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What Was I Thinking, Letting My Husband Sleep More Than Me?

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"Make sure the baby doesn't wake him," my mother ill-advised me over the phone. It was the eve of my husband's return to work after six weeks of parental leave. He was going back to the office while I stayed home with our infant daughter.

My mom was telling me something I already believed: that my husband deserved to rest because he had to work all day. Not just that, though. I thought he deserved rest more than I did.

I made sure he had a good night's rest.

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While I was home, I cared for our baby all day. I got a respite in the evening when he came home. Then I cared for our baby all night—handling all the night wakings. This carried on for several weeks.

One night, I broke. With a crying baby in my arms, I called out to my sleeping husband, "You have to help me!" Startled, he woke quickly. He took the baby, and I heard her crying stop. That's when I drifted away into the first five-hour stretch of sleep I'd had in a long time.

I'd inadvertently committed a big new-mom mistake: believing my husband's work was more deserving of rest than what I did all day. Because, hey, I was home. Because I didn't commute.

Because my husband's work generated money and mine didn't.

Because of the strangers who, when they learned I was a stay-at-home mom, would say things like, "Wow, what do you do all day?" Because what I did all day was take care of my baby, which is certainly not "work." Right?

But it is! It is work! Which is precisely what every stay-at-home mom eventually wants to shout from the top of her sensible minivan. Taking care of a baby and a home all day long is work. A whole lot of work.

Just because no one pays you doesn't mean it's not work. And calling it work doesn't mean we don't also love what we do. We're just so, so very tired. My working husband was tired too, yes. But I was utterly and miserably exhausted.

Time works differently for mothers, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Playing with a giggling newborn for an hour is different from feeding and soothing a now-cranky newborn for an hour at 3 a.m. One feels like a moment in time, the other feels endless. Worldwide, moms do more of the childcare. So by extension, that means we do more of this endless and draining grunt work, too.

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After the night that proved too much for me, my husband started to help with our baby's night wakings. Even better, we got into a routine of staggering our sleep schedules so that we could each maximize uninterrupted sleep.

In retrospect, I should have asked for help when I needed it, not when I hit a critical point. I learned a deeper lesson too: that what I did all day mattered—and was worthy of rest and recharging.

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