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Never Say This One Thing to a Sleep Deprived New Mom

A friend of mine had a baby recently and I know she's having a hard time. All new moms have a hard time, but you can tell when someone's really in the weeds—she seems extra-isolated, exhausted, wondering when exactly she's going to start seeing some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. And she posted on Facebook a few weeks ago, something along the lines of: "Can somebody let me know when I'll ever sleep again?"

She got a lot of sympathetic responses, some of which, while well-intentioned, included variations on this nugget: "It might be hard now, but someday you'll miss this!" (Perhaps even less-helpful is, "It might be hard now, but someday he'll be 16 years old and it will be even harder!")

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It's just ... when it comes to this, don't. Don't tell a person who is in a difficult situation that she will someday miss that situation—this can apply to anything, really. Don't tell someone on mile 20 of a marathon that someday she will someday have a hard time walking, let alone running. Don't tell a woman going through labor that someday she's going to go through menopause. And don't tell someone who isn't sleeping (and who feels nuts on top of that) that someday she'll miss that experience.

The first reason is, of course, that this may be an outright lie. I heard this lie when my son was getting close to sleeping through the night. He was still getting up once or twice, which might not be that bad when you're on maternity leave, but I was back to work by then, and so I really wanted a full night's sleep. A (well-meaning!) friend told me that she missed those 2 a.m. feedings and I thought of her during one of those last ones. I hauled my butt out of bed, got my son, got his bottle, got a burp cloth, settled in for the feeding and thought, very carefully, as I looked at my beautiful boy: "Will I miss this when it's gone? Will I?"

One of the hardest things about being a new parent is feeling like it's wrong to feel bad.

And the answer, deep down, was: "Hell no." And I still don't miss it. Yes, once a night before I go to sleep I sneak into my son's room and take a peek at him because he's so beautiful when he sleeps, but I don't set an alarm to do that in the middle of the night.

The other reason why it's not nice to be the "You'll miss this!" person is that it creates a sense of guilt where no new negative feelings are necessary. One of the hardest things about being a new parent is feeling like it's wrong to feel bad. We're all warned about postpartum depression but the guidelines about it are so terrifying (namely, thoughts about harming oneself or one's baby) that "just" feeling exhausted or lost or depressed or overwhelmed seem—in comparison—like normal stuff that should go away. Eventually. Right? We fight to get through these "normal" bad feelings while at the same time taking in messages that this is a precious time. It is, in its own way, but not anywhere close to what you'd see on a greeting card or in a movie or, the thing that would make me practically sob every time I saw it, the Target "If You're Happy And You Know It" commercial.

(Excuse me while I dab my eyes.)

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Anyway, when people say they miss the middle-of-the-night feedings, that is not really what they miss. They are blending up all the early years of childhood into one big memory, one that takes them back to an innocent time when their children were too young to talk back, or borrow the car, or scare them half to death with poor decisions, when they themselves were younger and life seemed simpler. I understand that—we all do it. And again, the "You'll miss this!" people mean well, but they don't really remember. So the next time a new parent friend claims exhaustion, don't tell her that she'll miss these days. Just say "I've been there," and you will know everything that statement contains. And maybe also bring your friend some coffee.

Image via Claire Zulkey

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