Up All Night: How to remain teammates when you’re tired
Are you getting ready to bring baby home?
Is your marriage baby proof? Research shows that within three years after the birth of a baby, many couples will experience changes in the quality of their relationship. Learn how to: increase friendship in your relationship, deal effectively with conflict, keep dads involved in infant care and parenting, improve the quality of parent-infant interaction, recognize the psychological and emotional needs of your child, and co-parent effectively.
A new baby brings change to every area of your life, but most intimately, it affects your marriage.
Sometimes, in the first few months of having a baby together, you’re more tied together and more torn apart all at the same time. You’re more tied together because now, forever, you share the parenthood of this unique gift from God, a little bit of you and a little bit of your spouse. I remember watching our newborn yawn or sneeze or squint his little eyes against the brightness of the room, and it was as if the genes were spreading out over our baby’s face. A flash of Clay morphed into a flash of me, before deciding where to settle for good.
Everywhere there was joy and restlessness: joy because of the deep love and the miracle of our baby before our eyes; restlessness because of the feel of life shifting… we were now responsible for another life. I remember feeling nervous together when it was time to take our firstborn home, away from the provisions of the hospital and the nurses. Our favorite nurse reassured us, in her thick German accent, that there were only three things the baby would need to do: eat, sleep, and diaper change. Then repeat. It sounded simple. We stepped out into the daylight of the real world—three now, instead of two—feeling optimistic.
But the nights would prove to be harder. Nobody is at their best during times of transition, especially when the transition involves being woken up in the middle of the night. A lot.
Looking back, I think it was the weight of new responsibility we each shouldered that made things tense between my husband and me. We bottle fed, so my husband could have helped me with feedings, but I did all the middle-of-the-night feedings, anyway, until my sleep deprivation reached a point I could no longer handle. I felt desperate for my husband’s help, but also guilty for asking.
I asked anyway, expecting an immediate yes. But when he countered that he needed steady sleep to function at work, my guilt shifted to frustration. “Isn’t taking care of the baby all day work, too? Feels like work to me...”
Our first baby is now seven years old, the oldest of our three boys! When I think back to that initial time with only one baby, it seems like a breeze. But at the time, I wasn’t acclimated to the sleepless nights and the sacrificial lifestyle of parenthood. I was up for it—just not used to it.
By the time we had our second baby, we were equipped with a new, more realistic set of expectations that helped us handle the sleepless nights. By the time we had our third baby, we actually enjoyed the night feedings. Usually! Through experience, here is the advice I’d offer to couples who are about to bring a new baby home (especially if they are a bit stubborn like us!):
I don’t remember who said it, I just remember hearing what another mother said and the way it made me feel: terrible.
“Here’s what we do,” she said, describing night-feedings. “When I wake up to breastfeed the baby, he gets up, too, and stays up with me to keep me company until the baby goes back to sleep.” Are you kidding me? I didn’t need to hear that!
The old adage is true: don’t compare your situation to others. Occasionally, my husband and I fell into that trap. I pointed out couples who hired night nurses so the wife could get much-needed sleep. My husband, on the other hand, pointed out his friends whose wives did all the night feedings, so the husband could function at work.
When we compared ourselves with other couples, it only worked to pull us further apart.
Break some rules:
Looking back, we set ourselves up to fail by going “by the book” with our firstborn. At the time, conventional wisdom was: for maximum safety, the baby must sleep on a firm (read: rock-hard) mattress, in a crib without bumpers, swaddled tightly, lying flat on his back. So, our oldest, who hated being constrained and had tummy issues, slept pretty miserably like this, two rooms away from us.
By the time we had our second baby, we broke some rules: he slept comfortably in a cushy, elevated bassinet right by our bedside. The entire family was happier. The third baby pretty much slept in bed with us. Just find what works most comfortable for you, rather than going by the book.
Don’t say, “I can’t”:
I remember reading the book Lies Women Believe & The Truth that Sets Them Free. One of the lies was: “I just can’t do it.”
In the most trying times of parenthood—and I think the very beginning with your first baby qualifies, especially if your baby, like ours, was colicky—it’s easy to feel like you can’t pull all the weight. I think it’s important that both spouses believe they can do it no matter what.
That way, when one of you is so tired that you’re hanging by a thread, the other one knows it’s time to step up and step in.
Do: see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The sleepless times are temporary. The lifetime as a regularly-functioning family is unfolding more and more each day. Make the best of “the baby haze.” Take pride in your new responsibilities. Savor the time with your newborn. Recognize that through the challenges of transition comes growth in your marriage.