I knew this kid would be trouble from the very first day in the hospital because he refused to sleep without at least a hand on him. It’s a small hospital. No nursery like you see on TV where visitors can look through a window at the babies all swaddled in their plastic tubs. He stayed in my room with me that first night, or would have, except I gave up after the first hour of him waking me every 20 minutes because my hand slipped off him. So I took the nurses up on their offer to keep him with them and my initial guilt and anxiety quickly evaporated. The nurses got baby snuggles, the baby got constant contact, and I got some of the best sleep I’d had in years–certainly my best sleep since.
On the one hand, I was prepared for a baby with a constant need for touch (I went through all that with my first and hadn’t lost the muscle memory of doing everything one handed). On the other hand, the dynamics of parenting two young–very young–kids was an unknown I couldn’t prepare for.
Continuing to write with one kid was hard. It felt pretty damn Herculean but I found cracks of time and I kept writing. I finished a novel revision, wrote a few short stories, kept blogging. With two, writing has felt more sisyphean. In the cracks–much rarer–any words I wrote needed to be deleted and only made me more burned out so I couldn’t even use my little bit of dedicated kid-free time. So I stopped writing in the cracks.
Sometimes, just writing a page takes me weeks. A short story revision that should take a few days instead takes a few months. The frustration with the glacial pace has worn layers off my tooth enamel.
Then shortly after the 13 month mark, a miracle: we could suddenly put him down for a nap without him instantly waking. He was sleeping more than 20 minutes–by himself!–without waking to a world-is-ending-because-no-one-is-holding-me scream. After a few days, I got up the courage to try setting him down at night. The first night, I got two solid hours of writing done. And so I had a blissful, hope-filled few days of submitting stories and finishing a revision and reveling in my newfound freedom.
But plot twist! A growth spurt had caused this exquisitely solid sleep. The heavy sleep phase ended abruptly and the sudden return of restrictions hit me worse for that brief reprieve. I partly expected it. This sort of roller coaster is the norm (in my experience) as a writer and parent; my second time around hasn’t been wildly different from my first.
For now, we seem to have reached a balance between the extremes of this child’s sleep patterns. Phases are fleeting at this age. If nothing else, this most recent sleep saga reminds me of that. As a writer with this constant parenting gig I’m constantly dancing the fine line between breakdown (because I’m not writing enough for my mental health) and burnout (from trying to be and do ALL THE THINGS). At least in this moment, that dance is just a little bit easier.