Q&A: “Sleep while you can”

Blythe writes:

"I am 26 weeks pregnant and looking forward to delivering in January.
Friends and relatives give me plenty of advice all the time, and the
most frequent refrain seems to be "sleep now!/stock up on your sleep!"
I realize (assume?) this is a ‘hilarious’ way of saying I’m never going
to get a good night’s sleep ever again.  It does, however, lead me to
wonder if there’s a way to prepare myself for the postpartum sleep
deprivation to come.  My bladder is cooperating with my baby to wake me
at least once each night, but that’s not quite the same thing.  What’s
your advice?  Try to begin some kind of adjustment period now?  Or bask
in blissful dreamland while I can?"

Your body is going to prep you all by itself. An awful lot of us experience more frequent waking as the pregnancy progresses. First it’s the peeing. Then it’s the strange dreams. Then it’s the heartburn/reflux. Then it’s the backaches. Then it’s the restless legs. Then it’s attempting to roll over in your sleep but waking up because your belly won’t come along with your shoulders.

By the end of each of my pregnancies I was sleeping for about 45 minutes at a time. Those first couple of weeks of the baby waking every three hours to nurse felt like a rest cure to me.

But there are other women who sleep fine until the end of the pregnancy. And there are some babies who wake up all the time at the beginning, and some who sleep a lot from the get-go. There’s no way to know which kind you’ll get (although I’ll tell you to take Omega 3 supplements during your pregnancy to stack the odds of a sleeping baby in your favor). So I wouldn’t borrow any trouble. Why go into a sleep-deprivation situation with a deficit?

Sleep as much as you want to and can now. Also, go out to dinner any time you want to, go to the movies, knit complicated patterns, eat hot meals with two hands, and have sex in the middle of the day as much as you can now. All these things are about to disappear from your life temporarily.

I think people say these things to pregnant women because they don’t know what to say and they want to say something, even if it’s inane, to acknowledge your impending motherhood. Or because they still feel resentful of the sleep deprivation, and want to pass it off onto you. But I also think some women say it because it’s safer than saying "Things are going to change and it won’t be easy. You will be tested. You will be broken down. Remember that we all did it and you can, too." There’s no way to describe what it’s like to be a new parent. It’s horrible and wonderful at the same time. It shakes you to your core. But we don’t talk about it with pregnant women because the language we have is inadequate to express what we mean to someone who hasn’t been there yet.

Whatever the motivation is behind statements like the sleeping thing (and my personal favorite, "It’s a lot easier to take care of the baby now than it will be once it’s out," which I never found to be true for a lot of reasons), there’s no real way to respond in a thoughtful manner. You can be breezy: "Ha ha! I’m really in for it now!" Or flippant: "Oh, no. I’m going to make my partner do all the night wake-ups."Or smart-ass: "I thought babies slept through the night at around 3 weeks. You mean they don’t?" Or you can just nod and smirk and then go home and take a nap.

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