(This is a piece I wrote when Junior, our first, was six months old.)
Whoever coined the phrase “sleeping like a baby” clearly never watched a sleeping baby. Unless by “sleeping like a baby” they meant “kind of sleeping but mostly screaming.” Because if that’s what they meant, they just about got it right.
When Sam and I went through the, “please, for the love of all that’s holy, stay asleep for more than twenty minutes” stage, people would often ask, “How’s sleeping going?” I’d want to say, “Really? I have a two week old. I’m lucky to get two hours uninterrupted. I look like a zombie and feel even worse.” But instead I’d simply smile and say I was a little tired (like how the black knight’s chopped off arm was, “just a flesh wound”). There was no point in trying to articulate the overwhelming, all-encompassing, mind-numbing exhaustion.
As a first time parent, I was totally unprepared for just how rough the fatigue would be. It completely blind-sided me. Going in, I knew it would be hard. I knew I would be tired. I imagined feeling like I did in college when I would stay up to stupid hours of the morning doing homework. I often thought, “I’ve been tired before, how bad can it be?”
You experienced parents out there are chuckling because you know the answer: Bad . . . really, really bad.
A Rough Beginning
For us, the extreme exhaustion set in early. Sam hadn’t slept in a day and half when she started having contractions. Twenty-two hours later, she had Junior. It took almost eight hours after delivery for her to make it to the recovery room (she had some post labor complications that took a while to get under control). Once there, the nurse tucked her in and encouraged her to take a nap. Finally, after 66 hours filled with no rest, excruciating pain, and exhausting work, Sam got some well-deserved shut-eye.
After she slept for a whole forty minutes (like Buddy the Elf), a nurse came in to take a blood sample. After the nurse finished, Sam began to drift off again, but didn’t quite make it because the doctor arrived to check in on her.
Once the doctor was satisfied that Sam was good to go, he left and encouraged Sam to sleep. She was just about to do so when breakfast arrived. A few minutes into breakfast, a nurse brought Junior in for his morning feeding. He ate while she ate, and soon they were both full. We shipped Junior back to the nursery and Sam was finally free to go back to sleep.
Just kidding. As one nurse wheeled Junior out, another came bounding through the door with a smile on her face and a needle in her hand. Time for another blood sample! Yeah!
After giving the sample, Sam again started to fall asleep when . . . surprise! A cafeteria worker came by to clean up breakfast. As he left, we were relieved. The baby was fed, Sam was fed. The doctor wasn’t planning on coming by until the afternoon. Sam wouldn’t need to give blood for at least a few more hours. Nothing else was going to stop us from sleeping for the rest of the morning.
Nothing, that is, except for the pediatrician. Moments after the cafeteria person left, our pediatrician came in to give us the low down on our baby. Apparently Junior was doing great, a fact which took nearly twenty minutes to convey.
After the pediatrician left, Sam and I thought we were in the clear. Surely, there wasn’t another soul in the entire hospital who could possibly need to come into our room for the next several hours.
So, Sam started closing her eyes, when what to our wondering eyes should appear . . . the janitor (no joke, the janitor). By the time he was done emptying the trash and tidying up the room, I was starting to feel that Sam and I were the victims of an elaborate scheme to keep us awake forever. I imagined a nurse huddled over a live feed of our room and talking into a headset, “The pediatrician just left and . . . cue the Janitor. I said CUE THE JANITOR! Janitor, where are you!?! CODE RED, CODE RED! Mother Bear’s eyes are closed! Repeat, Mother Bear has closed her eyes! Somebody find that Janitor and get him in there, ASAP!”
Taking the Baby Home
Eventually, the hospital staff did give us a break (Hallelujah!). Over the next two days we were even able to recover a little sleep, thanks in large part to the hospital nursery. But no amount of recovery could prepare us for what was next.
You see, nighttime sleeping wasn’t really Junior’s thing. During the day, he’d do great. He’d take naps that were three, four, sometimes even five hours long. At night, not so much. We were lucky to get two hours straight at night. It was maddening because it was like he was taunting us, “See Mom and Dad, I can sleep. I’m just going to do it during the day when you’re busy and you can’t sleep.”
To make matters worse, after waking up at night, he usually wasn’t all that interested in falling back asleep. Most nighttime feedings turned into a combination walkathon/sing-along. After singing the prerequisite 29 nursery rhymes and completing 94 laps around the bedroom, Junior would finally doze off. Relieved that he was asleep, we would delicately lay him back in his crib, tip-top back to our beds, and fall asleep before our heads hit the pillow.
And 27 second later he’d be up (at least that’s how long it felt in 2 am hours) and the whole vicious cycle would repeat itself. After days and weeks of going four or five rounds with Junior every night, I was beginning to wonder if I was actually accumulating negative sleep.
There is Hope
Then, one miraculous day, Junior slept through the night. The next morning, I awoke in a panic. I turned to Sam and asked, “Wait, did you get the baby?” She responded, “No, did you get the baby?” We had a moment of intense confusion as we both tried to figure out how it was possible that neither of us got the baby.
After a minute, reality sunk in. It had finally happened. That moment we’d been waiting for had arrived.
We were so happy that we wanted to dance and scream and yell. But we didn’t. After all, we didn’t want to wake the baby.