For the first six weeks after my son was born, I was exhausted all the time. The physical toll of three days of labor and two long and strenuous hours of pushing, followed by frequent night nursing with a baby who had a hard time latching made it so that when I was in any way lying down with my eyes closed, I was asleep within minutes.
Sometime around six weeks, it started to change. I felt mostly healed from the birth, and my son slept for longer stretches in the night. Which would have been great, if I could sleep along with him. Try how I might, after getting up with him once or twice at night, I was able only to stare bleary-eyed at the ceiling, wishing to sleep as well as my husband and child.
I tried sitting with a muted light and reading. I tried exercising more. I got fresh air and sunshine every day that I could. Nothing. The baby eventually grew too big for the bassinet and moved into a crib in his own room. He was sleeping through the night — a full 12 hours — at five months. Meanwhile, more and more things would cause me sleepless nights: my husband turning over, a car outside, worries about being a bad mom, frustrations with our families, thinking about sleep.
It was postpartum depression, though we didn’t come to see it as that for nearly a year, during which my sleep got worse and worse. We bought a house and moved. I packed boxes and unpacked boxes. My days were filled with baby and organizing the house, and I started to dread the night. I approached my own bedtime routine with dread: Would I be able to sleep tonight? Or would I drag myself out of bed exhausted tomorrow too?
I blamed my husband, and he blamed himself. Worried that he might wake me, worried about my sleep and mental health, he stopped sleeping as well. Our marriage was straining while our son slept contentedly with his special blankey.
I went to therapy. I worked on my sleep hygiene. I got sleeping pills from my doctor and tried not to use them. I got a different set of sleeping pills and tried not to use those either. I started doing meditation and yoga — things I had looked down my nose at before. I ran harder and faster. I journaled. And I still couldn’t sleep.
One particularly bad night, as I was sobbing, bemoaning the insomnia taking over my life, my husband went to sleep in the guest bedroom we had just put together. We slept apart for the first time in our marriage. He didn’t wake me up throwing his covers off. I didn’t wake him up going to the bathroom for the hundredth time. It wasn’t a perfect night, but at least I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself.
He asked the next night if I wanted him to sleep in the guest room again. I felt guilty. I felt like I was banishing him from our bed. I felt like this was just another sign that our marriage wasn’t going to survive; it was the first step toward being little more than roommates. But I was overwhelmed and overtired and wanted not to blame my sleeplessness on him.
He slept in the guest bed that night. And the next. Eventually, it became “his” room. He said he slept better, not worrying about waking me up. He said it was better for his back. When our son got sick, he was closer to his room to help him in the night.
Alone in my own room, I started sleeping again. Not just because my partner wasn’t there, but because I was going to therapy and yoga. I was running and journaling. I was doing all of the things I needed to get better, and having the bedroom to myself was just another piece of that puzzle.
As we both started sleeping better, we started enjoying each other’s company again. We talked more and more deeply. We laughed. We went on dates. We had sex. But we didn’t sleep together, except for brief, post-coital dozes.
It’s been two years, and we’re still sleeping apart.
Now pregnant with our second child, I can go to bed as early as I need without worrying about when my partner will come to bed. I can use as many pillows as I need, and it doesn’t give him any less space in the bed. He’s working on an MBA and stays up late studying. He doesn’t need to worry if he’s wrestling with an accounting problem in his sleep or if he needs to sleep with an extra pillow for his back. When our child is ill or has nightmares and it’s his night “on,” I’m not awakened by the monitor, and vice-versa.
We can more easily take turns letting the other sleep in on weekends. And that extra sleep is what every parent needs.
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