The Catch-22 Of Motherhood: Why Don’t You Sleep When the Baby Sleeps?

I recently had a chat with a friend about motherhood and the profound, earth shattering, and indescribable lack of sleep that had accompanied the joy and delight of bringing a small human into the world. He asked me the classic question that often comes in the form of well-meaning advice from doctors, the childless, and perhaps those who have revised sense of history of what it was like to have small children:

“Why don’t you sleep when the baby sleeps?”

Ethan not asleep

It seems so obvious, right? The kiddo takes 2-3 40 minute to 2 hour naps each day.  If I’m so tired, why wouldn’t I just take naps when he sleeps?

It has something to do with this a strong desire to feel like a human being, not just a mom.  As Ethan’s primary carer (sidenote: I would love to find an alternative term to stay-at-home mom, but this one is too clinical. Any suggestions? Homemaker? Domestic Engineer?) I spend the vast majority of my day either entertaining him, or feeling guilty for not entertaining him while cleaning, taking care of the chickens or garden, or performing any other task that is required during his waking hours. (sidenote 2: mommy guilt. It’s real and it’s brutal, at least for me.) When he’s asleep, the last thing I want to do is take a nap myself, as it’s the only time I have to write, read, or simply be by myself. 

Ethan sleeping

Especially considering I am working very hard on putting my phone and computer away when he is awake, this is the time to feel connected to the outside world and engaged with life outside the farm.  However, this is problematic as when I am exhausted, it’s doubly difficult not to zone out and scroll through instagram when he’s feeding, or even be able to enjoy playing with him and seeing the world through his remarkable, fresh eyes.

A friend recently asked me if I miss using my brain. While this stung (I feel like my brain is put to good use raising a baby, as well as taking care of my family, as well as starting a small business, but thanks so much for asking!) I do know that more sleep would absolutely help the fuzziness that surrounds my every day interactions. However, right now, even with the fuzziness, connecting to others and my personal pursuits is worth the sacrifice. 

I Don’t Know Jack

This is the last time I will ever say this on this blog: Please pardon my absence. Not because it won’t happen again, but because honestly, it feels pathetic to say such a thing when A) it keeps happening, B) my blog is probably not something you’ve been checking 10 times a day, frantically pressing refresh on, waiting for my inspiring content about chickens or kale, and C) it’s just life, and life happens. However, in the spirit of friendship, please pardon me for not writing. I’ll try not to let it happen again, but no guarantees. See point C.

In my next post, I will show you some photos of my garden, which to my neophyte (and hungry) eyes looks spectacular. The garlic stalks rise above the weeds in a defiant crowd, the kale is springy, and the tomato plants are not yet dead

I still do not know anything at all about gardening, save for “oh, water helps avoid tragic death” and “Fish emulsion is like lemon ginger tea: it might not be the exact perfect cure, but it won’t hurt, and it’ll probably make your plant feel better.” We started approximately 120 tomato seeds, and five survived to germination.  Zero had enough strength to make it into the ground, as I knew the word up-potting but not the actions surrounding it. Kale, carrots and parsnips are the only vegetables we started from seed. In the paraphrased words of Erica Strauss, if you want to feel like a badass gardener, try growing kale in the Pacific Northwest. 

Problems get easier when you can throw money at them.  While I know it is doable to start seed to create a garden in the ground in clay soil, it’s much easier when you can afford to buy soil (as we did), build raised garden beds (as Anthony did), or cover your tomatoes with a custom hoop house (as Anthony did). (As a caveat, life in general is easier when you have a remarkably wonderful partner to get you through it.) It’s also easier when you have time to devote to your plants, which we do, even though it often feels as though life with an infant goes in some bizarre combination of warp speed and snail. We purchased seedlings from a local farm, soil from Portland, fish emulsion from a Marijuana growing supply store, juniper from a dude named Mark, and the rest from Amazon or Home Depot.  Not exactly the vision of simplicity and living la vida local I had when starting our private Eden. 

All this is to say that I am just another bozo on the bus, and am delighting in the fact that it looks like we may be able to eat a kale salad and a green zebra or two before the summer is out. 


Four Baby Sleep Essentials*

*for my baby. Your baby might hate them.  


Well, it’s hard to believe my little baby is a month old.  He’s also not so little. Need proof?  Here he is at 2 days old…

Ethan at 2 days old

And here he is two days ago.

Ethan at 3.5 weeks

He’s grown by a quarter at least!

Anyway, all in all, he’s a great kid. He’s very adaptable, easy going, and smily, even at one month. However, he is still a one month old, and sleep doesn’t always come easy to him.  Obviously, I want to help him sleep as much as I can, but my arms can only bounce a 9.5 lb baby for so long before the burn is just unbearable.  Having Anthony and my mother-in-law around helps enormously, but we all use these different tools to help him catch up on some zzzz’s.

Happiest Baby on the Block

The book The Happiest Baby on the Block is truly a life saver. The 5 S’s are magical in how effective they are 95% of the time (the other 5%, I’m pretty sure he has genuine gas).  The techniques not only help Ethan, but they help me feel like a confident and competent mom, which is priceless.  One note: I first started the book while pregnant, and put it down in disgust.  “Why is this man, a famous pediatrician, writing like I’m a 5 year old reader? It is so condescending.” Well, after Ethan was born, I re-opened it, and got it.  It wasn’t condescending. It’s written for moms and dads who haven’t slept in weeks and have lost their mental faculties.  It’s awesome.

Halo sleep sack

The Halo Sleep Sack is another essential for us.  We tried using baby blankets to swaddle, as well as three brands of of pre-made versions that were gifted to us, and the Halo is by far our favorite (to the point that we bought an extra!) It’s the only one that really keeps his arms in. However, my sister’s baby (not a baby anymore!) was a devoted Miracle Blanket baby, so your mileage may vary.  I’d recommend trying a few and seeing how it works for you. The most important thing we’ve learned is that for them to work, they have to be tight. Like, super tight. If he can get their arms out, he hits himself in the face and wakes himself up. True story. 

Cloud b Sleep Sheep

The Cloud b Sleep Sheep is such an essential that we’re about to buy another one for the car, just in case. We’ve been trying to be fairly minimalistic with baby purchases, but this guy – WOW.  He makes 4 sounds, and the ocean sound keeps E asleep at night. White noise is so helpful to keeping him asleep, as apparently in the womb, it was loud and white noisy all the time.  The only thing I’d change is to have a white noise machine that has the option to stay on all night, not just for 45 minutes, as when he wakes himself up in the middle of the night, it’s silent and he cries. Sad face.

Solly baby wrap

Solly baby wrap. Oh my goodness, how I love this wrap.  It’s soft, light weight, and gets him to conk out when nothing else will.  I also love that they’re made in the US and the company is owned by mama extraordinare Elle Rowley. However, wraps are yet another personal preference thing – there are so many ways to “wear” your baby, and the Solly is just one of many fabulous choices.

These are tools that have been working for us, though of course there is no guarantee that they will continue to do so – the joys of parenthood! Would love to hear what has worked for you, as well!