“Sleep when she sleeps” was the most well intended, ubiquitous and overwhelmingly unhelpful piece of advice I received after the birth of my daughter.
I say ubiquitous because in the early days it really did feel like everyone I met who noticed I had a newborn would say it to me. Not just friends and family, but my midwife, health visitor, the supermarket cashier (upon noticing my baggy eyes and pale face).
I say well intended, because it was just that. The message really being that I was important too and that my rest was also important. After all, if I didn’t take care of myself, how was I going to take care of my baby.
It remains however, one of the most unhelpful things people have ever uttered to me following the arrival of our small person, regardless of the thoughtful intent behind the words. It is even more frustrating to hear when you are sleep deprived and just generally exhausted.
The reason it is so unhelpful is because quite simply – in my world at least – it just doesn’t work like that.
Take my baby for example, she is not a good napper. She also does not cope well with being tired. Trying to persuade a baby that she needs a nap when she is quite positive that she doesn’t, is one of the less enjoyable aspects of parenthood. She naps very easily if she is being pushed around in the buggy, or taken for a drive in the car, or gently rocked in my arms from side to side. A little impractical for me though, to be napping while I am doing any of those things for her.
She often falls asleep after feeding, but she is a light sleeper during the day, and will wake as soon as I move her (regardless of how long I wait to move her!). I often have to weigh up whether it’s more important for me to move to do x,y or z, or whether I should sit still with her on my lap for as long as she needs to sleep.
This post isn’t really about the sleep patterns of my child though. What motherhood is making me increasingly aware of is our use of language and the failing communication between what people say and what they mean. “Sleep when she sleeps” is just an example. It works really well for babies that nap well and parents that fall asleep easily (I suppose exhaustion might do that to you). For the rest of us – it makes us wonder if we could have pre-ordered the sleeping variety.
I saw a facebook post recently of a response that my sister had given to a desperately tired and sleep deprived new mum. She said “Nap when you can”. A subtle difference in the choice of words perhaps and the same intended message, but if someone had used that phrase for me in the early days it would have made a big difference to the message I received and the associated pressure that I felt because I wasn’t managing to sleep through the day.
I’m typing this blog while my baby sleeps. Trouble is that the reason she is sleeping is because she is in a sling on my back and my earlier walking around the house lulled her to sleep. If I take her out, she will wake up.
So, I don’t sleep when she sleeps.
But I will nap when I can.