breathe.
That said, I also know these nostalgic “you’ll miss this when it’s over” reminders are annoying AF when you’re chugging coffee — then googling the effects of caffeine on your milk supply and your baby’s sleeping patterns — and wondering when, if and how long you’ll ever sleep again. I know you feel weird, wonderful and woozy. And I also know you — or any parent of a newborn — will get through this.
In the newborn stage, being sleep-deprived felt like the minutes were literally ticking into my bones. I understood how urgent Cinderella felt when the clock edged toward midnight because I literally felt one more minute might transform me into a monster. But it didn’t. I cued up another episode of Game of Thrones. Lucy took a catnap on my lap.
And as the minutes turned into hours that turned into months, I discovered the glory of five to six hours of uninterrupted sleep, my daughter cozy and in her bassinet next to me. Now, both of us love what we call “family naps,” lying on the bed with the sun splashed over the covers on a lazy weekend afternoon.
Bottom line: You get through it. You get sleep. And if you’re lucky, you get a napping partner who will make your sleep even better than it was before.