“Sleep now…you won’t sleep after the baby’s born.”
Every pregnant mother has heard some iteration of this…an implication that pregnancy is a death march toward the permanent ending of all joy and rest. Statements about how life will never be the same after birth have a positive intention. People want to help parents-to-be understand that an unimaginable life change is coming. Unfortunately no amount of doom and gloom is actually going to help people prepare for that. I’d like to address both parties in this article.
To the expectant parents:
Yes, you will sleep again. I promise. You will probably not sleep well for a while, but you will adjust. You will build the ability to operate on less sleep than you’re currently getting. Someday you will even be able to get 8 hours of sleep each night again.
Perhaps you’ve heard stories about how your hobbies and interests will die a sudden death too. They will have to go on the back burner for a little while, yes. But I think it’s a mistake to let go of all the things that brought you joy before becoming a parent.
While you’re taking on a new identity as a mother or father, it doesn’t erase your old one. Since parenting is such a huge role, your hobbies (sleep will become a hobby too!) will have to be prioritized. You will not have time to do all of the things that you do for recreation and entertainment now, but I strongly encourage you to choose the one or two that are most important to you. Create time for them by any means necessary after the first few weeks or months.
If you love knitting, you might have to wait for baby’s nap time to pick up your project. If you love gardening, you may need to arrange time with your partner to care for the baby while you garden. You may even find ways to incorporate baby into your interests. For example, buying a jogging stroller if you enjoy running. It will take creativity and a firm belief that you deserve time to do the things you enjoy.
To the experienced parents:
Look, I know adjusting to parenting can be blindsiding. You want to help people understand the enormity of the shift in roles that is about to occur in their lives. There are more helpful ways to help parents-to-be prepare for life with a baby than telling them they’ll never sleep or do things they enjoy again. What CAN help them is sharing…
- What helped you cope with sleep disruptions when your child was an infant?
- How did you manage to find time to do the things that matter to you?
- How did you help your partner find time for their interests?
- What helped you release guilt about having time for yourself?
- How did returning to things you were passionate about (or perhaps finding new things you felt passionate about) help you to be a better parent and partner when you returned?
That is wisdom that moms and dads to be can really use to help them come to grips with the changes the accompany parenthood. What a gift it would be to share your insights about finding solutions and prioritizing your and your partner’s mental health during postpartum!