Motherhood, Olive

Why New Parents Are So Obsessed With Sleep

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Never talk to a new parent, for we are an obnoxious sort of people, full of anxiety and milestones and percentiles and pediatrician’s advice.

But if for some reason you are unable to avoid it, if you have a new parent for a friend or relative or co-worker,, you may have noticed that it takes approximately 2.85 minutes for the conversation to veer around to how their baby is sleeping.

If they are sleeping, when they are sleeping, where they are sleeping, how they are sleeping, and the all-time favorite, WHY WON’T THEY SLEEP?

There are many reasons for this obsession, and I think this is one of those things I never really understood (not in the truest, nitty grittiest of ways that you can really understand something, anyway) until I found myself here, on the other side.

So here is a list, which is meant to function both as an explanation and an apology to anyone who has had a longer-than-two-minutes conversation with me anytime in the last eight and three-quarter months.

Why New Parents Are So Obsessed With Sleep

  1. Because, in the beginning, it’s all babies do. Beyond discussing their physical appearance (cute!) and their poops (horrifying!) babies don’t offer up much in the way of conversation topics other than sleep. So for the first few weeks or months, literally 90% of your day is spent breastfeeding or putting your baby to sleep. (The other 10% is divvied up as follows: 9% spent talking about breastfeeding or putting your baby to sleep, and the remaining 1% on personal care, cooking, dishes, laundry, and pretending to be a real life human being. Obviously.)

  2. Because you asked. You in the grocery store line up. And you, co-worker who I have done no more than nod to whenever I passed you in the hallway for the past three years. And you, anxious-eyed old friend trying to evaluate just how hellish this experience really is, anyways. You asked. So we answered. And then we somehow forgot to shut up about it for the next four years. Sorry.

  3. Because WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU BABY AREN’T YOU TIRED FROM THE SCREAMING AND THE POOPING AND ALL OF THE BEING SO EDIBLY CUTE? SLEEEEEEEP DAMMIT.

  4. Because it affects every single aspect of a new parents life and that is not exaggerating even one tiny bit. If baby isn’t sleeping, ain’t nobody sleeping. And if you’re not sleeping, you are crazy. There’s just no way around it. Being woken up every two hours (or four hours or any increment of hours less than eight jesus christ) is just unsustainable in the worst, bleary-eyed, sharp-tongued, mountains of coffee and takeout pizza way. You are tired, and worse than that, your BABY is tired. Yes, him. THE ONE THAT WON’T SLEEP. Which brings me to point 5:

  5. Because it doesn’t make any sense! The baby is exhausted. Clearly, objectively, exhausted. This is a FACT. Rubbing their eyes, yawning, getting cranky, all of those clear-cut 100% positive, 0% chance of error, indications that baby is t-i-r-e-d. But they won’t sleep. They don’t want to be rocked or held or walked or swung or nursed or put down (oh god, definitely not put down) but what they don’t want most of all is to sleep. Because they are insane. And talking about this insanity with other human people is incredibly reassuring.

  6. Because you might have the answer. Every time a new parent tells someone about their sleep habits, (Ja-ahydein wakes up at 7 and then naps at 9 but only sleeps 20 minutes before he starts crying and if I get to him quick enough I can rock him and he’ll nap a little longer but if I don’t he’s up and grumpy and then naps again at 11 and we miss our baby zumba class!), they are hoping you have the answer.What answer? We have no idea. Some magik or witchcraft or top-secret method, or maybe you had a child JUST LIKE Ja-ahydein and you somehow stumbled across the cure for short naps and night-wakings and you have been standing there just WAITING for us to ask, so you could share your wisdom! This is the most hoped for outcome, I think.

    Next time a new parent talks about their baby’s sleep, look deep into their eyes and you will see it. That longing, that questioning stare asking, Do you have the solution? TELL MEEEEEEE.

  7. Because they don’t want to let their baby cry it out. In the past I have written about how I am not a fan of crying it out, and I realized after the fact that I may have offended some parents who were using that method, so this is an important one for me to write. Because here’s the thing: no one wants to do CIO.

    No one wakes up one day and thinks, “Hey! Look at this adorable chubby baby for whom I longed and dreamt and spent nine months waiting on the edge of my seat. Look at this child who gives me big gummy smiles and drooly open-mouthed kisses and thinks that I am the centre of the universe. Look at this perfect little being. I think that today I will let him cry alone in his crib for ten or twenty minutes- maybe even an hour! You know, just for fun.”

    No matter how against CIO you are (and I am against it in the “It doesn’t work for us, but if it works for you then rock on, mama” way), I think we can agree that no one wants to do it.CIO is the last resort of the sleep deprived parent. The parent that can’t physically drink any more coffee than she already is. The parent that cries at the drop of a hat because she’s emotionally exhausted and falls asleep standing up and has leg-hair longer than her husband. The parent that has tried everything else, I swear, everything! and just. needs. some. sleep.

    This parent doesn’t need articles or studies or mommybloggers shaming them, they need sleep. On this issue, like all other parenting issues that quickly devolve into the so-called “Mommy Wars”, we have to trust that they know what they are doing. We have to trust that other parents are just like us, because other parents ARE us, and we are them and they have tried anything and everything else, and have decided that this is the best thing for their babies and for themselves.

    So sometimes when a new parent talks about sleep, they just want to be told that they are doing their best. Even if their best ends up being something you don’t agree with. Because they might not agree with it either, but it’s the only thing that’s working.

  8. Because they want, nay NEED to fix it. Because of the tiredness, you see. And the crazy. Oh, so much crazy. Do you know what I did a few weeks ago? I constructed an elaborate excel spreadsheet to track Olive’s sleep schedule. As I may have mentioned, her former sleeping-for-ten-hours-straight schtick is long gone, and we suspect that it may have been a ruse, a trick, a trap to make us love her. And dammit it worked and now here we are, stuck with a no-sleeping baby like a couple of CHUMPS.

    Well played, Olive, well played.

    Anyway, this spreadsheet had spaces for when she woke up in the morning and when she went down for her naps, when she woke up from her naps and when she went to sleep at night. And then, in a column the most scribbled and messy and chaotic of all (being as it was often filled in with a broken eyeliner pencil at 3 a.m.) a space to write down if (HA!) and when she woke up during the night.

    Do you know what I called this endeavor? CRAZY. And do you know what all of that qualitative data would have looked like after I analyzed it? This:

    Ok so the first day she woke at 10 then slept at noon and again at four with bedtime at 10 for total of 14 sleep hours but then on the 7th she slept a total of 16 hours because she had a third nap but look on the 15th she ALSO had a third nap what were the phases of the moon during those days and did I look at coffee on the first day let’s correlate the two statistically significant events with the lunar tides and Gus’ bowel movements oh my god…oh my god I’ve got it! The answer to everything! No wait. Forgot to carry the one. Shit.

    There was no rhyme or reason to it. Two days could look exactly the same and one night she’d sleep through the night and the next she would wake six times. Days where naps were the same time and durations had bedtimes that varied +/- three hours. It was chaos. But I spent an embarrassingly long time studying that spreadsheet because it was all I had. And I was going to figure it out if it killed me!

    (I did not figure it out. She is clearly an aberration. A statistical anomaly. A one-in-a-million sometimes-shitty-sleeping-but-always-wonderful, beautiful little outlier. Also known as a normal baby. Because babies do not sleep. Because they are insane.)

  9. Because it makes them feel like failures. Every book touting an easy-peasy solution to baby sleep, every friend who can pop their child into their crib where they fall asleep on their own and sleep for twelve straight hours, and every person offering helpful solutions that worked like magic but they have tried, I swear they have tried! makes a new parent feel like a failure.The thought process goes something like this:

    If I was a good mom she would sleep better. If I stopped nursing to sleep she would sleep better. If I breastfed she would sleep better. If I stopped co-sleeping she would sleep better. If I started co-sleeping she would sleep better. If I played with her more during the day she would sleep better. If she was less over-stimulated she would sleep better. If I stopped drinking coffee or started taking more iron or swaddled her or rocked her or stopped rocking her or let her cry it out, she would sleep better.

    Everyone else’s baby sleeps better. I’m doing it wrong. I’m a bad mom.

    I am doing it wrong.

So I know that all the talk about sleep can seem ridiculous and boring and like, seriously! the kid will sleep when she sleeps! get over it! (<—actual thing I have thought to myself when discussing this topic BC [before child]) it is important.

It is important because it affects how a parent functions, and how a baby functions, and how happy and sane they both are during their waking hours. It is important because sometimes as a new parent you feel like your whole life is spent putting the baby to sleep or waiting for the baby to wake up and it can be frustrating.

And it is important because although we know babies don’t sleep – I mean, we all know that right? Babies are notorious for not sleeping! – it is different when you are in it. And when you are in it, this sleep-deprived state of stained clothing and nothing but two hour stretches as far as the eye can see, you just want to be out of it but the only way out is time because eventually everyone sleeps.

And in the meantime, we talk.

Thank you, world, for listening.

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10 Comments

  • Reply lilymama July 3, 2013 at 5:22 AM

    thank you Madeleine.

  • Reply An Easyworld July 3, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Fucking awesome. Especially the bit about CIO, which no one EVER says.

  • Reply sarah July 3, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Oh, sleep. My little A just turned fifteen months; she’s never slept more than eight hours in a row, and that she only did twice, way back at 4-5 months? *I* haven’t slept through the night since she was born! So, no answers from me, just a wry quip about the things we get used to. I had lovely long sleeps while I was pregnant, though …

    • Reply sweetmadeleine July 3, 2013 at 6:03 PM

      These babies, they are tricky. Chubby, adorable, tricky, no-sleeping little weirdos.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine July 3, 2013 at 6:04 PM

      Also sweet Jesus woman. You are a rock. I’m on month 2 if these sleep shenanigans and I look like shit and suddenly hate everyone and everything around me.

  • Reply Andrea July 6, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Um, totally. All of that. I’ve just resigned myself to a great amount of self-censorship and the fact that everyone who does not have an infant (most people- this includes people with toddlers because I think they have mostly forgotten) thinks I’m insane. I just (insanely) chuckle to myself that someday (mwhahaha) they’ll KNOW. As an aside, I’m sure you’ve read a thousand books but some of the Baby Whisperer, Pantley No Cry, and 90-minute methods have worked well for us. He is NOT a CIO baby, apparently (tried a little Sleepeasy- no dice), but now he sleeps 6 to 6 and takes about 3 hour long naps in his crib, chatting himself to sleep mostly at 6 months. We have some weird days and I’ve accepted nothing is permanent so we’ll see. Ooops, now there I went again. So much for self-restraint.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine July 6, 2013 at 11:22 AM

      I think it’s the “nothing is permanent” thing that gets me – which is funny, because I am not now, nor have I ever been, a “routine”, scheduled person. And this is why sometimes I feel oike a total dick complaining/discussing/overanalyzing Olive’s sleep with other parents, because objectively she is a great sleeper! Sleeps a total of 12 hours a night, guaranteed at least three hours of naps a day, but it’s the fact that when I put her down for her morning nap I never know whether it’s going to be 45 mins or an hour or two hours. Or those nights where I stay awake thinking she’s just going to be up soon anyway and then she sleeps 12 hours straight. WHUT?! She messes with me, this child! And look…there I went, too. I think it’s impossible not to write a novel when talking about baby sleep.

  • Reply Frances Prochilo December 7, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    It’s like you’re inside my head! I’m making all my loved ones read this so they can finally understand why allIwanttodoistalkaboutSLEEP. Thanks!

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