Why I was totally ok with sleeping while my husband got up with the baby
A lot of articles have been written about egalitarian parenting, but this one is SO good, and it inspired me to share my own two cents about the issue. Erin Boyle (of the lovely blog Reading My Tea Leaves) hits the nail on the head with her post about the inherent sexism most mothers experience by sheer dint of their wombs and breasts. Here’s a phenomenal quote from the post, in which Boyle emphasizes the gaping chasm between how society views women’s work/life balance as compared to men’s:
“No one talks to James about the fine art of balancing his work and his fatherhood. No one congratulates his being a father in addition to pursuing a career. No one wonders if he feels guilty for working. The idea sounds almost preposterous. The absence of concern for a father’s ability to “do it all” comes from not expecting fathers to even try.”
Yes, we house the babies in our wombs, and birth the babies from our bodies, and can even feed the babies from our bodies, but that does not mean that the fathers are bystanders in the creation of a human being.
After my son was born, it became quickly apparent that sleep deprivation affected me differently than it did my husband. I lost my appetite, my sense of humor, and coupled with the devastating hormonal dips, I sank into a very dark place. It wasn’t until I sought help (and Zoloft – sweet, sweet Zoloft) that I got my postpartum depression under control. That and the fact that Brett took over the night-time shift almost completely.
Even at the very beginning, Brett and I were partners in nighttime babycare. I’d nurse Charlie and hand him to Brett, who’d diaper him and soothe him back to sleep (and by “soothe,” I mean trying any of the three sleeping contraptions we had in our bedroom, walking around, rocking the five S’s, etc). By the time Charlie was a few weeks old, I moved to the guest bedroom (due the fact that every baby grunt and sigh was like a sleep-destroying sledgehammer for me), and Brett brought Charlie in to nurse, taking him away once he was sated.
Eventually, I pumped enough breastmilk for Brett to skip waking me up altogether, and he’d use bottles throughout the night. My friends were aghast when I told them about our arrangement. Many of them expressed shock that although Brett was the “working parent [do I even have to numerate the issues I have with this phrase?],” he was also the one getting up at night with the baby.
It was pretty simple really. Without sleep, I was sad, angry, hopeless, and full of dread about my life. Without sleep, Brett came home to a harried, miserable partner, and usually a crying baby. With sleep, I was an effective mother, loving partner, and generally happy individual. With sleep, Brett came home to a decent meal (most nights), and a calm household. Brett was tired for sure, but he still laughed at Louis C.K., saw beauty in a grilled cheese, and functioned adequately at work.
So if the choice is between total chaos and misery and overall family health and wellbeing, yeah, we’re gonna choose the latter.
Parenthood affects everyone differently, but it should affect all interested parties, not simply the person who happened to be born with milk ducts. Too often, we emphasize the sacrifices inherent in motherhood. Yes, there are sacrifices, but they should be made by both parents, not just dear ol’ mom. Brett doesn’t earn a gold star for changing a diaper [parenting], nor do I earn a gold star for managing to care about both my children and my personal aspirations [retaining my personhood outside of motherhood]. I don’t consider it a badge of mothering honor to be constantly exhausted, constantly overworked, and to be constantly overlooked. I don’t feel guilty when I go out to dinner with friends and leave the kids with Brett. I don’t consider it selfish that I make my needs a priority, nor would I want to raise a family with someone who didn’t respect those needs.
When Wren was born, I moved out of our bedroom on night 3 or 4, and Brett and Wren were roomates for the first few months of her life. I’m grateful as hell that Brett did the grueling work of nighttime babycare, but I also know that Charlie and Wren were way better off with a well rested mother to spend their days with. And I think those late-night moments between father and daughter were important for both Brett and Wren as well. For Brett, he was a fully engaged parent from day one, and for Wren, she witnessed two hardworking, self-respecting, egalitarian parents from day one. Had I been the better night-operator, we might’ve done things differently. We figured out our individual parenting strengths (and crippling weaknesses), and lived accordingly.
Brett and I are very different people, and this directly affects the way we choose to parent. I thrive on routine and structure; Brett thrives on spontaneity and flexibility. So that means I drink my morning tea alone on Sundays with a crossword puzzle while Brett watches cartoons and makes pancakes with the kids. Brett is not “giving me the morning off,” as if he’s some sort of babysitter helping the real parent out, and I’m not being a “bad mom” for choosing New York Magazine over Daniel Tiger. We’re just both being people – people who also are parents.