Real Talk: My Baby Doesn’t Sleep and I’m Not OK

I have written and rewritten this post half a dozen times. It’s so hard to know what and how much of my life to share online. If I share too much “bad” stuff, I feel like I’m being melodramatic and seeking attention. But if I only share the “good” stuff, it feels fake. I tend to use sarcasm to talk about stuff that upsets me because it’s light and easy and I can continue to pretend that everything is fine while letting off a little steam. As a new mom, I sometimes feel like I’m not allowed to be honest about how hard this is because I’m supposed to be drowning in gratitude for a healthy baby, and blissfully in love with my little girl. But I firmly believe that acknowledging my struggles in no way diminishes my gratitude or love. So here goes.

***I feel like it goes without saying, but just in case you’re worried: I love my daughter. My husband and family are incredibly involved and supportive and we’re working on it with our pediatrician. Please don’t interpret this as some kind of cry for help. I’m not depressed. I don’t need meds or therapy. I need sleep***

Vera just sucks at sleeping. Right before the three-month mark, it seemed like she was maybe on her way to sleeping through the night, but then we went into some kind of regression that never ended. Rather than getting better, it’s been getting worse. She used to regularly take 1-2 hour naps twice a day; now, we’re lucky if she naps for 25 minutes twice a day. Sometimes her naps are as short as ten minutes. Or she falls asleep nursing but wakes up ready to party the second I put her down. When once she slept for 3-4 hour chunks all night, she’s now up every 2 hours or less. Every. Night. Sometimes she wakes up and eats and then it takes over an hour to settle her down again. Or she falls asleep for thirty minutes and then wakes up crying. I haven’t slept more than four consecutive hours since before Vera was born five months ago.

While Ben was on paternity leave, I was getting regular naps to help offset the deficit, but now that he’s back at work, I’m just digging deeper and deeper into my hole. As someone who has more or less made a career of being overtired, I’m reaching the end of my reserves. My brain function is starting to go.

Mom Brain, right? People talk about “Mom Brain” with a wink and a smile, as if it’s some benign condition that causes you to do silly things like put your coffee in the kitchen cabinet instead of the microwave, or wash the same load of laundry twice. The other day, I put pizzas in the oven without cheese. I literally didn’t even realize my mistake until I was cleaning up and found the package of cheese still unopened on the counter. But calling it Mom Brain makes me absolutely furious. It belittles something that’s a much larger issue. Mom Brain is actually sleep deprivation, and there’s nothing funny about it.

There’s a reason sleep deprivation is classified as torture. After 24 hours without sleep, your judgement is impaired. Hand-eye coordination is impaired. You’re more likely to have a fatal accident like falling asleep at the wheel. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause cardiovascular issues and hormone imbalances. It is terrible for your health.

Being a new mom is already hard. Being chronically sleep-deprived makes everything harder. I’m “on” all day, with no breaks and no help. I get one or two 25 minute chunks each day while she’s napping to tear around the house trying to get shit done. It’s not even long enough to make myself a cup of tea and drink it in peace, let alone nap or exercise or journal. Even if I had time to exercise, I certainly don’t have the energy.

The days are hard, but the nights are harder. The sun goes down, and I know I’m in for another sleepless night; I become irritable and restless. I get into bed and lie there thinking about when she’s going to wake up next, instead of actually trying to get some sleep. I cried myself to sleep last night because dammit, I thought by five months in, sleep would be better. It’s supposed to be better by now. Isn’t it? Every time someone asks how she’s sleeping I fantasize about punching them in the throat.

We do all the things we’re “supposed” to do. We have a strict bedtime routine, down to reading the same exact books and singing the same exact song every night. We’ve tried nudging bedtime a bit earlier or a bit later. We give her a “top up” bottle of pumped breast milk in addition to nursing before bed to make sure she has a full belly. We use a white noise machine. None of it seems to help. We go back to the pediatrician next week and I pray that she has some help for us, but at the same time, I can’t let myself get my hopes up.

The reality is that there’s probably no magic bullet. We’re not doing anything wrong. I suspect that she’s just a shitty sleeper, and probably will be for the duration. Which is a really hard pill to swallow. How long can I do this? Yes, I have family and friends who can help me out with naps here and there, but this isn’t a situation that can be rectified with an occasional half hour snooze. I just don’t have any answers.

I could write more. Complain more. Entreat the gods for help. But I’ve gotta go; Vera just woke up crying for the second time tonight. It’s 8:06 pm. So yeah. That’s how I am these days.

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16 thoughts on “Real Talk: My Baby Doesn’t Sleep and I’m Not OK

  1. Jennifer says:

    Ugh, this post both breaks my heart and gives me a little shiver because I remember the feeling! My son is 18 months old now and by all accounts a “good” sleeper but I thought the sleep deprivation of his early days would kill me! I am NOT an advocate of CIO, but if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend the book Babywise (contrary to what some people say it’s really not about hardcore CIO sleep training) – recommended to me by a friend that saw how much I was struggling. You can take the parts you like and leave the ones you don’t. It advocates a routine of “eat, wake, sleep” that changed our lives! It was an adjustment, but one for the better for sure. I’m fuzzy on the details because I now live in the promised land of barely thinking about my kid’s sleep at all (and you will get there!) but the changed daily routine made a huge difference over time. I’m sure your honesty is appreciated by so many moms – it’s a tough, tough job. Hang in there!

  2. Amy says:

    This suuuucks! I wish I had some awesome recommendation, but I’m sure you’ve heard it all. I agree with the earlier poster about Eat, Awake, Sleep pattern, and haven’t read the book she recommended, but I’d add in the Ferber book on sleep. We had some luck with the nested bean swaddle (they also make a sleep sack and onesie). Nothing magical, but miss baby stayed asleep longer stretches with it on before she figured out how to wiggle her arms free. But that’s all I have to offer. That and a “hang in there, some babies don’t sleep well and it’s nothing you do/did, you’ll make it!”

    • Rae says:

      Thanks, Amy. I’ve seen the Nested Bean stuff but I’ve been reluctant to shell out the $$ since we’re on a single income. Might be worth it, though. And sounds like I have some reading to do as well.

      • Amy says:

        Yeah, that’s why I was reluctant to recommend it…if it works it’s worth the $$, but if it doesn’t, then it’s just another sleep sack. We seemed to get about an hour longer. Maybe if someone’s looking for gift ideas for Christmas, and want to give it to you early. 😉

  3. uniquelydifferent05 says:

    I feel ya girl, I even had to resort to co-sleeping because my little Satan just refused to sleep properly and this one tired mumma needed at least some sort of rest especially with my partner working away! If you find anything that works, let me know😩 stay strong, you got this x

  4. dgobs says:

    Ugh, Rae, this sucks. I’m sorry. Sleep deprivation is awful, and I think some kids just aren’t great sleepers. You’re right – you’re doing nothing wrong! My Bairn had a few maddening things in his infancy (and still has some in his toddlerhood…) that, no matter what we tried, he just wouldn’t give us a break. (Not as awful as not sleeping, but for example he went on a bottle strike and refused literally every kind of cup we tried, right when I was thinking about starting to wean. He was in that phase for EVER.) With him, he maddeningly will stop doing the frustrating thing suddenly one day, and act like he’s always been fine doing whatever. Like, one day he just picked up a cup and drank from it like “yeah, what’s the big deal?” after we’d been pulling our hair out for months.

    All that rambling to say… some kids just seem to have their own schedules and do things when it seems right to them. It’s frustrating and maddening and makes you feel crazy in the meantime. Maybe Vera is like that and one day will just magically sleep… I hope for your sake she does soon!!! It’s so hard, especially when you’re on your own during the day. But you’re doing a great job. Stay strong, mama 💪

  5. Kimberley@Black Dog Runs the World says:

    I wish I had some helpful advice, but since I only know how to handle kids of the puppy kind, I don’t think my suggestions would be appropriate (wink, wink, takes another shit of tequila). I have no idea how you haven’t gone off the deep end, but if you need a target for your throat punching….I’ll send up Grouper. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT CRAZY FRIENDS DO. :):):)

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