Battling the exhaustion of new motherhood

September 27, 2018

Mothers are often exhausted. There is no doubt about that. I love the meme that says after giving birth, you feel like you were run over by a truck, but instead of recuperating, you are given a tiny, demanding human to take care of—and it never gets easier!


Our oldest was 17 and a senior in high school when our youngest was born. The second youngest was 19 months old, so we had these two little ones that went everywhere with us, including places that probably weren’t the best for babies, like football games, concerts, and musicals.


The two youngest had kind of a crazy sleep schedule. Ok, there probably wasn’t really much of a “schedule” to it at all. We just did the best we could under the circumstances. Some nights they got to bed really late; other nights, they were in bed at a respectable hour. Sometimes they could sleep late; other days, we had to leave very early to take children to school.


And sometimes our errands overlapped with naptime. I didn’t want them to sleep in the car, because that five minute nap meant they wouldn’t take their regular two hour nap, so I would have the older children keep the younger ones awake until we got home.


Sure, it’s natural to want to spoil your child as much as possible, rocking them to sleep, holding them all day, and things like that. But it’s not practical and it can backfire. If you are too tired, it’s hard to be the mom who makes cookies, plays with Play-Doh, and cooks and sews.


I also had other children and a husband that needed me. I had to figure out how to make things easier so I could be available for everyone. One of those was making sure my babies slept.


I hear from so many mothers that their child has terrible sleep habits. They can’t get their child to sleep without rocking them for three hours, then the child wakes up an hour later. Or their baby only sleeps for 15 minutes at a time, day or night. Or they just don’t want to sleep at all! Some mothers give in and keep their baby with them all night and no one gets a good night’s sleep. At least, it didn’t work for me. Maybe I did it wrong.


I can’t tell you what is best for you and your baby. Getting a child to sleep is a very individual thing. However, there are few things that might help.


Only our last child slept through the night from the time she was a baby. Why I couldn’t get the rest of them to sleep eight hours at a stretch is beyond me. Maybe I was just exhausted. At least they would go right back to sleep after I fed them.


I would get so tired that a child would ask if they could go outside and play, and I would have to stand there and think about it. Was it ok to go outside? My mind was swimming. The poor child would be standing there patiently waiting for my brain to respond.


There wasn’t much time in between everyone’s schedules for mom to sleep. For instance, Babykins would be in bed, if I was lucky, by about 9 p.m. But Teen wouldn’t get home from their fast food job until 11:00 or even 11:30.


I am not one to go to bed when a child is still out and about, so I stayed up until Teen got home, then we chatted a minute, and then we both headed to bed. I had a hard time falling asleep, so by midnight I might get to sleep. Babykins would want to be fed at 2 a.m., maybe earlier, and then again around five. Then Other Children needed to be up by six to get ready for school.  


My saving grace was my husband, who helped as much as he could, taking the baby in the morning and fixing breakfast so I could get another hour of sleep. But still, it just wasn’t easy when my sleep was so fractured.  


I didn’t rock them to sleep every single time. It was tempting, but I knew I didn’t have three hours every single night for the next three years to rock a child to sleep multiple times. So from the time they were born, I sometimes put them to bed awake. Maybe they were wide awake, or maybe they were half-asleep, but they were awake. That way, they learned to get themselves to go to sleep. They got plenty of cuddling and rocking, but babies need to learn to go to sleep on their own.


The other thing I did was to wait a few minutes after baby woke up to go get them. Obviously, when they are tiny, they get picked up right away, but older ones can learn to play on their own for a few minutes while I finish getting the laundry started, or use the restroom, or wrap up a phone call. Having a child start wailing as soon as they wake up would be pretty stressful for all of us.


So I would wait. At first it might be ten seconds. Then I would go in with a big smile and pick up my sweet baby and give them lots of cuddles and kisses. As time went on, I would lengthen that time just a bit, but always go in when they are happy. I would never wait until they cried, because if I did, they would learn that they had to cry to get out of bed.  I wanted to avoid that completely.


Generally, the baby would end up playing happily for a few minutes, maybe even ten minutes, while waiting for me to get them up. And when I did come in with a smile on my face, we were both happy to see each other!

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