Monday, May 29, 2006

Sleep Deprivation is Not as Fun as it Seems

So many of us moms are depressed. This is one of several sad discoveries I’ve made since entering the post-Pill era – so much infertility, far too many miscarriages, and such a shocking number of depressed mothers. Brooke Shields. ("Facing her Post-Partum Fears!" a People headline trumpeted recently.) My next door neighbour. The woman at church yesterday with whom I had such a delightful meeting of the minds on the evils of Baby Wise (not evils for the baby – evils for the mother whose head gets filled with critical, condemning words). So many of the "shoulds" mothers are bombarded with contribute, directly or indirectly, to our guilt and depression:

  • You should breastfeed for as long as possible.
  • You should stay home with your children.
  • You should respond immediately to every cry.
  • You should treat your post-partum depression with vitamins and exercise. (Thank you, Dad2TomKitten!)

With the exception of that final item, none of those words of advice is intended to mire women in depression, but certainly there are many women for whom breastfeeding triggers a cocktail of hormones spiked with despair, women for whom the house feels like a prison, women for whom sleep deprivation translates into a constant, teeth-on-edge, simmering rage.

An article in today’s newspaper began by announcing, "Parenting author Ann Douglas is sounding the wake-up alarm about sleep deprivation." Yes, the mother of all mommy-bloggers is going on the record to say that there is a point beyond which sleep deprivation is no longer okay. She proposes a variety of solutions, including – gasp! – letting dad get up with the baby at night (though she acknowledges that this tactic may involve the mom shaking him awake, a process that may be more time-consuming and disruptive to sleep than just feeding the baby and having done with it). But she warns that prolonged sleep-deprivation can be dangerous, and urges mothers to get the help they need before they reach the breaking point.

It’s a refreshing message to hear – but then the columnist, Kathy Rumleski, ends the article by profiling a second book, Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and pulls out the following quotation: "You want to sleep, but you can’t." Since this statement is taken out of context, it's not entirely clear whether Kurcinka means "You want to sleep, but you can't ... unless you try my foolproof no-cry sleep solutions" OR "You want to sleep, but you can't, you selfish bitch." Anyway. She goes on: " When [a child] is unable to calm himself and you are inclined to let him cry, consider how you would feel if your partner ignored your distress."

There you go – a nice shot of guilt to go with your tonic of sleep-deprivation if you’re hard-hearted enough to let your baby cry. What bothers me most about the CIO debate is not the arguments used against it, but the arguments one is forced to use for it: My baby has been so much happier since he learned to sleep on his own. I’m a much better mother now that I’m rested and alert. If the sleep-deprivation went on much longer, I might have harmed the baby.

It’s not enough to say: The lack of sleep is making me miserable. I’m on the verge of tears all day long. I blow up at little things that shouldn’t even bother me. Every time I look at my partner I want to hit him because he’s asleep/he’s smiling/he’s getting ready to leave the house. Even I don’t think those arguments are convincing, not by themselves – the mother’s welfare enters the equation only insofar as we can link it to the baby’s. We can forgive ourselves for doing what we need to do only insofar as we can say that even if a stay-at-home, co-sleeping, breastfeeding mom would be best for the baby, the best thing for my baby is a mom who’s okay, who’s keeping her head above water, whatever that requires.


While we’re on the topic of guilt, let me just say that I’ve been nursing a bit of low-level self-reproach while writing this post because I’m not paying enough attention to the Bub, who’s busy steering Thomas the Tank Engine around the track. So I took a break a moment ago when I heard him muttering something about a mouse. A remembered snatch of Green Eggs and Ham? I turned around, saying, "I would not eat them in a house, I would not eat them with a mouse!" Bub looked at me sternly. "No," he said. Then he turned my swiveling desk chair back around so I was facing the computer, and returned to his trains.

Should that make me feel better or worse?


sunshine scribe said...

First of all ... how cute is bub!!

I have such issue with all the literature that exists that make moms feel guilty. We are plenty capable of doing that all on our own. And sleep deprivation is so dangerous. But at the end of the day we each need to do what is best for our own situation that leads to a happy and healthy baby AND mom.

Wendy Boucher said...

Hi. I noticed your comment at Sunshine Scribe and popped over to say hello. I love your post about sleep deprivation. I think you are right on. After "Ferberizing" Girlie when she was nine months old (it only took two nights of upset), she never had sleep issues again and I became a MUCH better Mommy. I only wondered why I had waited so long.

metro mama said...

Great post. There's so much to say. I'll post about this too.

Briefly, the pressure to breastfeed is incredible. While I wanted to desperately, it didn't work out for us (flat nipples, post-partum hemmorhage and hospitalization, blah, blah, blah). I still felt so much pressure. I pumped for six months, waking up during the night to do it. Not cool. Life has been so much better for both us since I gave up on that.

Us moms are not machines. We need to know our limits. What's best for us is best for our babes.

Mega Mom said...

I thought the Mommy Guilt was neverending, but lately I've been seeing quite a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. For me, part of maturing as a Mom, has meant not blaming myself for everything.

I was/am a strong devotee of Weissbluth. My Mom mixed him up with Ferber. The other day she said "Hey, did you see that Ferber came up with a whole new sleep training method? No more crying it out."


bubandpie said...

I've heard competing versions of the Ferber thing - according to one version, he has recanted entirely and no longer recommends any let-cry methods, but according to another report, he just says that the crying may not be necessary for every baby. Anyone know which is true?

The great thing about Weissbluth is that he actually offers options instead of the One True Doctrine of babies. You can tell which option he prefers, of course, but he respects that parents will make different choices.

ninepounddictator said...

I think Ann has a very good point. I don't think many mothers are really really prepared for the sleep-depravation - and that leads to depression too. One of the reasons I didn't breastfeed is because I knew I could get others at night to help...Anyway, I definitely don't walk around saying I never breastfed to anyone, unless they ask. Because people can be vicious. But I especially hate when that pressure is put on moms who can't breastfeed and then they make them feel like they're failing at something. Basically, I'm with sunshine.

Christina said...

Isn't it crazy how much Mommy Guilt there is nowadays? No matter what you do, there's always someone waiting to tell you what you're doing is wrong.

I felt a lot of my own guilt over my difficulties breastfeeding, my depression, and my daughter's constant crying in the early days. I've managed to get over a lot of that guilt and realize that no matter what the experts say, there are a lot of different ways to raise a perfectly normal child. And that we all need sleep to function as good mothers. The mother must be taken care of in order to take care of the baby.

Mommy off the Record said...

For me, sleep deprivation was the most difficult part of new motherhood. Luckily, my little guy was a good sleeper and he started sleeping through the night fairly early. I can't imagine how much harder it would be if he had been colicky.

I agree that women should not be guilted if they decide to let their babies CIO if the need to. I think the mom is the best person to decide what is right for her and for her baby.

PS. Thanks for visiting my blog and for the nice comment you left.

lildb said...

holy toledo. hit the nail on the head, you did.

nice one.

Mayberry said...

I have been meaning to post on the same thing, just too tired to do so!

Seriously, though, excellent points. Still waiting for my 14-month-old to get the hang of this thing we call "sleep."

Thanks for visiting me, too!

Jaelithe said...

I am seriously convinced that parenting-related sleep deprivation has already taken at least a year off my life, and seriously messed with my memory. I feel like half of my college education has already slipped through the new holes in my brain.

I don't believe I slept for more than an hour or two a night the first three weeks after my son was born. It got to the point that I was actually, factually, hallucinating. And there was no sleeping for me during the day, because right after we brought our son home from the hospital our apartment complex, without warning, began putting new siding on our building, which meant that men were hammering right outside my windows from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week. And on the weekends, family members kept inviting themselves over. YIKES.

I would be trying for a second baby right now if I weren't so terrified of going through the sleep torture again . . .