When we got married my wife, Chris, was conflicted as to whether she wanted to have children or not. On the one hand she was concerned about the impact a child would have on her sleep. Chris always required close to 8 hours each night and felt tired and irritable if she did not get her full compliment of rest. She had heard stories from her friends and co-workers how their children completely altered their sleep patterns and how they were functioning on sometimes half the sleep they were accustomed to. On the other hand, Chris’s maternal instincts were reaching new levels as the years went by. Soon, she was “babying” our dogs to the point where they almost expected a bedtime story each night.
I had decided fairly early on that I would agree to whatever decision Chris made. I have a child from a previous marriage and have experienced, and continue to experience all the joys and emotions that accompany parenthood. Because my son was 13 at the time, I had forgotten many of the challenges presented when caring for a newborn baby. I figured that I am a fairly flexible guy with enough energy to handle what comes my way.
Chris’s pregnancy was difficult from the first trimester. By the middle of the second trimester she had to leave her work. The baby was positioned in such a way that severely hampered Chris’s breathing which, in turn, caused many sleepless nights. As the baby continued to grow (he was almost 10 ½ lbs at birth) so did the number of restless nights. For a number of reasons we simply could not wait until our baby arrived.
From the moment Kevin was born there were problems. He had swallowed significant amounts of meconium (baby’s first poop) and it got into his lungs. Somehow, despite three weeks in a coma and three collapsed lungs, Kevin managed to pull through and after five weeks we took him home.
Kevin required special care his first year. Because of the severe irritation to his lungs we had to insure that he did not catch any colds or viruses. We were advised not to take him to any indoor public places where people would gather. We obliged. This was extremely stressful on both Chris and myself. We couldn’t go to a store together. One of us had to wait outside with Kevin while the other did the shopping. No restaurants, of course, unless we ate outside. This became impossible as we came upon winter. The hardest part of this restriction dealt with the fact that Chris could not bond with other new mothers and their babies. We did not allow Kevin to come in close contact with other children. Chris was already taking the year away from her work to be with Kevin so she was completely isolated from the world. In fact, I was her only physical link to the outside world.
As the months of Kevin’s first year came and went it became increasingly difficult for Chris. She was enjoying Kevin and most of the wonders of motherhood but her lack of sleep and continued isolation played with her psyche. Chris would have one or two “good” days followed by one or two “bad” days. She would experience great joy one moment and experience extreme depression the next. I would receive many calls at work from a despondent woman clearly asking for me to help her find her way. This from a woman who was always extremely independent. My response to her was usually simple and direct. I would let her know how the lack of sleep is impairing her judgment. I would always encourage her by telling her how courageous she is and what a great job of mothering she has done. Occasionally, I would leave work to comfort her. Always, I would make sure that Chris would recognize and repeat to me some of the reason’s why she was feeling this way. Her repeating these reasons seemed to comfort her. She began to recognize that her abnormal feelings were actually normal given the circumstances.
Finally, we realized that Chris would be most happy beginning to assimilate back into the work force AND get some help so she is not with Kevin 24/7. We also addressed the nighttime sleep deprivation by allowing Kevin to sleep with us so Chris doesn’t have to get out of bed every couple of hours when he awakes. Kevin has responded by sleeping better and waking up less frequently. We have expanded our king sized bed by attaching a twin. This “family” bed is enabling all of us to bond in a more positive way.
Today, Chris has started her own practice offering therapy to pregnant and postpartum women. While the sleep issue has not gone away it has been better. As a result her mood swings appear less often. I still try and support her efforts through discussions and insisting that she take some time to herself. She is still reluctant to do this. Chris is completely comfortable with Kevin’s caretaker. While all of us are still adjusting and coping, we have come to manage our expectations on sleep, alone time…..so we are not disappointed and stressed if things don’t always work out. Most importantly, Kevin is 100% healthy and a very happy, well adjusted 1 year old.