When I first became a parent, I did a lot of mental
preparation on how I was going to juggle sleepless nights and a career that entailed I be at work early in the morning. I was fortunate to have 4.5 months
home with my oldest daughter, and even more blessed that she was a great
sleeper, for the most part.
I knew though, as my due date with my second approached,
that I was probably in for it—that’s how Murphy’s Law works. And of
course, being lucky with a great sleeper the first time around meant that my
second daughter would not fare so well. She was an awful sleeper, not only
during the night, but also during the day. I once again was able to stay at
home with her for about 4.5 months before returning to work, but once I was
back, I couldn't figure out how to get her to sleep for extended amounts of time
sans being held, and it was a huge struggle.
On a good night, I would get maybe three consecutive hours
of sleep before baby would wake up wanting to nurse, and that was after
spending one to two hours getting her to fall asleep in the first place. Yet more times than not, I was lucky to get
four hours of non-consecutive sleep during the workweek. It was awful because
no more could I fall asleep in the middle of the day in the rocking chair
holding her as I did when on maternity leave. I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. every
morning, leave my house by 6 a.m., drive 45 minutes to work, teach the youth and then drive that long commute back home to a cranky baby who wasn’t getting
enough sleep, not to mention an almost-5-year-old demanding my attention and
all the things that needed to happen for a functioning home to occur. Of course
my husband was there by my side, but he was just as sleep deprived as I was.
I was clamoring for whatever sleep I could get. And it pains me to say this, but I was putting myself and others in danger because of my lack of sleep.
Recently, when I read about how sleep
deprivation of parents needs to be taken more seriously, I was shouting “YES!” to anyone who would listen. In this article, it talked about how sleep
deprivation was responsible for 1,000 deadly traffic accidents a year in the
U.S. I had flashbacks to those 2.5 months at the end of last school year
when I was groggily climbing into my car for my long commute to work,
struggling to keep my eyes open. I often had visions in my head of not only
seriously injuring someone else, but also myself. It’s hard for me to admit this,
but what was I going to do? I had to go to work, and the thought of sleep
training the baby—which meant I would be up even more throughout the night—did not seem feasible. I was clamoring for whatever sleep I could get. And it
pains me to say this, but I was putting myself and others in danger because of
my lack of sleep.
I feel very privileged, though, that as a teacher, as soon
as school was out for the summer, I got on the sleep learning
train and taught my youngest how to sleep, and there were not as many tears
for both of us as I thought would happen. It took a month of gentle coaxing and
soon baby was sleeping a solid 10-12 hours at night and taking naps like a
As I went back to work this past fall, I noticed a huge
difference as a result of everyone sleeping better. My commute was a breeze and
I no longer had fears of car accidents contributing to my anxiety. I was a
better worker and colleague, which I believe both the adults and students
appreciated. I worked better and harder, and was just happier. But the most
important thing was the positive outcome on my family. The baby was more
pleasant throughout the day because she was sleeping more. I was more content
and readily able to deal with stress at home, which meant that my family was
happier, and that’s all a mom really wants.
I feel that parental sleep deprivation in the 21st century is more of a systemic problem.
What got me thinking, though, is that I knew how to seek out
resources to help conquer my sleep and baby’s sleep, while other new moms
aren’t as equipped. Some parents even see it as a failure if they can’t figure out
how to help their children. I feel that parental sleep deprivation in the 21st century is more of a systemic problem. When more and more both parents are—whether by choice or necessity—working full-time, there needs to be more resources out there. It shouldn’t seem taboo
to seek help.
Every milestone my child reaches, the government sends me a
pamphlet in the mail to let me know what goals she should be reaching or
working towards, whether it’s learning to crawl, or starting solids. What I don’t
see in there, though, are tips for parents on how to deal with difficult
situations like not getting enough sleep. The Affordable Care Act has done so
much for the working parent, but I feel like more can be done. Seeking a sleep
specialist, which I was researching and ultimately didn’t do, is expensive. As
a middle-class woman, I couldn’t even afford their services, but I wonder what
would happen if it became a norm that insurance would cover one to
two consultations with a sleep specialist, just as it’s helping to
provide breastfeeding support to working moms by covering breast pumps.
More can be done. More has to be done. Because I hate to
think that there are other parents who are risking themselves and others by
climbing into their cars when they shouldn’t be. I was the mom putting others
in danger, and at the time, even as a second-time parent, I felt ill-equipped
to deal with the sleep deprivation going on, and I’m sure there are more people
out there feeling the same way. And I’m hoping that sooner than later, this
universal problem becomes one that can be solved with the government paying
more and more attention to the working mom in the workforce.