Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's all my fault: sleep and guilt

I don't do sleep deprivation.

Or rather, when circumstances demand it, the result isn't pretty.

Lack of sleep brings out all the worst aspects of my personality. I think this is true for everyone, but I learned long ago that life is so much better, both for me and for those around me, if I get rest. In the best of circumstances, I have a self-critical nature, but I can usually keep it somewhat in check and use that criticism to improve how I do things, especially with Gail, an optimist who nonetheless sees the value in my pessimism, by my side. Without sleep I become viciously critical and judgmental, mostly of myself, but since any parenting actions and decisions around here are made with Gail, she also bears that burden. When I'm rested, I'm a reasonably patient and steady parent. Without rest, I'm impatient, grumpy, and easily knocked off course by the inevitable curve balls. When I'm rested, I'm usually smart enough to make good daily progress on my (non-family) work. When I'm chronically exhausted, work progress is minimal and slow. My mind feels about as nimble as cold oatmeal. Then that vicious judgmental woman who has come to inhabit my body jumps in and makes everything worse.

Coming home from a less than stellar work day yesterday, as I thought about my smiley, laid back, crawling, adorable baby, knowing that I was already exhausted and was going to be up with him at least four times overnight, feeling no hope that anything will get better anytime soon, I was in tears. I was that woman crying on the subway. I'm at the end of my rope, and I've been here for a while.

Lack of sleep doesn't bring out the best in Gail either. When things are hard, she tends to prefer a head down, ignore-the-problem-until-it-goes-away sort of approach. This doesn't sit will with my the-end-is-nigh-and-it's-all-my-fault approach. This plagued us back when we were TTC. We know it's a pattern. As soon as one of us sees it we can usually start being nicer (me) and actually listening (Gail). But it still stinks. When we're in good form, we work seamlessly as a team. It's harder when we have to try, especially when there's so little energy available for trying.

Ira will be 8 months old tomorrow. He's still up many many times a night. Many of you saw our semi-desperate sleep post a couple months ago. But this isn't supposed to be yet another post about how bad things are, or what we've tried, where you then tell me what worked for your kid, or say sleep sucked for you too and that you didn't get any rest until your kid was five (and, wow, people, that is not a very encouraging thing to say. If that's what you're thinking, either keep it to yourself, or lie). And since it's not that kind of post, I'm not even going to tell you what we've tried, or what we're planning to try.

In one of the many difficult conversations we've had about this, Gail said something along the lines of "It's like you think this is all our fault, that we're messing up our kid, and that if we could just do it right, he would magically sleep."

She's right. That is what I'm thinking, at least at times like when I was crying on the train. Except, actually, I think that I'm ruining him and this is all my fault. If only I was capable of co-sleeping and/or sleeping while nursing this wouldn't even be a problem. If only I was capable of being up every night with him (instead of every other night since Gail is on duty for half of the nights) so that the response when he cries could be perfectly consistent, and so he'd always get milk with the right magical hormones at the right time. If only my milk supply hadn't tanked just when he was getting the hang of doing a nice long nighttime stretch. And, just for fun, I'll beat myself up some more for even whining about this at all when there are women out there who have to do this every single night, and when Gail is just as exhausted as I am (though she fakes it with more skill). Sometimes I throw in that I couldn't sleep at all during the pregnancy (due to intense morning sickness, then itching due to liver problems) and that must have caused me to grow a sleepless baby, so that's my fault too, and I should have tried harder.

It is this kind of pressure and guilt that made Gail resist sharing nighttime parenting. It's this pressure that Ayelet Waldman wrote about in her eponymous essay in Bad Mother -- while we decree that fathers are good fathers if they are sincerely trying, we believe that mothers are good mothers only when we achieve perfection. I sincerely wish that I could accept myself as a parent of a child who is not a good sleeper (and I'm begging the universe to let me edit this later to add "...until the night before his 8-month birthday"). But that's not going to happen, at least not until I get some more sleep.


JenLF said...

Oh, I so feel your pain. And not just about the sleepless babies (I'll lie to you about how great my kids are sleeping now). But I'm a mess when I don't get enough sleep, too. Even when Matt is up til 2 AM working and up at 6, he's better than I am with 7 hours. Of course, it's been a long time since I've had 7 uninterrupted hours...

It is not your fault, you are not to blame for Ira's non-sleeping-ness (8 months old is one of those times when there's a lot of developmental stuff going on, so that's probably why he regressed, not your milk supply!), and gosh darnit, people like you! ;-)

Now I need to go to bed. Hee hee.

SWMama said...

I wish I could be there to give you both a hug. And fix you dinner and put you to bed. I so understand the debilitating nature of fatigue... and that gnawing sense that you should just be able to do it better, to do perfectly, regardless of how exhausted you are. I don't have much helpful to say except you're not alone, and it will get better. I don't know when, and I don't know how, but it will.

Bionic Baby Mama said...

I hope it all gets better soon, not least because you sound a LOT like Sugar, vis-a-vis sleep, and I'm thinking I'll need you to talk her off the ledge in a few years with promises of how it all gets better. There are lots of things that make me anxious about the prospect of parenthood, but sleep-deprived Sugar is right up near the top of the list. (I was raised by wolves, so my body has fewer expectations of keeping normal hours.)

meridith said...

If falling into the black hole of "if I could only do x, then y would be perfect" were a sport then I would be an olympic gold medalist. I'm somehow always convinced that I could do it better and fix everything if only I knew the hidden solution. And, worse still, it's my fault for not researching enough to know the solution. so I'm both lazy AND failing. I hope you at least feel companionship there. BUT I commented to tell you this - msn has an interesting article today on the bad parenting fairy http://lifestyle.msn.com/your-life/family-parenting/articleparenting.aspx?cp-documentid=23262808&gt1=32001 - it doesn't address sleep, but it might resonate.

jessie said...

I don't do sleep deprivation either. At all. And I often feel guilty for getting so drained/upset/angry about night time wakeups. You're not alone. And it's not our fault, but I tend to blame myself too :(

Cindy said...

I'm so sad to hear how tough things are right now. I'm glad you are aware that it is the sleep deprivation talking and that you know, at some level, that it isn't all your fault. Because the two of you are great parents in every way and I aspire to be as fabulous a parent as you are. And this is *with* sleep deprivation -- when you're sleeping, I'll be so awestruck by your parenting that I may start a new religion based on worshipping the two of you. ;-)

I know that there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. And yet I say, anyhow, please let us know if there is anything we can do. You were so reassuring when we were struggling with E's sleep problems way back when we first met; I'd like to return the favor.

Sending lots of love.

Lex said...

I'm so sorry this is so hard right now. I got quite sleep deprived when we had our newborn foster baby living with us. I was getting up every couple of hours to make him bottles and then staying awake while I fed him, and after just a few nights I felt absolutely insane. I could not continue. I lost sight of all of my goals and dreams and didn't enjoy mothering in the least.

Human babies are designed to wake through the night to nurse, but within the context of a completely different life than the one we are now living. In the beginning, the Mamas would be with their babies at all times, surrounded by extended family who could watch after older children while the Mamas napped during the day.

The conflict does not arise from the fact that your baby wakes to nurse in the night (aka is not a "good sleeper") or the fact that you are not able to sleep through these nursing sessions. The conflict is a conflict between human nature and the society in which we now live, one that does not necessarily cater to instincts and biological needs.

There is absolutely nothing abnormal about your baby's night waking or about your own need for more sleep. You have--both of you--mothered this baby from a place of inner truth, listening to the instincts that remain despite the centuries of change that our species has gone through.

I hope that you are able to shift things soon. Many hugs.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry - that sounds really hard!

Vinny said...

It's just terrible when there is no end in sight. Ugh!!! I sooooo feel for you. I remember dreading when evening rolled around b/c I would literally lay in bed and just wait for the crying to start. My legs would ache with the anticipation of the stressful night ahead of me and of course there were tears on my part also. I agree with Meredith to try and resist the perfect mom thing. When I had my twins I had to lower my expectations of myself tremendously. When I did the burden off my shoulders was heaven and I know my little ones didn't even notice. Good luck to you...this will pass! It will!