My son recently started sleeping. It’s been a long 18 months of him mostly NOT sleeping, and for all of my friends out there who also have children that NEVER SLEEP: solidarity. If your child has been sleeping through the night since 8 weeks old, then I’m happy for you, but I don’t want to hear about it.
Anyway, I could write a whole book just about kids sleeping/not sleeping, but the point today is that my son is sleeping now. I feel as if I’ve been reborn. Like, maybe, I can do this mom thing after all. You know what? Maybe I can even have another kid (someday). And right now? I think I’m going to read a book. Read a book! That feels so frivolous. Maybe I’ll try my hand at writing again. Seriously, it’s like I got my life back.
And that’s because I did, partially. When your kid doesn’t sleep, when it takes hours to put them down to sleep, and then they don’t stay asleep, or maybe they never go to sleep at all, including never taking naps. When this happens, there is literally no time left in the day for anything else. You and your partner take turns eating and showering, and that’s pretty much it. Even if you did have a minute, you’d be too exhausted to do anything with it besides mindlessly scrolling through Facebook like an exhausted zombie and then be mad at yourself when your baby starts crying two minutes after you finally turn off your light.
Before you become a parent, everyone tells you how hard it is. And Before-Parent-You thinks they mean because of how tired you’ll be. Or like, because your kid will be a pain in Target. Now-Parent-You knows that while both of those reasons are true, they are only a small part of it. The hard part, I’ve now realized, is that your life is no longer yours. It has been hijacked. Adam told us a cute story about an adorable sleep terrorist, but I’m going to get a little more serious here.
Last week, a close friend shared an article with me that made me tear up several times while reading. More than likely, you’ve already read it because it was getting passed around the mom circles. There’s a reason that articles like this have become ubiquitous– because they touch on an experience that a lot of women are facing, that maybe they have had trouble articulating themselves. That’s what brought me here, because I’ve been chewing over a few words since reading this last week.
The article discussed how a woman’s brain is basically “rewired” when she becomes a mother, and she really ISN’T the same person she used to be pre-baby. Also, it used a phrase “the invisible mother,” and this sentiment seemed to sum up largely what I’ve been feeling over the past year and a half or so.
It wasn’t just the not sleeping. It grew into so much more.
Last January I had a baby, and I started to become invisible.
I was starting to fade a while before that. I actually got an enormous amount of attention, arguably too much, as my belly grew bigger and bigger. But people weren’t really interested in me. They were excited about the potential that was growing inside. All conversation becomes about your pregnancy and the baby. How big you look. How you are feeling. When you are due. What you are having. I understand the excitement; I was excited, too. But this was the beginning of how everyone lost sight of me, and also how I lost sight of myself.
After I had the baby, this became more prominent. I transitioned from being a vessel, to being a 24 hour buffet. Everyone was hyper focused on him, especially our doctors. We went in every week to make sure he was gaining weight, and I was advised to nurse him every 2 hours. Of course, I said. But does anyone realize what it means for a mother to breastfeed a baby every two hours? This means, in a two hour cycle, you are spending about 45 minutes nursing, a few minutes changing the baby and laying him down so slowly that he won’t wake up, and then maaaaaybe catnapping for a half an hour or 45 minutes (or eating? Or showering?) until it’s time to start it all over again. Every two hours. All day and all night. For MONTHS. I couldn’t do anything but sit on the couch for weeks. But, I did what I needed to, and forced breastfeeding to happen because what mattered was that my baby was gaining weight.
My struggle was less important. This was proven to me by the fact that the baby kept going to the doctor, but nobody checked in to see how I was doing for six weeks. By then, deep in a hole of sleeplessness and feeling overwhelmed, I filled out the questionnaire but didn’t score high enough for postpartum depression or anxiety.I was told that how I felt was “just how it feels to be a new mom,” and I was actually doing great. So I swallowed my feelings, and then felt guilty about them, because I really did love my son, but apparently everyone else could handle this parenthood job except for me. Nobody dug deeper, including myself. My anxiety grew, but my pain was invisible.
It’s so easy to lose yourself as a mom. It’s easy to love this beautiful little creature so hard that you put all of your energy into them– then there’s none left for yourself. None left for friends, or hobbies, or working out. What did you even used to do with your time? None left for your husband. You become ships passing in the night as you take turns leaving the house. You forget how it felt to feel confident in your own skin, in this body that has changed so many times over the past few months so that you hardly recognize it. Forget how it feels not to worry and plan and schedule every hour of someone else’s day. In the effort to take care of your family, and trying to keep the ship sailing smoothly, it often feels like there isn’t room for your needs anymore. You do this willingly, with love, and it just becomes part of everyone’s daily routine— but that doesn’t mean it is painless. Your wants and needs don’t “go away”– you put them away out of necessity, for lack of time and space and energy, and this sacrifice eventually becomes commonplace and invisible to everyone around you, and sometimes even to yourself.
I lost myself for a while, and my struggle felt invisible. But my son has been sleeping, and I now have a little time to myself again. Although there’s usually laundry or cleaning to do, I’ve learned that I have to make a point to also do things I enjoy. And, I have been rediscovering myself. I look a little different in my clothes, and I don’t yet accomplish all the things that I want to, but I took some of this pressure off of myself and I feel better, like I am crawling out of hibernation, blinking in the bright sunlight. No longer invisible.