On Tiredness

On Tiredness

When I was first learning to meditate, I remember feeling so left out of this tiredness thing that the teachers were always speaking about. I’d see people on retreats falling asleep while meditating, standing up to avoid nodding off, asking questions about how to avoid it. And I just didn’t get it. I was so filled with energy, with movement. I struggled with the opposite issue – with restlessness, the urge to fidget, with excess energy.

I was so out of touch with what tiredness meant that I couldn’t even label it to observe it.

Now, some 7 years later, I’m a fucking tiredness master.

I am perpetually exhausted. I can observe the sensations of tiredness in intricate detail, I can feel it in every cell of my body. I can observe what it’s doing to my mind and my emotional stability. My sex life. My work. My relationships.

I’ve always been able to function on relatively little sleep. My father is the same, and his mother before him. Six hours and I’m golden. Eight hours and I’m diamond encrusted, sure, but it’s not a necessity. Even as a baby I had mega FOMO, always preferring to stay up to avoid missing any fun over getting my beauty sleep.

In recent years, largely thanks to my sleep-worshiping husband, I’ve learned to value my rest. To prioritize it when necessary. To identify the times when I’m tired and would be better off refueling than burning the candle at both ends, as is my natural tendency. I’ve intentionally rewired, in a way. A good way, I think.

Nonetheless, my ability to get by without that much sleep has served me well in the initial months with both my babies. Whereas I know many new parents suffer from exhaustion in the first days and weeks after bringing a new baby home from the hospital, I run on adrenaline through the Fourth Trimester and beyond. I relish the early morning hours up with my babies, the excuse to be texting round the clock, the afternoon naps. I’m tired, sure, especially the second time around, but not exhausted.

Until somewhere around the 6-month mark. that’s when I hit a wall.

And right now, I feel like I’ve been running into that wall, reversing, and running into it again, over and over, for about 3 months.

It was the same with GG. I put it down to going back to work, but I think it’s probably a combination of factors. A hormonal shift, developmental changes in the little one, and a sleep deficit so huge that I can no longer power through it with homemade dark chocolate and a good attitude alone.

This afternoon when I was driving home from work I was terrified that my eyes were going to give out. I guess I mean I was worried that I’d fall asleep, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like I just couldn’t focus anymore, that I could only see the dashboard and not the road. So I pulled over and set my alarm for 7 minutes – the most time I figured I could afford in order to still make it to pick up the kids on time – and closed my eyes. I woke up with a start to the timer going off, felt much better, and had a nice afternoon with the kids without passing out and leaving them to fend for themselves. That felt like a win.

This sort of exhaustion is something totally foreign to me.

If I stop typing right now and pause, I can feel it. In the aching headache always sitting just behind my eyes, like two tiny hands squeezing my eyeballs. In the almost unnoticeable lag in my vision, like my brain is only just keeping up with the information it has to process second-to-second. I can feel it pulling me downwards into the couch, like a sleepy gravity-booster. Willing me to just give it up, to lay down, to become one with the cushions.

And it’s not just my body. My mind is also a victim. I went back to work after a 6-month maternity leave 2 months ago, to a new job. A job at which a high-functioning brain is a solid prerequisite. And multiple times a day it’s like I can feel my mind trying to think and just stalling, over and over again. Like it knows what it needs to do but just can’t do it. At least not at the required speed.

And this tired mind of mine, it plays tricks on my emotions. It makes me sensitive and anxious and easily irritated. A winning combination for when I’m already feeling like the stupidest version of myself.

It’ll get better, I know. Little A will sleep better and I’ll settle back into being a working mama. We’ll all sleep through the night again one day.

For now, I take solace in being able to call a spade a spade. In hanging onto some last thread of mindfulness in recognizing tiredness and how it feels right now. I’m grateful for the rest that I do get, and I hail its restorative powers by pondering its very absence.

Enough musing. You get it. I’m exhausted.

Time for sleep.

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9 Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period

9 Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period

A wise woman once told me: Nobody talks about the after party. Ironically, this mother of three told me this after seeing me basically every day of my first pregnancy, and yet uttering nary a word about what I could expect in the postpartum days and weeks. The impending labor and birth we talked about, naturally, along with pregnancy matters galore – from ultrasounds and iron supplements to headaches and contractions. Parenting plans came up, name ideas, baby furniture. Hospitals, midwives and nursing consultants. But postpartum recovery was just never mentioned. No one was game to raise the issue, it seems.

It’s understandable. You’d sound like a right downer if your first reaction upon finding out your friend was pregnant was to tell them, “Now love, you should know that sitting down may well hurt for quite some time after delivery.” I get it. But women need – and deserve – to be prepared for this intense period. This paradoxical moment in time when you need quiet and rest more than anything else – and instead you get basically no sleep, well-meaning family and friends bugging you round the clock, and varying degrees of aches and pains. And just to make things more confusing and ambiguous, all of this is sprinkled with heart-bursting love, super birth hormones and an amazing appetite.

And so I write this by way of preparation for those about to give birth, and vow to send it to my friends and my sisters when their time comes. Even if they don’t love me for it at the time.

  1. You’re gonna bleed, big time – and not just like the “heavy period” that I remember hearing about. The midwife is gonna stick three surfboard-size pads together for you, and you’re gonna thank her for it. Keep in mind that the more you rest, the quicker your postpartum bleeding will stop. Rest.
  2. Black is the new black. You don’t want to find out what happens when your grey sweatpants make it to your hospital bag. This goes for underwear for the first couple of weeks too (though I actually recommend buying the sexy disposable mesh ones for the first few days. So much easier).
  3. Going to the bathroom is going to hurt, one way or another. You got through the birth, you can get through this. Take it slow and if possible take the shower head with you (assuming you had a vaginal birth). Spraying water on the area while you’re doing your business is a godsend. I wish someone had told me this earlier.
  4. Cold is your friend. If you’re in a hospital they should provide frozen magnesium or witch hazel pads, and at home you can easily make your own. Trust me, you’ll almost enjoy it.
  5. Stay in the moment – don’t waste your precious energy worrying about what you could have done differently during the birth, or how long this discomfort is going to last. Try this nursing meditation, if it tickles your fancy, put your phone down and focus on your breath for a few minutes, or utilize whatever reminders you need to stay mindful of what you’re doing right now. I really believe this will keep you sane through at least some of the exhaustion and the emotional breakdowns.
  6. Give the nursing apps a miss – unless you (or your baby) are having real problems. I used one at first and started to feel like I couldn’t feed unless I had my phone, not to mention getting obsessed with how long, which boob, averages etc. Losing my phone 4 weeks in was a blessing in disguise, and I realized that a hairband on my wrist to tell me which boob was next worked (and continues to work) just as well.
  7. Let people help, but remember to tell them when you need space. I didn’t do this enough and I should have. The first few weeks are crucial for bonding with your new baby – and if you’re anything like me, resting properly with guests in your space is difficult. Leave the washing. Screw the dishes. Forget about other people’s feelings for now. Lay on the couch.
  8. Bring a snack bowl to bed (better yet, get someone else to make it for you). Waking up every hour or so to breastfeed feels a lot better when you have chocolate, dried fruit, nuts etc at arms reach. Ditto for a liter or two of water.
  9. Give yourself a break. There is an unrealistic expectation on women (I loved this blog post on the topic) to bounce back right after birth, and for most of us it’s just not that simple. Many cultures around the world expect new mothers to be completely out of action for the first 40 days. Don’t expect to feel “normal” for the first month, at least.

If you’re reading this before giving birth – or even before getting pregnant – I should add: it’s totally worth it. It would be even if you needed to wear the triple maxi pads for six months (you don’t). It can just be a bit of a shock, that’s all.