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A personal note on sleep deprivation

Carlotta Cerri

Way before having kids Alex and I got into the habit of waking up between 5.30 and 6am, sometimes to go for a run, sometimes just to have a head start on our day. I was never a morning person, but I made the conscious decision of sleeping less to get more done. And I loved it!

Back then, I would have never imagined that just a few years later not only it wouldn’t have been up to me anymore to decide whether to sleep more or less, but that sleeping less would have affected negatively every aspect of my waking life.

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you probably already know that since our sweet little Emily arrived nine months ago I have been thrown in the tunnel of sleep deprivation. What you probably don’t know, though—few people do—is how hard it’s been. How it changed me. How it made me take huge steps back on the progress I had made to become a more patient, more mindful mother. When people ask me how things are, I tend to joke about how exhausted I am and how exhausting the past nine months have been, because if they haven’t experienced it, they can’t possibly understand what sleep deprivation feels like for a mother. So let me tell you.

On good days (which are the results of “good” nights in which Emily wakes up every two hours), I am tired and everything feels hard. I get easily frustrated and overwhelmed by the smallest things, like traffic or no more coffee in the house in the morning. I struggle to concentrate, my head aches, it’s hard to follow and entertain a conversation. Even things I love, like meeting up with other mums or going to my dance classes feel overwhelming sometimes. I have to use ALL my mental energy and strength to be a decent mother, and even so I often fail. I count the minutes till Alex will be home. On these days, when people ask me how I feel, I say “good” because… well, this has been the new good in the past nine months.

On bad days (which usually follow nights when I’m up every hour or more), it’s all monotone and monochrome. My emotions are numb, my body aches like when you have a temperature, my eyelids are heavy, I feel I’m in a vegetative state. I have to be extra careful when I drive because my reflexes are low. Even the smallest tasks like hanging the laundry or changing a nappy feel exhausting. I don’t feel like exercising or eating healthy. On these days, if Alex is even just a few minutes later than his usual time I feel like crying—I feel like crying for anything, really. When people ask me how I feel I say “tired”, because I think that’s the only word anybody can relate to.

Terrible days are usually the result of too many bad days in a row, and they’re not fun. I get mad, I yell, I cry, I’m the worst version of myself as a woman, as a wife and as a mother. Have you ever watched Inside Out? It’s like all the little people inside my head are pressing all the buttons at once, repeatedly and rhythmically. It’s like having zero control over my emotions, and it makes me powerless. People don’t ask me how I feel because I usually tend to escape social gatherings and interactions.

And I’ll be honest with you, I’m doing a crappy job at this Montessori/positive discipline kind of motherhood. Montessori herself must be face palming in the tomb, but seriously, being sleep deprived is not compatible with anything that involves patience, tolerance and calm. I’ve always been able to work on myself, to try harder, to make an effort. And I don’t want this to sound like not sleeping is my excuse for not trying to be a better person and mother, it’s not. It’s my excuse for not being able to be a better person and mother. And now exchange “excuse” with “reason” in the previous sentence—because “excuse” suggests that I have a choice, but most days I don’t really feel like I do.

The original post ended here, it was really just a therapeutical moany piece of writing that came out of my keyboard on a frustrating Tuesday night. But thinking about ways how to end it made me realize the biggest mistake I make as a sleep-deprived mother: trying to fight the situation and force change.

When mum friends see me exhausted, they offer solutions—as I used to do in the past with other mums in my situation, back when I had no clue about what REAL sleep deprivation felt like. I love them for it, and I have tried lots of their tips—different dummies, comforters, sleeping bags, infusions, baby cereals before bed time (yep!), co-sleeping, sleeping in her bed, not feeding her at night and send Alex instead (what a show she put up!), homeopathy even if I don’t believe in it. When you’re sleep deprived you’ll try anything in within your limits—which for me are letting her cry it out or giving her drugs.

But the truth is—and any mother who has experienced it will tell you exactly the same—these tricks won’t work. If you, like me, are not one for harsh measures or medical remedies; if you, like me, want your baby to learn to sleep at her own pace, in her own time, you need to know this: your baby won’t sleep until he’s ready to sleep.

So just accept the situation, live with and around it, and stop fighting it. Follow the baby, be there for him at night without trying to change things, give him the comfort of the boob for as long as he needs it. Stop thinking about the big picture, and start focusing on the little progress—she soothed herself back to sleep, she slept a longer stretch, she rolled on her back and didn’t wake up… these are some of our improvements, you’ll know yours when you see them. And, most importantly, stop waiting for the day she’ll start sleeping, because let’s be honest, it can be tomorrow or in six years and you have no control over it, so why even entertain the thought?

And finally, this is what I do when I feel madly truly deeply done with the kids biz. I hold Emily (I’d hold Oliver, too, but he’s not the affectionate type lately) and sit with her for a moment. I look at her, hold her hands, kiss her feet, stroke her hair, make funny faces, play peek-a-boo, practice blowing kisses and waving, laugh with her. I let her melt my heart like only my kids can do. Because no matter if it’s a good day, a bad day or a terrible day, if I allow myself to feel it (and to resist the killing instincts), my babies will always sometimes make it all up to me.


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