You think you’re doing ok for the first few weeks. You can still form sentences and you haven’t started throwing things. Then one day, when you’ve burst into tears because your toddler dropped their bowl of cereal and you’ve decided it’s necessary to call security because the bloke on the supermarket checkout wouldn’t give you an extra bag, you’ll realise the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn and a toddler has started to wear you down.
You’re not ‘tired’. ‘Tired’ is when you’ve worked a 12-hour day at the office without stopping for lunch. ‘Tired’ is when you had to wake up at 5am to meet your friend for boot camp. ‘Tired’ is for people who don’t have small children. Those people, bless their cotton socks, need a good nap.
You are exhausted. Shattered. Stunningly fatigued. You don’t need a nap. You need an induced coma. You haven’t slept for more than three hours in a row in weeks, if not months and you’re fantasising about that magical four-hour stretch. You’re convinced that if you could just get four hours in a row, you might be ok. Your head throbs with idiocy and it feels like a wad of wet toilet paper is wedged behind your eyeballs, slowly squeezing them out of their sockets. Rusty razor wire drags over your eyeballs with every blink.
There’s no such thing as “sleep when the baby sleeps” for you. Even if your baby chooses to occasionally sleep (big IF) you won’t be closing your eyes. As your tiny babe gets a lovely refreshing nap, there‘s another small person who, at a minimum, requires you to have your eyes open. You’re doing the night shift with the baby and the day shift with the toddler and it sucks.
This is your life now. You are the tired lady. For the foreseeable future, you will be running on empty so it’s best to stop fighting it and make your peace. Scrawl, “this too will pass” across your bathroom mirror and repeat it to yourself throughout the day. You are no longer a person who “needs 8 hours to survive”. You are a mum and you will learn to live like some Tibetan monk who only sleeps when the moon is full. While it’s going to be an eternity until you feel truly rested again, the bone-deep zombification will ease in a few months. Your baby will eventually sleep in longer stretches and you’ll start to feel slightly less like the living dead.
Embrace the TV
Now is not the time to be sanctimonious about screen time. If you’re so tired you can’t even form full sentences, your child will be better off with Justine, Teo and Big Ted. I’m currently co-parenting with my TV and I will not feel guilty about it. I can make up for it with wondrous, educational experiences when I’ve had more than 45 minutes sleep in a row.
It’s very difficult to fall asleep, sitting up on a park bench. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult. As a bonus, your kids might tire themselves out and everyone can have a nap when you get home.
Get creative with playtime
You are a sick patient and you need Dr Toddler to bandage your leg. You are the baby and your tiny Mummy is going to tuck you into bed. You are a sleeping monster and your little one has to be very quiet and careful as they creep around you or you might wake up and bite them! You are Sleeping Beauty and your little Prince must find a magic potion to wake you up. You are going camping and your toddler is in charge of building the tent around you as you sleep.
You get the idea; anything that involves you lying down while they do all the work.
Exploit all and any family members who happen to live close by. If you’re lucky enough to have people willing to care for your children, you need to pack them up and drop them off. Don’t think twice about this. Get in the car now. Call your mum or your sister or your best friend and tell them to be waiting in the drive-way ready to catch your children as your car rolls past. You won’t even come to a full stop, such is the need to get home to sleep. On behalf of all the women who don’t have the luxury of on-call babysitters, I am begging you not to waste this gift. Even a few hours will help you feel less murderous.
Schedule your sleep
I recently turned down a coffee date with my girlfriends because I had an appointment with my bed. I told them three days in advance about my plan to be asleep. My son would be in daycare and I had no other commitments that day. I was giddy with excitement. I planned to put my baby down for her nap then I was going to snuggle down in a pile of unfolded laundry and go to sleep. The breakfast would be crusting on the table and the dust bunnies would be busy making baby dust bunnies, but I would be sleeping. It went perfectly to plan. I got exactly 93 minutes and it was glorious.
Whatever you do, nothing will replace real, life-saving sleep, but you can find ways to survive this. Hang in there, zombie woman. This too will pass.
This post was first published at Kidspot