Coming Unglued at 3:00 a.m.

By Lauren Porter

If there is one uniting theme of parenthood, it is likely exhaustion. Parents, most especially mothers, speak eternally of their overwhelming fatigue. It may be the most unexpected force of new motherhood. Most of us anticipated a landslide of love, a huge life change. But we never meant to get this tired. I know I thought I’d been tired before. I had studied all night, partied until sunrise and worked 18‐ hour days to finish a project. That was a cakewalk. This is motherhood.

I meet mothers from all walks of life in both my personal and professional life. During one workshop a mother raised her hand. She was well spoken with kind eyes and a smiling baby in her lap chewing on her necklace. ‘I know you don’t like to tell people what to do,’ she pleaded, ‘but I need advice. I’m pathetic when it comes to getting my baby to sleep.’ To know where to start I think we must first understand where we are.

I have a hunch that one part of the exhaustion we experience as mothers is about our expectations; another part about their dependence as infants. The expectations we place upon ourselves – and that are eagerly foisted upon us – are tremendous. Babies are judged by two gold standards: are they fat? And are they sleeping? If you have a fat baby who sleeps a lot you’re a winner. If you have a slow gaining baby who is alert, awake and not keen to slumber, you are, let’s face it, a loser. And never will the unsolicited advice pour in faster. You will hear the phrase ‘rod for your back’ more times than you thought possible. You will be told to ‘start like you want to finish’ and to never ever let that baby get you wrapped around her finger.

While sleep is the holy grail of parenthood, in the rest of adulthood we violate it at every turn when given our own authority – we overwork, sleep far less than the suggested 8 nightly hours, read in bed, eat in bed and suffer endless bouts of insomnia, sleep apnea and countless other emerging adult sleep disorders. But when baby has authority, we are meant to restore order and get to bed. No more shenanigans. Uninterrupted shut eye is the goal. Anything less is failure.

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