My Manifesto on Men, Newborns and Sleep

Owen and James will be four months old on the 19th and we’re still getting up in the middle of the night. But things have improved greatly from the first few months—a good night is a feeding around 1am or 2am, and another around 5am or 6am, with the boys going to bed sometime between 9pm and 10pm. And last night we let Owen sleep, even though James woke up around 2am. And sleep Owen did—from about 10pm to 5am. Ahhh.

But note the plural “we.” I don’t buy the “Well, my husband works all day so it’s my responsibility to do all the nighttime work” argument I hear over and over from stay-at-home and work-at-home moms. Thankfully, my husband doesn’t, either (although I’m sure there are many nights he wished I was the type of mom who did do all the nighttime feedings herself).

Here’s the thing: I work all day. He works all day. Come 2am, we’re on equal ground.

I believe sleep deprivation to be one of the hardest aspects of caring for a newborn. So I find it old-fashioned, inconsiderate and, well, wrong that overnight work should automatically fall to the woman, simply because she’s the mom. And that includes exclusively nursing moms.

Sophie was born via c-section because she was breech. So, for the first two weeks after her birth, when she cried, Andy had to get up in the middle of the night to change her diaper and bring her to me. Andy would fall back asleep while I nursed her and then I would gently wake him up so that he could put her back to bed when I was done. Once I had healed, we’d simply take turns. Yes, I had to be up for every feeding because I was exclusively nursing. But during the times he’d get up, change her diaper and bring her too me, I’d nurse almost half-asleep. It was far easier on me. And it wasn’t a big deal for Andy because he was able to sleep while I nursed. And finally, Sophie got middle-of-the-night bonding time with both of us.

The boys get 100 percent breast milk. But, for a variety of reasons of which I plan to write about soon, it’s mostly pumped milk. So they’re bottle fed, which I hate (again, for a variety of reasons) but also which I love, because it allows other people to share in the task. So when James cries (he’s smaller and always wakes up before Owen), I wake up Andy. He gets the bottles ready while I change James’ diaper and try to keep him quiet (so that he won’t wake up Sophie) until it’s time to eat. Then Andy wakes up Owen, changes his diaper and feeds him while I feed James. We put both boys back to bed. Andy goes to sleep, I pump, and then I go to sleep. Every time.

I was about to type “I’m lucky.” But then, I don’t think so. I think sharing this work is simply right and fair. Yes, Andy works all day. But so do I. It’s often joyous work, yes. I know Andy feels slightly jealous when Sophie’s running around the house, screaming with excitement about going to the Children’s Museum as he’s headed off to the office. But I also know for a fact he doesn’t want to trade places. And when I’m not diapering or feeding or finding Sophie who always hides in the same place (behind the curtain) or shaking a noisy toy above a baby’s head or reading children’s books or loading the van or unloading the van or rocking, rocking, rocking, I’m cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or running the vacuum or sweeping the porch or sending a freelance-related e-mail. And OK, sure. I check Facebook. I watch news programs while doing all the above in the morning. I flip through a magazine while Sophie takes a bath. But I don’t get lunch breaks. Or coffee breaks. Bathroom breaks, yes, but they’re always accompanied by at least one child.

Soon James will surprise us with a 10pm to 5am stretch. And then, someday, they’ll hopefully sleep like Sophie—8pm to 8am (we can only hope!). Eventually, this will all be a memory. But a better one, I think, because we did it together. It’s been a shared experience. And I honestly think it’s made our marriage stronger—at a time in our lives when it could have easily become weaker. Plus, I have a handful of hilarious weird-things-Andy-does-while-half-asleep stories to now share with family and friends.

“Pain shared is pain lessened; joy shared is joy increased. Thus do we refute entropy.” —Spider Robinson