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I Was Prepared for Sleepless Newborn Nights—Not for This

Photograph by Twenty20

When I adopted my daughter, it all happened incredibly fast. What most people have nine months to prepare for, I had one week. So, the hand-me-downs and the advice rolled in.

“You’re going to be so tired you could cry,” one friend told me. “It’s OK—they sleep eventually.”

“You’re allowed to hate it at first,” another friend mentioned. “Everyone talks about how special it is, but no one talks about how hard it is. Exhaustion makes everything else feel impossible.”

I took their words to heart and I prepared myself as best I could. But you know what? The newborn days were nothing like what they’d described. Sure, I was tired. But I was also in heaven. The lack of sleep felt totally worth it in my mind. Especially because I knew that eventually, regular sleep would return.

As the months went by, my baby proved herself to be one heck of a sleeper. She was sleeping through the night by 8 weeks old. Putting herself to sleep by 4 months. And, she could be counted on for a solid 12 hours of sleep a night, with no middle of the night wake-ups by six months.

Four years later, I still have an excellent sleeper. So, could someone please explain to me why I’m still so damn tired?

I’m just as exhausted today as I was during those early newborn months. While I love my daughter intensely and it all still feels so very worth it—it’s no longer as easy to cope with. Perhaps because I am no longer of the belief that sleep is just around the corner.

Even though my girl can still be counted on to sleep through the night, it never feels like I’m getting enough sleep myself. There's always one more thing to do. One more hour of quiet time I feel like I need. One more worry keeping me up at night.

When my daughter goes to sleep, I typically dive into cleaning up the destruction of the day. There are still a million chores I need to do once she’s down. The kitchen. The laundry. Occasionally the bathrooms. Making her lunch for the next day. Ordering groceries. Setting out her clothes so we have one less thing to worry about in the morning. Finishing up any work I might have failed to get to during the day.

It usually takes me a few hours to feel like all the things are done. And after that, I need some time to wind down. I’m a night person. I always have been. Those quiet midnight hours are often some of my favorite. (Yes, I realize this is the main reason I’m still so tired.)

But now I’m here, knee-deep in this motherhood thing and still feeling just as tired as I did when she was waking up every two hours.

But I’m a single mom who runs her own business. Those nighttime hours are sometimes my only chance to just breathe. To binge-watch a show everyone is talking about or read a book I’ve been dying to pick up.

I imagine that for married parents, those nighttime hours are often also the only time they have to connect. So, even though I know I should have the lights out by a certain time, I still find myself soaking in those quiet hours later than I should.

When I do manage to turn out all the lights and force myself to bed, there are all these things going on in my brain that I have to fight to shut off. I was someone who always had a fairly hard time shutting my brain down at night, but in motherhood, it has gotten so much worse.

Every once in a while, though, I convince myself to go to bed at a decent hour and I’m actually tired enough to pull it off. By some miracle of miracles, I put my head to my pillow at 10 p.m. and drift off without issue—only to be woken up by my kiddo having a nightmare at midnight. Because, of course.

Yep, on the rare nights when I do manage to go to sleep early enough to actually feel rested in the morning, I can almost always count on some catastrophe waking me up. She has a nightmare. Or the stomach flu. Or we wind up having an earthquake big enough to jolt us both awake. And, just like that, any hope I had for sleep is gone.

I feel like before I became a mom, I kind of just assumed that people’s complaints about exhaustion were specific to the newborn months. Surely that kind of tired couldn’t last forever.

But now I’m here, knee-deep in this motherhood thing and still feeling just as tired as I did when she was waking up every two hours. It’s only now that I realize: It never ends.

The exhaustion never goes away. And I’ve got to believe that at some point, your body just becomes convinced this is the way it’s supposed to be. Even when they’re older, even when they no longer need you as much, or are moved out and living happy lives of their own, you’re still sleeping less than six hours a night and trying to act like that’s normal.

And that’s what people should warn you about when you have a baby. Not just, “Oh, you’re going to be so tired when they’re young.” But, “Oh, you’re going to be so tired for the rest of your life.”

Because, yeah … I’m pretty sure I’m never going to feel fully rested again.

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