When the going gets tough, the tough find coffee
Rest is a wonderful thing. I was reminded of this constantly during last summer’s up-all-night battlefield with a 2-month-old. Sleep was the hottest commodity at our house. In the year since Oliver’s birth, our son now sleeps through the night — and my husband and I have returned to resting again. I’ve tried to forget the sweet, exhaustive insanity of life with a newborn.
But what has been felt cannot be unfelt.
When I see Facebook photos of friends bringing babies home, I twitch and reflexively reach for my coffee mug. It’s jet lag multiplied by 1,000, that feeling — and you never can catch up. My sister recently asked something akin to, “Is it really that bad?”
I do want a niece or nephew someday, so . . . didn’t want to scare her. In fact, I’ve adopted a less-is-more policy when talking to anyone contemplating starting a family. If we tell these wideeyed folks the truth when asked, will we contribute to the decline of mankind?
“Complaining” about motherhood is not my intent. It goes without saying that I dearly love my child, but being a parent? It’s hard. It’s hard in the best of circumstances when you’re fully rested, but being “fully rested” is . . . something of a misnomer now.
After Oliver’s month in the hospital, Spencer and I were so excited to welcome him home. But life went back to an odd “before” in the weeks until his discharge. Before pregnancy. Before any baby. Just the two of us. And after dealing with pregnancy-induced insomnia, I was actually sleeping soundly for the first time in many months.
That was, of course, short-lived. My husband and I rarely slept more than an hour at a time after Oliver came home. It was shocking, alarming: like slamming into a glass wall after being drenched with ice-cold water.
Plus: the responsibility. The overwhelming responsibility. As I worried about issues all new parents stress about — SIDS, choking — plus the anxiety of having a premature baby, I was a disaster. Sleeping felt like “letting my guard down,” and I was too keyed up for that. It eventually seemed rational to just stay up all night. You know: to watch him. Make sure he was safe. And I almost did. There’s a reason sleep deprivation can be used as torture. I was tired enough to become physically ill; my 9 p.m. stomachache became an unwanted mainstay. For the first time in my life, I was awake to watch late-night television — but too disoriented for Jimmy Fallon. A bottle of Pepto-Bismol joined the new bottles by the sink.
It got better, of course. By Christmas last year, Ollie was sleeping at least five or six hours at a time. He still wakes occasionally, but those dark evenings have given way to much sunnier mornings. Our routine now is heavenly compared to last June’s schedule.
But Saturday was a summer throwback — and not in a good way.
I could tell Oliver was unsettled before we even put him to bed, coughing and crying out randomly . . . and sure enough, our little guy was up at 10 p.m. And midnight. And 2 a.m. We offered a pain reliever (he’s likely teething again), which did nothing. Even a long car ride — typically foolproof — didn’t help.
Each time we crept into his room, Oliver would be sitting up and sobbing loud enough to break your heart. Take him downstairs? Fine. Ready to play. Take him back upstairs? Nope. And on. And on. By 4 a.m., Spencer and I had all but given up. We’d each slept two or three broken hours combined, and getting anything more wasn’t looking likely.
An episode of “The Muppets” eventually knocked Oliver out in my arms, and we eked out another hour of rest on the couch. After such an eventful night, I could have happily stayed in my pajamas all day — but it was Father’s Day. I wanted to keep the plans Spencer had been looking forward to: driving to an amateur radio event in Manassas, Va., then hosting the family for a cook-out.
Coffee was poured. Shoes were tiredly laced. We loaded a cranky Oliver into the car and set off, marveling at the lack of traffic. Oliver was, of course, asleep before we even hit the highway.
After dreading bedtime all day, Sunday night was fine: like Saturday never happened. Eleven unbroken hours. Spence and I both startled awake at the first fingers of daylight, not daring to hope we’d all made it to morning. But there was Oliver, snoring in his crib with limbs akimbo.
So new parents: this one’s for you. It’s never easy, but it does get easier. Hang in there.
And when in doubt, double up on caffeine. Whatever gets you through.